Ancestral Memory, Present Day Sorrow


Monday morning. Disconnect. Preoccupied. Mind drifts to ancestral memory.

We are all crowded into one house, three generations, no electricity, outside the house is menace, violence, uncertainty. None of the systems we’ve grown accustomed to are in place; it is a matter of connections or luck if you have medical assistance, or access to butter, people with root cellars. Will we die like this? The question hangs in the air. The young tolerate the old and the old shake their heads, full of despair that it has come to this. We argue but mostly sit, trying to be kind to each other, trying not to indulge the fear that keeps us awake most of the hours. There is very little crying. Crying is dehydrating and exhausting and accomplishes nothing.

We accommodate others as we can, those who already lost more than this, lost everything but their lives. I close my eyes. I am in a room. It’s cold. We don’t complain. We are together, unlike so many families. The stores we used to shop at, the streets we used to drive and walk, the schools and sanctuaries where we once learned and gathered and prayed and sang and celebrated and mourned, gutted. We are gutted but here. Hope is a flicker that there is an “after.” Most of us will not see the after. This is not what we wanted for our children. We don’t know what will happen, when they might come for us, too.

And then I come back, to the present moment, not the internal one but this three-dimensional one — a peaceful room, a dog chewing on her toy, the click-clack of fingers on the keyboard. Earlier, I listened to journalists on the radio, talking about things like an “ecosystem of hate” and the importance of context, the rise of white supremacy, which has in fact never fallen. Horrors never faced come back to haunt us. Jews as scapegoats and “infiltrators,” a trope going back thousands of years in dozens of cultures. Planting fear into the minds of people who want only to have something simple to believe in, because the world is not simple and meeting human need is demanding. Easier to eradicate, to attack, to blame, to turn away. The cost of turning away from suffering is so high.

I have this expectation that I should have a big cry any minute now, but it’s not coming. My wife gently suggests I let go of the expectation. Writing may be the only thing I have to lean into, to try to find some footing when there is such dissonance between building a life when the context is crumbling.

I will not give up. I will keep telling you this, and myself. I will keep caring for my own family while looking up and seeing the families torn apart by violence. I will keep showing up. But today, today what I am saying is: This is not easy. Scrambling to analyze and understand the bigger picture while maintaining an open heart, wanting to listen, to witness, to paint some vast picture where this will all fit together as if life were a puzzle — it doesn’t happen like that.

Yesterday, I asked the rabbi: Did the older kids (6th and 7th grade) want to talk? He said many of them mentioned feeling depressed by the state of the world. And what he told them was something about how that is why we have this tradition to hold us, to help us when the world is depressing.

This is far from the first wave of horrors humanity has faced. Once again, the task is in how we meet it, how we keep meeting each other. That’s all I have to return to on a morning when so much feels impossible to tackle. I will not offer false optimism, nor will I allow myself to disappear.

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