My grandmother spent her childhood in the outskirts of the prison/labor camps in Siberia, where her family members were sent by Stalin in the late 1930’s. She buried 2 generations of women in our family in Siberia, including her mother and grandmother. Her life was filled with trauma and difficulty.
Several years after the end of WWII, she and my grandfather fell in love and decided to get married. One of her neighbors came out and demanded to know how there could be a wedding at a time of food scarcity and in the aftermath of the war atrocities. She demanded to know how my grandmother could even consider bringing new life into the world that was filled with so much suffering and uncertainty. My grandmother paused, touched by the questions. She went ahead with the wedding. But 65+ years later she still remembers her neighbor’s demanding questions as if they were posed yesterday.
My grandmother, whose nickname is Sunshine (because her Russian name, Svetlana, and Hebrew name, Ora, both mean “light”) shared this scene with me a few years ago when I asked her how I could be raising children in a world filled with violence, hate, and uncertainty about our future. She reminded me that because she chose love over despair, my mother was born, and my aunt was born, and eventually I was born. She is not saying that the journey was easy, but she is saying that it was worth the effort. She has decided long ago that suffering will not be the end of her story. The end of her story will be love.
After every great hardship, life renews itself. Last week, we commemorated our moments of despair and hardship on Tisha B’av. Tonight, under the light of the full moon, we are celebrating Tu B’Av, the Jewish holiday of love.
The first mention of Tu B’Av is in the Talmud, where Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel is saying:
“There were no greater days of joy for the people of Israel than Tu b’Av and Yom Kippur… on these days the daughters of Jerusalem would go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What were they saying: Young man, lift up your eyes and choose a bride (Ta’anit, Chapter 4)
On Tu B’Av we are reborn from the ruins of Tisha B’Av. Under the brilliant light of the full moon, Tu B’Av reminds us to see our beauty and goodness and reflect the same for the people around us.
In this time of great difficulty, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, along with our practices of breath and body awareness, we need practices that steady our hearts. When we practice loving-kindness, we recall the goodness of our efforts. Maybe we remember a good deed or some way we made another person’s life easier. We allow a felt sense of our inner goodness to fill up our consciousness, surrounding us in kindness. Perhaps for a moment, we can let go of our habitual self criticism and soften our defenses. Perhaps for a moment, we can extend gratitude to our body’s defense mechanism, but also allow it to surrender. We practice feeling like we are enough, just as we are. From this tender place self-acceptance, we can extend love and acceptance to those around us. From this place of self-nurture, we can allow for love to be part of the story.