Friday, 27 April 2007
To speak or not to speak, that is the question...
There has been a lot of discussion on various blogs about this well-intentioned move for a day of silence across the blogosphere on 30 April for the victims of the Va Tech massacre, and, by extension, for victims of violence around the world. Many people will be participating and are spreading the word.
A significant minority (at a quick glance) will make their voices heard on Monday, saying "no" to silence. Their reasons are equally well-intentioned: many people will go along with it as a fad, to feel part of history, to follow the crowd. Instead of falling silent, they argue, we need to speak out in rage: for gun control, against injustice, for the death penalty, against the system. At least one person has said that it will be "business as usual" at their blog. Good reasons, all of them. After all, talking (or typing) is what we do best.
But there are compelling reasons to remain silent, one of which is to acknowledge and bear witness to unbearable anger, grief and pain in a world that considers speaking of "healing" the day after a tragedy like this appropriate. We live in a world that runs away from its Shadow by repressing it or trying to reach a "higher level of consciousness" without going through the darkness. True healing only comes by being *with* our darkness and our pain, letting it crack open the walls around our heart, and allowing it to pass through us, feeling it fully.
Most of my readers know how much I love Judaism. I feel very strongly that Jewish customs acknowledge every minute of our lives here, light and dark, as holy - and sitting shiva is one of the most powerful, giving us room and ritual which allows us to fully live our grief and paving the way to healing.
From the keriah, or rending of the garments prior to the funeral service, deeply symbolic on levels ranging from anger at our loss to the halachic requirement to 'expose the heart', to the covering of mirrors and sitting on the floor, shiva gives us permission to leave the outside world behind and completely enter the inner world of our grief for seven days. The process is allowed to begin, unhindered by the demands of others, aided by their love and support.
Shiva is also salutary for those who visit the mourners. When they come to the shiva house, they are to sit down and take their lead from the mourner. If the mourner is silent, then they remain silent - no platitudes such as "He was in so much pain, it was a blessing," or "She's in a better place," the comments so often overheard after a funeral or interment. We believe them to be for the mourners, but they're really for us, because we are uncomfortable staying with someone else's pain and grief. Shiva makes us focus on their needs, not ours. It forces us to be still and listen, and doesn't allow communication to become a barrier to communion.
The time comes when we must all rise from our grief and enter the world again, renewing our commitment to life and allowing our hearts to heal once more. Life is a cycle, and the key to fulfilling our vocation of living it authentically and in love is to trust in the cycle and enter each part of it completely and willingly: joy and sorrow; happiness and anger; light and Shadow.
And so, even though the time will come to analyse how the tragedy at Va Tech could have been avoided and to speak out against our culture of violence and gun laws, that time is not now. Let us be with those families and friends who have lost those they love to unimaginable violence.
It is not yet time to speak.
It is time to pay a shiva call.