Friday, June 26, 2015

Shabbat Blues

I guess I'll begin by thanking you for your patience with me, as I've been something of a delinquent blogger of late.  What can I say?  The month of June is a crazy one for teachers, and sadly, writing of any kind (except progress reports) just hasn't been happening.  But I think I've also been putting off writing this post, because it's a sad one for me to write, and I don't like sad things.  Avoidance!

But, here we are.  The sad truth is, a dear friend of mine--my best friend in America--is moving out of state.  In my entire life, I have had only two friends whom I would call Best Friends; one whom I met in college and who has since moved to Israel, and this other friend.  And because I am, perhaps, the world's most introverted person, I don't have many "backup friends" to fall back on.  On nearly every Shabbat afternoon for the past few years, this friend and I have had a "walk date" (both of us have usually hit our limit for sitting and schmoozing by mid-afternoon). Since I've had a hard time finding a comfortable peer group in the Jewish community where I live, those walks have been the grounding center of my Shabbat experience and, in my mind, are one of the most beautiful friendship rituals we created together. I said goodbye to this friend of mine last night because she's away this Shabbat and I'm going to Israel on Tuesday, and by the time I get back, she and her husband and baby will have moved away.  When I think about not having her in my daily life, the only words I can think of are words of sadness:  Loss. Empty. Void. Lonely. Grief.  And for the first time in a long time, I find myself dreading Shabbat.

Of course, the greatest irony in the whole situation is that I was able to sustain a deep friendship with this woman only because I was mentally and physically healthy enough to do so; however, recovery also means that I'm now deeply feeling all the painful emotions that come along with the separation.  And since this Shabbat will be my first official one without her, I'm anticipating that there will be a lot of "feeling" going on...which could be a problem because Shabbat is supposed to be a day of joy, not a day to be sad.  It's generally considered "inappropriate" to feel or express sadness on Shabbat, which is why, for instance, we don't sit shiva on Shabbat.  But if anything, recovery has left me less able to dictate my emotions--whatever's going to come, just comes.  How am I really supposed to avoid feeling sad on Shabbat when my friend's absence is going to be most acutely felt?

Well, as it turns out, like most things in Judaism, sadness on Shabbat is not such a black-and-white issue.  It's true that one is generally supposed to avoid experiencing sadness on Shabbat; however, there are times when crying is considered okay, particularly if doing so helps a person to feel better.  One example is that of Rabbi Akiva, whose students found him crying on Shabbat following the death of his son.  The students questioned this behavior, reminding Rabbi Akiva that he, himself, had taught them that Shabbat was supposed to be a time of delight.  Rabbi Akiva replied by saying that it was his oneg (delight) on Shabbat to indulge his sadness.  Similarly, Rabbi Moses Isserles (the Rema) rules that crying on Shabbat is acceptable if it helps the person to feel better by releasing the sadness from his or her heart.  This makes practical sense to me, because I know that when I try to squelch my emotions, they don't actually go away--they just simmer until they inevitably leak out in some unfortunate way.  On the other hand, if I accept how I'm feeling and inhabit the emotion by giving it air time, the result is like a wave:  it comes in strong, peaks, and ebbs away.  Although crying is painful, it is also wonderful...the release, relief, and calmness I feel afterward usually leave me glad I allowed myself to do it.

When I brought up with my teacher this issue of missing my best friend on Shabbat and worrying that I wouldn't be able to stop myself from being sad, her response was, "Be kind to yourself."  I think I am going to take her advice, and the teachings of Rabbi Akiva and the Rema, to heart this week as I go into Shabbat.  While my intention won't be to make myself sad on purpose, if it happens, I'm going to let it happen.  Suppressing emotions never ends well.  On this and every Shabbat, I hope we can all experience our feelings and move through them so that on the other side we can feel peace.