“Vanity, vanity, all is vanity” – a line reads in most translations of Ecclesiastes or Kohelet. But as one Bible scholar I know well has suggested in his book on the ancient wisdom text, the Hebrew word commonly translated as “vanity” can in fact also mean “breath.”
“Breath, breath, all is breath” – now it sounds more like a zen and rather uplifting meditation on how breath is what it’s all about, and that in the end, nothing else really matters. All the other things and emotions and experiences are a natural part of our lives and yearnings, but in the end, it’s breath that lets us live and laugh and cry.
“A time to be born and a time to die…” we read on. Sadly, today I lost a dear friend, whose breath left her in the early morning hours. And I cry. But her breath didn’t just evaporate and disappear, in my mind. That energy—for breath is energy—is just transformed. This is physics 101. I imagine a sacred blanket of protection lingering forever around all those who loved her and whose lives have been touched by her, as her unique energy is transformed to a living blessing. Her memory—like her life and her being and her breath—will be a blessing to us, and thus, she will remain among us, in this way.
Wife, mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, friend…the list goes on, and so do the memories. I hear her voice and her laughter and the way she used to call out my name, “Ninalich!” I see the way she used to sit on the chair, the way she’d walk, her affection toward my now adult sons ever since they were babies. I remember how she’d sweep into the room and the room would light up from her smile, and she’d offer solutions and ideas on how to make things, anything, better, more beautiful, smoother and smarter. She was, I now realize more than ever, a grounding almost maternal force for me, although we were almost contemporaries.
A deep urge to feel rooted sweeps over me today. Home and family were my friend’s ultimate raison d’être, and trying to honor her positive energy and endless grace, I yearn to pull my boys close, cook a soulful meal, and beautify my surroundings. And most of all, I will put the notion of shalom bayit—peace at home—in the center as I count my blessings and focus on breath. For it is all. And she taught me this.