08 June 2014

The Circuits of Time

Second Home Cemetery, Milwaukee (Google Earth)
In the shade beneath the cluster of trees at the top of this photograph are the stones marking the burial place of my ancestors, Chaim and Rebecca Siegel; Charles and Barbara Bachman.  Two of them I helped bury as a kid; two I never met.  The measure of their lives in words, when recounted in this hallowed ground, rolls along like crushed gravel beneath car tires that carry those who've come along to pay respects; like intermittent gusts of wind that shake and animate branches and leaves; and like the slow but certain transmutations of gravitational pull and decay which wears away granite in time.  Bones which once walked the earth rest softly beneath it.  And from a certain vantage point, this community of the dead is like a circuit board, a sim card, with a central artery of delivery (the path and roundabout) infusing energy and kinesis to static stones by reading names and dates, telling stories, shedding tears, planting new life.

Walking my kid to school the other day, I saw another youngster taking a photograph of her self (selfie) in front of a local running store.  The store is called "JackRabbit," a name evocative of fleet--the warm, fuzzy and adorable kind.  I love the logo.
The floppy ears and floppy feet of the rabbit, engined by determined fists, convey purpose and fun in a yellow bundle of victorious achievement.  In ancient Greece the gods all had yellow hair and like Mercury with his winged sandals and winged cap, the yellow hare reminded me, as I watched this young lady capture an image of herself, of the varieties of ways that Hermes (and Mercury in Roman myth) delivered messages back and forth, to and from, the underworld.

In the 19th and early 20th century, when cameras were invented and modern photography came into being, some traditionally observant Jews avoided having their pictures taken because they feared the technology might capture their soul.  In conveying an image, Hermes might steal them away to the underworld.   My great-grandfather's mother's name was Liba Gutzeit-Siegalowitz and in a photograph taken in Minsk in 1911, she looks concerned.

The earth floor beneath her feet; her grandchildren at her side; left behind to perhaps share the fate of Kopyl's Jewish community's liquidation by the Nazis in 1942 (I don't yet know--the evidence is bare); or maybe she sees her own soul vanishing, like magic, materially moving from her own body to the lens, the film, the studio, the blackroom, the mailroom, the ship, the rail, and into the hands of her son, Chaim, in Milwaukee, who cannot save her.

The girl in front of the mercury-rabbit shoe store sends a picture of herself somewhere, maybe to someone else down the street or halfway around the world; and in an instant I look up in the sky and imagine an infinite number of messages and images dashing, hopping, colliding in space, the instantaneous delivery of digitized materiality making each of gods of our own fate.

So much power.  So much faith in one little sim card.
One of my kids recently got her iPhone upgrade.  We met at the Apple Store on the Upper West Side and carried out the exchange effortlessly.  We transferred information to a cloud.  We wiped out memory.  And then when we asked the salesperson what to do with the old sim card she said, "Break it and throw it away."

And so with circuits humming heatedly all around me in that transparent commercial cube of happy entertainment, I floated above the burial ground of Milwaukee, looking down on the circuitry of my soul.  I told myself stories that were happy and sad; triumphant and tragic.  I took modest comfort in the reality that granite gravestone, as in a game of rock-paper-scissors, wears away silicon.

Grandpa died in 1973 and Grandma died in 1979 and they are buried next to one another, their flesh and bones in the earth beneath the trees; the shade, the leaves, the wind and sky above.  In this picture they smile freely, in America.  The camera captures only a playful image.  Their stories, their essences, hovering in the Circuits of Time.  Eternal.

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