we remember them….
a beloved, bespectacled man died this week. my husband’s father. the original mensch. a man i most remember with his face crinkled by the folds of a smile that enveloped from chin to forehead, and, best of all, with a single tear trickling down his cheek from behind his tortoise-rimmed glasses. i see him at the dining room table, holding up a short glass of wine, as we sit down to bless shabbat — the sabbath — and i hear him reciting the Shehecheyanu, the jewish blessing for those rare anointed moments in time, when, as the prayer says, we thank God for enabling us to reach this sacred occasion.
my father-in-law — a man so tender to me you might never have guessed how hard it was for him, early on, that his only son was in love with and marrying a catholic, even an irish catholic — died on the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest of holy days, the day of atonement, of fasting, the day of judgement. a day when jews (and those who love jews) wrap themselves in their deepest prayers, and the prayers are laced with unflinching references to death, to dying, to lives well lived — or not. who shall live and who shall die? who shall perish by water and who by fire? who by sword and who by wild beast? on and on the prayer pulses through the litany of life’s endings, not a one of them softened for easier going down.
the prayers, some of them this year, made the raw ache of this brand-new death even harder. they stung, some of the words, so i squeezed my husband’s hand as tightly as i could, and i kept watch. i watched his face, in profile, through the hours of prayer; kept watch for tears in his eyes, for that faraway look, for the moments when he swallowed hard. i kept watch on the visage of grief, and imagined the landscape inside.
but there came a moment in the day of atonement prayers, toward the end of the day, when the sun was setting, and the shafts of light streamed in from the west, turning the sanctuary from blinding gold to rosy. it’s a part of the day of prayer called the memorial service, and tradition has it that children are kept outside — too sorrowful. the words and the prayers are tinged with mourning, with longing for lives lost. but amid the sadness, there is a prayer i have always loved, a prayer that wraps its words around me like the softest afghan, a prayer that makes me feel the brushstroke of God, quite honestly. it is pure embrace of a prayer. and it has never held me more tightly, nor more tenderly.
it doesn’t seem to have a name, but the refrain is “we remember them,” so you might call it the “remember-them prayer.”
what i love most is that, like so many jewish prayers, it pulses with a deep interiority. it rustles through the soul. it captures the quiet of the human heart. it breathes into the crevices of our consciousness. it understands perfectly how it is to be alone with your grief, with your longing, and to feel your heart swell and spill, as that rising up of love and loss, intermingled, so defines grief. and it grasps for breathtaking pauses in the beauty of the passing year, in the turning of the seasons, and it anoints those moments, those unfoldings, as vessels for remembering, for loving, for stepping bravely into a world without the ones who have defined us from the beginning of our time, or for as long as we have loved them.
i offer here, the “remember them” prayer:
In the rising of the sun and in its going down, we remember them.
In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, we remember them.
In the opening buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them.
In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer, we remember them.
In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we remember them.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart, we remember them.
When we have joys that we yearn to share, we remember them.
So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.
—Text by Rabbis Sylvan Kamens and Jack Riemer from Gates of Prayer, R.B. Gittelsohn
the truth of today is that i am holding tight to prayer for one other someone i love tenderly and dearly. someone with whom i have shared deeply sacred moments, and hours of animated conversation over the decades. hours curled up on a couch, afghan covering our feet. hours in the kitchen. hours at the dinner table. hours walking in the woods. hours cradling our newborns. hours adoring our growing and nearly-grown children. hours marveling at her energy, her spark, her heart that knows no bounds. she is still here, but already i am remembering. and loving till the end of time.
and this just in, my beloved father-in-law, the son of an immigrant baker who rose to become editor and president of a new jersey newspaper, the one that covered the news of the jersey shore, read the forward, the legendary jewish newspaper every day for years and years (it was originally written in yiddish). so my husband, who wrote a beautiful obituary for his father, rewrote one with a yiddish twist for the forward. and it runs there, as of minutes ago. the headline: Arthur Z. Kamin, Trailblazing New Jersey Journalist, Dies at 84. for my tenderhearted newsman of a father-in-law, this is the much deserved trumpet blast at the close of his most beautiful life.
this day, i send deepest love first to my beautiful beautiful mother in law, and to my blessed sister in law who i will soon be with. their loss is vast and without borders. hold them, and my sweet blair, and will, and especially little teddy whose tears will not be stanched, in your whispered prayerful hearts.
and here’s the question of the week: what words bring you comfort when you are aching in sorrow?
I am so very, very sorry to hear of your loss! I remember your words to me about understanding Art’s recent stroke, when you graciously endorsed my book about traumatic brain injury. I am so very sorry for your husband and sons’ loss also. I remember when my mother died, the feeling of loss was not measurable and there were no words.
I hold you all in prayer, as a Catholic, with a sister who has converted to Judaism.
May you all be comforted by your memories of Art in the days of your lives and know that he lives on in each of you!
oh, bless you, dear dear lou. “not measurable” and “no words.” and yet we try. we fling our words out into the heavens, and hope and pray they’ll catch the fleeting wisps of the ineffable…..
Reblogged this on loumath and commented:
This is so precious and beautiful, even as it is so sad.
[…] Source: we remember them…. […]
I’m trying to be so good about doing my twenty minutes of meditating before opening the laptop and getting sucked into the vortex. I couldn’t resist today for some reason and was feeling guilty until I read your piece. This was today’s meditation. Deepest condolences.
bless you. bless you….
Barbara, my deepest sympathy and thank you for you in the Kamin family’s life!
thank you so so much…..it means so much, and blair is getting much comfort from the blanket woven from words….
Wrapping all of you in prayer and love…
thank you, sweet love….
I am sorry for your loss. May your wonderful memories help your entire family as you all attempt to live your lives without this very special man. Many prayers coming to you and your entire family.
we will live our lives more emphatically, as it should be. not long after we got word on tuesday, my sweet boy sat down and redoubled the intensity of his studying for LSATs next week. he said he was inspired by grandpa, knowing grandpa would want nothing but that intense focus……
how many times have any of us been to funerals and carried home a promise to live more emphatically……
A beautiful life and so sorry for the grief you are all in now.
a beautiful and sweet life, indeed…..
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep … tears, dearest darling bam. An afghan weaved with love is covering you now. xoxoxo
and i feel its warmth…..
i am just home from a sacramental saying goodbye to a beloved friend. while there, her daughter played me a recording of her mama reading this poem.
wendell berry is the poet priest here, and it seems so perfect to leave here as a gift for anyone who wanders by the table today or any day…..
The Peace of Wild Things
BY WENDELL BERRY
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things” from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1998.
Well having wandered here tonight, putting to bed an evening of generations gathering, games played, and story telling, there is not a moment more precious than this reflection.
May we all rest in grace and share somehow the sacredness in some way, shape or form.
love you, lamcal, and the way you always frame these moments. the stories this past weekend truly did lift hearts and souls. and opened up new layers of pieces we never knew, and so through story so much becomes more whole……
Heartfelt sympathy at the passing of a father and father-in-love, a grandpa and patriarch. What a wonderful man. And thank you for the gift of “we remember them.” It is so beautiful and universal. I printed it and will carry it always, reading it often.
sweetheart, you have no idea the gentle gift that washes over my heart reading that the words above brought a patch of comfort to you, as grief has its seasons and yours is so new.
that prayer so captures the way we, the chairs, see and feel the world…..
So sorry for your loss. Praying for you and your family. May you all feel Gods comforting arms around you.
thank you so so much….
dear chairs who gather here, my beautiful friend — the one i’ve loved since the day i met her when i was five months pregnant with my firstborn, when she came to chicago from argentina — she died early early yesterday morning. just before the dawn…..
please hold her and her most beloveds in your prayers…..
this seems to be a week that is testing the capacities of our hearts. and of course we find that they grow and grow to hold what had once sounded impossible and unbearable….
I’m so very sorry, bam, to hear now about the passing of yet another special person in your life. Compounded grief is so hard – please take care of you. Dear fried and Art would want that for you and we, your followers, want that for you. I read a book after one of my losses, “Life is Hello, Life is Good-bye” which talked about the physical side of grieving being very real – our bodies need extra special care, as they deal with losses. You are in my prayers for this time in which there are hardly words to convey the depth of feelings. May memories of her comfort you, and may fall colors fill your heart with hope.
so deeply beautiful
thank you for sharing
sending love always
xoxoxo love you till the end of time, my beautiful becc….
In awe as always of your thoughts & words. For me the “Remember Them” prayer is also closest to my heart when thinking about my dear Aunt Mary & my loving Grandpa, also two little ones I was not fortunate enough to know except in my heart.
oh, sweetheart……reaching out a hand to quietly hold yours. i know too of little ones lost……
Bam, I don’t have the words now but know that your posts give me great strength in some very trying, painful times I’m experiencing. I always feel I have a chair at your table. I’m sending love and support.
Even when you’re in such pain, you always have the right words. And I have none. Just know that we love you and remember you, as we remember them.
bless you, honey. and thank you….xox
A copy of the prayer was given to me at the All Souls Day remembrance at my Catholic parish the year my husband died. I find it so comforting.
Sent from Windows Mail
indeed, it’s a prayer whose words know no religious bounds. it speaks to hearts in all languages. i love that your church shared it. and i love that you, too, find such comfort nestled in its sound and its silence…..
[…] and harper lee. but if i had to pick three posts that will stick with me forever, it would be the prayer of remembering, the day my little one tried his hand at healing the sick, and, more than any other this year, the […]