My Personal Three Weeks of Mourning
I wrote about the power of facing one’s feelings in my first blog post just over a year ago. Over the past year I have been experiencing and learning just how powerful this process is. Susan Cain is a #1 NYT best selling author who writes and speaks about this process. Her newest book is titled Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Makes Us Whole. In her TED talk she explains “how heartache unexpectedly brings us closer to the sublime beauty of life.”
I have unexpectedly been experiencing a personal heartache recently, and at the same time coming closer to the sublime beauty in my life journey.
Humankind has been searching for the meaning and purpose of negative emotions since the beginning of time. Many people are drawn to the bittersweet and deeply painful feelings of the brokenhearted, the poor, the castaways, the widows, and the orphans. These feelings are described and felt in songs, movies, and stories. Sad music compositions and lyrics are played more than happy ones. Dramatic dark playwrights and movies are often box office hits generating huge revenue. Bittersweet feelings written in fiction and nonfiction books are what makes them bestsellers. The brokenness and inconsistencies in the world are the news headlines. I have always believed that the souls in this world are drawn to these expressions of pain for something more than just entertainment.
I believe Hashem gave us feelings to enable connection to ourselves, each other, and ultimately to our Creator/HaKadosh Baruch Hu (The Holy One, Source of All Blessing is He). The mental health fields have recently discovered just how powerful feelings are in helping one to understand one’s own experiences, speech, and actions, and when utilized correctly to clarify wishes and goals. It has also been discovered that feelings are the most powerful tool in being able to sympathize, validate, empathize and ultimately bring closer connection and depth with others.
Jewish teachings have known this since the beginning of time. There are many sources that describe how feelings provide opportunities to learn how to connect back with Our Creator’s will.
One such example is found in the Artscroll Series of The Complete Tisha B’Av Service, An Overview Kinnos: A Trail of Tears from Tragedy to Triumph! in Part III. The following is written:
Our personal suffering is a direct offshoot of the collective, national suffering of the Jewish people in exile. The Midrash (Eicha Rabbasi 1:25, see also Sanhedrin 104b) [written about 2,000 years ago] tells of a widow in Rabban Gamliel’s neighborhood who would weep bitterly over her plight. When Rabban Gamliel heard her cries in the night, he would arise and cry over the destruction of the Temple and the Jewish exile. HaRav Mordechai Gifter explains that Rabban Gamliel knew that her personal woes were an outgrowth of Israel’s general misfortune. When Israel is delivered [back to Hashem] collectively, all personal problems will be resolved as well.
At the end of Tisha B’ Av in the Haftorah of Mincha (daily afternoon prayer service) it is described how Hashem welcomes even the non-Jewish souls and Jewish convert’s souls to be delivered back to His Home also. In the pesukim 56:6- 56:8 of Navi Isaiah it is written “And the foreigners [non-Jews] who join themselves to Hashem to serve Him and to love the Name of Hashem to become servants unto Him, all who guard the Sabbath against desecration, and grasps My covenant tightly - I will bring them to My Holy mountain, and I will gladden them in My house of prayer; their elevation-offerings and their feast-offerings will find favor on My Altar, for My House will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”
In the past three weeks I have undergone an emotional journey and discovered a little bit of what Rabban Gamliel understood and gained some insight into what Isaiah is describing “My House will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” Come along with me as I share this discovery.
What is it that I'm wanting? What is it that I'm missing? I’ve been overcome by sadness, and something more.
Four months ago, my life had taken a remarkable turn when I was reunited with my birth mother. For 3 days, I met with her, sat with her, and heard the story of what happened 38 years ago that caused a forced separation between us. How I became an orphan. I heard her thoughts and feelings about what happened and all the pain that she had been carrying around for so many years. Made an initial, life-changing connection.
But it was not enough. I am here and my birth mother is in South Korea and we are separated again.
I miss her presence. I want so badly to sit in her house, to cook with her, to eat with her, to laugh with her, to connect with her.
The realization that it will be a long time before I will get to do so is so painful that I cry. I cried yesterday. I cried this morning. I cried when I prayed. I continue to cry.
I was praying a few days after the 17th of Tammuz and reflecting on the 3 weeks that lead up to Tisha B'Av, the day where we Jews are required to mourn and cry. I was struck by the synchronicity between the energy of the Jewish Calendar and my personal energy. This is the time of year the soul of the Jew is crying over the fact that we're not able to go be with our Creator’s home. We are children who have been adopted into a foreign reality. So many Jewish souls feel separated from Hashem, we're not connected to each other, we're not connected to ourselves.
The power of this time of mourning is a willingness to step into our sorrow so that we can truly feel, and act on, our deep longing for connection. Otherwise, we might miss it altogether.
I had believed for over 25 years that I would never really know my birth mother. My adoption paperwork said that I had been left alone, without a family name, and with no identification. In cases like these, it usually means no contact is desired. That no one is waiting. I also came across news articles and stories from adoptees of how after initial contact, efforts at staying connected faded away, or adoptees are even pushed away. Leading to more fear and rejection.
It seemed safer to not make that first phone call or the follow up phone calls or to try.
But this past year, as I was making plans to visit my birth-country, suddenly a piece of vital information emerged: my birth mother had been waiting for me to come back. She wanted to have a relationship with me. My birth mother, my biological creator, had been waiting, waiting, waiting. I did not know!
Now I do. And I know the pain of having finally reunited only to be separated again. The pain of longing. For so many years of my life, I didn't realize that this pain even existed inside of me. That the feeling of sadness about my inability to be able to go sit in the home of my birth mother was even something that I was meant to feel. That I wanted to feel. My heart didn’t even know that I wanted to feel this yearning to connect with her. Part of me wishes that I could have had these feelings of sadness be a part of me a decade ago. I would have had more time to try to go to the other side of the world and visit her, to hold her hand, to be in her physical presence, in her private space, in her life. There are so many, many opportunities that have been lost.
Taking time to listen to my longing heartbeat and really allow myself to feel the pain in this timeline of my life journey is hard work. Yet it is the work that I want my heart and soul to do. Because in this place of longing is where relationships exist. The relationship with one’s feelings, the relationship with others, and the relationship with Hashem. This homecoming. It is the feeling that is both motivating and exhausting, and it is the work that everybody’s soul wants to do. It is the place we all want to be.
Yet, so many souls, so many people in the world today, are so far from wanting this connection. We have to work hard to even want to want the longing. To push through the fear of the unrequited desire that there is no Creator to connect with, and no connection to long for.
This Tisha B'Av I will cry for my own personal pain over circumstances of life which prevent me from being able to spend more time with my birth mother in person, tasting the food and drinks she lovingly prepares in her small kitchen, getting to know her in these seemingly small and deeply intimate interactions and moments. And I will cry as a Jew who can't sit in our Creator’s Beis Hamikdash. And I will cry for the Jewish people, for Hashem's children who don't even know, don't even realize what they are missing - yet.
I believe the place of longing is waiting for our arrival. The place of longing is where we will meet our Creator and all our relationships. We want this with ourselves, we want this with each other, and we want this with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Yet we won't really know what it means unless we imagine what it would be like to be reconnected. To be reunited. Come mourn the loss with me this Tisha B'Av. Feel the distance. And then try to listen to the longing in your heart and soul. Hashem is wanting to connect and is waiting for us. For this reason, and on this path, we have the Torah, we pursue personal growth, and we pray.
As Hashem says “My House will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” - Isaiah 56:8.