This Temple Speaks for Me

I cannot speak from inside this temple.

Broken bodies stumble across the floor as sunlight beats against the windows, demanding the right to shine in this desecrated space.

Pages, soaked in the bloodred color that paints my history, rustle in the winds of hatred blowing through these trembling walls.

The temple heaves in uncontainable sorrow.

I cannot speak as the vigil gathers outside, swarming the streets with wretched grief.

Candles flicker in shaking hands. Eyes well with loss and disbelief. This is not where we were meant to gather together and remember.

I cannot speak as the graves are dug. The soil of a foreign land swallowing up vessels punctured by bullets that drained the lives held within.

I cannot speak as the world spins again and the sun knocks against my darkened heart.

I cannot speak because my tongue is bound by words too shallow to hold the depth of pain that rises from my roots and rips my carefully constructed identity down to the naked truth of who I am and who I will always be.

I cannot speak as a Jew, alone in this crowd of comforting rhetoric that leaves me feeling wrung out and dried.

I am persecuted and hated. I am thrown to the lions and left to die. I am misunderstood, mislabeled and misbelieved. I am held as a beacon and obfuscated in contempt. I am riddled with gunshots, stabbed with steel terror and run over with crushing rage.

I cannot speak from inside this temple.

This temple speaks for me.

 

 

Paused.

It is ugly, this beauty.

It aches in a way that tastes of bile.

The light reflecting off the wall shines a spotlight on the pain…the empty feeling where feeling should be…her presence missing from the picture.

Dusk.

The in-between.

Where the day is and isn’t.

Starting and beginning…the pause between the two.

I am paused.

She was just here…with me.. this exact spot only yesterday three years ago.

Paused.

She paused.

And all I want is to be able to stop time from taking me away from that moment.

Disappear into the stillness

Find her holding her breath waiting for me to start the clock again.

She is missing in the space between time…missing me…the way I miss her.

Time is ruthless.

Night is falling.

It will not let me wait for her.

Letting Grief out to Play

Every year, I would sit down during the three weeks and write. I always wrote about pain and suffering, the land of Israel and the idea of redemption. I couldn’t run away from relating to the entire period so intensely and savagely.

Fearfully.

There was always an element of fear that flowed through my emotions. Maybe it was how I was raised. Maybe it was the depressing contatas I sat through every year in Camp Bnos. Maybe it was the Holocaust stories we read every Tisha B’Av. Maybe it was the song of Eicha sending shivers down my spine.

Maybe it was irrational.

Maybe it was real.

Some time has passed since I connected to this mourning period. I have sat shiva. I have ripped my clothes. I have recited kaddish at a grave. Somewhere along the way, I lost the part of me that mourned for the utopia I believed in.

Losing belief; I think that may be what I am mourning for.

***

I used to feel it.

I used to be able to touch the history of the Jewish people, to smell the burning temple, to hear the wails of mothers walking the narrow alleyways, clutching the emaciated bodies of their young. I used to have the torment that connected me to my heritage, to my land, to my people.

It’s gone now.

I buried some of it with my baby boy. Some of it slipped into the bag of my past I had to let go. I shoved a chunk of it into the dirt that encased my sister. The rest dissolved into the air around me.

Gone.

I sort of miss it.

Without it, I don’t know why I am here in this land. I am not sure where my place is among my people. I am lost in a world that doesn’t understand the unbearable weight of grief thousands of years old.

Without it, I have to view my own pain as immeasurable against the pain endured by the masses. I have suddenly become an individual with a hurt that cannot be locked in the confines of three weeks, taken out to be inspected for relatability on one day.

Without it, my grief is my own. It comes and goes as it pleases. It has no laws to follow, no schedule to keep. It pulls me back from the little joys I reach for and violently wakes me in the night.

I miss the container within the giant storage box where my grief used to lay; no different than the millions of little boxes cramped together in a collective hold. I miss the opening of the gates as the flock of grief poured up and over and pretended to make a difference for less than a month. I miss the quiet collection as the flock sunk back into the small spaces and clasped the lid shut tight.

I hate that I miss it.

I hate that it’s gone.

***

The feelings expressed above are rooted in my personal experiences. No two stories are alike, but we can find similarities in our journeys. How do you relate with the concept of mourning on Tisha B’Av? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

Quiet.

I am sitting on a flimsy plastic chair and I don’t think it can possibly hold my shaking body a second longer. My palms are sweaty. My heart is beating faster than my chest can contain it and I know I will burst.

And then there she is.

She stands on the stage. She comes up to the shoulders of her co-stars. Her eyes are huge and I can see the slightest flutter in her fingers.

I know how her tiny belly felt all day. The knots twisting inside my gut are shortening my breath and plummeting towards my toes.

I take in as much air as my lungs allow as she opens her mouth.

I am with her on that stage and I am here on my knees in the audience and I am so scared and so proud and so ready for her to blow the roof of this crowded community center auditorium away.

‘Quiet…’

And the audience is…

…because she is singing and she is looking out at them and her eyes are huge and her voice is bigger and she is Matilda and she is on Broadway and her voice is echoing through my soul and I can fly, even as my body grows numb as she pulls me closer to her and rips away from my womb with the power of a flock of birds, one million strong.

‘And though the people around me…their mouths are still moving…the words they are forming…cannot reach me anymore!’

She was in first grade and my heart was perfectly still when she stood in front of the school with a microphone in her hand and sang her little heart out. I smiled and she smiled and all the other parents smiled and she ran over to me and asked, “Did you see me? Did you hear me? Did you? Did you?”

I spun her around and told her she was a star.

She was in second grade when she skipped onto the stage and she was full of confidence and nothing could bring her down. She stopped for a moment, looked out into the crowd and said, “ooof! Shachachti!” and the whole school laughed and then they clapped and encouraged her and she looked into the wings and no one prompted her and she looked into the audience and everyone was smiling and her eyes welled up and she ran from the stage and I ran to her and nothing I could do or say could shake that feeling of shame from her shrinking little body as she swore she would never do this again.

In third grade she wouldn’t sing.

In fourth grade, she went to drama. Once a week, she trudged down the block with her head down and her shoulders slumped and came back with a straighter spine and a firmer chin. I held my breath all year and waited for her to get back up and prove to herself that she is a star.

I held my breath and prayed for her aunt to live another week so she could hear her sing.

On June 6, 2017, my beautiful baby girl got up on stage with her wobbly knees and her trembling hands and her face painted green and her mother melting a little in the audience. She channeled all her fear, planted her feet firmly on the ground so that they looked welded to the stage and opened her mouth and sang…

‘It well may be…that we will never meet again…in this lifetime…so let me say before we part…so much of me…is made of what I learned from you…you’ll be with me…like a hand print on my heart…’

My heart stopped. My eyes filled with tears and I saw my legs shaking, although I could no longer feel them.

Her voice got stronger and louder and her confidence grew and I could feel the crowd moving in towards her as she thundered up there on that stage as her star grew bright.

‘And just to clear the air…I ask forgiveness for the things I’ve done, you blame me for…and none of it seems to matter anymore…’

My soul traveled across an ocean to be at my sister’s bedside.

Hold on…wait for me…

I could feel her with me and I knew she wouldn’t go until the song had been sung and she had heard it.

‘Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? I do believe I have been changed for the better…because I knew you…because I knew you…I have been changed for good…’

The audience applauded and my heart settled back into place but my soul tore a little inside.

She jumped into my arms and she caught her breath. She looked relieved and grateful and a little more like her younger self.

I sent the video and they played it for my sister and they said she heard…but I could read between the lines.

She went to bed and then to school and she was confident and sure…and then my mother called.

I hugged her tight before I left and I promised to play the loving goodbye messages she recorded on my phone, but just in case, I sent them ahead and made sure they were played into my sister’s ear.

‘I love you so much. I’m going to miss you.’

I arrived on June 8, 2017. My phone rang and they put me on video and I told her I’d be there soon and please don’t go and she didn’t.

At 7:00pm we pulled up to the house and I leapt from the car and I ran up the stairs and I stormed into the room and I wrapped my arms around her and I told her how much I loved her and that my children loved her and we were going to miss her.

And then my sister took her last breath and died.

Later, I played the song my daughter had sung two nights before across an ocean and I wept.

My star is asleep with a smile on her face. My body has returned to me and I am sitting in the silence and her voice is reverberating through me on what should have been my sister’s 19th birthday.

‘And it is quiet…and I am warm…like I’ve sailed…into the eye of the storm.’

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One Year

It has been one year…one entire year…

It has been one year since I gave up trying to sleep and sat up in bed at 5:00 in the morning with words writing themselves out in my head as I formed the pain we were all feeling into letters…words…sentences that maybe, somehow might express the choking loss grabbing at my throat…refusing to let me breath.

I wrote as the sun lit up a world without Hudis…I wrote as birds chirped and the world spun and people made coffee and got into their cars and went to work as if the world could continue to spin without Hudis…

I wrote a goodbye letter and a love note…I wrote words that were read to a body laying before us…a body that couldn’t possibly be…Hudis…

I wrote because that’s what I do when my heart beats too fast…too slow…sometimes not at all.

I write words that you hear as ideas yet I feel pouring out of my eyes…the pattern of my tears take shape and here we are…standing here an entire year after I wrote goodbye to my baby sister and buried her in the ground.

I am standing here now and I know I should be telling you about Hudis…about how I was a confused, angry teenager when she was born and how I discovered the sweet smell of a baby’s hair and would find comfort in her little fingers wrapped in mine…I should be telling you how precocious she was…how she watched everyone and everything and could read between every line…I should be telling you how she loved me even when she wasn’t sure how we were related or how she managed to insert herself into every picture at every wedding…I should be telling you how much fun we had together and how loudly she could sing karaoke…I should be telling you about her fights with my daughter and her blunt criticism of my art…I should be telling you about her bravery and her honesty and her thoughtfulness…I should be telling you about Hudis…

But you know all that…you knew her…or you knew of her…or you knew someone who knew someone who knew her…so you knew Hudis.

I don’t write about Hudis…Hudis wrote about herself with every breath she ever took…with every step she made in her short life…Hudis wrote an entire book that I can just read over and over again and hope to learn how to live a life like Hudis.

I write about life without Hudis…

The words that pour out of me scream pain and anger and hurt and love and life and joy and sorrow and grief and loneliness and emptiness and fulfillment and strength and courage and privilege…

Privilege…that I am here…that my heart hurts…and also loves…that my body works…that my pain passes…that I can share my life…with all the darkness and all the light…with people I love…and who love me…and I can live my life…a privilege…

I stand here today with the words that I write to try to express how it feels to live with loss..how it feels to love with loss…how it feels to move forward after loss…

And I can’t find the words…

But I can feel them streaming down my face and I know that you understand.

Hudis isn’t here tonight.

We are doing this instead.

A Moment in Time

I am sitting in the room that has become your shrine.

Your picture is everywhere I look. Your art hugs the walls. Your space is tangibly empty.

This room holds a lifetime…it beats for an eternal second…it loses its breath and dies every day you are not in it…

I am sitting here and I am wasting away without you. I am losing something that I didn’t know I had until you left me.

This room holds the memories of you…this room holds the timelessness you have become…this room is choking me as I sit here and ache for you.

I want to scream and shout and cry and slam my fist against this room’s towering walls over and over and over again until my knuckles rip open and my blood paints the images of you parading inside my head.

I sit in this room and I am silent as I remember how much I do not remember.

Once you looked at me with a smile that made me smile and we shared a moment that was captured forever. I did not know that you would take your last breath twelve years later on that day. I did not know that you would not get to have the things I get to have. I did not know that you were not forever.

Had I known I would have held you in my arms and hugged you tight. I would have whispered my love for you. I would have let you feel my heart beat. I would have lifted you up and raised you high above my head and I would have made the world see you and cherish you.

Thirteen years ago I patted your head and laughed as you danced and walked into my own life without glancing back at you. Thirteen years ago I stepped away from you and let you find me without the urgency I would have had if I had known that thirteen years later I would be sitting in this room and wondering how a year could have passed since you walked away from me without looking back.

I am sitting in this room and I am aware of the lack of you. My heart is racing and my head is spinning and I am falling apart at the seams where I have been sewn back up too many times.

You aren’t in this room with me and you are in this room with me and you are playing with my head and you are looking up to me with your eyes wide open and you are never coming back and I am not sure if I can live another year without you.

Thirteen years ago I looked into your eyes and I smiled and you smiled and your timeline stopped and mine didn’t so now I sit in this room where you aren’t and you are and I am as still as a moment in time and I whisper your name and I hold your hand and we smile.

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Geoffrey with a G

We are sitting together on the couch and we are not paying attention to one another. We are both tired and need some time to unwind and let the stress of the day dissipate. I am reading a fluff piece and you are scrolling down our feed as we actively turn our brains off.

You suddenly gasp and I feel your body tense up as you raise your head and turn to face me. I feel a constriction in my throat because I know you are about tell me something horrible.

He’s dead, you say. Geoff is dead.

I turn to you and my eyes well up and I shake my head because I don’t think it can be true. Your eyes have filled with a pain too big to handle. My hand trembles as I reach for yours and we hold each other at a distance.

Our pain is too hard to face. We turn back into ourselves and we try to live another day.

It takes us until morning to hurtle back into each other’s arms. We interlock our fingers and we gaze at each other’s pain.

You speak first.

He took the Brooklyn out of me, you say, as the tears break through and pour down your face. He let me be me.

I squeeze your hand and I am transported back in time and I remember the boy from Brooklyn I met on the streets of Jerusalem. I remember how you walked inside your cage and surrounded yourself with the kinds of people who helped you blend in.

And then you met Geoff. Geoffrey with a G.

Geoff was a rock n’ rolling artist who didn’t care what the world thought of him. Geoff wore little ties and suspenders and had swagger long before people thought that was cool. Geoff sat for hours in his room with that boy from Brooklyn and talked about Star Wars and superheroes and punk rock. Geoff painted and the music blared and the layers of New York street slowly shed as the boy who loved music and thought deeply about the world with a sensitive, kind view was revealed.

I saw how you changed and I fell in love with the person you had been hiding away. Without understanding what he had done, Geoff became our stabilizing third wheel. He sat with us in our corner and called it an office. He laughed and he danced the rock n’ roll dance and we followed his example and let the weight of our past go.

We fought for him when others wanted to give up. We wanted him to be in our lives forever. We wanted his joy and light and art and music to be part of the foundation we were building.

We still loved him when we said goodbye. We still wanted him to show up one day, in his little tie, his hair slicked to the side and a goofy smile on his face.

We watched from far away, too far away, as Geoffrey with a G wandered around looking for something he so easily brought out in others. But Geoffrey with a G didn’t have a Geoff to lean on and he got lost.

Our kids do his rock n’ roll dance and don’t know where it came from.

You and I sit here now, in grief and regret, and wonder if Geoffrey with a G can see us rocking and if he is happy as he paints, dot by dot, line by line.

You look at me and your face is red and your eyes are swollen and you swallow hard as we hold each other and remember the broken boy who fixed another broken boy but could not fix himself.

Geoffrey, you will never know how much we loved you. You will never know how much you will be missed.

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