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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You stumble out, climbing over high, thick walls, jumping to the other side, falling hard onto the ground below. You find yourself on strange land. You begin to walk.

The mind pushes you on. You don’t allow yourself to think or feel. You don’t dare turn around. You must not look behind. You must only dream of what’s ahead, and know that somehow it is good. You have no idea how long it takes to reach that place — days, months, years? You keep walking.

But the people from your city don’t give up. They search for you. They cannot understand why you’d ever want to leave. They stand on the ledge of the wall, reaching out. They call your name knowing you can hear them. If you are not yet too far away, they send out people to bring you back. They use persuasive words, and sometimes threats or force, but you are too far from them now; they cannot reach you. But when they call, you still turn your head.

“Come back,” you hear them plead. It scares them to see you this way, so alone.

You look at them from afar — at their certainty, their security, their warm colorblindness — and from the lonely place you stand, a lie never looked so good. You stumble away, faster, until you can’t hear them anymore. But it is too late. You’re in agony, grieving.

They say there are five stages of mourning: shock, denial, anger, depression and acceptance. For the young men and women leaving the ultra-Orthodox world behind, there is an enormous loss. It is easy for those outside to think that now you are free; your life so much better than when you were among the colorblind. But it is still an enormous loss. That loss carries everything we ever believed, and everyone who taught us to believe it: parents who loved us, teachers who educated us, siblings who played with us, cousins and classmates and former best friends. Our loss holds in it entire families. It holds our faith, innocence and belief.

And it is devastating.

Eventually, you meet others like you, emerging like shadows from the dark: a former classmate, a second cousin, the quiet girl from summer camp. You’ve seen them before, walking the streets of your city, but you could not tell back then that they were different from the others — that they pretended not to see colors, too.

Time helps. Eventually, you see life ahead. Eventually, you understand that there is no magical transformation, no black-and-white transition from yesterday to tomorrow, and that grieving the loss of an entire world is a long and torturous process. But finally, alongside the trauma, there is enormous relief. Now, standing far from the place you ran from, you begin to clearly see that the colors are not a delusion. They are, indeed, real — chaotic, vibrant beauty, a kaleidoscope of colors, colors by God, everywhere.

Months have passed since I received the email from my friend. The printed copy still lies in my drawer. Every once in a while, I take it out and read it, each time from a greater distance, as a memory from a time when I lived in terror of my eyes.

They say there are five stages of mourning: shock, denial, anger, depression and acceptance. But for us there is a sixth and a seventh: wonder, the wonder of knowing that the world truly is a miracle of colors, and relief at no longer being colorblind.

When I was a young girl, my teachers always said that God works in mysterious ways — that sometimes He withholds in order to give, that every loss is really a hidden gain. It is difficult for us to understand this, because only God, high above, can see the larger picture — that the dark path we are struggling through leads to a better place.

It’s true. Today, I can finally believe them.

Judy Brown wrote the novel “Hush” under the pseudonym Eishes Chayil. “Inside Out” is her essay series about life in the ultra-Orthodox world. It is based on true events, but her characters’ names and identities have been changed; some are composites, comprising several real-life people.


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