I read a reflection by Rabbi Brant Rosen who was discussing a number of things related to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I read once that Rosh Hashanah begins the “days of awe,” which made me smile. The high, celebratory holiday is followed in a few days by Yom Kippur, the Jewish time of atonement.
Rabbi Rosen wrote that, from last year to this one, many things have happened worth remembering, worth pausing. He narrated how significant it is that many of us have been grieving over the year. Grieving who was lost, particularly the more than four million who have died to Covid-19. Grieving unemployment. Grieving disorientation. Grieving an irretrievable life that won’t return.
His suggestion was to use the series of holy days to pause and to reflect. He suggested that we pause over the griefs, using a relevant Jewish custom to spend a year of mourning and praying the Kaddish, but also to pause over the wins, achievements, and triumphs. He noted that it is a scientific victory to, in the same year, locate a virus and a vaccine.
Even with the liturgical moment, in life routines, of reminding oneself that life and death come to us all, there is beauty in pausing, anchoring into what is good, worthy, honorable. Pausing to appreciate the undeniable blessings even while appreciating the undeniable losses. There’s an honesty there, no?
Rabbi Rosen had me considering another time of pause. In my hospital work, I’ve participated in moments of pause when a patient dies. Surrounded by medical staff, many of whom have worked to save the deceased person’s life, we pause in silence, to reflect upon the work and effort, to honor the dead, to acknowledge the loss.
“The Pause” as it’s called in medical literature doesn’t happen all the time, at every death, or after every code, but it is one of those liturgical acts worth using in hospital settings. A team, and anyone on the unit or service line who participated in caring can participate, gathers, pauses in intentional silence, and leaves. A chaplain can lead the moment but anyone else can too.
The pause allows for a gathering together, a joining with others when medical technologies have failed or when it was time for death to arrive. Everyone pauses. Pauses to think of the losses and the gains. Pauses to think of what dreadful things happened. Pauses to think of what great things happened.
All of it will leave us disoriented just enough but, somehow, also oriented toward a consideration of life and humility and death.