Shiva : Seven.
Seven days to grieve the initial passing of a loved one. Sometimes people sitting Shiva will sit on a low stool or a box as a symbol of how the loss has brought them low. Sometimes people will tear the clothing over their heart. In some communities neighbors begin to pour water out into the streets. Prayers are said, mirrors covered. I like to imagine a room with a wood floor, and a large cold fireplace. A lot of women huddled around a tall and burning candle with black veils covering their bent forms. I hear them chant the Kel Malel Rachamim.
I’m in the process of becoming a confirmed Episcopal. They (we?) do it a bit differently than anything else I’ve experienced. Just when I get to the point where I know all the things I am reminded that I, in fact, don’t know very much at all. This is what grace is, I think, or part of it. The sudden realization that all of the things I thought I knew don’t amount to much in the grand scheme of things, in the history of a church that is mysterious and ancient. In the people who will guide me over this mountain.
One step in the process for the first phase is to visit a house of worship or community of faith that is not my own. So of course I thought, well that’s easy! I’ll just toddle up the street and sit in at St. Mary’s on a Saturday night! Surprise! It can’t be a Christian community. So I’m googling temples and learning small facts and wondering if I can just pop in for a service, if anything special is required of me to do that. If my Christianity will stand out like some burning brand, like Ash Wednesday ashes smeared on my forehead.
And I’m sad, but I can’t tell you why. I promised that I wouldn’t, and so I will keep my promise. I know that this grief is intensely and immediately personal. I know that the door is closed right now. And I can understand why. I can hear the small moans, the sniffling and the sobs, the restless tossing in the bed, the wondering how it could have been different.
I’ll sit shiva then. I’ll pace the hallway I can see in my mind, a long one with heavy and ornate moldings and closed doors, so many closed doors. It’s dark in this hallway, there are a few cobwebs up near the transom windows over those closed doors. One door in particular is yours, dear one. It has an elaborate glass knob, and large brass plate around the knob, and keyhole that a skeleton key would fit into. Alas, I don’t have a skeleton key.
I am not alone in my sitting. In my waiting. Shadowy forms move down the hallway with me. They perch on boxes in the corner, they pause to rearrange the dead flowers in the vase, to adjust the black silk covering on the mirror. Sometimes they sigh and wring their hands. Sometimes they allow themselves to weep quietly so as to not put all of their own grief somehow onto you.
I gather my dark skirts, straighten my veil. I sit cross legged with my back to your door, the one with the glass knob. I lean against the door and through the door I push light to you. Light. And hope. And love. I push patience. I try to hold back the rest. The tears and the grief. I will keep those for myself, store my tears in a little bottle, and someday, when we are in the garden together sitting under a tree, and the air is warm and the sounds of bees and cicadas fill the air, I will take the little bottle out and I will give it to you.
And by then it will be empty. The tears long since evaporated back to that special place tears go when they dry up.
But you will know that while you tossed and turned in the deeper places of your sorrow, we floated up and down the hallway outside your closed door. That we sat and we waited and we grieved with you. We whispered our love through the door and the walls. Pulled up our stools, covered the mirrors and lit the tall Shiva candle. And in that way we opened ourselves and allowed your grief to flow through us, we bathed in your tears.
This is what Shiva is: Grace.
And there is enough to go around.
Sometimes I think that if it were possible to tell a story often enough to make the hurt ease up, to make the words slide down my arms and away from me like water, I would tell that story a thousand times…. I think about the hurt that stories cannot ease, not with a thousand tellings.