Davening On My Own

31st March 2020. Outside, birds are singing. A few minutes past 8 am and the streets are empty, a contrast to a month ago when, looking out of the window, I would see a bus coming up the road, and a bus going down, not to mention the long queue of cars, parents walking their children to school, people heading to work. Now I feel as if I’m stuck in a horror movie, or as if I’m a character in a Richard Matheson novel.

Something has happened; the world is changing, people are dying, fear has once again become a huge part of our lives, a fear like nothing before, a fear of touching, of hugging, of being too close to another human being, an invisible fear, something straight out of a horror movie. In years to come, there will be lots of books and movies written and made about this invisible enemy. Even I am keeping a journal about the madness. 

Shuls are closed. In fact, most houses of prayers, regardless of our faiths, are closed. 

The world as we know will never be the same, not for a long time. Humanity has been affected by fear, by a strong virus, an invisible enemy. Hopefully, we won’t be defeated.

Outside, birds keep on singing. Still no humans on the street as the minutes go by. We’re unwanted characters in the sequel to A Quiet Place, warriors (or cowards) fighting an invisible enemy. You can make a sound, just don’t touch that person.

If anything, this virus is helping Mother Nature to regain some of its beauty, to have a rest from humanity, from the harm we bring to the planet. 

I look around me, at the books that surround me, books that are waiting to be read, books that have been read over and over again (I’m reading Gao Xingjian’s One Man’s Bible for the fourth time), books that I will start and never finish. Right now, I don’t feel like reading. My mind is worried. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. No one knows. But, as I’ve mentioned before, humanity will change its behaviour because of this virus. For some of us, hugs and hand-shaking will become a thing of the past. Does that mean the invisible enemy will win even if we defeat it? Maybe…

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In fact, for the last few days I’ve been thinking about the shul and davening, wondering when (and if) I will daven at a shul again, and I saw myself not going to a shul for a long time for fear of being touched by the invisible enemy. And then I wondered how many people felt the way I did? 

(In my mind) I saw football stadiums half-filled for fear of the virus, empty cinemas, big movies playing for a couple of people, people sitting apart at coffee shops, people inside crowded trains looking in fear. But humanity has been through so much pain and war and we’ve survived even though, sometimes, I feel as if we’ve learned nothing from our past mistakes.

After/when/how/if this invisible enemy is defeated, I must put away my fears and head out to see my people, my friends, my family, but I know that it won’t be that easy. Regardless of what we want, the fear will be with us for a long time. And the enemy, too, might be with us for a long time, just waiting for the right (wrong) time to strike again. 

For now, I daven alone, at home. I might do it for a long time even when/if/how/after this invisible enemy is gone. 

Outside, crows are singing. I don’t like their song.

P.S: If/when/after I go back to the shul, don’t be surprised or upset if I don’t hug you or don’t shake your hand. Like others, I will need time, maybe a lot of time before I can be myself again.