essays kaddish in two-part harmony

a mourning mourning morning

At a certain point, I suppose, I just got sick of the whole damned enterprise. And that was the time to step back and write a paper about our process. Which we did. And presented at the Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association in Montréal. We just got back. The presentation went really well. Maybe a little too well. I’m still confused about some of the reactions to it. But it was good to step back and take stock and have something academic to say about the one year experiment in kaddish.

But this is what I’d say here:

Our Kaddish in Two-Part Harmony has not been just a success, it has been a grand failure as well.  We set up rules to mourn by—and broke all the rules that really counted.  And yah, there were some pretty stupid rules in there. Why didn’t anyone tell us that? But maybe if we’d stuck to our guns, we’d still be in mourning-mode today. I firmly believe that if we had not met each other face to face, that our project here would have been much more powerful, and still going strong today.

But no. Instead of immersing in our sorrows and staying there, our sorrows lifted. And after a while, impossible as it seems (at least to me), the sorrow’s just plain gone. I mean, is that fair?

Not that that means that we don’t miss our dearly departed. No, not that. But we’re no longer in mourning. And I think I didn’t want to let go of mourning at all.  It’s a bit addictive. It’s strong, it’s deep. It’s a good excuse for just about anything you need an excuse for.

And now it’s gone. No more excuses, I guess.

And I kinda feel guilty about that.  For a long time, I just couldn’t put stop to the mourning process. But now, finally, I’ve put those photos of my dad away. I’ve stopped lighting candles. I no longer say kaddish unless I’m coerced by my kaddish partner.  The loss is there, but it’s not the same black cloud looming overhead.

And worst of all: I’ve been just plain happy. We both are. Now what kind of mourning project is that?

So. What all this tells me is that ritual works.

It does the job if you stick to it on a daily basis. And just that doing of it, day after day, appears to be enough to do the trick. For us, it did the trick a month early. Now that’s not good, is it?  We were both ready to stop. For some reason, I expected that we’d feel ‘done’ exactly when the year was up. And that just wasn’t the case.  Or, I expected not to feel done at all, and that saying kaddish wouldn’t work its magic at all. But that wasn’t it either. Instead, we reached this place of done. Just like that. A month early. But my dear disciplined Kaddish partner is better at keeping us to task than I am. And because of her, we’ll finish the year’s experiment properly in formal mourning-mode on November 27th.

Will it feel any different then than it does now? Is it possible to feel more done than done?

The main problem, from my point of view (and a problem I never expected to have) is that I’ve been happy.  Now what kind of mourning is that? And as a result, I haven’t written a single word in a month. (Except for the paper we just presented at the AAA Conference).  But not a word on our blog. Almost as if writing and unhappiness and grief all go together, which can’t be right.

For one month, it’s been analysis rather than full immersion in death and dying. And in that analysis, we’ve learned some important things about our Kaddish project.

We’ll be posting the conference paper here in pdf format shortly for anyone interested in a bit of an excursion on the academic side of ritual.

By mira

Mira Z. Amiras is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies and founder of the Middle East Studies Program at San Jose State University. She is past-president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and has served on the Executive Council of the American Anthropological Association. She is co-founder, with Ovid Jacob, of Beit Malkhut, a study group in Jewish sacred text. She's most attached to the creatures of her body and her household — first and foremost, her kids, of course: Michael and Rayna — and then the other folks large and small of various species, including Roshi and Vlad, a whole lot of hummingbirds, the old parrot who lives next door, and a beautiful garden that does what it will.

One reply on “a mourning mourning morning”

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