This piece is dedicated to the memory of Sara Louise Disney, March 11, 1988 – July 9, 2019.
This weekend, I received word that a friend and fellow spiritual explorer passed away. Sara Disney was a vivacious Tulsa free spirit known for speaking her mind and seeking substantive answers to the questions we face. She attended our Passover seder last year where she seemed to thoroughly lap up the experience like an investigative reporter. She had spent time at our home, mostly firing spiritual questions in our direction with a hunger for alignment. She craved perspectives, books, resources, and even homework assignments. Our text messages were dotted with conversations about prayer, the Sabbath, and drug policy reform. As the President of the Drug Policy Reform Network of Oklahoma, Sara was outspoken about patient’s rights. She remained outspoken on these subjects long into experiencing the severe effects of advanced Crohn’s Disease — even writing and posting from hospital beds.
While I will miss Sara, I feel blessed to have known her and been inspired by her insatiable appetite for truth and tenacious drive to effect change.
With her in mind, I’d like to jump into something peculiar that occurred this morning. I had recently changed siddurim (sih-der-eem — prayer books) to one with a layout I favor. In addition to a layout that lends itself to aligning meaning with the Hebrew text, commentaries fill the footnotes and margins. While most of these are helpful, they can almost consume the text — leaving essential passages somewhat hidden. I didn’t realize until this morning that I had been passing over the last piece of the blessings just before Kedusha:
You are faithful to restore the dead to life. Blessed are You, HaShem (G-d), Who revivifies the dead.
While I knew that this blessing was a part of the prayer service, because of its placement in my siddur, I had managed to skip this blessing for months…until this morning.
Did G-d conceal this blessing from me for a period of time just to make Sara’s death a moment of learning and reflection? Was I just a fast davener (praying person)? I may never know, but the moment did allow me to reassess and now reiterate what we believe happens to “us” when we die.
There is an array of answers to the question of what happens when we die according to Jewish tradition.
- The afterlife, despite not directly mentioned in the Torah, is commonly referred to as Olam HaBa, The World to Come.
- The 13th Principle of the Jewish Faith according to Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, aka: the Rambam) instructs the belief in the resurrection of the dead.
- Some say that we will be later resurrected from the dead just like what happened in the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37.
- The more mystical branches of Judaism claim that our souls are reincarnated into different bodies until our soul has completed its mission.
If you were to ask me precisely what happens, even according to my faith, what happens when we die, I couldn’t tell you. I simply don’t know. Still, I’m not very worried about it. Why not? Because I believe that the Creator is just. Whatever His plan He has for my soul after my breath has ceased from my body will be a perpetuation of His Holiness, His Love, and His Just Nature.
Another way to describe this sensation would be to allow a loved one to plan a trip for you. Say a dear parent, spouse, sibling, or friend were to plan an exclusive journey for you. This journey may not be a vacation, but whatever it is, it’s the excursion you need. It may have elements of difficulty, but these are also elements of growth. You may experience things you never even imagined, but ultimately, are glad you did. The entire time you would know that the designer of your itinerary had you in mind.
Would you be nervous about taking this trip? I know I would be. Despite knowing that I’m about to board a fully-inspected rollercoaster, my knees still shake a bit while waiting in line — not for fear of my safety, but because I don’t know how I’m going to feel yet. The unknowns that would make my palms sweat would not be out of distrust for the one leading me up to the rollercoaster line, but simply not knowing precisely how I will handle something I’ve never experienced before.
Still, I steady my knees and dry my palms on the assurance that my Creator is One of Love. Even if my consciousness ceases and my soul returns to the Source of All, I know that I have nothing to fear besides not doing enough with my life while I can. Pondering the mysteries of the next world is largely a waste of time in the present world. We need to love while we can, touch lives while we’re breathing, and set acts in motion that will perpetuate love and justice after we’ve left this world.
I believe Sara understood this. Despite having physical difficulties, she continued to ask piercing questions and support causes close to her heart. To those her mourn her, may you continue to be comforted.
“G-d is love. G-d is beauty. G-d is everything good! The truth is exquisite! The truth also expounds upon itself, so it just keeps getting better. Words cannot express.”
– Sara’s last text message to my wife.
You’re welcome to contribute to charity’s close to Sara’s heart.
Tulsa Jazz Hall of Fame
Drug Policy Reform Network of Oklahoma
Youth Services Tulsa
Black Wallstreet Gallery
Tulsa Humane Society