Wednesday, November 24, 2010

epitaph for a tzaddik

New Orleans.

With the voudon priest. Again. He gives me a reading. And one of the things he says is:

"Don't go to the cemetery. He's not there. Go to the place where he still resides. The place where he still lives."

And all I can think of is well, where is that? Where is he alive? Where can I hold this conversation?

And with that reading, I fear that something just washed right out of me. I'm not sure if it was joy or sorrow. I sat there just crying my eyes out, for some reason. And then it was all gone. It just plain washed away.

But I still need to construct a stone. And write something on it.

What if we wrote what we really wanted to say — and set it in stone? (Though I've noticed that it's not stone anymore. It's these metal plaques that lie flat on the ground). I can't stand that the tzaddik is still left unmarked. Unvisited. But there's John T, saying don't bother going — 'cause that's not where he's at.

Where is he?

He's in half the books I own. He resides in Turkish brass trays. Mamluk Revival pitchers. He's in drawings. Paintings. Amulets. In an incredible amount of just plain junk. In every fragment of shredded textile that he gave me and that I haven't thrown out. All this stuff. He's there. He's not just in the museum. He's every unsolved mystery, unplaced artifact. He's in every job well done.

But all I want to write:

Pappa! Why have you forsaken me! and on and on like that ... Very very whiney. Overdramatic. Yah. I know. Pathetic.

Here lies the tzaddik... Yah. That doesn't work either. It's pure conceit.

Founder and Director of bla bla bla ... as if he's an institution. As if no blood ran through his veins.

How 'bout a picture? How 'bout a name. With dates.

How 'bout a tree?

And maybe it's that unmarked grave that makes his death feel so unfinished. And this is me dragging it on and on. Holding on to unfinished business. Or maybe just holding on. What right do I have to write his epitaph? He's still alive for me.

I pick up the phone to call, to ask him a question. I go to New Orleans and feel that I'm still supposed to collect that stuff for him? Am I supposed to take it on? Or just look, and let it go?

Do you feel it in these words? Something's gone. Something's really washed away. There is no power in these words. Is that the magic a yahrtzeit supplies?

Cultures prescribe a mourning time. But they proscribe it as well. They circumscribe the time of mourning. Start it now. Do it this way. And now, stop. Desist. And cease. Be done. Lest you fall into self-indulgent wallowing. Self-absorption. Decay. Decline. Just cut this out already.

Even the Tzaddik would say now, enough is enough. Now let it go. Go live.

And so, I turned to Precious Daughter. And we talked of China. Of infrastructure falling. Of going down with the ship. Or not. Of shape-shifting. Dogs. Cats. Brooklyn apartments. Crappy impressionists. Screenwriters who surprise us. Unfinished novels. Of choosing rationality. Of those we know who don't. Family recipes for borekas. Color. Sound. Upholstery. Mandarin. Business divinations. Those who succeed through malice. Those who succeed with humility. Travel. Bravery points.

We do not speak of failure, I notice. Only of being on the path.

And then his voice arises. He applauds. The tzaddik is back inside the conversation.

"Anyone can do it with money," the tzaddik says. "Remember, you can do it without."

There were no excuses with him. No judgements. No admonitions. Just a little nudge. No expectations. And maybe a phone number. "Talk to so-and-so..." And either you do, or you don't. Either it works, or it doesn't. You follow through. Or you don't. We make our choices.

Here lies the Director.
Collector. Protector.
Tzaddik, rest in peace

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