Today is a day when millions of people put flowers and food before images of their dead in an organized effort to love and honor those that were here before them. In a similar spirit, I give you literary flowers—snippets and quotes— to stir our living spirits and turn our inner eyes towards our memories.
Every year on this day, Jews from all over the world commemorate the destruction of the Hebrew Temple in Jerusalem. They don’t eat or drink for 25 hours, and among other customs, they read aloud the Book of Lamentations.
In 586 BCE Lamentations was written by the Jewish prophet, Jeremiah. It is a deeply sad account of the fall of Jerusalem, from the perspective of a man who loved the city more than anyone else.
I would argue that although Lamentations is thousands of years old, it is a text that is worth reading in 2020. Here’s why:
1. It has literary merit
If none of the other ideas below will convince you, start with a literary approach. The Old and New Testaments are fundamentals of the western canon. There’s an idea that there are no new stories in the world anymore, all literature stems from either the Bible, Shakespeare, or Greek Mythology. So, as avid readers, it is worth it to learn your roots. Reading classic and religious texts will give you a better understanding of the books you read today. Lamentations for one, set a standard of mourning devices, of how to effectively display the pain one feels over a loss.
2. It feels eerily similar to a COVID-ridden NYC
Granted, our buildings are not up in flames and there aren’t Babylonians wandering the streets in victory. And, by no means do I want to take away from the original text, but I believe once art is released it is given to each person to interact with it in their own way.
The first line of the text is:
“O how has the city that was once so populous remained lonely! She has become like a widow! She that was great among the nations, a princess among the provinces has become tributary” (Lamentations 1:1).
This immediately reminded me of NYC. How it was stuffed with people and then Corona hit and how everyone marveled at how empty the streets had become.
There is something so sad about the emptiness of a once bright and moving city.
3. Jeremiah’s Pain can be Relatable
It’s hard to imagine relating to someone who lived at a time so radically different than the one we live in. But when everything else is shoved aside, Jeremiah is just a guy who lost his loved one (Jerusalem) and now feels alone in the world.
The 3rd chapter of Lamentations changes from being about the terror of the destruction to Jeremiah’s own personal torments. He writes lines like, “He has led me and made me walk [in] darkness and not [in] light” (3:2) and “He has fenced me in so that I cannot get out; He has made my chains heavy” (3:7).
In such an impactful way, Jeremiah describes his feelings of being alone, trapped, and helpless. It is a sentiment that breaks time and is one that people can relate to easily, especially right now.
We are all stuck at home in quarantine, alone and scared. Whether we are mourning the loss of loved ones, or just wondering when our lives will return to normal, it is an extremely isolating time.
But Jeremiah never gives up his faith in a better future. Despite all the terrible events that he has witnessed, Jeremiah never wavers on his faith and continues to believe that his reality will improve.
His hope is important and so inspirational.
Reading Lamentations can be cathartic for whatever pain you may be going through. It is a beautifully written depiction of loneliness and mourning that is worth reading.