Yesterday morning the air was uncharacteristically brisk. After weeks of unseasonably warm weather, the mercury had dipped back down into the upper 40’s, almost as if to remind us that it was still early spring and that summer had not arrived quite yet.
It was a perfect morning to go walkabout.
For Australian aboriginal folk, walkabout is a sort of rite of passage in which one would go off and wander the bush for several months. Presumably there is a spiritual dimension: Walkabout, beyond being an impromptu vacation of undefined length, provides an opportunity to trace one’s ancestral journeys. But I have appropriated the term to refer to a ritual practiced by us Red Sea Pedestrians to mark the end of the seven-day (shiva) mourning period.
Barney, one of the Minyan Boyz, had had the sad task of burying Ellen, his wife of fifty-one years, the week before. I had been there at the funeral along with many of our morning minyan regulars, each of us taking a turn with the shovel and helping tuck Ellen in for her forever sleep. It was a sad occasion made even more heartbreaking by the fact that both Ellen and Barney had had to perform that same ritual for their daughter just over a year ago.
Jewish practice calls for a mourner to spend the first seven days of the bereavement period at home, there to be comforted by friends and family. Worship services are held at the mourner’s home with a quorum of ten adults present - a minyan - so that the mourner can recite Kaddish, the doxology with which a Jew praises the name of the Eternal One despite having suffered the loss of a loved one.
When the seven-day period is over, it is a tradition of long standing that the mourner take a walk around the neighborhood, accompanied by friends and family. It’s a way to announce to the world at large that the first phase of the mourning process has been completed; the mourner is now ready to take the first gingerly steps toward resuming routine life. For life, as we know, goes on.
Monday morning marked Barney’s first day at the synagogue following the end of shiva. He would continue to make daily visits for the next twenty-three days, saying Kaddish for Ellen every day for the thirty day period of mourning that is prescribed for a spouse. But to mark the end of shiva, we all joined him for a circuit of the synagogue on foot. Walkabout, Jewish-style. It was our way to welcome him back to the daily minyan - and back to the world of the living.