As friends of mine are keeping the fast of Yom Kippur, I learned about a Jewish holiday I knew only by name: the Festival of Booths, or Sukkot (which is the Hebrew word that means booths). The week-long observance happens in the fall. This year, it begins next Monday, September 20. It came up in one of the essays I read this morning in The Impossible Will Take Awhile: Perseverance and Hope in Troubled Times, an amazing collection of writings put together by Paul Rogat Loeb.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow wrote “The Sukkah of Shalom” about a year after 9/11/2001 speaking to both the attacks and the way Americans responded to them. He explains that a sukkah (a single booth) is a fragile hut with a leafy roof. It is intended to be temporary and vulnerable. He goes on to recite one of the evening prayers said throughout the year: “Spread over us your sukkah of shalom–of peace and safety,” and then he asks,
Why does the prayer plead for a sukkah of shalom rather than a temple or fortress or palace of shalom, which would be more safe and more secure?
Precisely because the sukkah is so vulnerable . . . The sukkah reminds us: We are in truth all vulnerable. . . . There are only wispy walls and leaky roofs between us. The planet is in fact one interwoven web of life. The command to love my neighbor as I do myself is not an admonition to be nice; it is a statement of truth. like the law of gravity.
It seems like this is the week for my reading to take me back to some treasured old songs. Remember Sting singing,
perhaps this final act was meant
to clinch a lifetime’s argument
that nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could
for all those born beneath an angry star
lest we forget how fragile we are
on and on the rain will fall
like tears from a star like tears from a star
on and on the rain will say
how fragile we are how fragile we are
At their roots, fragile means “liable to be broken” and vulnerable means “wounded.” That takes me to a small poem I found in Lord of the Butterflies, a book of poetry by Andrea Gibson that came in the mail today.
1. to put on
your best outfit
like you’re dressing
One of the contemporary definitions of vulnerable is “open to harm,” which leaves some sense that we could choose to be open, that we could risk in order to love one another. I circle back around to Rabbi Waskow saying the command to love one another “is not an admonition to be nice; it is statement of truth, like the law of gravity.”
Then I go back to the prayer: “Spread over us your sukkah of shalom.”
And I think, “Wait–I grew up singing
a mighty fortress is our God
a bulwark never failing
Jesus repeated the same words as the Rabbi–love your neighbor as you love yourself–so he wasn’t calling us to build bulwarks around our hearts. When did we decide faith was a fortress instead of a fragile hut with a leafy roof?
As far as my depression goes, I am learning (again) that I can make myself strong enough to fight it. I don’t mean that I think it will take me out; I mean fighting is the wrong metaphor. I cannot make myself impenetrable. I cannot make myself unwoundable. (Though I think I just made up a word.) To live through and with the depression means to make myself open to harm and to take shelter in the sukkah of those who love me.
Waskow closes his essay with these words:
The choice we face is broader than politics, deeper than charity. It is whether we see the world chiefly as property to be controlled, defined by walls and fences that must be built even higher, even thicker, even tougher; or made up chiefly of an open weave of compassion and connection, open sukkah nest to open sukkah.
Whatever we build where the Twin Towers once stood, America and the world will be living in a leafy, leaky, shaky sukkah. Hope comes from raising that simple truth to visibility. We must spread over all of us the sukkah of shalom.
Life is hard. That was true before the pandemic. We are all wounded. We are all vulnerable. On and on the rain and pretty much everything else will tell us how fragile we are. And I will say again what I have said over and over these past few days: we are not alone.
After I wrote the “failure to thrive” post, someone I have known since the early days of the blog to say they were dealing with depression in ways they had not before and were thinking about going on medication. Today when I saw my doctor and he suggested I go back on antidepressants, I thought of what this faraway friend had risked in telling me. Tonight after supper I picked up my prescription. I have taken the meds before and they have helped in their season, but I will also admit to open the bottle and take out the pills feels a little like a defeat. It certainly is a tangible reminder that I am “liable to be broken.” So it matters to know I am not alone, even though on and on the rain will say . . .