By Rabbi Adam Scheldt
This past Sunday, I was invited to the home of some dear friends for their annual “January Is NOT Depressing Party.” It is a fantastic little get together where we all convene and bring our favorite carb-laden, delicious, comfort-foodish things to eat, and we slowly stuff ourselves while grazing into the evening, talking and laughing with family and friends. It’s become my favorite way to let go of the winter doldrums and break up the seemingly never-ending expanse of grey that is Western New York’s cold months.
This year, however, the party took on a new level of meaning for me. For the past few months nearly everyone I know has been sick (including myself). And as a community, we endured one of the most horrible blizzards in memory which stole the lives of many Western New Yorkers. And then to top it all off, a shining beacon of happiness that is a Bills game was brought to a halt with the nearly fatal health emergency of a beloved player (for whose current condition we give thanks).
So far, this winter has been a bit of a rollercoaster—and not one that any of us would have waited in line for at Darien Lake. It’s been up and down, warmer, then cold. And throughout, we’ve been hit with a lot. It reminds me of the Torah portion we’ll be reading tomorrow morning, in which the ancient Israelites are so burdened that God reaches out to Moses and puts together a plan to free our ancient ancestors from their oppressive life. I read it, and thought, “yes.” Inadvertently inspired by the text, I found myself thinking a bit of a spontaneous prayer, “Yes, God, please get us a light at the end of this tunnel—a weird, sometimes frightening, unpredictable tunnel known as this winter.”
Perhaps it’s a personal flaw, but I rarely ever put anything entirely in God’s hands. The only thing I really work to place solely in the hand of God, is one of my own, so we can hopefully work together to make life a little better. So the questions surface: What do we do? And, how do we cope when the burdens pile a bit too high or feel too precarious for us to really process?
If there was one perfect answer, we wouldn’t have the problems in the first place. Instead, let’s take it bit by bit. To be sure, even in the Torah portion, God, Moses, and the Israelites have to chip away at Pharaoh before that light at the end of the tunnel might be a reality that we will keep reading about.
So, we first start with ourselves. What are you actually feeling? Have you stopped to honestly check-in with yourself? If you haven’t, try it. When we take a few minutes to just sit with our thoughts we often end up with some good ideas about what we need in any moment.
Secondly, try a quick gratitude inventory. It’s easy to focus on all the negative things swirling around. It even feels natural to start your day on a down note, especially when the sky is cloudy enough to stretch the night too far into morning. But instead, set aside a few minutes to verbalize the good things you have in your life. No matter how many or how few, give them a little recognition, lift them up and let them make you smile a bit. Do this every day the sun doesn’t shine, and it will change you.
And lastly, but certainly not least, be with one another. Find someone healthy, and hang out. Get together and eat, reminisce. Grab a friend or two and try something new. (I am planning on trying an aerial class in a few weeks—thoughts and prayers welcomed.) Or, get together with your nearest and dearest, have everyone bring their favorite comfort foods, and enjoy each other’s company. Actually, better yet, get your nearest and dearest together and throw a Tu B’shvat Seder. Never heard of it? Great! Check out this guide on how to put one together. The wonderful holiday of Tu B’shvat is just around the corner (February 5th), and the timing is perfect to give you and your loved one’s a nice little boost.
When we are together, sharing stories and sharing time, we heal. When we get in touch with ourselves, we grow. And when we give thanks for the goodness before us, we become. And at moments like these, in winters like this one, nothing helps us see the tunnel’s end quite like that.
Rabbi Adam Scheldt is the Director of Spiritual Care at Hospice Buffalo.