Friday, March 23, 2012

Maybe I've already found it...

There has been a tragic death in my community. A husband and father in his 40's died suddenly this week. His wife is a teacher at The Little Jewess's school, one of his daughters is a student and the other is an alumna.

I barely know this teacher, and I don't know her daughters. But I am proud to be a member of this community. And maybe this is how Humanist communities work.

Tomorrow there will be a visitation and service at a funeral home, followed by a reception at the school. Today, people were asked to volunteer to bring food to the reception. In less than three hours, the sign-up sheet was full.

I was so happy when they asked for food, because before that I didn't know what to do. My child wasn't traumatized (because she, like me, only barely knows the teacher in question, and the daughters are much older than TLJ (The Little Jewess.) So I didn't need to avail myself of the grief counselor the school made available. I thought about going to the visitation or the reception, but the family probably wouldn't recognize me and I wouldn't want them to feel awkward. I thought about sending a card, but again, what would I say? And what meaning would it have to the bereaved? I can't remember ever meeting this man.

But I can bake brownies. I like to bake brownies. And I know how necessary good dessert is when one is in mourning, as well as what a relief it is to have enough food to offer to those who visit.

In some ways, this is the ultimate in Humanist response to death. A community comes together in a completely non-religious way to support the bereaved with food, comfort, therapy and friendship. God doesn't need to enter into it. And for me, bringing food feels appropriate because it is the traditional Jewish thing to do when someone is bereaved. But of course the school community, as wonderful as it is, can not fulfill all the needs that a religious community does.

For one thing, it's transient. While I have made some friendships that I hope last for a lifetime (and so has TLJ) the community will not. I have already lost touch with people I liked whose children are much older than TLJ and who have moved on. And some day we will move on. Although I'll always feel connected to the school, it won't be a part of our regular routine forever.

And then I come back to the need for ritual. I am enormously comforted by the outpouring of support for this family, because should something this tragic happen to me, I know the community will be there for my family, too. I feel somehow a little bit safer dropping TLJ off at a place where the families respond this way to tragedy. But I don't know what to expect tomorrow. This teacher still has to find an appropriate way to honor her husband's death, and someone outside the school will have to help her with that, whether it's a religious leader or someone else. Because a school just can't be a foundational community. It has to be a school.

It's a damned good one, though.

Anyone going to the Reason Rally tomorrow?

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