Monday, April 20, 2020
The Jaggedness Of Everyday Life
I don't love every book, but I do love everything about books. And one of the things I most love is a book that makes me want to stay up all night reading.
I run a book project in my community that's basically a free little library. Neighbors donate books and I sort and shelve them in a bus stop, one building away. I call the project the Book Shuk, a name I repurposed from another, similar project that I coordinated in Baltimore, once upon a time.
I love contributing to my community in this way. And I'm not gonna lie. A major perk is getting first dibs on the books that get donated.
When the corona virus came to Israel, our local government, fearful of germs living on book covers, emptied out all the bus stop libraries in town, including the Book Shuk.
So I have stacks and bags and boxes of books in my hallway, waiting to be shelved when the local government decides that it's safe. And I have my own little stash, books I pulled out to read myself before shelving.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah won a bajillion awards when it was first published in 2015. It has over 600,000 ratings on Goodreads and over 43,000 ratings on Amazon. Even with all that, I had no idea the book existed until someone donated a copy to the Book Shuk.
It was actually the last book left in my private stash when I reached for it this past Friday night. At 7 AM on Shabbat morning, I wiped the tears from my eyes, closed the back cover and finally went to bed, just as my husband awoke.
Obviously, it's a wonderful book and I highly recommend it. But I want to tell you something about the experience of reading it in the wee hours of the morning, more than a month into the corona virus pandemic.
The story is set primarily in France during WWII. The main characters are two non-Jewish sisters. One is a conventional wife and mother, living in rural France and the other is her impetuous younger sister who whirls through life, taking irresponsible risks that allow her to accomplish amazing things.
There are many layers to the story, but I'm focusing here on just one of them.
As the war progresses, the everyday lives of ordinary French citizens begin to change... in some of the exact ways that our lives have changed due to the corona virus.
These parallel disruptions include enforced separation from, and, in some cases, mourning the deaths of, people we love, food shortages, needing to stand in line to buy food, even police-enforced curfews, coupled with a general sense of the jaggedness of everyday life.
Which pretty much describes how I am experiencing life right now.
On one level, I am profoundly aware of my blessings. I sleep in my own bed, wear my own clothes and cook in my own kitchen.
But it cannot be denied that there is an enemy outside my front door. That enemy has closed down much of what passed for normal life just six weeks ago.
The streets are mostly empty now. Major tourist destinations in Jerusalem sit alone, reminding me of nothing so much as the opening verse from Eichah. O how has the city that was once so populous remained lonely! (Eichah 1:1)
These images of an empty Jerusalem by photographer Yonit Schiller are chilling.
It also cannot be denied that no one knows who will survive. No one has any idea when this will be over. No one can be certain what the ultimate economic consequences of this pandemic will be and no one knows what a post-corona world will look like.
Just like when the world is at war.
Being awake at 4 AM, reading a novel set in Europe during WWII, certainly makes it easier to take note of the parallels.
But here's the bottom line.
Even in "normal times", what we have is nothing more than the illusion of control, the myth of predictability. In truth, only God is in control.
This has always been true.
It's just easier to see now.
This is what I ruminate about, as I lay in my bed at 7 AM, hoping to fall asleep, just as the rest of the country rises to recite their Shabbat morning prayers.
Posted by Rivkah Lambert Adler at 12:33 AM