“Alas – she sits in solitude!”
Last week, I responded to a jury summons downtown on Center Street not far from the World Trade Center. As I walked to the courthouse and around the area at lunchtime, it struck me how devoid of people the streets were. “The city that was great with people has become like a widow. The greatest among nations…” At one point I saw an empty tour bus roll by and the opening chapter of Eichah continued to resonate: “The roads…are in mourning for lack of …pilgrims.” I passed shuttered cafes and laundromats: “Her gates are desolate…” and imagined how the owners that ploughed their lives into these businesses are “aggrieved…and embittered.”
Looking up at the largely vacant skyscrapers and office buildings, my thoughts went out to those who lost their livelihoods and/or workplace friendships, and the thousands of family members that continue to be affected by the “loss of splendor” – the impact on their self-esteem on top of their livelihoods. As thousands – even millions across the nation were newly unemployed, they may have found themselves displaced involuntarily from their community, no longer able to afford the home or neighborhood they lived in. “Like deer that found no pasture… without strength,” recalling “all the treasures… in the days of old.” Not just the paycheck but also the treasured health insurance and the emotional security that health coverage can bring.
The words of Eichah could certainly be describing the perception of many talented professionals that I advised through this immensely challenging period when countless lives and livelihoods were threatened and lost: “All who once respected her disparage her, for they have seen her disgrace. She herself sighs and turns away,” lacking confidence that her splendor will ever be restored. “She has sunk astonishingly, there is no one to comfort her.” Just as we might turn away from those that have lost a loved one for fear that we don’t know the right words, we also find it tremendously hard to comfort individuals who lost their jobs.
Then there are those who took medical leave, encountered career setbacks, or were forced to abandon a dream job because of persistent side effects of Covid (or needing to look after someone chronically ill). “From on high… a fire into my bones, and it crushed them… hurling me backward.”
Given the scale of larger, readily identifiable losses such as death and job loss, we may unwittingly disenfranchise the loss of others. For example, we may not even think to acknowledge some of the stress and grief experienced by those who feel their work is even more closely scrutinized and micromanaged now that they work from home (WFH). The previous refuge of home is breached by bullying bosses or coworkers now regularly invading their home through Zoom. On the flip side, there are many whose home is not a refuge because they live in the midst of abuse. Or they live with no one and home is a lonely and isolating place. They look forward to the relative comfort, safety, and/or camaraderie of going to the office. WFH isn’t always a blessing. “The burden…was accumulated in His hand…thrust upon my neck..”
“Over these things I weep; my eyes run with water because a comforter to revive my spirit is far from me.”
The next Megillah we read (Koheles) will remind us that there is a time for everything. Just as there was rebuilding after the first churban, so we are promised that the Bayis Shlishi will end this long exile from Yerushalayim in all its splendor. As we await and daven for the rebuilding of our own contemporary society, may those impacted by Covid see yeshuos v’nechamos and regain spiritual and physical comforts. May the Holy One restore us as in days of old and turn these dark days into ones of simcha.