remembering and other acts of blessing
yahrzeit is a yiddish word translated as “time of year,” and for jews, a people who sanctify time in so many ways, yahrzeit is both solemn and a blessing. yahrzeit is when jews remember the dead, and, as in so many cultures, when we wrap ourselves in an almost-palpable sense of remembering. for jews, it dates back to the 16th century, when an otherwise obscure rabbi wrote of yahrzeit in his book of customs. every year on the anniversary, “the time of year,” of the death of someone beloved, jews are called to the synagogue, and rise for the reciting of the mourner’s kaddish, a praise prayer to God, spoken in the depths of mourning, of grieving, and of remembering. it is one of the beautiful mysteries of judaism that the kaddish does not mention death. it’s an ancient aramaic prose-poem, thought to be an echo of Job, “spoken from the sub-vaults of the soul,” that, as some have written (beautifully), is offered up as consolation to God, who suffers the loss of any one of us as piercingly as we do.
at home, the marking of “the time of year” is when a yahrzeit candle is lit, and burns for 24 hours. to glance at the dance of the flickering flame is to remember, to offer up a word, a prayer, from the heart.
my papa’s yahrzeit is today. 42 years ago, this became the darkest day, the snow-swept night the doctor walked into the cold, linoleum-tiled hospital corridor and simply said, “i’m sorry,” leaving us to fill in the unimaginable, unspeakable blank. my beloved papa had breathed his last. and it would be a long time till i could fill my own lungs again. and it is a miracle and testament to godly healing that all these years later i do know laughter again, and i have filled my life with treasures––my boys, first among them––my papa would have so reveled in. oh, he would have beamed. in my darkest and my brightest hours, he is with me still and always.
i am not alone in marking this day as a day of remembering. all our calendars are filled with dates all but written in invisible inks that we alone decode. the date i miscarried my baby girl. the date my firstborn broke his neck. the date you found out something terrible. the date you or someone you love got sober. the date you figured it out, whatever “it” might be.
it is in remembering, i think, that we sometimes grow our hearts. it is in holding close whatever was the whammy life dealt. those whammies come in a thousand thousand colors and flavors and sounds. and those moments, those chapters, are the ones that propel us into our truer and truer depths. it’s life in its complexities that draws out the marrow of who we are.
i am not one who usually turns to nietzche but i stumbled across this line this week, and suddenly it fits with thoughts of yahrzeit and remembering and loving:
“no one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life,” the young nietzsche wrote.
but we walk the bridge with those who’ve walked before us, with those we’ve loved and lost.
and in my darkest hours, and in my brightest ones, i somehow always find my papa shimmering there at the edge of the frame. in my deepest dark hours, i pray: “be with me papa.” and he is.
it’s the last line of this poem where i feel my soul swoop up and skyward…
Lines For Winter
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself —
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.
~ Mark Strand ~
the earthquake in turkey and syria: as we all watched helplessly the devastations in syria and turkey, it was hard to watch, and hard not to want to reach across the screen and clear away the rubble. i have been moved time and time again why the white helmets, an all-volunteer corps who leap into chaos and devastation with unbridled courage and determination to pull any breathing bodies from beneath the dusty hell on earth. should you be inclined to do what we can from over here, and want to be sure your money’s getting where it will make the most lasting impact, check out this navigator from NPR to find out just that. the baby girl to the right is the sole survivor of her family, pulled from the rubble with her umbilical cord still attached to her dead mother. the world is rooting wildly for her. and blanketing her in so, so much love. and remembering her mother. . .
and before i go, in case you didn’t happen to see my highly unusual monday morning posting here on the chair, i bring this invitation to the friday table! it’s a real-live virtual (such is the definition of real-live these days) chair gathering. we’re calling it a launch for my next little book, but really for me it’s the joy of finally finally gathering us all together. and finally putting faces to names like “jack,” and “hh,” and “nan”. . .
we’ll gather on the evening of Tuesday, March 21––the actual pub date of The Book of Nature: The Astonishing Beauty of God’s First Sacred Text––when we shall send it soaring into the everland. it’s free and it’s just for friends of the chair––wherever you are––and it’ll be at 7 p.m. chicago time, when we’ll gather by zoom. and all you need to do is click this link to register. the zoom link will be magically sent to you. and, since i’ve never ever done this before, beyond that we will all find out together what happens next.
that’s my papa above, feeding the kangaroo, when he was once down under, giving yet another one of his gloriously animated speeches to a crowd of grocery mavens. my papa was an ad man, an ad man who loved a microphone. i, as his deeply devoted daughter, decidedly did not get the microphone gene, though i can find myself animated once i get over the trembles.
how do you remember the ones you’ve loved and lost?