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On putting Hope to rest

The experience of heartbreak puts a person in opposition to their dream, in which they must unwillingly do battle with the Hope of their dream, to somehow bury or otherwise extinguish it. This is akin to murder, as Hope wants nothing more than to live, and Hope will live until it is made to expire, but it won’t go quietly — Hope struggles, hope beyond hope, that it might somehow continue. It is being starved to death of every resource and so it will grab onto every hint of a thought or far-fetched suggestion of what might be possible, for nourishment. And because it is resilient, Hope finds what it needs to live, and lives.

And anyone who has experienced this, knows the physical experience of not being able to breathe after a breakup, as the muscles around ones stomach constrict and contract — holding in one’s breath as long as possible, even forgetting to breathe, as if two are struggling to live off that single breath, and now they are being forced to fight one another for survival. (Another example of kilayim.) For some, I imagine they grow hopeless, because they could not defeat their Hope; their hope continues and draws life but is ultimately, unbearable; it cannot be born. And for a man, this might be as close as they might ever come to an experience of being pregnant and carrying an unbearable fetal child. There was a time in my life I felt that way for many years, not knowing if it would ever end, this feeling of carrying in my belly what was once a living hope but which had become a dead stone.

This is perhaps similar to the experience of a dybuq which cleaves to someone, who then carries it without consent. The dybuq does this in desperation, to cease from being endlessly pursued by avenging angels. And its carrier doesn’t know what to do with it, how they can at all ever realize its unrealizable dreams and desires. The dybuq is alien to the carrier rather than born of the carrier’s own relationships and life experience. Probably, the legend only describes the after-effects of some terrible trauma — a tragic psychic break for someone lacking any other means of coping with that trauma.[ref]For more on the dybuq, find J.H. Chayes, Between Worlds: Dybbuks, Exorcists, and Early Modern Judaism 2011.[/ref]

Outside of exorcism, we can count the more familiar ways out from heartbreak, all which may be various elements of the same way, that of Transformation, either of the hopeful dream or of the one carrying their Hope. Entering into completely and accepting the grief is transformative. For the storyteller, pain is a well of meaning whose echoes drown out all other voices. Anger might provide some fire for the alchemy, to burn away whatever illusion of beauty and attraction that gave birth to such hope, and then what follows is the passage of grief into resignation. Others suggest a shallow, harmful trick: replacement of one for another, to distract and refocus, to sacrifice on the altar of Hope, a new hope.

We all know the terrible dangers here. Those who are tempted and betrayed by their aggression: that by force of will they will somehow manifest the desire they yearn for. When people talk about gods and demons feeding on the energy and imagination we invest in them, this is the food they are describing. These demigods have rapacious unquenchable appetites, and will take and take from the depths and into the shallows, until all that is left is unfeeling, gross and numb. That people grow desperate to escape this struggle, and that object of their yearning, may itself be a projection of something else, lost in a fractal-like maze of twisted projections.

I feel myself tremble, knowing my body knows exactly how vulnerable it is now, and the courage inherent in making oneself vulnerable for the sake of connection, even when holding Hope’s hand, allowing it to pass away gently. It struggled not only because it wanted so desperately to live but because it didn’t want to be alone. It is held even as it can no longer be sustained and is, at the end, grateful for this one simple kindness. There is some comfort in knowing this experience is shared as part of the human condition, and probably also in many parts of the non-human world as well.

There is a state of ritual impurity here, having felt the potential for new Life so closely. The mikveh beckons. Shavuot tov!

About Aharon N. Varady


Aharon's Omphalos is the hobbit hole of Aharon Varady, founding director of the Open Siddur Project. He is a community planner and environmental educator working to improve stewardship of the Public Domain, be it the physical and natural commons of urban park systems or the creative and cultural commons of libraries and museums. His advocacy for open-source strategies in the Jewish community has been written about in the Atlantic Magazine, the Yiddish Forverts, Tablet, and Haaretz. He is particularly interested in pedagogies for advancing ecological wisdom, developing creative and emotional intelligence, and realizing effective theurgical praxes. He welcomes your comments, personal messages, and kind words. If you find his work helpful to your own or you'd simply like to support him, please consider donating via his Patreon account.

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