Waiting in line at the cemetery yesterday.
It was very crowded Monday since Sunday was Rosh Hashanah, Day Two, and there were no burials. A busy time.
While sitting behind the wheel, emailing, and listening to the radio (Brian Lehrer talking about transportation issues on WNYC) we got the signal to move. As I engaged the car back into gear, a mourner from another funeral shot ahead of me, suddenly, in an effort to fight for a place in line with his group. The rush to the grave, through the lens of my own slow-motion perception at that moment, was very illuminating.
I've seen cars fight for vehicular hegemony in a lane on a busy street or highway. I've seen drivers jostle for a cherished parking spot--and even seen some of those confrontations devolve into violence.
But never have I been witness to that kind of driving in cemetery. It was wild. A breach of etiquette (perhaps to delicate a word given the setting) I'd never expected to see.
"What's the hurry?" "What's the rush?" "Hey! Where you going so fast?"
All possible cliches to be employed--but nothing quite fit.
I looked to my left as I waited for the urgent mourner to take his spot in line and saw a large gravestone with the name FAST carved deeply into the granite. An ominous Yom Kippur message.
At our own funeral, as earth was shoveled onto the coffin and then as we took turns filling in the entire grave, I thought about the act of shoveling during the Ten Days of Repentance.
Is the act a covering or an uncovering? I thought of my own sins this past year and found myself admitting to them before the grave at the same time that I was covering a body of a life that is no more. The covering and uncovering, a simultaneous gesture, seemed to reach deep to the core, psychologically, of what it means to repent. We both admit our shame at the same moment that we desire to distance ourselves from it.
The paradox of the confessional days.
No easy answers. But a certain truth. This is the end we all can accept. To be laid in the ground, with mourners above us, covering us as an act of חסד lovingkindness. The rabbis called burial the lovingkindness of truth. Who knows what goes through the minds of all those who possess the shovel at that very moment? Covering? Uncovering?
At that point, there is no more rushing to a place in line because it's the end of line, the end of the road, the end.
And the mourners walk away, heap of earth behind us, and begin again. The mad rush. To the end.