Carl Jung explains a concept called synchronicity, which means that events can be “meaningful coincidences” if they are not causally related but seem to have a particular connection.
In the spring of 2009 I sat in “Sociology of Current Events” in the basement of the Boston University Sociology building, and listened to Professor Jim McQuaid tell the class, “If you are here for the course titled ‘Sociology of Current Events,’ you are in the wrong place. This was listed wrong in the course catalogue. I am here to teach the Sociology of Death and Dying. You are welcome to drop the class, or if you would like, you may stay.”
It was that mistake in a BU course catalog that armed me with resources I have used into my adult life since.
See, Jim continued with his first day of class shpeil, discussing the textbook, reviewing the syllabus. At the end of that syllabus was a note, that he explained.
“It is not uncommon for at least one student that takes this course to lose a loved one over the course of the semester. If that should happen to you, we can work together to make it possible for you to be supported, and to finish the class.”
Sitting in that musty basement, that comment didn’t sound as prescient as it sounds now. But this professor named a coincidence that just happens every time he teaches a class on death and dying.
Carl Jung explains a concept called synchronicity, which means that events can be “meaningful coincidences” if they are not causally related but seem to have a particular connection. That is, this class on death, and the frequency in which the students who take it might lose a family member.
In that spring, two of us buried loved ones. In February, my beloved grandmother AbigailOne of David's wives and a prophetess, known for her cleverness and beauty. She has the longest continous monologue of any woman in Hebrew scripture. Her Hebrew name is Avigail. MiriamMiriam is the sister of Moses and Aaron. As Moses' and Aaron's sister she, according to midrash, prophesies Moses' role and helps secure it by watching over the young baby, seeing to it that Pharaoh's daughter takes him and that the baby is returned to his mother for nursing. During the Israelites' trek through the desert, a magical well given on her behalf travels with the Israelites, providing water, healing, and sustenance. z”l died suddenly, and I missed days of classes to be home in Philadelphia to say goodbye to her, pray with her as she passed, and bury her with my family.
Jung might call it synchronicity. I see it as the threads of Divinity that tie together a world that otherwise is completely random. Some things are beshert, meant to be.
In March, KaddishThe Aramaic memorial prayer for the dead. Mourners recite this prayer at every service, every day, in the presence of a minyan (prayer quorum) over the course of a year (for a parent) or thirty days (for a sibling or offspring). The prayer actually makes no mention of the dead, but rather prays for the sanctification and magnification of God's name. will be releasing episode 6 about burial and the idea of synchronicity. The concept evolves to discuss moments when religions overlap in practice or belief system. We’ll hear two interviews: one from the South Western Friends Burial Ground that now buries Muslims alongside 200 years of Quakers. The other from inventors of Coeio: The Infinity Burial Suit, which uses mushroom and toxin-processing flora and fauna to reduce the human’s impact on the earth in burial, and it looks a lot like takhrikhin, Jewish burial shrouds.
I happened to register for the “wrong” class back in college, but it was the happenstance and luck of learning about the sociology of death and mourning that gave me the tools I needed at the moment I needed. Beshert.
Ariana Katz is the host of Kaddish, a podcast about death, mourning, and the people who do it. Ariana is a rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. She is a member of the Philadelphia Reconstructionist Chevra Kadisha, a volunteer chaplain and board member at Planned Parenthood of South East Pennsylvania, and a member of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council. Ariana is in training to become a soferet, a scribe of sacred Jewish text.