Tuesday, July 9, 2013

They Break Bones

There was a scene in "Fill the Void" that has wedged itself in my mind. Shira, the 18-year-old protagonist who has recently lost her sister, is back at work, playing the accordion for the local gan. Watching the little girls bounce cheerfully to a joyous tune, she is infected by their enthusiasm and smiles. 

Another teacher comes over, placing her hand on her shoulder, saying she was so sorry to hear the news, she was out of town. How do you feel? How is your mother? 

Shira, now reminded of her pain, droops distinctly. The woman walks away, but Shira can no longer continue with the dancing melody. Instead, drowning in her refreshed sorrow, her fingers and hands contort her instrument into a mournful lament.

This image clashes with the previous scene of the family sitting shiva, remaining steadfastly silent as Shira's mother leans heavily on her. After a few moments, the visitors gets up, saying "HaMakom yinacheim eskem . . ." May God comfort you.
The laws of shiva are that a comforter cannot speak unless the grieving instigate conversation. Unbidden, visitors cannot pry as to details, or feelings (which, I would think, are obvious); they are merely to come and show their support, taking their cue from the mourners. 

Why should these laws be suspended after a mere week? Suddenly, one can ask impertinent questions, stabbing another who is already in agony? It happens all to often, as also seen when the spinster, Freida, is told constantly the Hebrew equivalent of "Im yertz Hashem by you." The audience can see the flicker cross her face, even as she smiles politely, every time it is uttered. What kindness is there reminding someone constantly of the fact that she is single?

In a segment of Social Qs, a woman writes in: 
I heard through the grapevine that a woman I used to work with for over five years is going through chemotherapy. We were never personal friends. This morning, I ran into her on the street. She was clearly wearing a wig (albeit a very nice one that many people might not have noticed). I didn’t comment on her appearance and wasn’t sure exactly what to say. So I asked how she was, and we chit-chatted about work. She never mentioned her cancer. But I couldn’t help feeling uncaring for not asking about her struggle with chemo. What was the appropriate thing to do?
Anonymous, Brooklyn
I (finally) watched the first season of “Breaking Bad” over our rainy Memorial Day weekend. (Don’t worry; my pulse should be back to normal any day now.) And as I watched Bryan Cranston turn from unassuming high-school chemistry teacher to brutal meth-cooker (thanks, in part, to his character’s diagnosis with Stage 3 lung cancer), I realized that taking “vacations” from serious illness is probably crucial, whether that involves gunning down your local drug lord or putting on a good wig and walking along Main Street as if you were as healthy as a horse.
No one wants to be a cancer patient all the time or talk about it with everyone she meets. I think you did just the right thing. Let other folks decide when they want to share their bad news, especially those with whom we’re not close. And if they choose not to mention it, don’t take it as a slight, or let your silence feel like a mark of coldness. Quite the opposite: you let your former colleague enjoy a brief respite from her illness. I’d call that very kind, indeed.
Words can wound. We have to think a moment, perhaps many moments, before speaking. How many times do I cringe in memory of that which I spoke without sufficient aforethought? If I accidentally step on another's toe, while I have hurt them, it will be forgotten in five minutes, tops. If I say the wrong thing? I am guilty of hurting someone for years to come.   


Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

> Why should these laws be suspended after a mere week?

Because life must go on or the person sits shiva for the rest of their lives.

Princess Lea said...

Last I checked, sensitivity has no expiration date.

Yocheved said...

Excellent post! When anyone is going through anything hard, the one thing they want more than anything else in the world, is to be "normal".

They want to be unremarkable, regular, they want their lives to not have drama, to not elicit sympathy, basically, they want things to be the way it was "before".

A day, a few hours, of being "normal" can be like a huge vacation when someone is suffering.

Princess Lea said...

Yes, that is exactly on point. One can be polite and nice without pity and sympathy. How come being pleasant isn't good enough without rubbing someone's face in their pain?