Covid-19 Teaching Diary Day 31: It's Okay to Grieve

A couple weeks ago I was talking to a friend about the anxiety of staying in NYC or leaving amidst so much uncertainty. I didn't know what to tell him. His life is very different from mine, and the choice is not easy. What I told him was advice for myself as much as anything. I said, "Maybe before you figure out what you want, you should just take some time to grieve. Whether you leave or stay, there will be loss. The New York City we love will never be the same."

I don't know if this advice landed for him, but it's been playing again and again in my mind lately. It's okay to grieve. In fact, I think I need to take space to do so.

It feels hard to grieve right now. It feels like if I let myself feel the enormity of my grief it might overwhelm me. It feels self-indulgent or crass too when I have a job and a roof over my head and friends and family who care about it.

But I don't think the presence of these privileges negate my feelings of sadness. The job I've known (if not always loved) is completely changed. It seems likely it may never return. The community I serve is experiencing devastating losses. The number of deaths in New York City overall is staggering. I miss my friends. I miss my family. I miss hanging out in bars and restaurants and going to crowded concerts and going out dancing. It's unclear if/when these pleasures will return.

I'm grateful for so many things, and in the face of the extreme loss of human life and livelihoods some of my losses feel so frivolous and superficial. But I feel sad for them all the same, and not allowing myself that sorrow isn't helping anyone.

I wonder if allowing myself to fully feel my grief could create some space and energy for other work I have.

One of the most famous Jewish teachings is from Rabbi Hillel: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?"

In order for me to dedicate myself and others, and to meet the urgency of this moment, I need to create space for myself first.


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