15 February 2019
Many cultures and religions mix joy and sadness. They are the yin and yang of human emotions. Contradictory opposites that exist together in tandem, that help us understand or experience the other. At funerals, we remember and rejoice in the good things about the person we are burying, while experiencing the sadness of their passing. Often after the funeral, we get together with friends and share a meal while also sharing the love and joy this person brought into our lives.
In Judaism, even in the most joyful life events, we bring in a moment of sadness, to remember that sadness exists. That the contrast between sadness and joy makes us appreciate the joyful times even more. This is why the groom breaks a glass at the end of a wedding, so that we remember the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, and the fragility of life, even at a moment as joyful as the joining of two lives in love.
So, why am I musing about mixing joy with sadness? Along with a photo of an alligator warning sign?
At the end of January, I flew to the Miami, Florida area to attend a wedding. This was the wedding of a young woman who is the daughter of our former rabbi from St. Thomas, the rabbi who co-officiated at Richard and my wedding. The young woman is sort of my daughter from other parents - you know how people just fit into your life as family, and you adopt them, and they adopt you? We have that kind of relationship.
It was a wonderful wedding, and just a little bit crazy. Jewish weddings can get a bit rowdy, what with everyone dancing the hora so that the dance floor overflows into the eating area, and the bridal party gets lifted up on chairs and danced around by strong young men. Not exactly a staid kind of wedding dance, but the exuberant dance of joy and love of life!
Well, the groom's family is from Argentina, and things are done a little differently there. The groom started out dancing in his suit, or maybe it was a tux. Anyway, he started with a jacket and tie. Then he was paraded around in the chair minus the jacket. And then, somehow, he ended up in the chair wearing only his boxer shorts and socks! Yup, he was danced around, lifted up in a chair by all his friends and family, wearing his undies!!!
As if that wasn't entertaining enough (because of course we were all laughing and cheering and clapping our hands, or also dancing in the jam-packed crowd), he ended up crowd-surfing across the dancers!!!!! All while the bride and her family were dancing the hora with the crowd!
Then at some point, the bride and groom both were initially crowd surfing, but the Argentinian friends started a coordinated tossing them into the air! I have no idea how they did this, but two groups of people were holding up the bride and groom, several yards/meters from each other, both face down but laying flat on everyone's hands. Then the group holding them would toss them up, they'd fly for a moment, and then they'd be gently caught - only to be tossed again!
It really was one of the crazier things I've seen, but so funny!!! (No, I don't have any photos of this. Nor do I have any photos of the wedding. But it was like something at a sports event than the usual wedding!)
And of course there were events before and after the wedding, time to spend with the bride and her extended family, my old friends. It was a wonderful weekend.
So the sadness? I hear you asking.
All of these events were in Parkland, Florida. Yes, Parkland. Every time I drove somewhere, I drove past Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I saw the memorial to those shot in the school shooting just a year ago, listing the names, surrounded by a garden. It was beyond sad. It was one of those sights and sites that bring tears to one's eyes.
And like too many places across our nation, it is one of those events that change the lives of the survivors. There is a pall over the town, still struggling to live with their collective loss. There is the struggle to rise above being recognized and remembered solely for this tragedy - again, like too many places across our nation. There is the reality that we are losing too many young people to gun violence. Too many families grieving.
So yes, it was a weekend of mixing joy with sadness.
The following weekend, back in Tucson, Richard and I went to a musical performance: "Lonesome Traveler." This is a song-filled history and tribute to American folk music, with its roots in African-American music and then becoming the music of protests against discrimination, bigotry, war, hatred. It was wonderful and joyful - and, perhaps the best part, the performance featured Peter Yarrow! Yes, the Peter of Peter, Paul, and Mary!!!
We loved it! We had front row seats in the balcony, a bit left of center. Rather than the usual cushy seats, the renovated old theatre had love seats installed in this section, so it was a bit romantic to sit together like that.
The music was great, and much of it was the music of our youth. There were songs to sing along with, and parts where the audience sang the chorus. And the two women in back of us had really lovely voices, which made our experience even better. (We chatted with them during the intermission - interesting people.)
Anyway, Peter Yarrow talked about how their songs were used in marches for the civil rights movement, during one of the Marches on Washington, and of course during protests against the Vietnam War. He talked about spending time in Parkland after the school shooting, working with other musicians and poets and artists to help the students work through their emotions. And he talked about using music to unite the divisions separating us within the USA today.
Yeah, mixing joy with sadness.
So it has been a very emotional, very pensive and contemplative few weeks. Times to laugh and enjoy the moments of joy and happiness. Times to weep and become choked up over memorials, names on a plaque, words in a prayer or lyrics of a song. Because really, what will it take to know that too many people have died?
One of the more moving songs was Pete Seeger's "Where Have All The Flowers Gone:"
And Bob Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind:"
So, I don't want to close this blog on such a sad note. The photo? From the hotel where I stayed, in Parkland, which is basically drained land from the Everglades. The hotel is right on the edge of the Everglades, and there are alligators living in most of the creeks and ponds in this area. The weather wasn't great, but between rain storms I walked around the property and the golf course, looking for alligators in all the ponds. Didn't see any, since it was pretty chilly. But I kept looking, hoping to see a friendly gator (from a distance, of course).
Because, well, what are alligators but small cousins to dragons, right?