The Loss

Grieving What Gets Left Behind

lisa anchin

By Judy Brown (Eishes Chayil)

Published September 20, 2012, issue of September 28, 2012.
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“But why?” I asked. “I knew this would happen. It was so predictable.”

“You can predict a loss,” he said. “But you can’t prepare for it.”

For days after, I wept. I held the loss close to my heart: I wept for friends I’d known since kindergarten; relatives I’d never speak with again; the world I was part of before I wrote of forbidden agonies and became a traitor.

That I needed to grieve was a shock to me. The ultra-Orthodox world felt like a prison, and I was relieved at the thought of leaving it behind. Yet, I realized that my mind did not agree.

Every year, there is a small but steady exodus of young men and women from the ultra-Orthodox world. For most of us, leaving isn’t bravery or stupidity. It’s a form of survival, an escape. You leave because you can’t stay. You leave because if you don’t, you will die. And suddenly there is an enormous void. You are utterly alone.

From the moment your mind is awakened, and realization strikes, it’s as if you’re living in a colorblind world where the inhabitants see only in shades of black and white. When you first say, “The sky — it is blue!” they look at you with pity, as though you were a child with a disorder. Immediately they attempt to cure you, frantically trying to turn blue into black — but when you look up at the heavens, the sky is bright blue.

Now there is serious concern. They point to the other inhabitants, every person you’ve ever known, and ask them the color of the sky. Black and white, they say. A dark gray, perhaps, but — good heavens! — not blue.

You know they must be right, that it can only be a delusion of your mind, and you don’t want to be delusional, so you pretend to be cured. The clouds are black, you agree. Of course. There is no such thing as blue.

It’s a bewildering experience, frightening to the core, because when you look up, blue is still there, and sometimes a bright yellow. Colors, colors, everywhere, betraying your mind. You don’t dare tell anyone of your terrible secret. You wonder constantly: “Why? Why can’t I see like the others?”

It’s impossible to pretend for long. Sometimes it happens by accident; sometimes the colors are so vivid you’re certain they can see them, too. How can they not see? But they look at you suspiciously, at a distance; there is irritation in their eyes. Now they tell you that you are damaged, a person with a disease. They warn you that seeing colors that don’t exist is a dangerous game, that you might embed in others a desire for this insanity, or convince them that this lie is true. You are now a menace in their world. They must fix you at all costs.

They close in on you. They tell you that to be cured, you must go blind; it is the only way the colors will stop. They tell you that it is the only choice — a small sacrifice for a larger God. They tell you to submit, for you own good, because you are not normal; you are not, you are not. Your mind is an unstable place; something has snapped. But they can save you from yourself. Guardians of your eyes, the gateway to your soul, they will destroy the terrible colors until you’ll never see them again. The circle tightens. They look at you with mercy in their eyes and knives in their hands. It is at this point that you begin to run.


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