Are we the first to feel this powerful mix of longing, grief, and worry for loved ones who have been exiled by illness?
In the Book of Numbers, we are told that Miriam was put out of the Israelite’s camp after falling ill with leprosy-like scales. In the ancient world, much like our modern one, sometimes physical distance was the only tool communities had to stop the spread of illness. While the Torah does not assign a romantic partner to Miriam, we imagine that she had a loved and cherished beloved.
In this Midrashic Monologue, Miriam’s beloved shares what it feels like to have illness separate you from the one you love the most.
“So Miriam was shut out of camp seven days; and the people did not march on until
Miriam was readmitted.”
I yearn for my beloved. I feel her absence like a limb that has been cut from my body. I miss the way her hair smells and the way she sways when she sings. I grieve the loss of her presence. I fear the danger she faces. I rage against the illness that keeps her from me.
I have moved the tent we normally share as close as possible to the boundary of our people’s camp. When I staked the fabric to the ground, I made sure that the doorway faced toward the wilderness, toward my beloved. I wanted her to see that I had prepared her way back into our space, the way back into our home, the way back into my arms.
During the day, when the sun is not blinding, I can sometimes see her standing in front of her tent of isolation. In those moments, I stretch onto my toes, waving my arms, ignoring those who scoff at my exuberant display. I don’t care what they think of me. I care only that she knows that I’m here, waiting for her.
At night, I stand at the entrance of our tent, imagining that I can see her through the darkness, and I send my prayers to God:
Oh God, heal her.
Oh God, protect her.
Oh God, wrap her in the comfort of our love.
Oh God, be with her.
Oh God, help her to know that she is not alone.
Oh God, please heal her.
Oh God, heal my Miriam.
Then I enter our tent, and as the moon rises over us both, I lie alone in our bedroll and cry because I do not know when I will be able to hold her again. Will it be safe for us to be together tomorrow? Next week? The week after? The uncertainty hangs like a weight around my neck, making every action more difficult, every moment more painful.
In sleep, I escape to a world where we are already together, where she reaches out her hand, and I can grasp it tightly.
I sometimes wake with a smile on my lips. I sometimes wake with tears on my cheeks.
Each morning, as the sun begins its climb, I rush outside to show my Miriam that I have not forgotten her, that I refuse to leave her behind. And when I see her exit her tent, I offer my prayers to God:
Oh God, thank you for my beloved.
Oh God, thank you for her strength.
Oh God, thank you for our love.
Oh God, thank you for our present.
Oh God, thank you for our past.
Oh God, please grant to us a future.
Oh God, thank you for my Miriam.