Tisha B’av, the saddest day of the Jewish year, starts on Saturday night.
In addition to the fall of our beloved Temples, we have much to grieve this year. The murders in Colorado. The war in Syria. The memory of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team who were kidnapped and murdered in Munich, Germany in 1972–a tragedy that will go unacknowledged during the London Olympics this year.
We have much to grieve.
Yet many of us won’t, myself included. We may post an image or brief statement on a Facebook page or Twitter feed, and then get on with our day, running errands, planning playdates, fixing meals, managing tantrums. We may take a moment to remember, but we probably won’t grieve.
Like so many other rituals and holidays in the Jewish tradition, there is wisdom in the observance of Tisha B’av. There is reason to mourn. Not only for ourselves, for our own need to acknowledge the inevitable illnesses, injuries, failures, and losses that each of us have experienced, but for our children. We don’t need to teach them how to be sad–they already know how to feel, often deeply. Rather, we need to let them know, to reassure them time and again, that it’s ok. That sadness is ok.
I should know this better than most; as a clinical social worker, my job is to help people identify and tolerate difficult feelings. But everything changes when you become a parent, and the last thing I want is to see them in pain, to have them be sad. Just like every parent I know, I want my kids to be happy. When they aren’t, I instinctively try to make them feel better. Make them feel better. It’s such a common phrase that belies such a problematic intervention. We shouldn’t be trying to make our children, or anyone else, feel anything other than what they need to feel, what they are feeling at any given moment. I know this. I really do. But they are my daughters, and I want them to be happy.
Yet happiness isn’t just about feeling good at every possible moment. It’s also about finding meaning in the present moment, in our hopes for the future, and in our ability to make sense of the past. It’s about being able to experience and tolerate painful feelings. Each time we sit with sadness, we become more human, more real, more connected to ourselves and to those who have come before us and those who will come after us, including our own children. We are reminded to be grateful for all that we have, much of which is often overlooked in the chaos of daily life.
I’m not going to be fasting or praying this year, and I’m missing an opportunity. An opportunity to slow down, to focus, to experience the range of emotions that I’ve been tiptoeing around recently as I’ve tried to manage the daily details of life with small children and complicated families. Certainly my challenges pale in comparison to the destruction of the Temples and the accompanying loss of life, but they are real to me, they are small windows that give me the slightest access to the pain of my ancestors. That’s important; connecting to Jewish history, to my history, on an emotional level is meaningful, especially if I ever want to teach my daughters how to do it.
We may be at the beach on Sunday, building sandcastles with Bubbe and Zayde. Or perhaps we’ll play at a park. Even though we won’t be mourning properly, I will try to remember. To remember all that we have lost. To remember that which I am so fortunate to have now. And perhaps most importantly, to remember that the next time my girls are sad, my best response is to sit with them, to ask them about their sadness, and to hold it with them rather than trying to make them feel better.