“If you live you grieve.”
A friend died of cancer a couple nights ago. The funeral was today. Merrily was a woman who didn’t pull punches and saw the essence of things. She didn’t just show up when you called her. She was there. An artist by training who had seen too much suffering — her daughter died a few years back leaving two young children and a huge void. Merrily lived the beauty and pain of life. She understood that in some pain there may be beauty, but we need not seek beauty in suffering. There is only suffering and our response to it. Her response was to look outward. Maybe compassion is the milk of disease.
Maybe it was compassion which lead the rabbis to say, “bury the dead of the Jew as well as the non-Jew for these are the ways of Peace.” Peace being a name for the Transcendent One and the wholeness we seek when all edges seem frayed. And in that hollowed-out state which comes with loss, burying our dead does bring a kind of peace, a kind of wholeness — the community gathering, remembering, weeping together — supporting those in mourning. And binding our memories with the generations who have come before. We bury our dead the way it has been done for centuries. The rhythm of ritual illuminating a path from the darkness. Simple casket. No nails. Shoveling dirt with the back of the shovel to show our reluctance. There is beauty in the compassion. The comforting hands on shoulders. The tears. The being together.
Burying our dead is the highest form of service for it can never be repaid. For hundreds of years we have had the chevra kadisha — the Holy Society whose service is the sacred task of preparing the dead for burial. Those for whom this is their service in the world see it as a form of prayer — a sacred task. When the call comes, they answer.
We should all have our sacred task in the world. A service we see as prayer. And be a part of a Holy Society whose common cause we share. Gathering together to do our work in the world — our service. When the call comes we, too, answer it. Because we are needed. Because one of the gifts of our humanity is our ability to link our lives and destinies to those who have come before us. And those who will come after. But most important is to link our lives and destinies to those who are with us in this day and in this moment. In this way we transcend flesh, bone and time. These are the ways of Peace.