Sometimes I stumble across the wisdom in ancient traditions.
I am not observant, and therefore I do not maintain close connection with the rituals of the Jewish religion I was born into. I am schooled in the details so this is a choice, not done out of ignorance. And yet, every now and then, the reasons for a certain ritual become profoundly clear. I encountered just such a moment of clarity this week.
My father passed away about two weeks ago. He was just a few weeks shy of his 89th birthday so, while this is a sad event to be sure, it is not a tragedy. I mean, show me where I sign up for 89 years and I'm in. After all the emotionally draining activity of planning and executing the funeral, I returned home to re-enter my daily life. it was here that the moment of clarity hit me.
On Monday I was getting ready for the work day. I showered and went to the mirror to shave. It suddenly dawned on me that I had not thought of my father in a few days. I found this unsettling. I mean, it had been less than two weeks and he was already gone from my daily thoughts. Then I remembered the Jewish tradition where, when mourning a parent, men don't shave for 30 days. All of a sudden I got it.
By not shaving, for the express purpose of being in mourning for my father, I will be reminded of him every time I look in the mirror. It is absolutely brilliant! It is not forced, and it is not morbid - it is just an opportunity to bring him into my thoughts. So I didn't shave on Monday. Since I only usually shave once a week, this is now 2 weeks and counting.
Now this is not a dress-for-success look. But that is also part of the point. It is somewhat uncomfortable and unsettling to go to work with a 2-3 week beard. It is pretty scruffy. But that is also part of the point. My Dad's passing is uncomfortable and unsettling - so why should I not look the part? Why is it good to try and look "normal" on the outside, when you have gone through a profound life-event like the death of a parent? In modern terms, this feels like a psychological disconnect and an unhealthy way to live. The ancient tradition seems, as odd as it sounds, more like a healing process.
So I will not shave again until the 30-day anniversary of his passing arrives on April 5. No one is more surprised than I that this is the path I am choosing. But it just feels right.