“And she laughs at the last day.”

There is a very interesting verse in Proverbs 31 about which I had taken note until it came up in a talk recently.

In describing a woman of valour, there is this line in verse 25 which says:

“Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.”

Other translations say that the woman laughs: at tomorrow; at the coming day; at the future; etc.

In a Jewish translation of this verse, it says:

“Strength and beauty are her raiment, and she laughs at the last day.”

The commentary by Rashi offers that “at the last day” suggests “On the day of her death, she departs with a good name.

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Heschel: “Prepare a spiritual income for old age”

There is a marvellous little essay called “To Grow in Wisdom” in Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book The Insecurity of Freedom: Essays on Human Existence.

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The loss of a whole world

In a collection of letters by Henri Nouwen, I came upon this one that he wrote following the death of his mother:

OCTOBER 25, 1978

Dear Jim,

A few days ago I returned from Holland, where I buried my mother. Only five weeks ago she was with me in New Haven. She returned four days afterwards with my Father after the internist had discovered a tumor which caused the jaundice. Two weeks later she was operated on, a week after that she died. I am still in a daze. Everything seems different to me and I am slowly rediscovering the world which she loved so much. She has been so much part of my life that I have to do some real relearning. I am spending a still week at a retreat center trying to let my mother’s death reform me and lead me to new fields. It is all very intimate and very deep, very sad and very joyful, very beautiful and very painful. I am trying to write a little bit about these last few weeks, but I am still too close to all that has happened to do it well and with the necessary peace of mind. But I keep trying. It seems at this moment my way of letting her spirit come to me. I am still somewhere between Easter and Pentecost not knowing what really has happened. Keep me in your prayers and pray for her. Nobody has ever been as close to me as she was and never did I lose anyone whom I loved so deeply. Somewhere life needs to be rediscovered. But I am sure that her death will mean many new births for me.

Best wishes,
Love,
Henri

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“If we die, we want to die together.”

Today I listened to this podcast episode that one of my best friends recommended in which Rahf Hallaq, a 21-year-old English language and literature student, speaks about the terror of experiencing the Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.

“She’s so articulate in humanizing herself and her community,” my friend told me in offering the recommendation.

When I listened, I was amazed. I think it is the first time that I ever cried while listening to a podcast. In fact, there were a couple occasions that I teared up while listening to Rahf share her story.

Apart from geopolitical calculations and political arguments, Rahf gives us a window into the impact that wider events are having on her own life in a way that is very concrete and personal.

In fact, Rahf’s testimony reminded me of what Eva Hoffman noticed about a Dutch Jewish woman who kept a diary during the Holocaust when she said, “Etty Hillesum lived at a time when the macrocosm of historical events almost completely crushed the microcosm of individual lives.”

Like Etty Hillesum, Rahf Hallaq, through this podcast episode, sought not so much to give a sweeping account of the political situation as to give us an account of her own soul.

It is moving to hear of her speak about her passion for books.

“My dad is the one who made the love of books grow inside me,” she reflects.

Then she shares about the impact of reading Orwell’s 1984 saying, “I mean, when you’re living under oppression, and when you read those books, you feel like you’re not the only one who’s going through this. You feel like these words are actually speaking about you and to you. They give you the power to talk about your own ideas after that.”

Naturally, she was totally devastated about the bombing of a local bookstore that was connected to so many memories for her and her friends.

In the episode, Rahf also speaks about how families in Gaza all huddle together in the same room during the airstrikes because, “If we die, we want to die together.”

Listening to her speak about how her dad used to try to tell her that the bombs were fireworks, in an effort to put her at ease, is also heartbreaking.

My friend was completely right. This story humanized Rahf and the people of Gaza.

It is hard to fathom the real lives of Gazans, but hopefully Rahf will be able to continue bearing witness to “the microcosm of individual lives” by sharing her own experiences with such candor and poise.



Are your affairs in order – now?

If you died today, how would people find your office, your bedroom, your bookshelves?

What would happen with your email, your social media, your bank accounts?

Who would you have wanted to forgive? To pay back? To return to with gratitude?

Many people cannot die well because of leading lives that are not yet in any meaningful order.

Before I take a trip, I often organize my bedroom and office so that – were I to die during the trip – my possessions would reflect my priorities and the order in which I had them would (hopefully) be a reflection of my soul when I had left them.

“Putting our affairs in order” has become an idiom for a one-time event when, in fact, we are all meant to put our affairs into order each day.

Augustine even described peace as “the tranquility of order.”

And so, if we want to eventually rest in peace, then we’ll need to live our lives in order.