The Bitter and the Sweet: Birthdays Before 9/11

The Bitter and the Sweet: Birthdays Before 9/11 September 11, 2018

Yesterday was my birthday.  Today is 9/11.

Yesterday, too, was Rosh Hashana, the New Year in the Jewish calendar.  And next week is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

The bitter and the sweet.

There’s something poetical about that.

Solidarity in Sorrow

Something that many people remember about the weeks surrounding 9/11 was that our fractured nation came together in grief.  People stopped in the supermarkets and were tender; you didn’t get road rage at the slow car before you; you checked in with people you cared about.

Sorrow has a strange way of connecting us.

This past week, even, I’ve had several beautiful readers coming forward and sharing their story about their own ghostly loves and losses – discovering a solidarity in mourning.

And it seems to me, as I watch people recount where they were on 9/11, that one of the reasons God may allow suffering in the world, why – as a Christian at any rate – I believe that my God chose to suffer – is precisely because there’s a certain transformative grace that comes through suffering.

In suffering, I am reminded that I need others.

In suffering, I turn to others who need me.

In suffering, I remember that I’m human.

In suffering, I can see the humanity of others.

In suffering, I recognize myself in another.

In suffering, I’m made small – which means I can finally be held.

Individual Joy

Tolstoy famously wrote in Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  But I disagree.

If the secret to suffering is its commonality: the universal recognition of a skinned knee no matter the person or our prejudice, then the most wonderful – most mystical – most real truth about Joy is that it’s absolutely individual.

What delights me may sort of overlap with your delight.  And that’s how friendships are made.  But there is a particular and precise alignment of joy in me that is unique to myself.  That delights in attempting to dance angrily to a polka.  That is constantly on the look out for a terrible pun, and delights in the utter failure to make it.  That – rather like at last night’s brilliant rehearsalcompels me to literally shout and leap about in delight, as though I were eight years old again – as though, deep down, we are all eight years old and unafraid and giddy.

Think of the person you love most.  Who else has their laugh?

Joy is infinite, and its varieties are infinite, and you possess one small portion of those infinite varieties – like a singular pixel among all the shades of beauty.  Yet you possess that corner entirely, and mysteriously, and marvelously to yourself as a gift.  A gift you share that makes the whole more beautiful, of course.

But an irrepeatable gift.  As you are irrepeatable.

The Bitter and the Sweet

In this earth, there is the bitter that brings us together, and the sweet, which brings us transcendently to ourselves – and Something (or Some One) greater.  Here in this valley of tears, we need both.  So our Jewish brothers and sisters know, as they have apples and honey last night, and next week will fill their hands with stones.  So we know, too, between blowing up birthday balloons and flying the flag half-mast.

I do, personally, have hope that one day the solidarity of sorrow and the bliss of individual joy will cohere – if not here, then hereafter.  Until then, Shana tova, my friends.  May all our names be inscribed in the Book of Life.  And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the Mercy of God, rest in peace.

Now go eat some cake.


Image courtesy of Pixabay.

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