I got an amazing text message last week. It read, "Do you have time to talk about big questions that have no answers?" That night I was anonymously recounting this to my family as the highlight of my day, and my six-year-old said, "Like, Why are we here?"
I was verklempt. Yes, precisely a question like that. The moment we enter this world we learn to wonder about the mystery and sit with the limits of what we can know. It is in our bones.
As it turns out my six-year-old had been listening to a podcast earlier that day in which they explored the question "Why are we here?" Which is, in and of itself, amazing.
Fast forward to this week, I was able to meet with this person via Zoom. As you can imagine we asked questions about life and death. I offered my best guesses at the ineffable, which provided very little solid ground and didn't attempt certainty. But what mattered much more to both of us was the space to voice the questions, to name the mystery, and to sit with the overwhelming feelings underneath the questions. And that space actually offered itself up as a kind of solid ground for both of us.
The conversation reminded me of a memoir I read a few months ago written by a young mom who dies of cancer, called The Bright Hour. On her deathbed, Nina Riggs writes:
"I am reminded of an image...that living with a terminal disease is like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss. But that living without disease is also like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss, only with some fog or cloud cover obscuring the depths a bit more -- sometimes the wind blowing it off a little, sometimes a nice dense cover."
The last six months have certainly revealed the abyss, that is, was, always there. We have been personally and collectively called to dig deep to find the source of our resilience in the face of wildly scary circumstances.
As I prepare for summer vacation, what I am taking with me is the awe and gratitude for our capacity to ask big questions that have no answers. And to keep seeking the answers, not so much for the certainty, but for the solid ground of companionship.
Thank you for your trust and your questions, and for being in this with me when the cloud cover is thin and the depths of fear, injustice, and impermanence are revealed. Perhaps this is why we are here. To walk this tightrope together.
I wish for each of you spacious moments this summer, when you can feel into the expanse that is also always present as we traverse the depths.
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.