Come here and hug me. It’s all going to be okay. I love you, and Gd loves you, and the world isn’t perfect, but we can still exist. And we can make a difference, one day at a time.
During certain periods of my life I suffered from depression. It made me feel like the entire world was broken and it would never get better, like the Gd who comforted my childhood tears had stopped existing and would never come back. I had an endless well of sorrow inside of me, and I wanted to die.
But I didn’t die. And it was hard. Existence in this world can be very, very hard sometimes. I would read newspapers and sob; I would look out the window and feel a deep pain in my chest, I would stare off into the distance and just plain hurt. I would wake up in the morning and think “why bother?” But I kept existing, and I wrote in my journal, and I saw a therapist, and I googled “seasonal depression” and slowly I got to a better place.
I learned how to deal with myself, and I learned how to find the sunny places to sit in winter. I learned a little about brain chemistry, and I learned to keep houseplants alive.
I also got very involved with political campaigns. I fought my pain by fighting the world’s pain. I rallied, marched, petitioned, boycotted, and baked vegan banana bread. Every piece of clothing I wore was an ethical choice; every bite of food I ate was as humane and organic as possible. I surrounded myself with people who told me that our actions matter in the world. Slowly but surely, I got better. Life stopped hurting so much. I was rebuilt–stronger and louder and better than ever.
I learned about Tisha B’ Av a few years after my worst depression. I went to shul with some of my traditionally observant friends–I sat on the floor and read the Book of Lamentations by candlelight. Though I had never participated in the holiday before, the horrific imagery and crushing words were completely familiar to me. Gd has forsaken us. It’s hopeless, it’s over, there’s nothing we can do, everything is bad. I wept.
I wept quietly in the dark, surrounded by other people in mourning, and felt a part of myself crumble. The next day it was hard for me to get out of bed. I was listless and irritable for a few days, and I didn’t want to do anything. I couldn’t sleep. By the following week I figured out what was going on–I was slipping into a depression, and if I didn’t work hard to bring myself out of it, I would be a complete mess within a month.
I fought it. I got out of bed early, I got exercise every day, I participated in my politically active community, I wrote in my journal. It wasn’t easy. I hated everything. But after a while, I was okay again. I warded off my post Tisha B’Av depression.
We have a holiday that is all about depression. For some people this is probably deeply rewarding and important. For me, and perhaps for others like me, it’s a teensy bit dangerous.
The following year I participated in Tisha B’ Av again, and again I wept and found myself on the brink of another depression. I did some serious thinking about the meaning of the holiday, and I thought about what the Temple means to me. Like a lot of modern Jews, I don’t actually want to see the physical Temple structure rebuilt in Jerusalem–I think that would mean a war, and I don’t believe that people have to be hurt for my religious practice to be whole and fulfilling. On the other hand, I find the metaphor of a beautiful structure being rebuilt after complete devastation very compelling. I like the image of all of us working to create a better world together, and I believe that I too am working towards “olam ha ba”–a better world to come.
I came to this realization: The Temple is a metaphor in my heart. My temple was destroyed, but I have since rebuilt it. It took a lot of work, but I did it, and now I don’t feel broken anymore, and I don’t feel like Gd is an aching absence that might not exist at all. I feel Gd inside of me as a force of strength and compassion, and I believe Gd is inside of everyone and everything. I am rebuilt.
I maintain my inner temple by fighting for our broken world, by rallying-marching-petitioning-boycotting-baking vegan banana bread, and by teaching, and by having conversations with friendly strangers, and by welcoming people into my home and my community. I still weep for our world, with all of its injustice, with its George Zimmermans and without its Trayvon Martins, for our strong Wendy Davises, our horrifying Monsantos, our inspiring friends, and my wonderful students. But I remember to put a little anger in my sorrow, so that I keep fighting.
And I do not save all of my tears for Tisha B’ Av. I do not weep for the Temple; my temple is doing just fine, thank Gd. I weep for the world, and I fight for olam ha-ba.
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