When I was a child and a young adult, I spent twenty summers at Camp Ramah, a network of Hebrew-speaking summer camps located throughout North and South America, Israel, Russia and even Eastern Europe. I was a camper, counselor, teacher, division head, Camp Rabbi and assistant camp director at Ramah in the Poconos and Ramah Massachusetts. Aside from having a wonderful time learning all about what it meant to be a “good Jewish boy,” I now realize that it was at Camp Ramah that I learned a valuable life-lesson which would teach me-and you– how to heal from the pain of loss.
Surprisingly enough, I learned that lesson from our dirty bunks!
Every single day, our bunk needed to be cleaned, except for Shabbat, our Sabbath. Chores were divvied up, sometimes using a daily “job Wheel of Fortune,” sometime a weekly cleaning assignment, and sometimes the counselor simply told us what to do. No one liked to clean the bunk, but from bunk clean-up, I learned my first, and perhaps most important healing lesson: mourners need to clean out the losses from their lives, to make room for the life of joy and celebration that is waiting to enter. It wasn’t about the clean-up at all, it was about having something to do each day that would help us reach our goal. We were never allowed not to have a job, that was not an option. Each day we had to actually do something, we couldn’t just sit on our beds and read comic books, and we couldn’t just lie in bed all day!
Now I am a man, and I do not see dirt, whether it was in my bunk at camp or in my home now. But somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I knew then, and know now, that there was indeed dirt which we needed to clean up and remove. Though I mostly didn’t want to clean, I knew it was necessary.
You could say that when loss enters our lives, our life-bunks become covered with dirt. The dirt won’t go away by itself, it needs to be swept out. That’s why routine tasks are crucial-they help us get out of bed every morning and tend to the chore of cleaning our bunks. Or our lives..
If you’re like me, you would sometimes rather not do anything to heal, perhaps just wait until “the right time comes along.” It’s too hard, or it hurts too much, or I don’t like making changes so I’ll just stay the way I am right now-as if you could…
I know people, and so do you, who are still grieving a loss from ten, twenty or even thirty years ago. I know some one whose husband died ten years ago, and to this day has still not emptied out his clothes closet. When I asked her why not, her answer was: I like to feel that he’s still here with me. Okay, I get that, but for her, he is still alive while she is drowning in sadness, and that is not how life is supposed to be. If she cannot clear out his clothes, then she cannot ever begin to heal, because for her, he hasn’t truly died, and she has not yet said goodbye to him. It’s easier, she thinks, to do nothing. Except we know the truth. Doing nothing is worse than just doing nothing. Doing nothing only makes it harder and harder to begin to sweep out that dirt and let the beauty of life enter into our lives.
So at camp, the dirt needs to be cleaned up and swept out, or else the bunk will get even dirtier. The lesson is clear. When loss comes, we need to similarly begin to clean up, do what needs to be done, and let the healing begin.