Lamentations

Last week, Jews marked our annual commemoration of the day the Temple was destroyed, Jerusalem set afire, and Israel’s leaders exiled.  The text of Lamentations is our assigned reading on Tisha B’Av. 

It is a text of anguish.  Each of its five poems shatter equanimity; they refuse to offer easy answers.  In its opening chapters, Daughter Zion, who represents God’s abused people,   accuses God of murderous abandonment.

Years ago, I wrote a lament in honor of women who have been cruelly and brutally mistreated.  I dedicated it to a woman who had told me her story, who had crawled out from under the weight of eighteen years of domestic violence.

In the day just before Tisha B’Av, a woman told me of a friend who had been sexually abused by her father.  The day of Tisha B’Av, in a small congregational study group, women spoke of suffering they had known.  I knew the backstory in each case.

I have grown into my middle aged life hearing laments from too many women, laments that have their source in the emotional and physical and sexual mistreatment they have known from men. 

There is much to lament in our world.  There is too much to lament in our world.

Yet we must lament, to honor our sorrow and our pain.  We must lament in order to have a prayer at healing.

Yet, I longed last week, as I do again and again and again, for a world in which no child is harmed, in which every woman is safe, in which each man is at peace.  I want humanity to be simply good.  I refuse to lose my childish confusion; I insist that kindness cannot be so very hard. Generosity should be as easy as smiling.

The rabbis say that one good deed so gladdens our souls and spirits that after the doing of a mitzvah, we will want to do another right away.

I pray for the doing of mitzvahs.

Lamentations 1: 1-5

Cheryl’s Lament, by Barbara Thiede

How lonely is she now,

  the once crowded city!

Widowed is she

   who was mistress over nations;

The princess among the provinces

   has been made a toiling slave.

Bitterly she weeps at night,

   tears upon her cheeks,

With not one to console her

   of all her dear ones;

Her friends have all betrayed her

   and become her enemies.

Judah has fled into exile

   from oppression and cruel slavery;

Yet where she lives among the nations

   she finds no place to rest:

All her persecutors come upon her

   where she is narrowly confined

The roads to Zion mourn

   for lack of pilgrims going to her feasts;

All her gateways are deserted,

   her priests groan,

Her virgins sigh;

   she is in bitter grief.

Her foes are uppermost,

   her enemies are at ease;

God has punished her

   for her rebellions.

Her little ones have gone away,

   captive before the foe.

How alone I am!

  Once I believed you my love.

You called me bitch

  the night we married;

Just hours after I fairly danced

  to meet you under the chuppah.

I weep when you sleep;

  you will not have another reason to

  deride me.

Who would believe me

  if I said it aloud?

(I whisper to myself:

  He wants to kill me.)

I was confined behind four walls,

  shut down, shut in.

My mother told me,

  I must lie in the bed I made.

I stayed for eighteen years;

  they were death, not life.

You made it clear:

  No family, friends, or guests allowed.

Our house was filled

  with threats and fear instead.

The children and I crouched in corners;

  we tried to be quiet.

I left when they were grown,

  but you still control me.

Look: my son does not see

  how he lives my life!

And my daughter, too, is caught

  in the terror of your devising.

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9 thoughts on “Lamentations

  1. Have you ever noticed that those who seem to have the least to give are often the most willing to do so? Lately, I’m finding that the same seems to hold true with kindness…those who have been in the very worst of situations seem to be the most able to approach the world with kindness and gentility, while those who seem relatively unencumbered by the crap life dishes out appear to be totally lacking in compassion and humanity. Naturally, these are both generalizations and I know several people who do not (thankfully) fit this bill.
    Nevertheless, I don’t understand why this is so often the case.
    Then again, I too cling rather tightly to the childish confusion. =)

    • Those who have had smooth sailing often assume that they contol the waves … and so can everyone else. Why help those who are obviously creating their own problems?

      But those who have had a part of their soul carved out by pain can often recognize the widening cracks in others as well. And since it is all the same chasm, the same void of pain, they sense that any effort to fill it with kindness and love in another fills it for all.

      Or perhaps light only can seep through cracks.

  2. Those of us who have not been in such situations find it hard to believe someone would stay and be pummeled, knowing the lasting effects of it. Whenever I hear of an abuse case (which has been very frequent lately), I say a little prayer thanking the good Lord for my Bob who has been a good husband, father, son, and brother without ever resorting to the violence his very large self could inflict quite easily if he wanted. We are the lucky ones.

  3. Yes, domestic abuse continues, it is widespread, and it knows of no boundaries of race, ethnicity, or income status. Our own local CVAN provides all the evidence one needs of that awful fact.
    I agree, we must lament. I also think that we must pursue truth, and honesty, and gentleness. We need to share our fortune, even when it seems limited. We need to share the love in our lives, whether it is great or small.
    And yes, we must pursue and root out the deranged who commit such viuolence against humanity.
    Thanks you for this gentle reminder of the ned to continue doing good in the world.

    • I don’t think you need this reminder. 🙂 On the other hand, if I am preaching to the converted, then at least we can draw strength from one another.

  4. Dear Barbara,

    This was a very touching tribute to abused women. It is unfortunate that we have many in our community, but to CVAN’s (Cabarrus Victim’s Assistance Network)credit, these women are given a place of refuge and protected from their abusive partners. Thank you for this blog, Barbara.

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