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Category Archives: Family

Empty Chairs

It is coming onto to Passover. A month ago I invited people over to share seder with us. The first time in ten years. More years. The first time I have celebrated passover since Lee died. The first time I have written died instead of left. The anniversary of my first year in my new house.

I asked Lisa if she wanted to have Passover in our new home. She said yes. She was excited. That was all I needed.

We used to have a house full of people. In the haggadah, the book that has the order of the seder, the Passover celebratory supper, it says we recline on this night. It is one of the four questions asked by the youngest child. Mah nishtanah, ha-laylah ha-zeh,mi-kol ha-leylot. Why is tonight different from all other nights? Why do we recline tonight when all other nights we sit straight? We recline to represent our freedom, the freedom from bondage. In our house there was no choice but to recline. Forty-two people in one very small house left us sitting, reclining, leaning and otherwise enjoying the story of Passover on the floor, leaning against the sofa, on the sofa, at makeshift tables, draped over each other, waiting for the Angel of Death to pass us over..

Each we did this, and people would come. Students who could not get home would hear about it through Hillel, the Jewish student group, at UF. From Santa Fe Community College. Neighbours. Friends.Jews, Christians, Pagans, Buddhists. Everyone brings something. We tell the story of Spring, of rebirth and renewal, because passover is, at the root, a Spring holy-day. We tell of release from bondage, real and metaphoric, and how those who have been slaves but are now free must then reach down to others, extend a hand, to help lift them to freedom. How those who have been freed must never enslave another. A holy-day of social action, equality, and freedom.

I’d even take red streamer paper and cover the outside doorposts and lentice-piece, as the old story says they were painted with the blood of the sacrificed lamb, to tell the Angel of Death to pass over our home. There would be no death here tonight.

Some days earlier we had met Joyce. And she was invited. Her first time in our home for the woman with whom we had become instant fast-friends, and not even a place to sit. There would be no death here tonight.

Sef and I baked matzah, the unleavened bread, the bread of haste, and prepared the house. The seder plate was set. People arrived. We told stories, sang songs, ate bitter herbs, broke matzah, tasted salt water, enjoyed charoset, tolerated horseradish on, and those of use who did not like it, made fun of those of us who enjoyed the gefilte fish. We hid the afikomen (a small piece of matzah) for the children to find, for there were many children there, including our own, and we left a cup of wine for Elijah, in case he should arrive at our door. For Elijah, and all those who are missing, being missed, absent. Metaphoric. Abstract.
This year we have invited people. Most have not responded. One person said she understood this was an honor, and, with appreciation, told me she would be away. Others just said they’d see. They don’t understand – it isn’t game-night. It isn’t just a friendly invitation to come over for a drink. It’s Passover. It’s a different world, it feels like. I don’t know how they don’t get it. But, also, I don’t know how to explain it and have no real desire to.

I know the right people will be there. Lisa. Arlene. Family. That is family. They are family. The nextdoor neighbours will be there. The children are far away. Anyone else, it seems not. There will be no need to recline this Passover.

But there are people who would be there. And for them, the empty places are no longer metaphor. No longer abstract, but painfully, concretely, empty.

Joyce will not be there. She is dying. Close to death. Close enough that she has been visited by Lee, who sits with her. Two empty chairs.

The Angel of Death is a myth. Or, if not, certainly being able to protect loved ones from its grasp is most certainly. Nothing painted over the door will work. No feng shui mirror will reflect it. No prayers will avert it. Death comes.

This Passover, as we are celebrating freedom, I’ll be noticing the empty chairs. And I’ll be thinking, while we are alive, do something with that freedom. We must. Because nothing will protect us. Nothing will stop death. Old age is never guaranteed, only death, at any time.

This is what I’ll be telling myself so I can, the best I can, turn the empty chairs into something more meaningful than symbols of loss, vacuity, grief. Because I suspect there will be many more empty chairs for me to get used to. More cups of wine to pour that will not be sipped. More memories to step around, to not become lost in, as I open my eyes for each coming dawn, go about my days, close my eyes in the dark nights.

Or maybe I’ll be an empty chair, a cup of wine, a quiet moment.

This Passover I will not be covering the doorposts. There is no need. The Angel doesn’t care. Come or go, we’ll celebrate. With life and death, we’ll celebrate. With love, we’ll celebrate, while we can. And lift our glasses to each and every empty chair and know there is one thing the Angel of Death cannot kill.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2019 in Culture, Family, philosophy, Religion

 

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Masks

I buried your masks
Today, in the warm sun,
In the shade of the oaks,
Where one day
There will be laughter,
Where the squirrels play,
Where the woodpecker nests,
Where the songbirds drop seeds.
First the gauze and plaster mold
That rested against your face,
Then the plaster decorated
As though you were a queen.

Now that there is a house
I am safe in,
I can stay in, and
No one can make me leave,
I can bury them.

A deep hole and a kiss
Longer than expected—
The contour of your lips,
A pause, a deep breath—
And no words.
There is nothing left to say.
Everything said
Has been said before.

I had thought to bury them
Under the plumeria,
Though you always loved trees
Far more than flowers.

But I might plant some flowers anyway.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2018 in Family, Poetry

 

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Something Holy

I heard the jingling of a collar last night. Throughout the house, the tag against tag. I could hear them jangling from the denim in the cadence of her jaunt, side to side, side to side.

I looked outside. No dog. Certainly none inside. Back to bed, then, the jingling toward the room, side of the bed, stopped.  I slept well.

I can’t remember when she left. A year? Two? But I remember her eyes. And the sound of her heart.  As well as I remember her gutteral moan and her whistle. The rhythm of her step. How her face fit perfectly in the curve under my knee when she leaned into me. And how she looked at me when I knew she wanted it over.  Her eyes, if they had been human, could not have made them more holy. img_20160707_10240101

Something Holy

I’ll find something holy in this.
In the blood and the vomit,
The urine and sad almond eyes.
Bodies come from the Earth,
And these are of the body.
So I will find something holy in this.

I will find something holy in the
Seizures, tetany, drugs,
The cost in dollars and sense.
In time, I’ll find something holy in this.

I will find something holy in the
Far-off stare, in the long breaths,
In the scent of wheat because
She always smelled like wheat
And was the color of golden bread
And, certainly, there is something holy in that.

I’ll find something holy in the last breath,
The closing of the eyes that won’t reopen,
The beat that slows, stops,
Leaves memory. And certainly,
There is something holy in that.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2018 in Family, Poetry

 

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Remembrance of Things that Never Happened

I remember the last kiss
like the first one,
like it was yesterday and
a thousand years ago

We met. You asked
is it ok that
you’re in love with me.
I said yes. You said
yes. And much of a century passed
of adjustments, smiles,
arguments, love, more love,
kids. Gray hair,

Trips to far-away places
we talked about, visits
for graduations, weddings,
births, grandkids,
the passing of friends, parents,
comforting, resting in
chairs around the warm fire
in Winter, old bones,
and I don’t remember who died first, but
Oh God, I hope it was me.

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2017 in Family, Poetry

 

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Image

The Wheaton Test Or What I Need to Know About You Before the Second Date: With an Amendment Three Years Later Regarding how Completely Wrong I Was

The Wheaton Test Or What I Need to Know About You Before the Second Date: With an Amendment Three Years Later Regarding how Completely Wrong I Was

Adam Byrn Tritt

Amendment
12/26/2016

There is a picture on my bedside table that was not there yesterday morning. It is a picture of a gloriously beautiful woman, sky and sea behind her, smiling. It is in a frame of gilt and funk and sparkle and it makes me smile nearly as much as the beauty in the photograph. It was a present from Arlene for Chanukah. And it is perfect.

Beside me, as I write this, is another picture, a drawing, actually, by Brian Andreas. We were in a gallery in Charleston, South Carolina. She was looking at Christmas ornaments, hand-blown globes, from Glass Eye Studios in Seattle. Each globe, multicolored, swirling, translucent, reflective, unique, blown with ash from Mount St. Helens. And she was going to buy one. The problem was that I had already gotten it for her, months earlier, in Tacoma at the Museum of Glass.

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Posted by on December 26, 2016 in Culture, Family, philosophy, Social, Writing

 

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Hair

I don’t know why I’m reading this tonight. Maybe it is seeing my kids after a year absent – seeing in the light of their eyes the omnipresent brightness of their mother. Maybe it is Sadie asking her questions, continuous, into the deep morning. Maybe it is part of the work of grief, the carrying of the weight in the dark to the mountain-top that is never reached.

Of everything I have ever written, this is the one I think of the most. Not the longest, by far. Maybe nearly the shortest. But the one that lives on my mind.

I was asked, by Murshida VA, what three things would I have someone know about grief.

I took a day to answer, then three things came at one. It has no schedule. It doesn’t end, or heal. One simply incorporates it into one’s life – a wound, a laming, to which one adapts, with which one lives, from which one learns, and with which one may become stronger. It cannot be controlled, anticipated, prepared for – it will be different each time and come in different ways. I will now add a fourth. It is the price of love – never shut it away and you will be able to love more, and again, and see love in all things. Those who cannot grieve cannot return to love, cannot return to grace.

Adam Byrn Tritt

I had pulled the car out of the garage and set up a chair.  Months earlier I had purchased a Norelco family hair cutting kit, and electric razor and attachments, for next to nothing at a garage sale. I had no idea why, but I brought it home, and now, now, it was plugged in and ready to be used.

The chemotherapy had left your hair in clumps.  It fell into the shower drain, left bits on the pillow, left itself on the couch. Each bit that fell, you cried. I watched as you turned once, as I held you up in the shower to see your hair on the drain.  Out of the shower, you stood, facing the mirror, clutching at your hair, pulling it out in clumps, tears falling, falling into the sink with the strands from between your fingers.

Hats you didn’t like. The scarves you used…

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Posted by on June 24, 2016 in Family, philosophy, Social, Uncategorized

 

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State of Being

Verbs are words that show a state of being—present, past, future. Transient or continuous. When we use the verb “was/were,” we mean something that has passed. It happened in the past. It is done. It is over. When we use the verb “is/are” we speak of something that is present. Something that exists now, current. An action that is going on right now. This moment.

For the purpose of my question, tense is not important. Past participle, continuous, perfect—none of these important to my question. What is important are simple tenses. Past and present.  

And so I ask, why do we say someone is dead?

We can say someone is alive. To be alive is a continuous state. Continuous, until it ends, either abruptly, or slowly, slowly over a period of time. Suddenly, or counting down, day, day, day. One hand. A few fingers. Done. Present becomes past very easily.

Someone is alive. Then they are not alive. But they are not dead. If we insist on using present tense we should say something that is an actual ongoing state. Something that is active. Her body is in the ground. She is decomposing. Her ashes are disappearing into the snowy stream.

Death is not an active state. It is not something someone does. It is the end of doing. She is alive. She is laughing. She is loving. She is healing. She is holding your hand, raising children. She is putting her feet on the dashboard on a long ride, talking, laughing, singing.  Under your hand, her leg is warm.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2016 in Culture, Family, philosophy, psychology, Social

 

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The Photograph

I remember a photograph
I never took.
I remember.
I remember taking it.
I remember taking this photograph
Of three Tibetan monks at Chanukah
Smiling over candles we had just lit.
Lee said the prayer,
The kids watched,
I looked on,
The monks beamed.

Staying with us, eight monks
Touring the United States
Making sand mandalas
Here and there. A week spent
tapping, rasping ground stone,
Rainbows into patterns intricate
And sharp, fine and beautiful,
Complex and ephemeral.
Done, and one prayer,
A sweep of the hands
Across the surface from
The four corners in and
Gone.
The candles lit,
One asked, as well as he could,
To say their own prayers.
Chanting, grinning,
They blessed the candles, our home,
and the time we have.

There were small presents.
For the kids,
Trinkets and such,
For the monks,
Halva, dreidels,
Latkas and applesauce and a
Chocolate coin for each one.
For Lee they had a kata
White and light and flowing.
For me, a bracelet of skulls
Made of the bones of a water buffalo,
Dead of old age,
Alive on my wrist,
Whispering to me, always,
This ends. This ends. This ends.

More about Hanukkah?  Or Chanukah? More about Monks?
A New Set of Malas
Chanukah
Skeleton Dance

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2015 in Culture, Family, Poetry, Religion

 

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Chanukah

Happy first night of Chanukah to 2.2% of the American population, and me too. I have many many wonderful memories of Chanukkah with my family. They had become sad. Watching Inside Out last night actually let me see those, visualise those memories in a different way. They are now blue and gold.

I was told a slightly alternative version of the story of the oil and the eight days. I was told this by a P’nai Or rabbi, David Zaslow of Ashland, Oregon. In it, God has nothing to do with the oil lasting eight days. Everyone prays for it to, but when the temple is quiet, people sneak in and add small amounts of the little oil they have. The poorest of the poor add what they have, and the temple flame remains lit, and spirit continues to shine. It has been said that God works through those who seemingly have nothing to give, so discount no one, take no one fro granted, feel there is no person without worth. Tikkun – the good works that make a heaven of the Earth. Perhaps there is a god who made us, but it is left to is to make heaven. Up to us to answer prayers.

I was reminded of this today by GiGi, Arlene’s Daughter, who said that there was a Santa Clause. He is all of us, everyone. And I remembered this story.

I won’t be lighting anything. I won’t be saying the prayers. That falls to Sef, my daughter, now. I can’t. It doesn’t feel right. But this still means something to me.

Bless you all. May your lights shine even when there seems to be nothing left. And, if it seems out, may the light return.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2015 in Culture, Family

 

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Collecting Stones

Collecting Stones

Today is the day I collect stones.

Years ago, far away, Jews, before they were Jews, back when they were a wandering tribe of anthropo-theists who believed in a single god that they insistedGrave 1 was unlike any other, met the Canaanites, who believed in no such thing. Before they merged, even back then, we buried our dead in the ground. At first this was in caves. Then, in the ground itself. In areas that were too hard to dig, too rocky, a body would be placed on the ground and stones would be heaped on and around the body. The community would bring stones and the more people who attended, the more stones would be piled. One could tell how important, or how loved, and they are not the same, by how high the pile of stones was.

Still today, the tradition continues. One can walk through a Jewish cemetery and see graves with stones on them. Someone comes to visit and leaves a stone. “I was here.” “People still care about this person.” Over srtre gravetime, the piles grow.

The Hebrew word for pebble is tz’ror—a word that also means bond. In the memorial prayer, El Maleh Rahamim, we ask the deceased be “bound up in the bond of life”—tz’ror haHayyim. By placing the stone, we show that we have been there, and that this person’s memory continues to live on in us, through us. And the practice is not kept to just Jews who have passed, but one may see pebbles on the grave of any beloved or respected. If you see pebbles, you know a Jew has been there. You know the person is loved.

Tomorrow I bury my father. Unlike my grandmother, whom I myself buried, my mother—and soon my father to join her—is buried in a “waterproof” concrete casket buried in the ground over which a concrete lid is placed over which a marble lid is placed and secured with four large bolts. I shooed the workers away and secured the bolts myself. It was not the same, one shovel after another, but it was some closure. Tomorrow I will do the same.

bernstein graveWhat strikes me about this cemetery, other than the non-Jewishness of keeping a body from the elements, securing it from the waters, protecting it from the natural process that brings it back into the Earth, is this—a nearly complete lack of stones. Oh, the graves have stones. They are brought in, small ones, in pockets and handbags and baggies. But there are none to gather—as though the ground had been cleared, swept, scraped free. There should be a sign. “There will be no gathering of stones here. No. We have made sure of it.”

First breath. Last breath. In between, we collect stones.

And, so, today I collect stones.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2015 in Culture, Family, Religion

 

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