Friday, December 12, 2008

In Memorium

My whole life I have been immersed in a world of words. Not just meaning but sounds. The cadence of a sentence. The emotion behind the basic structure. I have surrounded myself with diversity. Often associated with people who don't look like me. I grew up sitting at tables where the language spoken often wasn't my own.

It never bothered me. I would get lost in the rhythm of a foreign tongue. Picking up on the nuances and facial expressions. Missing the exact definitions but understanding the meanings. The better I knew a person the more I could piece together. There was always more in common then not. One had to look for it.

Recently I accompanied my wife and children to a relative's house to mourn the loss one who had recently departed. As we entered the women and children were directed to one location and I was shuffled off with the men to another. The room was solemn. Twenty men gathered dressed in black. Many bearded. I immediately felt a stranger in a strange land. My hand absentmindedly pawed the top of my head were the ritualistic covering was glaringly absent.

I socialized with many of these men a dozen times over the years. Separated by foreign birth and a religious orthodoxy I had never felt much kinship. American born and uninterested in religion I was more like the foreigner.

The conversation started with a deep philosophical discussion of Jewish law and culture. The Rabbi in the center of the room paused between points. Intermixing Hebrew and English. The gentleman sitting next to me noticing my discomfort whispered softly in my ear, "It is only after years of studying Jewish law that you can have such conversations!"

The words took form and shape in front of my eyes. They were no longer English and Hebrew but musical notes dancing through the air. The rise and fall with each pause as the Rabbi spoke. The room moved in unity. Chests filled with air and then exhaled. Release and expand. Release and expand.

Yit'gadal v'yit'kadash sh'mei raba....

The men of the room had now stood and were reciting the Mourner's Kaddish or Jewish Prayer For the Dead. And suddenly I was transported back to childhood. My mother, brothers, and I are in temple. It is my father's yahrtzeit (anniversary of his death). I must be about ten years old. Every year we made the trip to temple on this particular week.

Most days we lived our lives as if nothing happened. But on this day. We came to temple. We remembered. The service always felt unending. Standing up and sitting down. Standing up and sitting down. My brother's and I distracted ourselves the best we could. Making funny faces....playing silly games. Anything to pass the time.

But then the Rabbi would clear his throat and boom from the lectern, "And now let us remember those loved ones who have passed this week...". He then recited the mourners kaddish followed by a list of congregation members who had died. Our ears perk up and we wait to hear my father's name. And then we leave the synagogue shortly thereafter.

I awake from my reverie. the group of men have now finished praying and are chatting comfortably amongst themselves. I long to join my wife and children in the other room. I scan the faces around me. We are so different. For them, religion is their life. For me, my life is my religion. Yet it dawns on me that we share common bonds. Our words may be different but we all experience happiness and pain. We all mourn...

And when wounded we all bleed the same.

1 comment:

tracy said...

Lovely...i once had a wonderful physican who told me he used to hate making shiva (sp?) calls because he never knew what to say, (except the obvious "I'm so sorry for your loss"), until he finally understood that just being there, being present, was the most important thing. Thank you for feeding my soul. You are a blessing.