Courage is contagious

“I’m lucky all I got was a concussion” writes 17-year-old Tali Rosen this week.  She poignantly invites us into the inner life of despair among her peers which is part of today’s nationwide epidemic of suicide.  She tells a heartbreaking story from years earlier of a camp bunkmate named Senesh who later took her life.  Tali’s sharing is courageous.

“I’d gotten my concussion on a four-day rafting-biking trip; I’d lost my glasses on the rafting part, but decided to bike anyway. I knew I couldn’t see, I knew I shouldn’t go, but for some reason I did, and though I wasn’t trying to harm myself, part of me wanted something to happen.”  Despite Tali’s lovingly supportive family, her recovery featured isolation and scary thoughts.  The same dark thoughts Senesh must have felt the night she took her life two years ago.  Senesh had been the first person to rush to see Tali after her concussion.

Senesh’s bereft father reflected after her death, “Her brain was a teenager’s brain. Despite abundant cleverness, she lacked an adult’s grasp of consequences.” Downstream consequences aren’t the only thing people leave unconsidered.  Something else is often overlooked: how you feel now is not how you will feel tomorrow.

Sheltering in place with family can make space for critically important conversations about what we do when doubts dash away dreams.  Sharing is so important.  And it’s so easy to avoid.

Our tradition’s approach to time can be a good provider, particularly now when days run into each other.  This week’s portion of Torah specializes in filling days with holiness (that which is dear to God).  Accordingly every Festival gets called Shabbat.  We even find a rare repetition of the words “On the Sabbath day, on the Sabbath day” (ba-yom ha-Shabbat ba-yom ha-Shabbat) (Lev. 24:8). This reminds us of the pause and focus that name repetitions like “Abraham, Abraham” invite.  The broader context of the repetitive phrase is sabbatical reach into agriculture and into the Jubilee economic-reboot.  But the immediate context is nourishment derived from arranging loaves of bread.

The pause and focus of Shabbat can make empty times feel more nourishing.  Table conversation and outdoor walks invite talks about the things that matter, including hopes and inspirations.

Tali’s hard work with in therapy with her parents has helped her learn to live with problems that cannot be solved.  Her decision to share so tenderly and honestly evidences this, and may now inspire similar courage in many others.

Courage is faith’s cousin, suggests Rabbi David Wolpe.  As Graduation season arrives, may our faith be warmed by opening up to family and friends in ways that make Tali’s courage contagious.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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