Faith · Leaning In

The Journey of Tuga and Aleluja — part one

Part One of what I tried to say in church:

This past Lent I carried a little brown rabbit in my pocket every day.

I named him Tuga, the Bosnian word for sorrow. His purpose was to remind me of the season, of the pain in this world, even when we can’t see it because it is hidden in a person’s heart — or in a pocket.

Tuga had come to me as part of a set. The other rabbit, a white one, I named Aleluja, a word we aren’t supposed to say during Lent. I hid Aleluja on Ash Wednesday, planning to bring him out again on Easter Sunday.

So Tuga was my companion for 40 days.

I carried him with me on my walks.

He was with me when I cooked, when I did laundry, when I read.

He went with me to swim meets, staying in my pocket while I officiated from the bulk head or along the deck.

Often I would reach down to pat my pocket and feel the hard corners of his ears, reminding myself that he was there — and why he was there. Or I would put my hand in my pocket and turn him over and over, like a fidget toy.

You see, in 2014, in the early hours of the morning on Ash Wednesday, my oldest brother, Stewart, died of a heart attack.  I went through the Lenten season that year feeling numb. Everywhere I went, I saw people talking and laughing, but I felt like my heart had, at least temporarily, turned to stone.


For me, the anniversary of Stewart’s death isn’t a specific date. It’s Ash Wednesday.

Tuga, in 2017, reminded me of that Lent.

In fact, I had hidden Aleluja behind a picture of Stewart. Life hidden behind death. Sorrow in the midst of life.

When I was packing to go to Bosnia some months later, trying to choose only the barest of essentials because I needed to fit two weeks worth of stuff into one backpack, at the last minute, I grabbed Tuga and Aleluja off the shelf in my bedroom where they had been since Easter Sunday.

While some people worried that it would be risky to travel there, I wasn’t afraid. I was going to a place that had been scarred by war. Tuga would remind that the people I would meet bore scars — but those scars may be hidden in their hearts.

(Tune in for part two tomorrow.)

10 thoughts on “The Journey of Tuga and Aleluja — part one

  1. This is lovely, sweet and sorrowful all at the same time. I love this story, and maybe I needed it…

  2. First of all, may I acknowledge the crushing sadness of the loss of your brother. Secondly, this is a beautiful elegy perhaps for life itself not just for Lent. We are, you are so right, always walking in the shadow of death whilst imbibing life.

    1. Thanks, Osyth.

      I had two family members die about a year and a half apart. My brother’s death was unexpected and sudden. I think that’s why it hit me so hard. He had called me about a week before he died but I wasn’t home. I meant to return his call, but the busyness of life got the better of me. That’s why Tuga is such an important reminder for me.

      My mother passed away with her family beside her (all except my oldest brother, of course). I was ready for her die because I had been watching her slowly disappear for years in the erosion we call Alzheimer’s. It still brought a great sadness, but not the jolt that came that Ash Wednesday.

      1. Death, however it occurs …. sudden and shocking or achingly slow descent and everything in between is never easy but the sudden shock leaves, in my own experience the most unfillable hole. The unanswered questions and the guilt over seemingly foolish things. Tuga is a very fitting and I sense poignant token. I am seriously considering a Tuga (and brother Aleluja) of my own. And I thank you 🙂

  3. God bless you in your journey–all levels of it, including the small gestures that remind you of who you are and why you’re here. This is a lovely tribute not just to your brother, but to your determination to live faithfully.

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