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To Sit in the World

When was the last time you were able to observe life?

In Jay Shetty’s recent interview with Michelle Obama, he asked her “What is the hardest part of being you?”

Not surprisingly, the former First Lady’s response spoke to her loss of anonymity.

Not surprisingly, the former First Lady’s response spoke to her loss of anonymity.

To be able to sit in the world and observe it. And not be observed. Sitting in a park and watching the world happen. With nobody pulling you out of it. A simple walk through the park or standing in line in the grocery store and overhearing life.

Out of all the questions asked and answered, this one struck me the most personally. Not that any of them should have. Michelle was talking about herself, but she sparked in her response something of a reminder of more pleasant times for me. And it had nothing to do with a loss of anonymity.

It had everything to do with the loss of my mother.

Before we sat in the park, we walked alongside it.

My mother drove into midtown Manhattan to her place of business six days a week from Fort Lee, New Jersey until she retired. Then the Upper West Side became her playground whether she was babysitting any or all of her four grandkids.

If it was one of mine, she’d put them in the stroller and walk up Riverside Park toward Columbia, where I was teaching, and meet me after work.

She loved taking them to any of those “tot lot” playgrounds along Riverside Drive for as long as the kids were small enough to accommodate her.

As she aged, she began to (unwillingly) use a cane to assist with her uneven gait, and then eventually a rollator (even more unwillingly), and finally could only go out accompanied by one of her family members or a beloved caregiver.

Then we would sit in the park and watch the world happen.

In my mother’s last years, her vision was nearly gone from macular degeneration; still, she would love sitting as we pointed out the different people and dogs passing by.

She’d smile in response, but I’m not sure what she saw or didn’t see. I think she was just happy to be there.

“Aren’t we lucky?” she would always say. “We’re so lucky to be living in this beautiful place.”

I now think these may be the very few times that I found peace these past few years, sitting in the park with my mother overhearing and observing life as it was happening.

How I finally found a peaceful, appropriate way to mourn my mother’s loss.

After my mother passed in late September 2023, I started saying Kaddish, the traditional mourner’s prayer, with an online group.According to the Jewish faith, we recite Kaddish for 11 months following a loved one’s death and then again on the anniversary of their death (calledYahrzeit).One reason for saying Kaddish is to help a parent make the transition from this world to the next. I wanted more than anything to do this for my mother.

I found reciting Kaddish to be challenging for several reasons.

One was that I was new to saying Kaddish, so I was tripping over the Hebrew words and felt that everyone else was racing to finish before I did.

You try it!

The second was that people seemed to be shouting, and that was either intimidating or simply annoying.

I was having a hard time staying with this minyan. Minyan in Hebrew is maneh, which can mean to count (1, 2, 3, etc.) or to number. The beauty of the minyan is that it can bring a sense of community and cohesion to your prayers. While most prayers can be said on your own, there are those, such as Kaddish and the wedding blessing that traditionally require a minyan of at least 10 people.

The last and most important reason I was having difficulty staying with the minyan, was that after October 7, the pre-Kaddish lessons began to include increasingly pro-Israeli sentiments (to the exclusion of Palestinian sympathies except by several attendees), and I did not agree with this approach. Sometimes it was subtle. But it was always undeniable.

I could not mourn my mother while supporting the Netanyahu-led regime.

So, I looked for alternatives, but the only one I could find was neither online nor in the same borough.

Then I remembered how Mom loved our walks and how she loved my dog, and how I take my dog out every morning, so . . .

While it is somewhat unconventional to say Kaddish in the absence of a complete minyan, I believe the intent of the prayer is being upheld.

A rabbi once told me that the Kaddish incantation is to support the souls to rise up and peacefully join those others in the new world, those who have already risen, to go with peace and ease.

I am once again sitting in the park, watching the world go by.


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As of January 2024, Rewriting Paradigms is back and I'm writing about today's  issues, those that most test us and our humanity.

Designs2Learn blogs were originally published on a separate site devoted solely to educational issues. 

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