We are sitting around Linda’s table. It is laden with Passover desserts—meringues, nuts, fruit, chocolate covered matzah—and we are discussing death. Somehow, a biography of King David leads us to the fire in Brooklyn that took the lives of seven children.
What do we say when a child dies? How do we believe in God when there is so much tragedy and suffering in the world?
We are mothers and grandmothers, daughters and sisters, wives and friends, grappling with theodicy during our Book Club meeting. There is a moment every month when I become suddenly aware of our level of intellectual and emotional engagement; it’s never surprising, always exhilarating, and I pause to savor it.
I acknowledge the challenge of believing in God when facing the death of a child, admit my own doubts and difficulties in praying to God in such circumstances, and recall the line in the Talmud, “Everything is in God’s hands except fear of God.” (Berakhot 33b) Linda expresses her abiding faith that everything is in God’s hands. “Maybe it’s simple, but that’s how I was raised,” she says.
It’s not simple, at all. Maintaining one’s belief in a transcendent God, the Ruler of the Universe, and an immanent God, who is near to us and acts in our lives, strikes me as complicated. I tell Linda she is lucky; her easy faith is one that does not come easily to many of us.
Not quite one month passes between this conversation and Linda’s untimely death.
My denial—I refuse to say “Blessed is the True Judge” upon hearing the news—and disbelief are absolute.
For twenty four hours I am numb. Then, unexpectedly, tears flow, as I realize we’ll be meeting this week at the cemetery, instead of next week for our final book discussion before summer break. I spend the rest of the day checking in with as many of the group I can reach by phone. We cannot believe it, cannot imagine being together without her. How can a person of such timeless beauty and steadfast presence be gone?
It seems that, in leaving us so suddenly, Linda died as she lived, with perfect faith in God who would comfort us as we mourn her.
“Though I walk through the darkest valley or stand in the shadow of death, I am not afraid, for I know you are always with me.” (Psalm 23)