The blessings of grief, healing, and the orange groves

December 2019, excerpted from the book.

Like anybody, I have endured periods of grief and have been affected with depression and yet informed by the bittersweet wisdom. Death is grief, divorce is grief; losing a job is lamentation; coping with disease is mortal suffering; discovering that one’s child is addicted to opioids is woe.

Grief brings on informative distinctions; it has a way of revealing the ones who are actively on your side. My friends and I have all walked through the woods and bent many twigs together. My daughters have certainly helped me cross over the bridge from anguish to peace. I’ve learned how to be alone yet not to be lonely. I discovered that grief was not my friend but remains my necessary companion. There is no set formula for this; grief does not work well with old standard charts. But it is always defeated by love.

“I discovered that grief was not my friend but remains my necessary companion.”

My younger daughter was married several years ago among citrus orchards in central Israel.  I remember how, as I gazed into the wedding canopy she exchanged vows with her betrothed, a lot of fears floated out of me. The professional dreads, the generational anxieties, the clinging grudges, and the pounding griefs of this existence all vanished. Time and mortality and the insecurities disappeared beneath the river of life.

The bride was happy; she was no longer a child, and the earth acceded under her feet toward eternity. Nothing cost anything, there were no cloaked resentments in the night air, and people were momentarily at utter peace with another. The only clock we knew had its hands in the stars; the moon knew everything, looked down, and sighed.

These are the moments when you just know there is a heaven somewhere. You float in these rare interludes of tender human milestones and you cross, with some of the mystics, over the Chinvat Bridge of Zoroastrianism into paradise.

You dance with the Hopi Indians, cotton strands in your hands, making flowers to symbolize the heavens. Your eyes sting with the Buddhist wisdom that those who live in these moments may yet bless this realm again with angelic insight.

You are at one with everything and your pockets, like the white burial shrouds of the Jews, are empty. Your heart is full and you are not afraid to die. The happiness of a child is the bridge that binds this side to the other, and there you are as you comprehend for a fleeting, delicious moment, why it is good to be born and it is okay to die.

When my elder daughter was born, I felt the stirrings of creation and my own particle of partnership with it. When my father died, inexplicably and impossibly young, and we opened the ground to bury him, my mother cried like a broken vessel under the cold sun. My little sister, unable to endure the shadows, frolicked among the nearby headstones and sang happy songs in defiance of the tyranny of time. Every moment like this has poured the peace into me; I know that the wine is sometimes bitter and sometimes sweet.

My now departed mother wept again as I gazed into the wedding canopy that night, smelling the nearby orange orchards of central Israel and the distant scent of the sea. It was not far from where I was born and it is also not far from where my parents—and all our elders—now sleep in the dust. I hear their voices from time to time, so I know that my children will one day hear mine. I don’t need anybody to tell me who or what heaven is and I’m no longer afraid of death. Experience and birth and sacred promises and exceptional pain have all filled me with quiet compliance. Who can be near a child’s rapture and not know there is hope?