Exactly 12 years ago Jewish time, my brothers and I were sitting shiva for our mother, Arlene, z”l, observing Chanukkah while also following the Jewish laws which dictate how we grieve and mourn. I will never forget how my friend Barry greeted me as I walked into Kyla’s home that Friday evening, December 15/Erev Shabbat 25 Kislev 5767. In his cheery voice he boomed, “Welcome to the orphanage .” Only 9 months earlier we had buried our father, Merle, z”l, who passed away on the 12th day of Adar 5766, which coincided with March 12, 2006. That synchronicity led me to structure his eulogy around the number 12, noting its special status among numbers, from the 12 tribes of Israel to the 12 inches in a foot. And so it is that I have been highly sensitive to this 12th year of yartzeit for both Mom and Dad.
This week, in the shadow of that sensitivity, Americans have “sat shiva” for our 41st President, George H. W. Bush. While not a monarchy, US political society does produce dynasties and so we are experiencing a national mourning period where our 43rd President publicly mourns his father, the 41st. The deeply personal nature of our public mourning is of course heightened by the contrast between both 41 and 43 with Donald Trump, the 45th President. As a country, bonded by the pomp, majesty and reverence for the symbols of our great democracy, we seem to have come together to mourn both a man and a type of democracy. George “W” Bush, having lost his mother less than a year ago, like me, has entered the orphanage. However, as a firm believer in the strength of American participatory democracy, I refuse to believe that Donald Trump can kill our “better angels” or put out any of “the 1,000 points of light.”
Jewish tradition offers us the framework to begin our healing process upon the loss of a loved one. I wonder if the Episcopalian tradition has any similar grief and mourning rituals. If so, I would encourage W to follow them, as I did 12 years ago, finding profound healing in the words and music of a faith tradition that holds deep eternal wisdom. In our tradition, we say “may her memory be a blessing.” This week the world recalled the life of George H.W. Bush and felt blessed by his service and integrity. That blessing of memory needs to fuel those who love this democracy to demand a return to decency, civility and respect in our public sphere. It is clear to me that this is Poppy’s legacy at this moment in our public life.
During Chanukkah, our Festival of Lights that celebrates the rededication of the Jewish People to our core values, I want to believe that the American people are celebrating a rededication to our core democratic principles. I want to believe that this synchronicity between Chanukkah and the US period of National Mourning for 41 is sacred. I want to believe that while W and his siblings have entered the orphanage, American society can bring our proud democracy back to life. I want to believe that Mr. Mueller has found facts that will help our American democracy begin to heal. May the memory of President George H.W. Bush be the blessing that begins that healing process. And may W and his siblings find comfort in the orphanage.