By Emanuelle Sippy
The best way to describe my quarantine is “a paradox prayer,” a phrase I’m borrowing from a friend, Chloe Zelkha, who leads Avodat Lev (service of the heart), a virtual space of prayer, poetry, and groundedness. Inspired by Rabbi Simcha Bunim, one of the founders of Hasidism, Chloe recently asked, “If you were carrying two slips of paper in your pocket, two opposite truths that tell the story of a big both/and coming up for you in this moment, what might they say?”
The responses were varied and moving. They reflect how many of us are feeling.
“To be alive at this time is terrifying // to be alive at this time is inspiring.”
“This too shall pass // this will have lasting impacts.”
“We are safe // we are vulnerable.”
“It is okay to be happy // it is okay to be sad.”
“I am strong // I need help.”
“It is time for vigilance // it is time for ease.”
“It is too much to hold // my heart has infinite capacity.”
Chloe’s question is the perfect prompt for this moment, both because of the pandemic and because this month marks an end, a beginning, and an in-between for many of us, finishing a school year and embarking on an awfully abnormal summer.
For me this year has been high highs // low lows. I’ve been tired // energized, absent // present, doing // still. Assignments have been missing // turned in. In quarantine the feeling compounds; I’ve felt confined by dichotomies // freed by liminalities.
Ever since I’ve had real responsibilities, I’ve had a rocky relationship with time and structure. I question whether, if I’m doing work that’s meaningful to me – creating art, having conversations, community organizing – I should be doing schoolwork. If I’m enjoying time with a friend, I could be helping around the house. If I’m taking time for myself, I could be working out. Now, we’re often in two “places” at once, the week and weekend are harder to discern, havdalah doesn’t quite feel like a separation.
That same day on the Avodat Lev Zoom call, someone else shared a paradox prayer in a different format: “As I am separated from all, I am connected to all.” Framing the paradox – of being, at once, separate and connected – with an “as,” underscores that the dichotomy we’re experiencing isn’t static, but in motion.
As much as I love the idea that we’re exploring contrasts in the midst of this crisis, the connections are just as vital. The slash approach helps me recognize the way things often feel – divorced, separated, at odds with each other. The “as” approach reflects the interdependent realities I feel. It’s not glass half full or glass half empty, but as the glass empties, we’re hydrated. As the glass empties, the plant is watered. Each part of the paradox affects the other. The hours are abnormal, but I’m actually getting enough sleep. I’m staring at a screen all day, but I can take classes outside. I miss friends, but I’m enjoying having my brother home from college (even though his sourdough starter has failed more times than it’s worked).
Structure isn’t so rigid. Space isn’t so physical. Time is more fluid. I’m embracing the imbalance, appreciating the in-between, learning from the paradox prayer.
By Emanuelle Sippy, for The Covenant Foundation. Emanuelle is a junior in High School in Lexington, KY. She is a co-director of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, a community manager at Future Coalition, and an editor of jGirls Magazine.