It seems that since I’ve been an adult, I’ve often been the one who leaves — moving from my childhood home in Illinois to college and graduate school in Indiana and Massachusetts, then off to Berkeley with my husband Ely to pursue his degrees and begin a family and then up to Seattle, where we wanted to raise our two boys.
Then, after fourteen love-filled years in a community where we had literally and physically put down roots we upped and left Seattle (for me to pursue rabbinical school – you know, I was “called”) in the second half of our lives — landed in Jerusalem and now Los Angeles (deep breath….) Each leave-taking was accompanied with tearful goodbyes: we made dear friends every place we lived.
I was usually the one who was saying goodbye and absolutely sad to leave cherished friends and known territories – yet, with a new horizon, there was also excitement. I love new challenges.
Now, one of my dearest friends from Los Angeles is leaving here to become the senior rabbi at a synagogue in Brooklyn. Lucky Them. Poor Me. This friend “saw” me, since we first met in Jerusalem. I could look across the room at her anytime in the five years of rabbinical school and I knew she just “got” where I was coming from and who I was. You know – THAT kind of friend.
We were both fortunate to get jobs in Los Angeles after ordination. And a few months ago she was literally plucked out of LA (the nerve) to lead a progressive amazing congregation which sounds like a perfect fit for her. They will fall in love with her, as she’s immensely talented, compassionate and a graceful yet powerful force for doing good in this world. She is a shining star. I knew that when we first met and I know that now.
But hey, let’s get back to: BOOHOO to being left. I share this because I’m searching for the spiritual gift in this period of loss. When we lose people we love to either death or dementia or moving away, or friendships that take detours….it’s hard. There’s a space — an emptiness —does the space get filled in by busy-ness or new friends or is it a hole in which we just wallow?
Our tradition teaches us that we should be honest about our sadness – our eulogies are intended to provoke tears (our rabbis in the Middle Ages said so explicitly.) It seems my mom was right when she taught me to “let it out, don’t let it fester…” The cardinal rule of living with difficult feelings is being IN them, acknowledging the hurt, the pain, the sadness. Mindfulness teaches us that this is the first step. Be Where You Are. First. You can’t be anywhere except where you are.
And yet — our rabbis and teachers are wise – we are also supposed to put a fence around our grief. After one week of sitting shiva following the death of our loved ones, our tradition encourages us to take a walk around the block, thus ending the first part of mourning with movement. We walk from our house of mourning into the world; we physically and symbolically re-start our lives. Even though we are still sad, we move forward.
I have always taught my children that when someone they love moves away or ends the friendship – it’s important to say “that hurts, I’ll miss him terribly” and I also encourage them to say, “How blessed, how lucky, how fortunate was I to have had such a relationship!” How amazing to have people you love THAT MUCH! to cry over!
In our transient lives, this leave-taking & home-coming is something many of us do again and again. We leave states of minds and return to places we know like the back of our hand. We leave and are left. The circle is endless. We are always ending and beginning.
So yes – I am profoundly grateful that my friend touched me so deeply. I will miss our collaborations, having lunch (honestly, her eating and talking and my talking and not eating…) and planning mind-blowing meaningful classes together, our regular check-ins. Of course, there’s the phone and skype, you may say – and, of course, it will be different.
Thank you The-Oneness-of-All for blessing me with the gift of a friendship so precious that my heart hurts. Thank you for teaching me, again, that the only thing that really matters is the way we listen to each other, and the way we see God in each other’s eyes. That a friend who really sees the “you” in “you” is someone to cherish deeply and forever. And thank you for helping me remember, with deep compassion, the friends whom I have left.
So go right ahead, dear Rachel, you take your remarkable family and go make a big difference in Brooklyn, my dear friend. And I will cheer you on, celebrating every single soul you touch with your amazing spirit. Because just like I had to answer that insistent “call” to become a rabbi and leave my beloved community in Seattle, this is what you are being called to do next. It’s plain as day. Cliche warning: someone said that you need to love someone enough to let them go. SO I do love you that much. It’s time to fly, girlfriend.