The burdens I generally feel being Jewish at this time of year were temporarily transcended last night. We hosted a “thank you” sukkah party. We invited all the people on the helping hands list, all those folks who have sustained us for the last 11 months with their love, their food, their humor, their presence while we navigated, negotiated and attempted to exorcise Emily’s cancer. We made chili, cornbread, and brownies. Well, that “we” is more the royal “we” if truth be told. I vacuumed. And changed the strings on my guitar. Emily stirred, cooked, baked, simmered and boiled. If you build it they will come. And so they did. I was ready for a spiritual lift quite frankly.
And while I’d like to say that with planned intention I prepared myself, that wasn’t necessarily the case. I’m thankful for even the small grasp I have on awareness. Even if that awareness is generally manifest after the fact.
Joita came to work with me on Saturday morning. She’s done this lots of times throughout her life, but now that she’s 12 and her bat mitzvah is creeping up on us, we’ve made it a requirement to attend and consider Shabbat services. Anyway, we had a death at work Friday afternoon and the family requested a shomeret (someone to watch over the body so the deceased would not be left alone). I’d put together as many people as I could in the time I had and while there were gaps, most of the time slots were filled and Ruth was not going to be left alone for any significant length of time.
So after services on Saturday, a time when Jo is generally tired, hungry and cranky, I dropped the bomb on her that we were scheduled to spend time in the morgue. “The what?!” Pause. “Eww! That is creepy! I’m not going there!”
But the morgue, like so many things in life, is not nearly as creepy in fact as it is in theory. We sat and breathed, meditated and talked about life and death and souls, good deeds and mitzvot (commandments). We read psalms and I sang. And while psalm 23 drifted off into a keyless un-melody, we held the souls of those who have gone before us. In the realm of good deeds, performing shmira is among those considered the loftiest. Most of the time a good deed can be repaid, appreciated, compensated. But not by the dead. This is one of those deeds one does with the heart and pure intention simply for the sake of giving of oneself. And I was so proud of and impressed by Joita’s compassion, understanding and menshlich-ness.
We drove home in silence, a new closeness, or maybe just more depth, for having shared this particular time together. And maybe it was something else, but I really feel like our spiritual calm infused everything we did after that. So the usual frenzied time of getting a house ready for a party, was not so frenzied. It was intentional. But not frenzied.
So many people came! The house was filled with warmth and cheer and laughter and love. I felt so present, so open. I ate in the sukkah with friends, sharing stories and breathing the crisp evening air. And then my guitar was in my hands. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Dan tuning his and I heard him say, “Let’s jam!”. And then the evening sky was filled with song. We sang choruses of HalleluYah! We sang folk songs, songs from hallel, Jewish liturgical songs, spirituals and rounds. Natalia is two and a half and she was rocking on the conga (that kid has rhythm I tell you!). And she requested ABC and twinkle twinkle. So we sang those too, weaving them in between down by the riverside and Bob Marley’s three little birds. I’m always amazed at how music embraces, and enfolds itself around and through, touching places and transcending like nothing else can. Music gives my heart wings. As Natalia left (because it was well after her bedtime), she looked over her shoulder and said to me, “next time I come we make jam, ok hali?” Yeah.
The rest of the evening was spent laughing, singing, simply being joyful and joy-filled. So very grateful.