Friday, January 01, 2010

A Good Day (or A Visit to a Cemetery)

I took this from a different blog. Without permission. Once the author gets back to me, I shall either stick the name in or delete. I guess.

Friday morning, my boss asked me to take the shaimes/genizah box to the closest Jewish cemetery. I nearly flipped out beneath my calm exterior, because the closest cemetery was also the place my grandmother rested. Turned out, however, there wasn't enough time to go there Friday... and she reminded me to do it again today.

I left work a little early and drove there. 'Twasn't far from work, a fifteen minute ride.

I pulled into the cemetery, parked, and went into the small building by the entrance. Gray day, the park covered in evergreens. I pushed open the large white doors and found myself in a dimly lit room. Burgundy, silk chairs. Burgundy carpets. Stuffy air. There wasn't a receptionist behind the counter. The entire place was still, eerily quiet, and I had to keep putting my hands on my cheeks trying to cool them down (even though my hands were too warm from fidgeting so much in my pockets) to keep from feeling faint. I wasn't going to wait in that room, full of brochures about burials. I slowly made my way through the hallway around the corner and looked through the doors that opened into empty rooms. Soul-less. I heard some movement and quickly made my way back in time to see someone enter one of the rooms from a backroom. "Hello?" I called out. A young boy came out.

I explained to him about the shaimes/genizah. He took the box out of my car, and showed me to the next building. The [very kind/friendly] rabbis in a room there told us to go to a room around the building. On the side of the building, a black hearse was parked.... And the queasiness kicked in again. We went into some cavelike room- looked like somewhere they would take in the bodies- and left the box there. Oy. Breathe.

After thanking him, I asked if he would also be able to help me find my grandmother there. He told me that if I were to go back into that second building, they would know how to help. So that I did....

The receptionist in this room was missing too. I looked over the counter and asked a lady working in the backroom for help. She made a call and told me someone would be over. Out of the room full of rabbis (mentioned above) came a kind man- Rabbi Altshuler. He took me into a nearby room- his office- and asked me for her name. Thing is, I had too many names, and wasn't sure which she would be listed under. "Are you trying to make my life hard?" he joked, as he walked out of the room with the listed names to check the files. ("She had a long life," I softly shrugged. I couldn't pinpoint which last name she went by here.) He came back and told me he couldn't find it. He had a card (it looked like something out of a card-catalogue system) with a similar name, but 'twasn't it. He went back and tried again and... he came back with the right card! The only words I could think to use for this entire cemetery scene is "numb shock"; and numb shock is just what I felt looking at her information listed on that card, right down to my uncles name as the person who purchased the plot for her.

The rabbi was busy. He had a service soon plus a call came in... and through it all, he kept insisting he wanted to help me. Not wanting to get in his way, I told him a couple of times I could come back another time, but he kept saying, "No, I want to help you. You're too sweet; I want to help you." Or, as he rushed around, "You're too sweet, or I wouldn't be doing all this."

He wrote down where she was located, and ran out of the room for a minute. I looked down at the general map, running my hands across, trying to find where I was and where she was. She was right across the small road in front of the window I was standing by. Right there. I slowly walked towards the window, looking out. Was I looking at her plot?

I sat down again and waited, my hands fidgeting in my pockets the entire time. I looked out the window and noticed the creamish roses. I didn't bring anything! Was I supposed to bring flowers? Wait, what are you supposed to do? Is there something that needs to be said? Shah, calm down.

He walked back into the room and told me that he couldn't find the booklet with the plots mapped out (?) to give me so that I could find it on my own. He took out his own detailed book and told me he would tell me where it should be. 24b, that's the spot we were looking for. His fingers started tracing across the rows, getting closer. "Oy, I'm too nervous," I heard myself accidentally say out loud. He looked up. "Why?" he asked. "It's my first time." "Oh," he said gently, and started back on the map.

Easy as that. Second row.
"You know what, I gotta go, but I'll just take you there myself. I'm on my way out. Let me get the keys." He ran around looking for some keys and I waited for him by the door.

(My mom later pointed out how it seemed almost like my grandmother was pushing him to keep helping me. 'Twas a rare, intense kind of kindness and eagerness to help. Maybe 'twas so. Or maybe I found one of the worlds kindest souls.)

Again, I heard myself speaking out loud to him. "I didn't bring flowers. Was I supposed to bring flowers? I don't know what I'm supposed to do."

"Don't worry. You don't have to do anything. Everybody has their own way," he said.

We walked down the entrance, across the small road, and onto the grass, where the plots were. He wasn't an orthodox rabbi, and as we got onto the grass, I noticed he walked right across. I nearly jumped back. I couldn't walk over the bodies. I'm not sure if I looked silly to him, or if he even noticed, as I went quickly around a plot and down the second row, which he was quickly walking down.

"We're close," he said.

And in a few moments... there we were. Wow. "Thank you. Thank you so much for this. I really appreciate it."

He smiled and held out his hand to shake. "Whenever you come back, stop by and say hello."

A kind man indeed.

I hardly waited for him to walk away, as I turned quickly back to what I was there for. Numb shock. And some initial tearing.

At first, I only thought the words I wanted to say. Wait, can neshamas hear your thoughts? So I quietly mumbled a little. Wait, she didn't speak English. Can she understand me now? So I switched Farsi, but uncomfortable speaking like that, I don't remember sticking to it for long. Mostly I just thought. Or replayed some of my memories with her. Or quietly sang a tehillim to her. Or looked around at the grey sky, and the grass, and evergreens, and streets and highway, and the funeral taking place a little further up the hill, and the old man who came to visit someone for just a few moments a little further off, or the jasmine/hadassim/rose combo someone had seemed to bring the day before for the person next to us. I wanted to see what she sees everyday- if that is really what she sees. Is she here? Does she see me? Does she know I'm here? Did she know when my car turned into the cemetery gates right over there?

In the end, I was left with a strong desire to be able to give her a kiss or a hug. All I could do, the closest I could get, was to just kneel down by her, wiping the bits of grass off the tombstone.

Walking back to the car, I somehow felt like I couldn't remember any of what just happened.

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