The tradition is quite clear.
During the season of turning and repentance, visit the graves of the deceased. They can intercede for you as you prepare to plead your case before the King of Kings, the Holy One Blessed be God Who sits on the Throne of Glory and is Judge and Redeemer before us mere nothings as we appear, begging for another year of life.
And people say Jews are prone to drama and exaggeration.
So on my way over to Mom's house on Thursday afternoon, driving in from Chicago, the recipient of one of those jetBlue month passes (which will afford me the chance to afford checking in on B quite alot in the next month), I stopped off to see Dad's grave and with prayerbook in hand, took the opportunity to pray the Afternoon service (מנחה).
There's a spot on the rug next to my favorite chair--in my davenning corner at home in Brooklyn--that forms to the shape of my feet when I pray there each day. To see such a spot revealed in the still-green grass of a Wisconsin September, with a warm autumn sun beating on my neck and the words and melodies of our people rising above the whirr and rush of cars on the 94 freeway rushing past was, well, even more rooting than the prints themselves. I felt Dad's presence at that moment and so had to conclude that God was listening, too.
And since it was the afternoon, when Tahanun was offered, traditional prayers of supplication and forgiveness, I chose rather than merely leaning my forehead into my arm, to prostrate, get down on the ground, onto the earth, and beg.
I begged for life and peace; for good health for Mom (and Rachel and the girls and my in-laws and friends, and congregants, and everyone I knew) and cars sped past and the sun beat down and time stood still but it kept rushing on and so I prayed harder and harder and harder until tears welled up and my throat closed and the words came out and the ground accepted them, over the grave.
And when I looked up, nothing had changed.
But a prayer had been offered. And wondered how it would be answered.
When we sat with the doctor on Friday, the report was good. B's cancer is standing still. I looked at her as she heard the news and she was like a tree. Strong, steady. The winds of physicians analyses couldn't move her. We went out to lunch to celebrate this victory and at lunch she revealed that she had sneaked a peak at the doctor's report be he reported it to us.
I thought of the grave the day before. The grass, the sun, my tears. Despite the drama, there was a part of me that enjoyed it.
And I wonder about that idea--that in the midst of our most serious struggles, we insist on still laughing, on finding the element of play, and how that too is what God wants.
Tonight I came home from Slichot services. Tired and worn out. The New Year has yet to arrive and I'm already feeling next year in this year. There's wisdom in that, I know. I just haven't figured that out yet.
But R and A were watching Larry David re-runs on HBO--A, almost 12, for the first time. Man, were they having a ball. 11:45 at night, laughing up a storm.
Larry and Jeff were eating in a hospital cafeteria. Larry had a crush on a doctor. There was alot of misunderstanding about race and the N word. We were nervous about A not fully getting the humor, the meta-commentary, until she said, "Dad, this is exactly what Mel Brooks did with 'Blazing Saddles.' I totally get it."
I thought of my head in that green grass, pleading from Dad for more life for B. And I thought, you know, the way prayers are answered are never quite as linear as we'd like but if we're open to their own trajectory, there's reason to keep to trying.