Monday, July 04, 2016

July 4, 2106--A Year of Mourning

I am by nature skeptical. Especially about things that involve ritual or belief. I am more comfortable with evidence-based reality. Or, at least, my version of what constitutes "evidence" and "reality."

And so when my mother died a year ago Friday, at the time a close friend said it will take a full year of mourning to reach "closure" and for me to be able to fully "move on."

From what she said and how she said it it should be obvious that my friend is a therapist, a good one, but on occasion speaks psychobabble-tinctured English.

"And," she added, "though I know you are not a practicing Jew, in your tradition, an entire year is devoted to mourning. The rabbis," she winked, "determined that and as you know--as a believer or not--they could at times be wise in the ways of the world and the heart."

I chose just then to avoid a theological discussion, thanked her for her views but, as I said, I am skeptical about these kinds of matters.

As it turned out, she--and perhaps the rabbis--had it right.

Until this year I was naively oblivious to the annual procession of holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. Passover, for example, is a holiday that since early adulthood I did not practice. But this year, knowing that if my mother were still alive, she would have been observing it at the Passover seder at Forrest Trace where she lived the last 20 years of her life, I wanted to be there with her, reconnecting to the ancient prayers, chants, and songs. And of course the matzoh, three cups of wine, and the rest of the traditional meal.

On the first night of pesach this year, I surprised myself by unconsciously intoning the Four Questions, the Fir Kashes, as I used to do when I was the youngest male at the extended-family seder. Those words, likely mispronounced, taught to me by my mother when I was six, brought more tears than I was expecting even before I got to the second question.
Mah nishtanah, ha-laylah ha-zeh,mi-col ha-leylot 
Why is this night different than all others?
Theology aside, the answer this past year was that that night was different because it was the first one for me that did not include the living presence of my mother. And it came with the realization that it never will again.

Mah nishtanah: "Why," indeed.

Then this past Saturday, in the Pemaquid lighthouse keepers' cemetery, just up the road from us, Rona and I participated in digging a grave for our great friend, Boyce Martin's ashes.

When his wife, our beloved friend, Anne Ogden told us, "You do not have to participate. You can decline . . ." I cut in to say, "If it's still all right with you, we want to help."

"In the Jewish tradition . . ." I said and then interrupted myself, a bit confused, when I realized that after a year of my mother no longer being with us, more than ever, I find myself unexpectedly referring to things Jewish.

Still I persisted, "In the Jewish tradition there is the mitzvah system. A hierarchy of good deeds or mitzvahs, that Jews are expected to perform. For example, at a Jewish burial, family and friends are invited to help fill the grave. Doing that is a mitzvah of the highest order because it is one that the 'beneficiary,' having passed away, is unable to thank you for."

"I like that," Anne said--she has a strong spiritual and ecumenical core--"So in that case do that mitzvah for Boyce."

My mother would have agreed.

And so we did. Now I am the one feeling blessed.
Anne Ogden

Boyce Martin

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