A New Year

It’s been a while since I’ve written. I got about half way through December and realized I hadn’t blogged yet, and decided to take the month off. But now, it’s a new year, and that brings with it all sorts of changes.

For starters, Eva and I  adopted three new cats yesterday. A sibling pair of black cats with white markings, and one brown/gray tabby male. All are about two years old, and have lived together since kittenhood. The names they came with are Diana (f)  and Dancer (m) for the sibling pair, and Classy for the male tabby. Diana, at least, is likely to undergo a name change, since we just had a cat named Diana. To date, Diana is the only one who is actively out and visiting with us, while Classy is hanging out under the couch. For the moment, we aren’t quite sure where Dancer is. (As I type, Diana has become Eva’s laptop).

No photos as of yet because I don’t want to freak them out (any more than they already are), but I assure you, there will be photos.

In far less momentous news, I’ve started the new year by working out each day. The holidays brought me a Wii Fit, and while I’m not fit yet, I’m working on it. As weird as it seems to have a video game leading me through Yoga or fitness training, it does seem to work pretty well for me. On the other hand, we’re only 4 days in.

Any other news will have to wait, because someone wants attention. And what’s the point of having cats if you don’t drop everything to attend to their every whim.

A Sad Rabbi

Sometimes, I’m running hard enough that I don’t really have time to emotionally process what I’m doing. This week has been like that.

There was a very difficult death in the community this week. Someone much too young. An unexpected death. Someone about to graduate from college and begin his life.

I knew it was a terrible tragedy, but it wasn’t until this morning, when I had my first opportunity to sit and knit in three days, that I really felt it. I’d felt his mother’s pain, and that of people who knew him, but until this morning, hadn’t really felt any of my own pain.

My pain in nothing compared to those who knew him well, those who loved him. But I can’t ignore it either.

At times like these, I begin to feel like I’m dwelling in the sad section of the universe: the part which is filled with pain, tears, anguish. It’s far removed from the neighborhood where weddings take place, filled with joy and laughter and possibilities. Love is constant in both areas, but in one it brings joy, and in the other sadness.

My role, as rabbi, is at least as important in the sad parts of life. Probably more so. It is fulfilling to be of service. But it is hard. And sometimes, some days, I wonder how I’ll do it. How will I be present the next time I meet with a family who have just lost a loved one. But then, when I do, I’m not meeting with “a family who have just lost a loved one,” but rather, I’m meeting with a specific family, mourning a specific loss. And somehow that specificity, the uniqueness of that family’s loss will draw me into their lives. And I will be their rabbi.

I am a rabbi to be there for people in the hard times as well as the good. The hard times are full of spiritual growth and meaning. But they also take their toll.

Colliding Worlds

I am pursuing two very different careers simultaneously. I am working both as a congregational rabbi, and as the owner of a business that provides workspace and community for people who would otherwise work from home. Most of the time, these two activities seem to blend well. After all, both are about creating and sustaining community. Some days, the combination creates a distinct sense of disjunction in my life.

Yesterday evening, I went from figuring out how to set up a LCD projector to display Game 1 of the World Series to rushing out the door and going to the hospital in Salem to be with a congregant and family in the final hours of his life. At one moment, I was concentrating on how to make the connections between a VCR which I was using as a tuner, an LCD projector and a pair of computer speakers which were powered through a USB port, and the next I was on my way out the door and heading for the hospital as quickly as I could.

I know there are those who would regard sitting with the dying as one of those duties that unfortunately comes with being a rabbi. Although I find it to be emotionally painful and hard, it is also one of the reasons I became a rabbi: to be with people in times of extremity, to be able to help them through the hard times, just as I help them to celebrate and sanctify the good times. Death is one of the places where a rabbi can make a difference, offer some comfort. I find it taxing, but fulfilling.

Yet I cannot help but be struck by the contrast between that and what I do with the rest of the day yesterday. Other things I did yesterday included: showing people around CubeSpace and talking about how CubeSpace might solve some of their problems; restarting the server to install updates; setting up a room for a meeting; and a variety of other mundane tasks that make up the normal workday. For most of the people I interacted with yesterday, the day will be just another day in their lives. A month from now, they will be unable to distinguish it and remember much about it. For the family in the hospital, and for myself, yesterday will hold a unique place, sacred and sad. It will not drop into obscurity in the stream of time, but rather will be one of those days which remains distinct as the years pass on.

There is nothing new noting the dichotomy between everyday life and death; there is no unique insight in noting that life goes on for all the rest of the world, even as an individual dies and life is brutally interrupted for the family and friend. Nonetheless, in my dual roles I feel like I have a somewhat unique perspective, drifting between a place of death and mourning and an office environment where it feels oddly inappropriate to speak of anything quite as personal as death.

I try to bring my whole self to both of my careers. In general, I feel like I succeed. People at CubeSpace know (for the most part), that I am a rabbi. People at the congregation know that I own a workspace. I feel like I am fundamentally the same person in both places: I feel like I treat people similarly regardless of which hat I am wearing. Yet very occasionally, the two halves of my life feel disjointed, and cannot be made to reconcile. And when that happens, I seek to make meaning out of this disjunction by writing about it and sharing it.  Thank you for being willing to share this with me.