Thursday, June 30, 2005

Nahutz T’cheelahson B’soifon (End Rooted In Beginning)

Forking roads adjourned
Where the sharpest turned
Sharpest turns retrace
At a different pace
All that we have learned

Spooning the same food
Where meets mouth and mood
And mood cannot speak
Yet sate with a peek
Albeit while nude

Knifing through layers
Passed the die players
Dice player your role
When my bell will toll
I’ll say my prayers

Cupping my last cent
Must be last week’s rent
Week’s rent in my hand
But that is too bland
Must be heaven sent

Plating my heart gold
A move very bold
Very bold indeed
For now it will bleed
Henceforth plated mold

Bowling with ten-pound
You hear view or sound
Or sound is the deft
But we hear bereft
Just one piece of ground

Monday, June 27, 2005


I question not, says he –
I only wonder.
I do no wrong, thinks thee –
I only blunder.

I don’t argue, says she –
I just disagree.
I’m not content, thinks me –
I am just lazy.

I feel no pain, he says –
It is but a hurt.
I am not black, she begs –
It is simply dirt.

I’m not ugly, she flays –
It’s merely a mask.
I’m no beggar, he prays –
All I do is ask.

I’m not choking, he gasps –
I just can’t breathe.
I’m not going, she rasps –
I just need to leave.

I’m not joking, he smirks –
It is but humor.
I don’t gossip, she lurks –
‘Tis but a rumor.

It’s not fashion, she feels –
‘Tis but a trend.
It aint over, he squeals –
‘Tis but the end.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

An Unfinished Article

How do we balance the passing of a loved one with the continuity of life?

The routine of normalcy, trying, naturally, to normalize my routines, keeps on knocking on the door marked Different. Do I wish to return to the shallowly mundane environment of the “Status Quo” or do I wish to imitate that infamous Infiniti tagline: “more status, less quo”? I think the Infiniti of automobiles reflects the Infiniti of the Divine – yes, the Divine would never settle for the “quo” (with quotation marks) – not even for a quid-pro-quo.

Still, the question remains: after the transition of a loved one from this world to the next, should we wish for the normalcy of every-day life or should we hold on to the memories of the one we hold so dear? On the one hand, it would surely be an insult and dishonor to try and forget the one we love; on the other, life must go on. However cold and cerebral the question may sound, this query has been plaguing my conscious, as well as subconscious (albeit unconsciously), these past few days: how does one balance the shock of death with the realization life? Where do we go from here?

On Sunday, chof Iyar, I am sitting in our apartment here in Budapest, my fingers ever so softly dancing over the keyboard of my computer – I am writing an article for the Algemeiner Journal. I begin by quoting from the fourth Perek of Pirkei Avos, “unwillingly do we live; unwillingly do we die”; then proceed to go into an elaborate, though by no means original, account of Tension and Resolution – Rotzoi v’Shuv – how one Yearns to Return and then Returns to Yearn: the Ying-Yang saga called life. Unfortunately, I never get to finish the article; instead, my phone rings, the uncontrollable sobbing on the other end informs me that my grandfather received the ultimate press-pass – heaven.

Back in Budapest, after a rather morose and intense week in The States, I find myself reading the article that I had begun writing. That first quote passes off the LCD screen of my computer through the pupils of my eyes, and into the gray mush of my brain – bam, it sends me reeling – the answer to that age-old question posed above, is, indeed, right there in the Mishnah.

Coincidence, coincidently, is nothing more than G-d sending a message; it is G-d saying: there is a meaningful connection between these rambunctiously random and neurotically natural events. A leaf floating to the ground is more than just a leaf floating to the ground – what it is, we do not always know – that leaf affects the whole of creation. If this is the case with an unsuspecting event, a leaf falling to the ground, how much more so with a suspecting event, the passing of a loved one. The question, unquestionably, has been answered before it has been asked. There is no doubt in my fragile mind that G-d flashed before me that line from the Mishnah, and the Rotzoi v’Shuv concept, to belie any doubts that might creep into that psyche of mine.

After all that mumbo jumbo, truly how does one balance the shock of death with the realization of life?

Life is made of paradoxes. We are made of paradoxes: here we have the Body; here we have the Soul. In one corner, weighing in at an astronomical two hundred pounds of pure flesh and blood, sits the Physical; in the other corner, weighing in at nothing at all but pulling a lot of weight, floats the spiritual. The boxing idiom is more than apt for this battle of Body vs. Soul: the two of them are thrown into a ring called earth; the Body has a nasty left hook called Matter; the Soul has a wicked uppercut called Spirit; they spar, no shadow boxing here; round one to Body; round two to Soul; on and on until we reach the final round; now, when it really counts, who will land the last punch, who will push his opponent to the ropes. But is this it – are we just fighting through life, hoping for a knockout or, at the least, a favorable judges decision? Is Life nothing more than a battle?

Life is not a battle in the classic sense: it is not to be won by beating your opponent; the only way to be victorious in this match is to realize that your enemy is really your best friend, to see that your opponent is really nothing but catalyst egging you on. It is called friction. It is rubbing two stones and creating fire. In truth, the Body is as important to life as the Soul. The Soul without a Body is a flame without a wick, a painting without a canvass. And, of course, a Body without a Soul is words without a language, an instrument without music. Thus, the Body and Soul are not fighting until death; they are fighting until life. They clash not to strike the other; they clash only so that they can fall into a passionate embrace.

This is the Rotzoi and Shuv of life: the Soul yearns to heaven; the Body returns to earth. The Soul returns back to earth only to yearn for heaven; the Body yearns for the Soul only to return it to earth. You have the Yearn without the Return and you have a lively death; you have the Return without the Yearn and you have a deathly life. You have the two of them and you have life the way it was meant to be – lively.

The Tension is as necessary to life as breathing – but only if it leads to Resolution; if it doesn’t, it becomes as detrimental as walking into a furnace.

How do we balance the passing of a loved one with the continuity of life? By imitating the loved one:

Zaidy was unique in that: on the one hand, he was a newspaperman and, on the other, he was devoted to a cause beyond the “front page”. For him, the newspaper was more than just news, it was more than filling the margins – it was a vehicle, a tool with which to relate a message of Unity and of Truth, a means with which to “cover the earth with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea”.

How did he balance the “Tension” of a physical deadline with the “Resolution” of a spiritual purpose? Simply – he was beyond the pettiness of their dispute; he saw them not as two different entities, but, rather, as one entity with a common goal – making this earth more than just earth; and, for that matter, making heaven more than just heaven.

“Unwillingly do you live; unwillingly do you die.” In this one line the Mishnah says more than entire books. Unwillingly does the Soul leave the bliss of heaven for the pains of earth; unwillingly does the body leave its mission here on earth for the predictability of heaven. This is life: true, ours is a physical universe, and thus a physical life is needed to transcend it; however, one should remember that we are only here by default – unwillingly do we live – and that this physicality is not an end in itself. Yet, after the persons mission on this earth is over, unwillingly does he die. Why – if one is here only by default, why should he not leap to return to heaven? Because the person knows that he is only seeing half a picture. Yes, we are here out of necessity – necessity to change the universe – but we are also here because this is where it’s at. Heaven, for all its wonderful pros, has one con: it can never be more than it is; whereas earth, with the humans touch, can become Divine. Therefore unwillingly does one transit from earth to heaven.

Zaidy epitomized this line in the Mishnah: on one hand, he lived life as a mission; on the other, his mission was life – he was here because there was a job to be done, but he was also here because this is where it’s at.

So, let us imitate our loved one. Let us live life with a purpose, with a meaning, with a mission. Let us continue Zadys dream of combining the physical and the spiritual, of uniting the yearning Soul and the returning Body.

This is how we balance the passing of a loved one with the continuity of life.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A Saint In Fur – Ah Tzadik In Peltz

On sleeted slate the child sits shivering in the cold
Not two feet away there is a sight to behold
A man so knowledgeable he’s always fur-sure
He can answer you with its worth in gold
He is known the world over as a saint in fur

The only thing warm are the tears on her cheek
Falling faster even before Tom can take a peek
But the s-reason in his universe isn’t winter
Her lips are feeling bluish they won’t speak
But his lips form the smile of a saint in fur

Icicles hanging from frozen eyelashes
The burning wood long gone to ashes
She can’t even muster the heat to shiver
She’d swear for the feel of forty lashes
He can’t be bothered when he’s a saint in fur

His brow is fur-rowed deep in text and thought
He leaves the store not knowing what he bought
His little box is square satisfied selfish secure
He’s got all the answers but hasn’t found what he sought
How can he whilst he is a saint in fur

She thinks the cold is fact not speculative
You see she has never known the alternative
Even fog is clear when you’ve only known blur
When you only know one entity nothing is relative
He knows both grasses but remains a saint in fur

Just take the S out of scared and put it into mile
You’d be a caring fellow with a warm smile
Replace the fish of self with the less of help my sir
You’d be a selfless help to an innocent child
That mi--ing S make- you won who -aint in fur

You thought he would be freezing too if you weren’t a liar
What did you not know that his fur is now fuel for the fire
Ye he has shed his coat of harms found himself a new fur-vor
He has changed his spinier uni-verse into one of inspire
Banishing his coat her cold your curiosity my poem fur-ever

He can never say hanging up my coat is too much a bother
Fur the only way of warming yourself is by warming another

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Impressions of a Grandson

I roam the streets of Budapest, somewhat in a daze. The taillights of speeding cars blur in slow motion. It is two AM. A few drunken lips are laughing while tears streak down my sober cheeks. My heart should be heavy, but I don’t feel a thing. I gaze out into nowhere, into everywhere. I look at everything and I see nothing. I am in shock: my Zaidy has died.

Three hours later I am on the way to the airport. The taxi driver is so courteous. The world moves around me so normally. How can that be when everything has changed?

I go through the airport routine. But this time it's different. I buckle my seatbelt. But this time it's different. I don’t watch the safety video of how to inflate my life-vest. But this time it's different. I scan the in-flight magazine’s crossword. But this time it's different. I’m flying thirty thousand feet above the ground but I have never felt so low. Yes, it is definitely different.

I am waiting for my connection flight in Amsterdam. One man is buying a book at a newsstand. Another is talking on his phone. A woman is sipping a coffee. Another is cuddling her baby. People are being paged. Pages are being turned. The airport is alive; my Zaidy is dead.

I land in JFK. I have checked no suitcases but I carry a lot of baggage. I get my passport stamped and the man tells me, "Welcome back". Thank you.

I step out, into the yellow swirl of emotions and cabs. I look out the window of my friend’s car and into the window of the unfriendly world. What I see looks familiar but I do not recognize it. We stop by a red light. It seems to be mocking me. It is saying: I will always be here. Without warning it turns green. I guess it too was wrong.

I walk through the door, expecting Zaidy to be sitting at the table, his head hiding behind a newspaper or six. But instead I see an empty space. I see people sitting on low chairs and between them an empty space. I see wet eyes and behind them an empty space. I see ripped shirts and there too an empty space. In my heart, an empty space. The room is full, full with empty spaces.

I sit in the hospital three weeks before he died. He asks the doctor: "Why are doctors always healthy and patients always sick?" The doctor laughs. He was lying in bed, machines attached to every part of his body, tubes sticking out everywhere – and he was making the doctor laugh. He just wasn’t the dying type. Life rarely is – and he was Life.

He would tell me: "Why do you hang out with a sick man, go live life, go home". I don’t think I had to tell him that he was healthier than anyone I knew. Standing near his bed, listening to him talk, watching him struggle, I don’t think I ever lived life the way I did that day. I don’t think I realized it at the time, only now – now when it is gone.

He just wanted to get out of the hospital. It was like a soul imprisoned in a body. One day that soul just said, "I’ve had enough". It left the hospital; still, they say it hasn’t left us. But it’s hard, so hard. You may be able to look at a soul but you cannot see it. You may be able to feel a soul but you cannot touch it. Is it so bad to want not only a soul but also a body? I don’t think so.

My father and uncles are saying Kaddish – I have never heard anything so sad. Everyone is crying – outside, the world still spins.

Nothing will ever be the same – not even the things that are different: no longer will Zaidy compliment our flaws; no longer will we take those slow walks up Brooklyn Avenue; Friday night will no longer see Zaidy making kiddush. Yet, in the world nothing is different – not even the things that are the same.

So, what now? Zaidy is roaming the gardens, going from an interview with Moshe to an interview with the Baal Shem Tov. His press-pass allows him unlimited access. But what with us? Do we go back to our normal lives? Do we try to follow the earth’s unchanging cycles? Do we?

No. We take that unchanging universe, that “normal world”, and we try to make it different, we try to make it worthy of a scoop.

That is what Zaidy would want.