A couple of nights ago, we watched The Fault in Our Stars. I knew exactly what to expect. I had read and loved the book (it earned an unprecedented 3 asterisks in my 2 asterisk rating system). Yet though expected, I was still powerless to stop the tears from streaming down my face. Even after the movie ended, they kept coming. (And my face wasn’t the only one that was red and puffy.)
What we needed was a nechemta – the Jewish custom of adding a note of consolation at the conclusion of a particularly difficult textual passage (as in a harsh reading from the Prophets) or time of year (as in the weeks following Tisha b’Av, commemorating the destruction of the ancient Temples). It’s too much of a burden to leave things in such a raw place, tradition teaches, so we try and end on a more upbeat note.
That night, the nechemta for us came through the oracle of YouTube (just as the Sages had in mind, I’m sure)… some competitive lip synching by Jimmy Fallon, Brian Williams rapping, a little Jon Stewart (this bit with Jason Bateman gets me every time). But some nechemta that was – all that laughing just led to more crying!
The boy and I recently read a chapter book where one of the characters, an older dog, dies a peaceful death after a long life. I stopped to check on how he was taking it, and he said he felt like he wanted to cry. His stiff upper lip also suggested he didn’t want to let it happen. So we kept reading – snuggled a bit more tightly – and the book ended with a note of consolation: The owner of that dog adopted another one who desperately needed a home. When I closed the book, he said that he again felt like crying. “Happy tears?” I asked. “Yes,” he answered, “but I don’t think I’m done with the other ones yet.”
This, I think, is the gift of the nechemta: It doesn’t erase the pain, the sadness, the hurt of what came before – it can’t. Rather it helps to get more of it out. And that can bring a measure of consolation.