“Through thought a person should be with his friend wherever he may be… for with a thought one can indeed help a distant friend reach a higher state of being, both materially and spiritually.” ~ R. Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch
“I’m secretly in love with everyone I grew up with.” ~ The National, “Demons”
“I have no friends. There are only people I love.” ~ Louis Aregon
My friends, my colleagues, former students, loved ones all, my soul stretches out in need of you.
As much as we try to make light with social media pictures and posts, as many positive news items as we can share, jokes, diet ideas, and calling for Zoom happy hours and farbrengens, as much work as we can do to fill our time and minds, what we’re experiencing — when we allow ourselves to actually experience what’s going on — is no less than horror and grief.
I’m not here to paint the world rosy. I mourn our present even as I preserve my sense of gratitude for the current health of my closest family and friends. I mourn our present even as I recognize the blessings of technology keeping us connected beyond our four walls, even as I recognize my fortune, even as I recognize the beauty of spring.
Oh, and spring is here! Despite everything, life persists. Spring arrives this year like a drunk peacock showing off its colors oblivious to the news that someone just announced the death of a loved one. Spring just don’t care. Spring is a turn on an axle, a reboot, and the birds sing louder, the grass smiles more, and the pollen colors every surface yellow. Spring is too busy making love to think about anything else but making love.
But so many people are sick and too many are dying and the numbers increase exponentially and will continue to so for the foreseeable near future.
So we stay inside.
With Pesach on the way, I can’t help but think of how, about to be freed, Jews were ordered by Gd to stay inside, out of sight of the 10th plague, a terror fleecing life from first borns, forcing mothers, fathers, siblings, to watch a son, a brother, a father, fall dead because of pharoah’s hardened heart.
I’m no scholar, and no chidush this, but my conception of this scenario is of the more figurative bent.
When it comes to Pesach, not only is it suggested to celebrate and commemorate the holiday in the mindset of actually experiencing the very same redemption all over again, I’ve also learned that we should live with a similar mindset on the daily.
What’s the mindset? That we are constantly redeemed from the “Egypt” we make of our own, the fedders holding us back broken through connecting to Gd from our innermost core.
None of this is to say that we can escape or solve the current plague through “thoughts and prayers.”
The analog can not be stretched so far before the sound gets messed up and then the tape breaks.
My focus is this: On the daily, we all struggle with our own trappings, our own prison of negative habits, or own negative thoughts, words, and actions. Right now, isn’t that so much of what we are experiencing? Fear itself is a monster trapping us in bleakness. We nourish the monster with our feeds, increase our worries, threaten our own physical, mental, and emotional health.
We need to break out. We need to act even as we are stuck inside, even as what’s out there keeps us in here.
Looking ahead at the Pesach story, what steps are taken before we can be free?
Go inside. Connect from the inside out.
Go into your home, however you define home. Surround yourself with the familiar, with the warmth of whatever you call your family, your loved ones. Go to the comfort emanating from your hearth. Go inside yourself, ultimately, to what defines you, your purpose, your foundation.
And for a lot of us, now, this going inside has meant reconnecting with old friends and distant (in time or miles or both) family, and to connect more fiercely with those nearby in distance, but in the presence of whom we can no longer be safe. This may be especially true for those among us whose hearth and home is a dwelling of one, themselves, and who need this soul connection more than most of us and perhaps more than ever.
I mean, for Who/What dare we say is Gd in our own personal lives but the very Love of those shining faces belonging to those who love us most, those who we love most?
So, when quarantine started in earnest a couple of weeks ago, I was immediately filled with a burst of need and nostalgia for friends near and far in miles and years.
I thought of friends I grew up with, friends for whom I feel deep devotion and love despite the many years we’ve spent apart. These men were formative to my becoming the man I am. Even now I think of them often. But now I need them, to know they are well, to know they too have gone inside to stay safe.
Surrounded by my books, playing tune after tune, hot coffee steaming in the mug on the shelf next to me, I perused Facebook, my yearbook, my memories. My friends’ faces, as the kids we were, as the men and women we are now, came to me in a flood of smiles and silly faces. Coffee became whiskey, memories became as palpable as bruises. I strained to push my thoughts outward to them, picturing their places pinpointed on a mental global map, and I prayed for their health and well-being, praying that my prayer be heard, praying that I’m worthy enough to pray for such a thing…
To a core group of them, I sent an email of greetings, well wishes, and inquiries after health.
Soon, I sent another email to another group of friends.
I avoided doing this on Facebook or WhatsApp to avoid distracting myself. I went… old school.
And I promise you, the pleasure of receiving answers, the pleasure of long threads continuing for days on end, that pleasure is deep. To my core. To my foundation. It’s a reaffirmation. I am here because of them. I am here for them. We will always be connected.
Like a symptom of the universe, our love will never die.