The below piece was produced as a part of a Passover supplement for Dwelling in a Time of Plagues in response to the idea of liberation from the plague of grief and loss.
In the unbound anthology of things happening under the American sun, we live in a chapter that might well be titled Grief and Loss.
For many, such gloom would have been — say, five years ago — a surprise. To American Jews, in particular, the approach of danger has for a long time seemed unlikely. Would some transatlantic military (as a wise person put it) “step the Ocean and crush us at a blow?” No. Dangers to this country, said Abe Lincoln (that wise person), do not come from abroad.
And yet, here we are, in the trial of at least many decades. Of course, Covid-19 did arrive from elsewhere. But, read today’s chapter of loss and you’ll see something further. We ourselves — Americans — are its author. Of all the developed world, we failed the most. Cruelty, incompetence, and selfishness. Lies and extremism. These are everywhere. And, of course, it’s not just the virus that brings us grief and loss. I should say that someone in my extended family died attached to a ventilator; even personally, I still feel the effects (headaches, joint pain) of my luckily mild clash with that spiked microbe. But a further loss I feel is the QAnon cousins with whom I no longer speak; another is the loss of faith in so many of my countrymen. “If danger ever reach us,” said Lincoln, “it must spring up amongst us.”
How do we fortify against it? I don’t know if we can. But if there is an answer, and I say this as someone who hasn’t stepped foot in a synagogue in a long time, it is faith. Faith in reason. Faith in one another. And faith in the morality — the commitment to kindness and generosity — we find in thinking about G‑d. If (as Lincoln would have it) the pillars of the temple of liberty have begun to crumble away, we must supply their places with other pillars, hewn from the quarry of benevolence.
I can only speak for myself, and my own failings. Which remain many. But I have tried more than ever to hear this call.
To download the full Passover supplement, which includes ten authors and ten artists responding to ten modern plagues, please click here.
Dwelling in a Time of Plagues is a Jewish creative response to real-world plagues of our time. Collectively, the commissions in this constellation of art projects around North America grapple with contemporary crises: the global pandemic, institutional racism, xenophobia, ageism, forced isolation, and the climate crisis. Dwelling is generously supported by CANVAS.
Darin Strauss’s most recent book, The Queen of Tuesday, came out in August 2020 and was a Washington Post best book of the year, among others. He’s also the author of the bestselling novels Chang & Eng, The Real McCoy, More Than It Hurts You, the NBCC-winning memoir Half a Life, and a bestselling comic-book series, Olivia Twist. These have been New York Times Notable Books; and Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Amazon, Chicago Tribune and NPR Best Books of the Year, among others.
The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Book Critics Circle Award, an American Library award, and numerous additional prizes, Strauss has been translated into fourteen languages and published in nineteen countries. In addition, Darin has collaborated on screenplays with Gary Oldman and Julie Taymor, and is a Clinical Professor of Fiction at New York University. He is currently a finalist for the Joyce Carol Oates Award.