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Prayer and the perfect storm

Recently, an ally described the first portion of my High Holidays as “the perfect storm.” I write poetry, so I naturally assumed that she was being figurative. I was mistaken.

Contrariwise, my gal pal was referring to the psychological concept of “the chaos that ensues when multiple negative factors converge at the same time.”1 More exactly, she knew that I had nursed two of my adult children, plus my husband, through a nasty pathogen, had helped another of my adult children through a work crisis while undergoing my own work crisis, and had coped with family members who visited for the holidays but who engage in spirituality differently than do Hubby and me. Moreover, I still wobbled when I walked and still endured various other injuries. In brief, my sounding board accurately identified that at a time when my tanks were fairly empty, I had had to interface with various “growth opportunities.”

What’s more, those events occurred before and during the Yomim Noraim, a time when Yours Truly is appropriately anchored by fear and reverence (during those ten days, we’re judged, the results of which impact our entire year.) Additionally, when calling buddies to extend greetings for the Days of Awe, I learned that one friend’s spouse had had a heart attack on Rosh Hashanah, that another had broken her back and ribs in an accident, and that a third, who had had surgery, had also had to help her husband, who, upon visiting her in the hospital, stayed to be fitted with a pacemaker.

BH, I outlasted the inner and outer tumult via healthy coping mechanisms. For the most part, I made an effort to eat healthfully (that act required mindfulness as I’m still reliant on delivery services and holidays mean shortages), took five or ten minute word game “vacations,” got extra sleep, exchanged hugs with friends, and invested in plentiful prayer.

Particularly, I asked the Aibishter to close my mouth to prevent me from stirring potentially dangerous mixtures. I likewise asked Him to help me remember to breathe, to leave rooms, and to abide by personal limits. For instance, I asked one family member to stop moaning in shared spaces and schooled another that we’re measured not on outcome but on effort, and that challenges are part of life. Primarily, though, I prayed to G-d for help accepting affairs on His terms and to retain my sense of gratitude.

Unsurprisingly, my prayers provided amazing succor. I brought Hashem along on each phone call, each face-to-face interaction, as well as each minute when I turned my back on chaos, stepped over my home’s threshold, and focused on Greater Creation as that awesomeness is made manifest through the trees, flowers, birds, and community cats that I can view from my front door.

I don’t like pain. I’d rather not have had my middot rigorously tested. Gam zu la Tova—The Boss writes the script, not me. So, when overwhelmed, I tried to recall that feelings are not facts and that I should invite the Aibishter to partner with me. G-d will always be bigger than any of my difficult encounters. He is the rock to Whom I can and must cling.

Eventually, as is always the case, the tempests quieted. Family members were restored to health. My dear one’s and my work issues were resolved. Visitors with strong, articulated opinions returned to their respective cities having felt that their needs were met and that their voices were heard. I was exhausted!

Nevertheless, I reminded myself that tests are kaparot and that kaparot weigh against our shortcomings when our measure is being taken. I thanked G-d for my trials, especially thanking Him that they had been given to me during the span of judgment. I thanked Him, too, that much of my anger and resentment had dissipated and that very little of it had been expressed.

Then a new ordeal landed in my life. Someone dear to me threatened to estrange herself from me if I didn’t lower the barriers, which I’ve long maintained to protect me from someone we both know.

Since I won’t leave myself vulnerable to mistreatment, I’m sad that this precious other is suddenly insisting that I forsake my safety measures. I’m obliged to look after myself even as I try to be compassionate, understanding and accepting (one can accept without agreeing.) Her departure from my life will be my loss.

The Yomim Noraim are dynamic. Some years, as we’re trying to enhance our teshuva practice, Hashem spices up our lives. Fortunately, Tatty in Shamayim knows better than we do what we can handle. We just have to retain our faith, that is, to trust that everything happening to us is for our good. Gmar chatima tova.

  1. Mary McNaughton-Cassill. “Imperfectly Surviving the Perfect Storm.” Psychology Today. 18 May 2020. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mental-health-matters/202005/imperfectly-surviving-the-perfect-storm. Accessed 2 Oct. 2022.
About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.
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