Iyar: The Month of Healing

A woman looks into a window cut into a massive concrete slab. The installation is part of a Holocaust memorial, but the sun is shining and the trees behind her are vibrant green.

There are some months I have to go searching for things to say about the theme. This wasn’t one of those months. In the first week of Iyar, three of the six people in my household tested positive for COVID. Needless to say, healing’s been at the front of all our minds for the past several weeks.

Of course, having a lot to say doesn’t necessarily make it easier to say it. We’re nearing the end of the month, though, so I’ll do my best to put these swirling thoughts into words.

“Healing” has such a lovely ring to it. It makes me think of white light and soft bedding and gently flowing water—like when Frodo wakes up in Rivendell at the end of Return of the King.

But the past month has confronted me with the reality that healing isn’t really that peaceful. It’s uncomfortable. It’s frustrating. Sometimes it’s even painful.

I’m not just talking about physical discomfort—though there was plenty of that, too—but also the sense of frustration, even resentment, that can come with the feeling that the injury could have been avoided, just not by any factor within your control. When you do everything right, but the Bad Thing still happens? Healing feels like it just can’t happen fast enough.

By some miracle, I’ve made it this far into the pandemic without yet catching the virus (knock on wood). It’s not like I’m doing more than anyone else to stay safe—everyone in my circle is vaccinated and boosted, but I’ve been in contact with plenty of people who have contacted me a few days later with a positive result. Were we outside? More than six feet apart? Safe in the narrow window between exposure and incubation? I’m not sure. It’s all pure luck. It’s starting to feel like a race against time.

And it’s frustrating. Watching my loved ones have to heal from something they never should have had to suffer to begin with? It feels, more than anything, unfair.

I was watching the X-Men the other day. This isn’t a non-sequitur. I was watching the X-Men—Dark Phoenix, specifically—and I found myself bristling as Professor X insisted, over and over, that if the mutants only did Good, if they kept themselves under control, the humans would never have a reason to fear, hate, and harm them. It’s something he’s insisted on in every movie in the franchise. And finally, finally, he realized he was wrong.

Not every mutant has always been so naïve. Magneto is a Holocaust survivor who has never for a moment believed that someone else’s bigotry is something he can control. For most of the half-dozen films he appeared in, that made him the villain.

But he’s right. He’s always been right. The German Jews of the late 19th and early 20th centuries learned this the hard way. Though the Reform movement meant to secularize Jewish religious practice to make it less alien and more “acceptable” to the German mainstream, changing their clothing, language, and liturgy did nothing to touch the deep-seeded antisemitic undercurrents that had flowed through European culture for over a millennium.

Sometimes, the Bad Thing happens, and there’s nothing we could have done to stop it.

And then, we have to heal from it.

Magneto doesn’t. This is perpetually frustrating to me. I feel like so much of my Jewish cultural education over the last twenty years has been an attempt to process decades (if not millennia) of intergenerational trauma. And yet, instead of healing, Magneto becomes a villain. He kills. He believes in mutant supremacy. Even in the end, he never shies away from a fight.

Some people are like that. But as far as Jewish representation goes, it’s abysmal. (I wrote about why Moon Knight could have been Marvel’s chance to do better. It was—a bit.) Show us someone whose pain makes them stronger, whose loss makes them appreciate what they have.

Healing is messy. It’s painful. It leaves scars. But it’s not impossible.

I’ve been to Germany. When I told my bubbe I was going, she was horrified. “Why would you ever want to go to that place?” When her father went, in 1944, he was captured and held in a Jewish POW camp for eighteen months, where he was forced to perform slave labor. He came back different. She was eight.

I’ve been to Prague as well, and to Russia, and to Lithuania, where the cemetery in which I hoped to find my great-great-great grandparents had been paved over and replaced with a housing complex.

It’s painful, but for some reason I keep going back. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating, but somehow it feels like healing.

I’ll be going back again, next summer. I applied for (and found out this month I was accepted to) the Wallis Annenberg Helix Fellowship. With a cohort of writers, artists, students, and activists, I’ll be learning and traveling and—hopefully—healing. I don’t have much more to share right now, but I should in the next month or two after I travel to LA for our orientation at the end of June.

COVID and intergenerational trauma and the X-Men—I said these thoughts were swirling, didn’t I? Hopefully they’ve all come together. To sum it up: if you’re healing from anything right now, be kind to yourself. Just because the Bad Thing happened doesn’t make it your fault.

Until next month. ❤

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