Rachel Sharansky Danziger

A way out of the narrow places

With the full significance of the Omicron variant still uncertain, I find freedom from the panic inside me by looking outside myself – at you

Here we are again, in this uncomfortably, distressingly familiar place.

The numbers are rising. The government is deliberating. The open sky is shrinking above us. Impending disaster, like an ominous wave, is looming above us, ready to crash. The new variant is spreading, its deadliness is yet-to-be-determined, and our collective breath is held as we wait for it to incubate fully… like a shore waiting for the receding sea to return with a vengeance once the tsunami hits.

And even as we cancel plans and scroll down articles and check our mask supplies, normal life continues, with all its natural and necessary rhythms, underscoring the odd duality we live in now – normal and not normal, routine, and unusual, mundane and life-or-death, all rolled in one.

Like all of us, I’ve become an old hand in this duality. On most days, I make my children’s sandwiches even as I read the news, and don’t think twice as I send each of my loved ones on their way. Yes, today might be the day they catch the virus. Yes, today might be the day someone else does, and we all go into quarantine. Yes, this might be the last moment of normalcy for quite a while. But so what? We can’t halt all our lives until this pandemic ends.

I go on living.

But some days, I don’t feel as sure-footed. Some days, panic seeps in. Today is such a day, and I sit here, too tense to simply go on living. I feel the walls of danger closing, the limitations to come, the onset of older fears.

When my parents were sick with Covid this summer, most of my fear was purged away. I embraced it so fully for that one endless week that it burnt itself out of my veins, my stomach. Afterward, I grew bold and developed a more philosophical outlook. Que será, será, I said – and I felt it. What will be, will be.

And yet now, in this place between the appearance of the Omicron variant and the discovery of its full significance, I fear again.

But even as this fear seeps in, even as I find my breath shortening, my soul retreating, I say – no.

I refuse.

I shall not accept this.

Many, many things are out of my hands right now: I can’t control the dangers out there. I can’t control the government’s policies. I can’t control the scope or spread of this new variant.

But I will not allow these things to crush my inner world with panic.

I must find a way to outgrow this narrowing, constricting feeling in my chest.

Some might recommend meditation, or breathing exercises, or even a good night’s sleep – and all of these ideas have much merit. But I believe that the true path lies elsewhere. My way to freedom from this panic doesn’t pass through looking inwards; it passes through looking outwards, at – and out for – you. It is by seeing you, by seeing others, by caring for them, that we can overcome our internal torments. If I can find it in myself to truly care for others now, I will be free.

When the walls were closing on King David by the end of the Books of Samuel, after God sent a prophet to tell him that he must be punished, and offered three horrid, horrid options, and no way out of choosing which one to embrace – David, too, felt hemmed and powerless. With nothing but closing walls and bad options, he exclaimed, like King Saul before him, ‘tzar li meod’ – it is very narrow for me. But later, David found the strength to call to God from this narrowing place inside him. Not at first, not immediately – only when he saw the people suffering. It was their pain that made him call and beg God to spare them. In praying for others, David burst through the closing walls, through resignation, through despair.

God heard the call and offered a way out, but it was David himself who broke the mental siege within him. It was he who called “from the narrow place,” (as he wrote in Psalm 118). And it was this call itself, motivated by a care for others, that paved the way to a broader, open space.

I am heir to David. Heir to his spirit, heir to his determination, heir to his songs – as are we all.

And so, like him, I refuse to accept the narrow places as inevitable. I look at all of you around me, and force myself to bravery, to caring, to being bigger than this crushing wall.

About the Author
Rachel is a Jerusalem-born writer and educator who's in love with her city's vibrant human scene. She writes about Judaism, history, and life in Israel for the Times of Israel and other online venues, and explores storytelling in the Hebrew bible as a teacher in Maayan, Torah in Motion, and Matan.
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