This past Wednesday marked Trans Day of Remembrance/Resilience. That night I was teaching the Judaism for Everyone class and many of us dedicated our learning to the memory of trans people who have been killed or who have taken their own lives. We said a prayer that ends with "Blessed are they, who have allowed their divine image to shine in the world. Blessed is God, in Whom no light is extinguished." And then we closed class with the Mourner's Kaddish.
Of the many gifts that being trans has given me, developing a dynamic relationship with grief and loss is top of the list. When I first began to come out to myself as trans, grief - or, more specifically, my fear of loss - was my greatest internal obstacle. I had this idea that a liberated life did not include loss; that in fact, the "right decisions" by nature avoided loss, on all counts. Oh, you can imagine, it was a tearful realization to understand in the core of my being that there is loss in everything. There is no choice that does not involve loss. This truth is at once devastating and freeing. And has required me to make space in myself to grieve; to wrestle with and feel fully the loss.
Frances Weller writes, "We are remade in times of grief, broken apart and reassembled...There is some strange intimacy between grief and aliveness, some sacred exchange between what seems unbearable and what is most exquisitely alive" (The Wild Edge of Sorrow, 1).
In recent years people have reframed and renamed Trans Day of Remembrance, calling it Trans Day of Resilience. This lifts up precisely this sacred exchange between grief and aliveness. We are called to honor our losses and live fully in their light.
This week's parsha, Hayei Sarah/The Life of Sarah, is itself an extended journey into our ancestral grief. It begins by honoring the life of Sarah. Dayenu, that would be enough. To wrestle with what it means to honor a life. But Rashi presses deeper, and claims that her death is a result of the grief she feels when she learns that Abraham nearly sacrificed her only son Isaac. She died of grief, claims a least three midrashim. And then Abraham grieves for Sarah.
In the words of Oscar Wilde, "Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground."
In the words of trans poet SA Smythe,
"To be righteously unashamed of this grief until the otherwise comes
Until that time when we may name ourselves whole, if not holy”
The less I fear loss, the more I am able to choose life.
Tomorrow morning we will be exploring our relationship to grief in the parsha and our own lives, deepening our capacity to embrace grief with grace and resilience.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.