Friday, October 26, 2012

It's That Time Again

Some inner backseat driver has directed you to a particular aisle in your supermarket of choice, causing you with a touch of edge to remind it that you have already purchased enough flowers to fill every vase.  The matter cannot relate to melons because there are still two at home and one in the shopping cart.

After a go-around extending several aisles, you are back, staring, thinking.  Your eyes flicker over the display of candles.  Two German words sound in your head.  Yahr.  Zeit.  Year. Time.  You respond aloud, "True dat."  Then you reach to pick a small memorial candle, a relic from the heritage into which you are born.  At the time of Jake's funeral, a mortuary attendant thoughtfully handed you a list of yahrzeit times for Jake, its dates rendered according to the lunar system of your culture, thus differing from the more common calendar.  He also handed you a small booklet with a transliteration of the mourner's kaddish, the prayer for the dead.  The list of dates was good only for ten years.  Had you thought to write the date and month of the Hebrew calendar, you could easily find a conversion point on Google.

During his final weeks, when the amazing and mischievous force you knew as your father was winding down his life force and vitality, he'd lapse on occasion into cultural and heritage matters, leading you to observe to him that with the exception of some splendid and descriptive explicative phrases in Yiddish, you'd rarely if ever heard him link so many words together.  English--Brooklyn and New York American English--were his lingua franca.  He was two generations away from any accent other than American.

Listen, he explained, drawing you closer, when you get to this stage, the mind makes fewer distinctions.  Only yesterday, there was a nurse I mistook for--here he supplied the Hebrew name for the Angel of Death.  She wanted to change my linens, but I'd have preferred a mild claro cigar.

At this point of conversation, he regarded you thoughtfully.  I guess, he ventured, you're my kaddish.  He was, in his way, asking you to agree to this ritual of saying the prayer for the dead.  Your Hebrew had long since taken flight, homing pigeons returning to the times when you read and spoke.  You were aware of the English transliterations and of the sing-song cadences of the prayer.  You had no trouble accepting the job.

For those ten years you had the transliteration, your observation was according to protocol, on the anniversary of his death.  Yahr. Zeit.  Year. Time.  Blended into one word as the German language tends to do with words, and as the Hebrew.

These years, you've settled on what you hope is an easy compromise with Jake, the heritage, and the cosmos.  You chose the date of his birthday, the time of his setting forth on this wobbly and remarkable planet.

In an accurate sense, neither of you was or is religious, more or less picking and choosing cultural and habitual tropes and rituals.  Your vision of death among other things holds little room for the possibility of his being aware of you lighting the candle or reciting the mourner's prayer, and so your placement of a small photo of him at a duck pond, throwing bits of bread to a squawking chorus of ducks, next to the candle is more for your amusement and greater sense that this is a secular thing, a request made, father to son, and the son, so long as he is able, carrying out the request.

There are other requests he'd made of you, most of which had to do with how you carried yourself.  Seeing him in the picture or, occasionally, in yourself as you shave, you are reminded to feed the occasional duck, to walk tall and, one of his particular admonitions, "Whatever you become, be a good one."

Your Hebrew is a shade above deplorable, but you try to put some body English and panache into it.  Somehow, a few years back, you came into possession of the tallis or prayer shawl, and at some long forgotten funeral, perhaps even Jake's, you came into possession of a yarmulke, the silken skull cap appropriate for wearing with the lighting of the candle and the reading of the prayer.  Truth to tell, you could probably be more effective with a few prayers in Sanskrit and, were he in fact, able to be the beneficiary, he'd be impressed.  That kid.  Never tell with him.

Of the many words he taught me in Yiddish, that splendid street language, two resonate a cosmic truth. Tsouris beliden.  Trouble aboundeth.  He lived as though that were so, and so do you, a fact that may make you wary at times but, truth to tell,  it also enhances your great joy at being here.

Added truth to tell, Jake may have been thinking to cover his ass, recruiting me to be his kaddish, but he was also enlisting me in a heritage and ritual that shooed away the Angel of Death as though she were a pesky fly, leaving me instead an ongoing and present-time ritual of day-to-day love, which is the best of all.

Happy birthday, Jake.

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