Elena Pinnow wrote an obituary in which she told the truth. She told the truth and in so doing, she challenges us to do the same. She reminds us to be brave. Brave, when we fear that the truth will embarrass us. Brave, when we are anxious the truth will hurt our career. Brave, when we are scared we may be diminished in the eyes of others. Elena Pinnow told the truth. Today, I have decided to be brave.
A few years ago, our rabbi gave a sermon about Jonah and the whale. She compared the whale to depression chasing Jonah. Afterward, I wrote this:
You Are Jonah and You Are the Whale
We listened together to the rabbi portray Jonah, the real Jonah, the dark Jonah, the lonely man of sadness and isolation. How you listened so intent! You with your wisdom beyond 10, and wide eyed comprehension. And when you leaned to me and whispered with your typical insight, “Mom, am I Jonah?” I could only squeeze you tighter with arms that cannot actually shield. I could only kiss your head with lips not magical and pray with a soul not strong enough to remove the anxiety you swallowed with first breath and cry.
Are you Jonah? You are Jonah and you are the whale. You nourished at my breast opening your mouth to swallow Jonah whole. As I fed you my milk so proud and full and bred from ancient instinct; mammal and miracle, you suckled, too, my fear and angst and sadness and worry. You studied my eyes and learned not to trust this world; this world as profoundly beautiful as it is stunningly fickle. Tiny ear to my heart, reading its beats, I taught you to fear loss of all things precious and good. You learned of demons unseen and enlarged, of concern expanded to terror and panic. Are you Jonah? You are Jonah and you are the whale.
As your words poured forth and understanding of language and thought blossomed in your malleable mind, you swallowed true alarm around you. You learned so young that parents cannot save or cure or heal. The beep of monitor and EKG replaced the sweet sound of mobile and lullaby. The gentle caress of mother’s touch came with doctors’ search and thermometer check. A child’s cry in the night not answered by Dad’s soothing kiss, but by nurses’ worry and rush. You swallowed the knowledge that life is not a guarantee and breath not effortless. The nightmare’s that woke you were not always imagined and dreamt – vanquished with an indulgent check of closet and under-bed worlds. Are you Jonah? You are Jonah and you are the whale.
You are the whale who ingested with toddler milk the aspirin meant to save your life. You are the whale who swallowed steroid with oxygen and consumed unease as other children do their cheerios. You are the whale who gulped at air while drowning on land. Who absorbed grown-up worry just as your legs adjusted to walk and movement. You are the whale.
And you are Jonah. You don’t get to spit out this legacy inherited with your early growth, this legacy inherited through your family genes. You are Jonah, awake at night, tossed about in dark and dread. You are Jonah, running in terror away from anxiety which may chase you out to sea. You are Jonah. My child of love and good and care and kind. You are Jonah. My boy so bright and inquisitive and brave and perceptive. You are Jonah.
And so who am I? Just the mom who can only watch as God pursues you with task unfair for a child of 10. Just a mom who can only wonder why such a loving and compassionate Being would create a world so full with Jonahs and their Whales.