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What Do You Do When Things Fall Apart?

Growing from my parent’s divorce.

Six years after my parents got divorced, waves of anger and hurt still wash over me when I think too hard about it. I’ve never written about it, much less really even talked to anyone about it. In 6th grade, when they told me that they were splitting up, I mentioned it to my friend while walking to class in the hall, and she promptly excused herself to take the stairs instead of the long way with me. After that, I learned that no one likes to talk about heartbreak.

I’m 18 now, and I have learned an indescribable amount since I was 11, the time of the breakup. I learned how to properly forgive, and I have. After all, Jews love forgiveness. We made an entire holiday to make people forgive. One of the most wonderful silver linings of my parents’ divorce was getting stepparents. Although Elizabeth, my dad’s partner, is Christian, we often discuss scripture. She taught me a line from the New Testament that says we must forgive people “not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). It is so easy to harbor hostility inside for years. It is much harder to forgive and let go—to meet people where they’re at. That being said, as that verse says, forgiveness is a process and must be relearned over and over again. I can never claim to be perfect. I can never claim that I have zero anger in my heart.

Most of the time, I feel completely invalid in being upset. Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. My experience is not unique or difficult in context. Yet six years later, I am upset that I have to go back and forth between houses on holidays. I’m upset at the derailing of my idyllic childhood. I’m upset that I had to allow strangers into my life when my parents started dating again. So, what do you do when things fall apart? 

In Genesis, the Torah teaches us about b’reishit,or beginnings. G-d creates the universe and thus begins existence. Then, the great flood and Noah’s ark stems from a new chapter of humanity. The Book of Exodus outlines a new beginning for the Jewish people after we were freed from bondage. Nearly every time something must break, something begins anew. In fact, these beginnings are often followed by blessings from G-d.

What is a blessing? Is it a miracle from G-d himself? Is it a prayer? I prefer a definition from Rabbi Yoel H. Kahn: “a blessing is an expression of hope.” It is enough, then, to simply have hope. We don’t need to wait for tangible blessings to be curious about our futures, even after heartbreak. 

The Tosfot tells us that “in Tishrei, the thought to create came up in G-d’s mind, but it was not brought into creation until Nissan” (Rosh Hashanah 27a). This means that before G-d began creation, he had a sort of divine blueprint. Us humans are not so lucky as to have a blueprint of what our lives will look like. Sometimes I feel like a thoughtless jellyfish floating around in the sea, just waiting for things to happen to me that I have no hold on. It seems like we are part of a constant struggle to assign meaning and attain control of our lives, especially when life is not going as “planned.” It is profoundly beautiful that we must have faith in the universe that matters will continue and improve. We have no other choice. Even if you are not Jewish, even if you are not religious, you must have some sort of faith in your stars. 

Refua shlema means “full recovery.” I have always loved to pray for this but I’m not sure what I want to recover from. As anyone may surely learn from the Torah, no one faces only one challenge in their lifetime. As soon as I have learned to heal from my family breaking, something else happens. And then something else and something else and something else. Maybe I am not praying for the recovery of a singular event, sickness, or heartbreak. Maybe I am praying for recovery from an unwillingness to face a life free of new beginnings. And believe me, at times, I’m pretty unwilling.

As I write this, I ask myself if I believe the words I am saying or if they just look nice on the page. My friends and I will joke that we are constantly giving each other advice that none of us are going to follow. I don’t want to give advice that I don’t take myself. And yet, the things I write about—forgiveness, change and an open heart—are things that I don’t believe anyone can master. I’m not sure if I can write a satisfying conclusion because I haven’t found one for myself yet. This story began with hurt, but it ends with an unfathomable amount of new beginnings. I don’t know most of them yet. I don’t know if I have learned yet what to do when things fall apart. I can only say with confidence that b’reishit is not a punishment or curse. It’s an expression of hope. An expression of a readiness to begin again and love again. 

Air Jordan

Madelyn Pollack is a senior at Liberal Arts and Science Academy in Austin. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.

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