Chances are it would happen, sooner or later, the day when I would not walk out of the room and out of the building and find a place in the sun where I could sit and basque, tilt my face toward the warmth and light, and breathe a sigh. I might wonder what was happening in the room and I might not. What I knew was that some people were in and others were out, that I was usually out; earlier, some whom I hadn’t seen all year were running to be there on time, and others running to be elsewhere.
It is a mystery and a dance. The basics of the dance remain the same each time, but not the characters in it.
Last year I had quickly glanced at the folded booklet – as if I had found my father’s condoms or my mother’s birth control, things I didn’t want to believe or deal with. In the glance I noticed there was a paragraph for a grandparent, or for somebody who gave their life for our faith. All four of my grandparents had long passed. Why, then, could not I not participate in this service? Why was it off limits? Still, it was forbidden. I dare not read more.
This year, as I sat in my seat, the Rabbi as usual requested “All who have not lost a parent please leave the room.” This year I did not join that group. I was tempted to look around. Who were we, those who remained? I sat on the first row, by myself, within arm’s length of the window. It was closed on this cold day in April. Kids were outside playing basketball on the patio. I looked down and found the paragraph for those who have lost a father. We in the room were in the temporary world, our loved ones in the eternal one. My father was in the eternal world, and I was here.
I pledged charity on his behalf. “A fund-raising gimmick,” I found my brain briefly thinking, and then caught that thought. At a time of loss and confusion – to pledge to give to those in need – works. To others in real need. It restores the balance.
I followed the written lines on the card and prayed for my father to be in Gan Eden. The Garden of Eden. My father in the Garden of Eden?
It was hard for me to imagine him, my father, at least my father’s soul, happy, in Gan Eden. He’d been so wretched in this life but met his end of days bravely and with love for us. Could he be happy for all eternity? Such a thought!
A friend and I talked afterward; I was thinking of my dad but was he thinking of me? How could I know? How could I ever know.
Soon I began chanting to myself Jackson Browne: “Which side, which side, which side are you on?” with its heavy beat and repetition. We were on this side. I was on this side. The ones we prayed for were on the other. Just as my father’s soul cannot come back, neither can I go back to being one who wonders and walks out of the room.
Before the holiday began, as dusk moved in and replaced the daylight, between my husband and me, we had lit four 24-hour memorial candles, my husband three and me one. My first. A full 48 hours after the 24-hour memorial candles were lit, and counting, my father’s alone continued to burn strong.
Yes, I thought, his soul is shining and he’s letting me know what I cannot know.
*shul = synagogue