I have in the past used the High Holy Days as my opportunity to commune with Stew. He is buried far away in Portland, under a sparkly pink granite tombstone in a tree lined cemetery full of distant pioneers and Jews more recently deceased. It has been less than a year since David died, while the upcoming anniversary of Stew’s yartzeit is ten years. I knew this Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur would be different.
I may be Jewish but I don’t think of myself as religious. Most of the time, I don’t even consider myself spiritual. Stew and I adoped a Yippie Jewish renewal version of Jewish practices in Portland. I feel at home here at Kehilla with its empathetic, learned rabbis, feminist music, democratic services and reasonably radical politics. But when it comes to actual worship – even Rabbi David says that when he’s asked if he believes in God (oops, better capitalize God given it’s the HHD) Rabbi David answers – what do you mean by God?
All of which leads to me, this Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, to stand in front of my favorite front row seat in the balcony of Oakland’s Masonic Temple with its arcane carvings of faces, crosses and Jewish stars surrounding the stage, wearing my tallis (perhaps from Israel, certainly used in Portland) over my head and around my body, Stew’s yarmulke is on my head (possibly my father Leo’s but one Stew wore in Portland). It’s time for the silent Amida, the silent standing prayer. In years past I would use this holiday ( not a holidary in the celebratory sense but a holiday from daily life frustrations and tasks) to commune with Stew. Now I visualize not one dead husband beside me but two: Stew with his blond hair & matching tallis trimmed in gold, humming along to the prayers, David, the cultural anthropologist, the observer, his bald head nodding off but determined to stay until the bitter end. I stretch out each of my hands – to Stew on my right side, David on my left. I pretend they are holding my hands. A single tear makes a channel down my right cheek. That one’s for Stew, I tell myself. It is followed shortly after by a tear down my left cheek, for David. More follow, I loose count. Never before has this happened at any service. Usually I just tear up – I feel the tears behind my eyes but they hide, they do not show themselves. In the past I usually tear up toward the end of Avinu Malkenu. And the Mourner’s Kaddish. But I don’t truly cry. This time I let myself go. Deep in. To what others call the center of the Tabernacle, the holy of holies. Rationally I believe my imaginings have to do with my still raw grief for David, but emotionally all this is new. And difficult. Exhausting. And at the same time healing.
I believe the liturgy says that you are not the person today you were this time last year. Darn right I’m not. Here are some sins for which I was granted atonement today. I may begin to sin again this very same way tomorrow morning. (Do the Catholics do it better? Is it easier to change your behavior by confessing and being forgiven every time you feel motivated rather than once a year?) Still, this evening I have been forgiven for:
- going automatically to worst case scenario
- using fear as a blanket to keep me from moving forward
- Being too self critical. Lacking compassion for myself
- holding myself to perfectionist standards
- moving so fast so I miss the details. And as a result I don’t remember them
Here’s what Stew gives me: fire, courage and a syncretic way of thinking. Here’s what I got from David – the ability to go slow and be a Stoic about the bad stuff. Thank you my dear guys. You both loved me. And I will do the best I can this coming year to live according to your gifts.