The Revolving Door

I know. You think I’ve forgotten you. You think I have no more adrenaline, let alone drash. You have given up.

Little do you know how often I have thought of you these past months. Scraps of paper with things I wanted to say, things I wanted to tell you, have long since turned into scribbles that are longer comprehensible to me. I have had to throw out many such notes in the past weeks.

Let me explain. It was a spring and summer in which I lived life in a revolving door. On the one side, life. On the other side, death.

Judaism allows me to honor this fact: Death of a beloved leaves an indelible mark.

Death has a sting; it transforms the living. Judaism asks us to remember the dead as a matter of course. Remembering is built into our liturgical year.

I think we do this, in part, to invite transformation. We sit shiva, we mark shloshim, we travel through a year of Kaddish, we acknowledge yahrzeits, we attend Yizkor services.

Today, a grieving husband told me: “It creeps up on you. You never know when it is going to strike.” Yesterday, he said, he sat down to dinner alone. “She wasn’t there. I cried.”

That terrible wave of recognition can stop your breath at any time.  It can freeze life inside the reality of death.

On April 28, my friend Anne went to the doctor for a stomach problem; she was told cancer had run amuck in five organs. She died within weeks.

She had decided to forego treatments that could give her more time.

“What do I want to do,” she asked me. “Throw up all the time? Be too sick to talk or think? I’ve seen friends do that. Not me.”

Anne was one of the most irreverent, acerbic Christians I ever knew. She complained that God was taking too much time to take her. She told me she wanted visitors who could tell her a good joke. She said she’d wanted doctors with a sense of humor.

“So much for that,” she remarked dryly.

Anne left this word with grace. She filled it with grace.

We lost Ruth, too, after years of struggle with ever more regular blood transfusions. The last time I saw her, I fed her mashed bananas to mask the bitterness of the medication she had just taken.

In those last days she reached out to me like a child. I wasn’t always sure she knew what she was doing. I responded as if she needed me to hold her, just in case she did.

It was a spring and summer of loss and life.

One of our congregants is quite unexpectedly expecting again. We named her first child a little more than a year ago. Now her son, Anderson, is walking, a sturdy blond boy.

His mother, the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, is a woman whose ebullience and generosity heals. Alone her presence gives life. Her children, I think and pray, will take after her.

Forgive me my absence; I was learning lessons about death and life.



2 Replies to “The Revolving Door”

  1. To me you are never absent, your existance is always felt, even when you never write a single word, space-time is forgiving and transcendent of mortal ways of communication.

  2. Here’s a late but no less relevant response from Henri Nouwen:

    When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand.

    The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing, and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.

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