In 1951, the American writer Ray Bradbury published a short story called “The Fog Horn.” It told the story of two guys working at a remote lighthouse in Lonesome Bay. As the night came in and the fog began to thicken, the workers added to the lighthouse the use of a horn to guide the possible ships around.
The first time I read the story, I couldn’t help but to associate the use of the fog horn to the sound of the Shofar. The Shofar is our spiritual horn trying to call us back home, especially at times when we feel that we are surrounded by the darkness of the night and by the many challenges of life.
However the fog horn, with its deep and piercing sound, isn’t the most important character of Bradbury’s story. And neither are the two workers spending the night at the lighthouse. The most important character of the plot, to me, is the sea monster that, at the peak of the story, comes from the depths of the ocean, responding to the horn’s call. Bradbury’s tale is about the monster’s terrible disappointment when the horn is not what he was expecting it to be, it’s about his pain and it’s about his profound and heartbreaking loneliness.
This story is, for me, a poignant companion in these days that connects Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur and especially, a great read in preparation for Yizkor because Yizkor is that time of the year when we remember how lonely we feel without the presence of those loved one who are no longer physically with us. During Yizkor, many of us can feel a bit like the monster of the story, alone and in pain, sometimes shutting ourselves from the world, and some other times feeling like nobody can really understand what is going on with us. That is why, at times, we stop trying and we spend more and more time by ourselves. It’s very hard to feel lonely and far away from the rest of the world. And it’s even harder to witness how the people we love become more and more isolated, while nothing we do or say seems to help changing any of that.
Deep down we know that isolating ourselves is not the way to go. Not so long ago, the American Psychological Association issued a press release saying that, “Loneliness and social isolation represent a greater public health hazard than obesity […] There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase the risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators.”
Isolation breeds frustration, and frustration breeds sorrow and despair. As we become sadder and sadder, we lose our ability to recognize how important we are in the lives of those surrounding us. We believe that we are disposable and that no one will miss us. But that’s not true, and maybe that’s why we recite the Yizkor during Yom Kippur: The most crowded day of the Jewish calendar is also the one in which we are profoundly alone. More alone than ever.
And yet, in our loneliness we can come together; in our pain, we can join in prayer and remembrance with others, and then we can connect with them, knowing that, even if we all process our sadness in different ways, no one is immune to it. And, as we come closer together, we can finally realize that we all need each other.
Isolation kills, but community can help us heal. It can be a religious community, and it can be a community of peers. Whoever you trust. Those you really care for. So, as we are preparing for Yom Kippur, I want to invite you to make some time in your schedule to call a friend, to hug a dear one, and to remind the members of your family that you love them. Even if you are in deep pain, remember that you are loved, repel the whispering voices in your mind that tell you otherwise, and transform the sadness of your loss into the fuel pushing you forward.
Yom Kippur ends with the blowing of the Shofar, our spiritual fog horn. When that time comes, may that piercing sound become not the symbol of our loneliness and pain but the wake-up call to bounce back to life. May the memories of those who we will remember this upcoming Yizkor be a blessing and an inspiration and may their everlasting presences guide us to a life of meaning, to a life of friendships and to a life of love. Amen.