Michelle Schwartz

Balancing Act

I spend my days seeking balance in life: creating joyful moments to offset challenges I face, practicing righteousness to outweigh injustice, finding the calm to counter the frenzy. I surround myself with reasonable, good-hearted people, and I attend to the chaos in but small doses. The balancing act we call life relies on our ability to blend the ideal measure of what is good and bad in this world and to emerge as human beings who possess virtue with kindness, integrity with honor, and morality with self-worth. Since we lost Gilad almost 7 years ago, striking the balance that’s comfortable for me means gathering a fertile measure of happiness and filtering the gloom.

Judaism itself has checks and balances, the Torah acting as our guide to life and relationships, equity in the community, fairness in our actions. Religion influences and teaches us, guides us to do what is right and just in every action and movement each day and with anyone we encounter.

Yet, there are paradoxes at every turn, colored black and white with few shades of grey in between. One moment it is permissible to work, plow a field, cook, use electronics, drive, and turn on lights; another moment those activities are taboo on the Sabbath. One week in the life of a woman she is accessible to her husband in loving ways; other weeks she is in seclusion from that intimate relationship.

Moreover, there are chunks of time during the year when joy is mandated and encouraged, akin to a performing a good deed. The flip side of the calendar are the weeks when weddings, vacations and business transactions are avoided, as it is not a time for happiness. Rather, that is the time we commemorate tragic events that befell our nation. We enter a sad and heavy-hearted realm, and are low of spirit. New clothing, music, and parties are discouraged, often forbidden, and life chugs along on a lower scale of the register.

Most people, I believe, are able to navigate the vacillating nature of our days, the back and forth of happy and sad and then happy again, and claim to be more resilient as a result. As young children we learned to master the natural and unpredictable ebb and flow of life, where experiences deeply affected our emotions. But a loving hand on our backs assured us that all would be well, and that a treat or something special or fun was just around the bend, maybe not right now, but perhaps soon, even tomorrow.

I am too seasoned now to expect a hand on my back to reassure me that everything will be okay. In addition to the loss of a son, we are now caring for aging parents who need us, and that presents us with thorny, myriad challenges which prod and push incessantly into everyday life. It takes much circumventing and mental effort to keep the balance skewed towards what feels good and right.

So when I find myself in the midst of a mandated sad, mournful period of time, I cannot usually tap into that directive. Even years after my son’s passing, part of me is sad all the time, and one of my coping mechanisms is to withdraw into the recesses of my mind and daydream myself onto a beach or into a relaxing game in order to escape reality. It is a calculated way of spacing out and ignoring what may be taking place around me. Whether it is the period of time between Pesach and Shavuot or the 3 weeks between Shiv’ah Asar B’Tammuz and Tisha B’Av, I am not as present as others may be. I simply cannot afford to relinquish my emotions to sadness, or I may inadvertently drown in the fray.

A few years ago, in a piece entitled “Not Just One Mournful Day,” I spoke of the challenges of Tisha B’Av: ”If my heart carries sorrow every day, am I required to mourn beyond that? How do I add a layer of communal loss onto the burden that already weighs me down, to grief that is emotionally deafening on more than one mournful day? Haven’t I had enough?”

Many people fuss over the 3 weeks and time of the omer, and are inconvenienced by the fast days in the summer. Others admirably and successfully tap into national days of mourning and commemorate somber times appropriately. But for me these sad periods in our history and practice are a tenacious reminder that I struggle to strike the right balance each and every day. If I freely allow Tisha B’Av into my psyche, I wonder what I may discover. I cannot admit what sitting on the floor and talking in mournful tones reminds me of. And while others will return to their lives unscathed after the prescribed period of fasting and mourning, it is not as easy for me to return to my carefully constructed life if I let down the guardrails of my heart and allow entry to more sadness than I may be able to accommodate.

About the Author
Michelle Schwartz is a wife, mother of 4 children (3 of whom are in this world), and savta! Michelle works at a local university in academic guidance.