I have a friend named Jack, he's been hiding in his basement apartment far from light and air. He lives in a fancy neighborhood in old Brooklyn. I work close by, renovating the backyard of a grey gardens-esque brownstone that is soon to be sold. Everyday I hunker down in the sun, viscously axing down roots, and moving rocks with such fastidiousness- you might think I'm angry. I am too even tempered to be so.
The bosses put me in charge of a crew. It's not the first time I've been a leader, but it happened so fast it took me a day or two to force the others to fall in line with my pedantry. Perfection is my vice at the moment.
At the moment my life is this: I pick and place flowers as if there is nothing in the world left to do. I sweep as if there is no way a piece of dirt could dare grace the backyard floor. Dirty, tired and incapable of much thought afterwards- I visit Jack. He is funny, and sharp and unafraid to bear his own bereavement. I am in a state of grieving that I am alone. It feels forsaken. It's cerebral. It's beyond emotion's landscape. It is in the part of my system that wants to write a mathematical proof that can explain to me how I became a person so absent of faith and possibility on this front. It is in the part of my system that searches for facts and details that can clearly delineate to me my wrongful choices and behaviors so that I may quickly pay my penitence and move into the land of the living. My life is is an overused cliche of an unfinished book in a drawer- I sit there pondering how to continue- far from light and air.
My take on reality is skewed by this dismay. And so I plant things. I shift gears. But not Jack. Jack feels his isolation so wholly that it leaves him relieved by nightfall. Content in his fallen lot, he laughs at my desire to move upwards, to leave my fate behind and travel to a place where a leopard changes her spots. Yesterday I let the water run over my hands for so long that I barely noticed the tips of my fingers were getting scowled. "That is so like you to work so hard to clean up your act that you don't even realize the velociraptors upon you. You swim in boiling water to get away from the cold." I ignore him and then quickly leave.
And then Monday rolls around and I can't go to work because I must go to funeral. I feel guilty because I am happy to have something tangible and black to attach myself to. I understand this- I can do this. In fact, I'm good at this. I arrive at the chapel in time to hear a letter the deceased has left to his family. His wife reads it solemnly and with a simple tear running down her cheek. I marvel at her emotional balance. She ends the letter and looks up at the sky. "Behave up there Arthur!" The crowd laughs. I hitch a ride to the cemetery with an elder rich couple. The processional is filled with wealthy Jews from bucolic Westchester. Everyone looks great for their age- unweathered by doubt or economic scarcity. Arthur's family stands looking like a scene from a French film where perhaps Arthur himself will narrate. Large sunglasses and well tailored suits. They peacefully shovel the dirt in backwards over his simple pine box with a star carved atop. It's sunny out and the breeze is blowing. The headstones are in perfect alinement. It would seem god has quite a blueprint just by looking out over this perfect grid. The Rabbi sings beautifully and I ponder if its ok to say Kaddish- will that make someone I love die?
We drive back to the home. Arthur did well for himself. His army fatigues are used as mirror covering and the Shiva table is blossoming with food. We wash our hands and take our shoes off and then its like a party. Everyone is in good spirits. Pictures align the tables and the walls. In death and in life Arthur made it. I hesitate to get on the train back. I've talked to all the aunts and the uncles. I've fed my friend a plate of food and made her laugh. She doesn't need me really. She is in tact. I love this place. No one is a mess. Their sadness is their own - perhaps they will weep in private at night when the lights are down and there is no one to hug or smile at. Right now the cycle of life is ok with everyone.
I ride the train home happy but alarmed at the lack of perspective I've gained from such an experience. Funerals are suppose to teach us something, no? But it was just death and it was just a Monday and I realize my own mourning is indulgent and perhaps excess. What is it that I am mourning? Life is happening. Tuesday I return to the backyard and a raccoon has ravaged the gravel path I made to the fountain. I constructed it from the rock quarry of fallen rocks from the brownstone. I brush the whole scene away like a Tibetan mandala and get back to work. Life is happening anyway.
Jack is in good spirits when I see him that evening. He tells me that he met a lady who told him the most amazing stories about the North African coast, and he thinks that he is just going to sell everything and leave. I tell him I want to do the same. "No you don't. Life is happening here. You can't run to the hot water to get away from the cold." I am angry at this. But I wash my hands in the cold water and stay.