No matter how much we may feel prepared, it is impossible to escape the profound feelings which overcome us when we experience loss. Death of those we love hits us like a thief in the night, no matter how old they were, how sick they were, or how ready they may have been for their transition.
We are reminded of how life and death live together as twins during this week’s Festival of Sukkot. Sukkot is often one of the unsung heroes of our Jewish Holidays, despite the fact that it is mentioned in the Torah in the book of Exodus, Chapter 33. It is the festival of harvest, acknowledging the ending of the lives of certain crops, almost celebrating the impermanence of life. We are commanded by God to construct booths outside our homes, similar to little shacks. They are to be flimsy in nature, with one open wall, and a roof making it possible to see the sky above. We are commanded to dwell in them during these eight days of the Sukkot festival. What does this mean? For those in warmer climates, this is a no brainer. But for those of us who live in places like Chicago, it can be more challenging. Like all things in Judaism, we must do what has meaning for us, whether that means to have a meal or two in the Sukkah, maybe have drinks in the sukkah, or just to merely go out and say hello to it during the festival, while thinking about the temporary and fragile nature of life itself.
We read the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) during the holiday of Sukkot. Kohelet is attributed to King Solomon, who begins the book by lamenting the impermanence of life, almost by saying, “what’s the point?” He says throughout the beginning of the book that there is “nothing new under the sun.” However, his pessimism does not permeate the entire book. He sees a way out of the abyss by encouraging the reader to simply embrace the temporariness of life, and to just stay in the moment. We read in Chapter 3: “To everything there is a season. A time to be born, a time to die, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, a time to dance.” It is certainly ironic that much of New Age Philosophy, as we practice in Yoga and Meditation, encourages us to do the same thing. To simply stay in the moment, be at one with the earth, our breath, and the life force flowing within us at each moment, not thinking about what was or what is to come.
In this world we live in, it is easy to fear the loss of those we love most. I personally have found this fear to be debilitating, particularly when I say goodbye to my beloved daughter every day before she goes to school. No matter what I do, or how many times I tell her to always look out for herself first, to love herself first, there are some things which are simply beyond my control. I have learned over the years that what I can control is each moment I have with her, and everyone I love. I make it a practice to tell her, Ross, and Zev, and everyone close to me, how much I love them, often multiple times a day. There is rarely a time that we leave each other’s presence that we do not say “I love you.” Expressing my love each moment helps me to feel a little more powerful.
On the first day of Sukkot this year, I experienced the profound loss of my long-time voice teacher, Leyna Gabrielle, with whom I studied until her retirement in 2009. The pain of losing her hit me like a thief in the night. During my single years in NYC, she was a surrogate mother to me, as she was to all of her MANY students. Not only did she guide my singing into greater heights than I had ever thought possible, she also helped to ground me as a person, providing the stability and parenting that I craved, even when I did not realize it.
She lived a long life of 95 years, and it is fitting that she took her exit on this contemplative holiday of Sukkot, where “to everything there is a season.” While I will miss her tremendously, and feel the great void of her loss, I take solace in the fact that when I was living in New York, I told her again and again how much she meant to me. I went to visit her. I made sure my daughter knew her and that she met my infant son before we moved. I was conscious to make the most of each moment of our time together, and I did my best to not take her for granted.
Leyna lived life to the fullest, celebrating every moment. I know in my heart that this is what she would want for me, and for all of her students: to celebrate our times with her, in spite of our mourning.
So now you know why I am such a hugger. Why I express how I am feeling so much to all of you. Everything is impermanent. And while we have each other in this life, I will make sure you know how much I care for you. Chag Sameach, and Shabbat Shalom from Ross, Abigail, Zev and me.