There is an interesting and pronounced discussion in traditional Judaism about the concept of time and history when analyzing the Bible. The principle of “There is no before and after in the Torah,” is based on the idea that the Bible is not an historical book based on a linear, chronological order. The concept is often used to explain discrepancies in the Bible about when certain events took place and to elevate the Torah to a higher plain than mere chronology.
Before my son Ariel z”l completed his life by suicide three years ago today, this type of logic seemed totally illogical to me. Life had a certain order; a rhythm that had clear, linear paths to follow in set times in predetermined sequences. The Jewish Holidays and the four seasons of the year created a structure to move through the year. The dates of the Super Bowl, World Series and NBA finals were yet another flow of chronological events by which I led my life. The Jewish Holidays, seasons and sports events all provided a logical order which sustained and enriched me.
But now, after the bewildering and painful loss of my son and the subsequent turbulence that followed, the concept of time has been forever altered. The logic of ‘there is no before and after,’ now not only doesn’t sound illogical, it’s become the essence of how I live my life, for better or for worse.
For about the past month, today, December 17th, 2019 has brought me backwards in time to December 17th, 2016 and the painful flashbacks of the phone calls from family and friends first notifying me that something was seriously wrong and then notifying me of Ariel’s z”l death. The nightmarish flights from the U.S. to Israel, the funeral and the utter and complete sense of helplessness in trying to support my family when I was barely able to cope myself are what I described to my trauma therapist, as ‘my 30-hour nightmare.’ By going backward in time through flashbacks this past month, I’ve continuously experienced a “flashforward’ in time. Today, December 17, 2019, has already existed in my brain and heart for an entire month. I went backward; I went forward. Time, logic and history have lost its meaning.
There really is no before and after, just a ubiquitous sense of loss.
The before and after have meshed into a cacophony of noise without a framework of time. The linear, chronological timeline is now a series of concentric circles that form a labyrinth of memories, hurt, love, sadness, longing and loss. The circle never ends, it just goes around and around without an end game. Kubler Ross’s stages of death are replaced by cycles and moments in time that keep crisscrossing between the future, past and present much like the television series ‘This is Us.”
The rhythm of my life still includes the Jewish Holidays and sports events, and I continue to work hard, play hard and enjoy life. I live with pain; but I’m determined not to be overwhelmed by the sorrow. Rather, I choose to appreciate and celebrate life’s joys, my family, friends, mountain bike riding, good scotch and fine red wine.
But since Ariel’s z”l death my chronological timeline is punctured by three significant events. First, the terrifying Unatana Tokef prayer on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur which delineates ways in which one can die, sans suicides. Apparently even the Rabbis couldn’t envision someone taking their own life. Or, perhaps, even then the stigma of mental illness permeated the tenants of Judaism. I experience the pain of this prayer the entire month of Elul, a month before I utter the prayer. I move through time and imagine sitting in Synagogue and literally feel my chest constrict. Rosh HaShana is a two-day holiday for most Jews. Not for me. Time has lost its meaning.
Ariel’s birthday is the second major event. When writing in Facebook this past summer about our plans to raise money for the Battered Women’s Shelter by organizing a musical event at our home, I couldn’t find the right term – are we acknowledging; noting; recognizing his birthday? We are certainly not celebrating it. Whatever the term, the birthday hovers over us, before and after the actual date. It’s always there looming ahead of us and then following us like a shadow.
And thirdly, the Azkara ( the anniversary of his death). I prefer the Yiddish word ‘Yahrzeit,’ or anniversary. Azkara comes from the Hebrew word to remind. I don’t need a date to remind me of the loss of my son.
And yet, I remain on the path of life. Despite the bumps in that path, I ride through. In time, the path has even become a bit more rideable. But the longing remains – before, after, now, always. Shira Levi’s new song, “Even for One Minute”, is about her father who took his life.
I, too, wish Ariel z”l would return to me even for one minute.
אריאל זאב חרש May His Memory be a Blessing – יהי זכרו ברוך