We always looked forward to their visits. Every kid was age matched perfectly within six months of each other, and growing up we spent many summer days as a tiny gang full of mischief.
The eight of us, children of my mother and her good friend G, were a formidable force. B taught us how to use eyeglasses to catch the sun and make the backs of ants pop. I know it sounds cruel now, but it was as close to a science education that we got. The older ones looked out for the younger ones, and the visits in the “country” were always too short.
One visit, towards the end of the summer, was pretty unremarkable but for the absence of the newest of G’s children. L and I walked along the path created by power lines above, as boys trailed behind chasing each other with sticks. L’s sister had been bitten pretty badly by mosquitos a couple of weeks earlier, and her mother had left E by grandparents so the other children could visit.
Some weeks later, when the effects of the mosquito bites weren’t improving, E was taken to the doctor. All of a sudden, there were community organizations asking for money and offers of testing for bone marrow matches. Yene machle – that disease – was inexplicably causing tiny little E pain and suffering on a scale so severe that for the third year of her life she was served a steady diet of chemo and painkillers to try to slow it down.
The call came in the late afternoon. It was hot outside, and the phone was warm on my face.
Boruch Dayan Emes.
E was nifter earlier that day. I wrote down the levaye and shiva details and told my mother. Sitting down in her chair, my mother broke character.
“This isn’t from Hashem, C. This isn’t from Hashem.”
Tiny E, a life barely lived. I think about the children now who are fighting the battle of their short lives. I think about how that response, blessing the “True Judge,” somehow minimizes the gross unfairness of what just happened. As if you’re affirming Hashem’s power in a desperately tragic outcome.
Does Hashem truly judge that a 3 year old should not get to see 4? Is it Hashem’s will?
Some years later, another call came. I was looking forward to celebrating my firstborn’s first birthday, when my mother let me know that my favorite cousin had just been killed in an accident. I was too shocked, too suffocated by the immediate grief, to bless the “True Judge.”
My aunt, who had always fallen far right of over-the-top-fundamentalist on the religious spectrum, spoke about how it was Hashem’s will that her son should die. As a mother of a new son, I could never imagine saying the words that she had just uttered. I would never be able to reason with myself that Hashem was somehow willing my cousin to pass away, orchestrating an elaborate accident to make another driver Hashem’s instrument of death.
Looking back, those deaths for me crystallized a belief that ultimately snowballed with other events – pushing me off the chassidishe derech I had been raised to follow. I could not make sense of a G-d who did not weep with grief every time a child died prematurely. I could not make sense of Hashem making it his will that some should live while others should die.
There is a child today whose journey is coming to an end. It is not Hashem’s judgement, retribution or anger. I believe very strongly that Hashem is weeping alongside everyone who is holding this child in their minds.
The true judgement is more of a stifled cry than of powerful display. It’s entirely likely that this is the only way I can make sense of this, and it might not be true.
I won’t be saying Boruch Dayan Emes anymore. It wouldn’t be true.