I’ve always admired the wailers of the world. The sun-soaked, wrinkled women who carry the weight of whole worlds on their shoulders and behind their eyes. The ones you see at the Western Wall in Jerusalem or any other holy site in Israel, crying like it’s their profession. I don’t aspire to the pain or sorrow that surely inspires those tears, but I admire the release.
Crying doesn’t come easily to me. Sometimes I wish it did, but, it doesn’t.
A few weeks ago, I was driving past a small town called Meron. It is the burial site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son, the authors of the Kabbalah’s most famed work, the Zohar. Meron is a spiritual hot spot, and people from all over the country flock there for all kinds of reasons. I’d been there many times, yet it had never a place I’d felt personally connected to. I surprised myself by hooking a sharp right and bee-lining right for it.
When I entered the space, I walked into what felt like a Semitic half-carnival-half-revival tent. The tables were dotted with a half-eaten sweet breads and candies, free for the taking. Plastic cups with orange soda were scattered on the tables and floor. Kids and cats prowled around with equal presence. The heavily dressed women selling prayers for money and the more scantily clad ladies wearing scarves around their heads and shoulders were swaying in tempo to the chazzan’s voice on the other side of the curtain.
I found a quiet corner and took my place within the scene. I thought I might pray, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Blessedly, within a few minutes of arrival, I felt the welcome, long-awaited tingling of tears welling up behind my eyes, and I understood why I had come.
Tears that had been dammed up for months started to flow freely.
Shoulder-shaking, hard-to-breathe-steady kinds of tears.
Tears that are really uncomfortable for other people to watch.
Tears that said, “Something real is going down over there. Get that girl a box of .”
But I didn’t want tissues. I didn’t want anyone to notice me at all. I just wanted to keep crying.
It felt so good.
I don’t even know what I was crying about. And it doesn’t matter. The reason wasn’t the point. I was just grateful to be getting “it” out. My tears were the most honest thing I had felt in a long time.
As I emoted, I was aware of what was happening around me. I heard shuffling feet, kisses to plastic-bound prayer books, sniffles, hushed conversations about “the tzadik,” and ever-present outstretched hands, eager for coins and cash.
I was aware of it all, but not focused on any of it specifically.
I could feel what happened next before it actually happened, so I wasn’t startled when the young, enthusiastic pray-er next to me leaned over and whispered heavily in my ear: “Do you have children?”
I meet her zealous gaze calmly and nodded in the affirmative.
“Oh … Thank G-d,” I heard her mumble. She looked as if she was working on something to say next.
I could practically hear her flipping through different scenarios in her mind that might explain what tragedy I must be suffering to bring me to this depth of emotion. She wanted to help. She wanted to pray for me – maybe even pray with me.
Had I not have been so desperate for this emotional release and quiet time between me and my G-d, the evening might have ended differently. In my mind I saw a flash of myself turning towards the woman and explaining that not every tear needs to be dried … that prayer can’t always land on acute pain, and not every pain needs to be prayed away, anyway. I summonsed the wise mother and educator in me and schooled her for interfering with my holy moment.
“Sweet girl, if I didn’t have children and were here crying my face off at 6 P.M. on a Tuesday night, praying to G-d from 16 year barren womb, are you sure that it’s your prayer that would tip the scale? Honey, you need to be real clear about what you can and cannot offer in terms of support before you start whipping out your prayer pistol and shooting.”
I saw myself looking deep into her eyes and telling her, softer now, that often the kindest and most honest response we can offer someone in pain or sorrow–or even in joy–is simply to hold the space for them. Let the Crier cry; let the Mourner mourn; leave the Joyful to their joy.
“It’s hard to leave things alone,”I continued, “because we are designed by nature to tend to and fix things, but some things, a lot of things, are beyond our capacity to fix. Some things are just hard. Some things just hurt. You can’t go around throwing words at pain, no matter how well-crafted or well-intentioned. A broken heart doesn’t speak that language. Stand nearby if you feel called to do so, but hang back far enough that you don’t intrude. Leave folks to their feelings until they are ready to raise their eyes and seek another way.”
I didn’t say any of that though.
Instead, I did my best to stay on track and let the last of my tears run dry. When I was done, I set my puffy eyes towards the prayer book on my lap. I opened it to the first page. The Hebrew alphabet stared back at me; each letter like a solider waiting for a direct order.
But I wasn’t ready to direct any of them. I felt content to just look at them, to let my eyes zoom in and out. That was one of the most honest moments of prayer I’d had in sometime.
When the gravity of the world beyond started to tug at my focus, I took a deep breath, stood up and welcomed the sense of calm and rightness that follows a big release. The young whispering woman had left. Did I miss an opportunity to verbalize a human truth and to , or was it better for me to think my thoughts quietly?
I walked into the night with a bud of promise and purpose I hadn’t felt in a while, grateful at least, to have been a wailer for the night.