We are allowed to feel joy
This morning in a classroom, a group of children were making cards to send to children who have fled their homes in Ukraine, and are currently housed as refugees in Poland. The conversation flitted oddly between talk of war — “I think it’s going to be world war IV! — no, it’s world war III — no, isn’t this world war III?” to talk of yesterday’s Purim celebrations and candy received and eaten from mishloach manot — “ I got SO MANY RING POPS!”
Many of the kids grew quiet as they searched their hearts for what they could write to the children in Ukraine. They asked, “what would it be like to have to leave my home?” and wondered, “could the war come here, and would we be in danger?” As the same time, they looked around, joked with each other, and compared what they were drawing on the front of the cards.
I have been searching for a way to express the dissonance I have felt over the last few days while simultaneously planning the first fully in person Purim Carnival since the start of the pandemic, and finding ways to support people on the ground in Ukraine, Poland, and other places through a variety of fundraisers, organizations, and supply collection. I found it jarring to be putting up emojis in the main sanctuary of our synagogue, while at the same time seeing the heart-wrenching photos coming out of Ukraine, the stories of civilians being gunned down at bread lines, and in shelters.
What I witnessed this morning in the classroom echoed what I have been feeling— the back and forth between these kids — as they sat with these real, sad, and life altering facts, while at the same time returning to today, the day after Purim. The world we are in, especially those of us who feel so far away from being able to “do something” — is one of constant back and forth. We wonder whether we should be allowed to feel joyful, hopeful, and grateful when there are millions of people whose lives are forever changing.
The reality is, that this is constantly happening on our planet — there are constantly people being displaced, suffering, losing their lives. They flash by in snapshots on our screens, as we scroll through — sometimes they catch us by surprise. We can be in a moment of joy, and we will see an image that will remind us of how much sorrow there is. I have been grappling with the idea of joy this week — are we allowed to feel it so unabashedly on Purim this year? Does it not feel like we are constantly coming out of a time of mourning — between the immense and continuing loss of life and stability in the pandemic, and the ongoing very publicized war?
I turn to my own teachers in these times, when I question whether it is okay for me to run a carnival, allow my children on bouncy houses, and share laughter with friends. Is it okay for us to feel joy? — yes, and not only that — it is necessary. Most of us are good people. We want to help — in any way we can. We want the war to stop, the children to be with their grownups, and the cities to be able to rebuild. We want tyrants to lose and democracies to win — we want freedom — we want everyone to have their version of Moses freeing The Israelites from enslavement in Egypt.
Allowing ourselves to feel joy, even in times of great sorrow, is courageous and vulnerable. When we enter a dark room, the first thing we search for is light — such is true of our emotional self as well. When there is darkness, whether it is within us or in the world, we yearn for the slightest bit of light. That is why, as the kids sat with their sadness, knowing where their letters were going, they sought out laughter, and joy.
Purim 2022 marked exactly two years since the entire world locked down for the first time because of COVID-19. On Purim 2020, I was — also running a carnival. It was our last day in our school building, and we decided to go ahead with the carnival that my 8th grade class had been working hard to put together over the previous few weeks. We removed all the stands that involved food, bought a few bottles of hand sanitizer, and went on with the show. We were the only ones to do so. Another school in the neighborhood was already in the second week of what would be many weeks of rolling quarantines, and our local synagogues unceremoniously cancelled all in person celebrations and went to zoom — for the first of many months, and holidays ahead.
As we know, it was Purim, then Pessach, then Shavuot, then Rosh Hashanah…and so on for two years. I took a moment yesterday, as the synagogue filled with kids — whose smiling faces I could see, and whose laughter filled the rooms — to appreciate where we are. I decided, as I watched my own kids happily munching on cotton candy, that it was okay for them to be happy in this moment.
I’m not sure that it was a shechiyanu moment — while we have lived to be in this moment, where things feel almost normal (with an undercurrent of trepidation), and while we are grateful — we are aware of what there is beyond our shores.
This Purim, and as Shabbat approaches, I invite us all to have joy with awareness, and awareness with joy. We can feel our joy — we must feel our joy — it is human to feel joy, and to heal from it. We can feel it, and still know the world that we live in. We can be aware of the suffering, we can do what we can to help — and we can feel joy.
Allowing in in the light of joy when there is still so much darkness builds resilience. The kids in that classroom showed me this morning — they know the facts, they feel the sadness, they sit with the dissonance, and yet they still feel the joy. They express trepidation at talk of war, and still can chat about the ring pops.
We can feel real despair, and still be in our moments of celebration. We can be in darkness, and still wish for light.