JERUSALEM (JTA) — On a Friday afternoon, six months after my wife Ami, of blessed memory, died of a catastrophic brain injury, I received a call from a local hospital.
“Your mother has fallen down and hit her head,” the voice said. “The condition is serious. You’d better get over here right away.”
My mother fell walking, banging her head on the concrete sidewalk. It was the second time in a year that Mom fell. Mom’s first fall was before Ami tumbled down a set of wooden stairs and left this world.
I walked into my mother’s hospital room and walked out. In again, then out. Each time I entered the room it felt as if I was back in the ICU with Ami as she slipped steadily and certainly toward brain death. This time, the prognosis was uncertain.
The next day, after Shabbat morning services when I told one of my rabbis, he offered to shake my hand and said, “Nice to meet you, Job,” referring to the central figure in the biblical book of the same name. My rabbi knew how many people I’d lost in the previous years, including my two closest friends. And he knew about the fire that injured and wounded three of my loved ones.
“I’m not Job,” I said, jerking my hand away.
When Ami fell she was visiting friends in Maine. It was a Thursday evening. Back in suburban Chicago I’d gone to sleep early and, having turned off my phone, was unaware of the frantic calls. At 5 the next morning, a police officer appeared at my door.
“There was an accident,” he said, handing me a slip of paper. “Call this hospital.”
I called the hospital and then my two adult daughters — in Denver and a few miles away in Chicago.
“Mom is going to die today,” I said. “We’re going to fly across the country and try to get there before she goes.”
We managed to get to the hospital by evening, knowing that it would be a death vigil. Yet even in those painful hours, there were moments of beauty and grace. My daughter said the amount of blood in Ami’s hair was troubling. A nurse showed up and washed it. A rabbi appeared. She sat with us and recited vidui, the deathbed confessional. The staff of the local organ bank joined the nursing staff in seeing to our needs.
We received a lifetime of memories that day, bitter and sweet. Ami was declared brain dead that morning. She was 53 years old.
Six months later, still in grief and shock, my mother fell and I wondered what kind of phone calls I’d have to make to my daughters. Then my rabbi called me Job.
It’s taken me years to understand. I thought my rabbi was referring to the beginning of Job’s story, when Job systematically loses everything of value and everyone he holds dear, being left bereft and alone with some form of plague covering him from head to toe.
As a modern-day liturgist, I’ve written more than 400 new prayers. Prayers of hope. Prayers of praise. Prayers of wonder. And, yes, prayers of sorrow. To be effective, prayers of consolation must move from grief to hope, from loss to renewal, from questions to faith. Like Job.
Now I understand. My rabbi was talking about the middle and the end of the story, when Job steadfastly maintains his belief in God in the face of profound crisis. Perhaps my rabbi played a bit of the prophet as well, predicting that my own faith in God and love of prayer would carry me to a life renewed, full of blessings beyond imagination. That’s exactly what happened.
Writing liturgy has been central in my healing. Sharing them has given me an immense gift of helping others along the way.
I’m not Job. Job lost it all. His children. His family. His household. His wealth. Everything. I’m simply a man living life on life’s terms. Joy comes with sorrow. Love comes with loss. People fall down. People die.
My mother made a complete recovery. I’ve since made aliyah, moving to Jerusalem to rebuild my life. I’ve found — like many who’ve come before me — that Israel is a balm for my Jewish heart, a salve for my Jewish soul and an adventure for this Jewish spirit. I study. I hike. I go to ulpan. I’m still writing prayers, still sharing them and still learning what it means to pray with the fullness of my being. I still mourn. I also rejoice.
As God reminds Job, so I remind myself: I was not there when the Holy One laid down the foundations of the earth. Still, I see glory and wonder, beauty and majesty all around. I have hope. I believe in abundance. I believe that in this holy city I will find the life that God intends for me.
I am blessed.
(Alden Solovy is a Jewish poet and liturgist who moved to Israel in 2012. He’s funding publication of his book “Jewish Prayers of Hope and Healing” on Kickstarter. Read his work at www.tobendlight.com.)