I was very cognizant yesterday of the date: 10 years exactly since my father died with me at his side, my left hand on his right knee. Time is a strange notion when contemplating our dead, so the decade that passed seems both ordinary and unreal at once. No matter, though: I thought of my father throughout the day, even picking up a carnival glass little dish in his memory (he loved antiques, and especially carnival glass).
I also went to services at the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, which made me remember the last time Dad had been to this little sanctuary. It was the Friday night before Daniel’s Bar Mitzvah, and we started services with one prayer book only to realize we were supposed to be using another one. As people collected one book and passed out another, everyone in the sanctuary cracked up at our mistake. We laughed at a lot of other things in the service too, and later my dad later said to me, “If this was what being Jewish was like, I might actually go to services regularly.”
Quirky is an understatement for my congregation, and last night was no exception with the usual suspects, plus a man known around town for bursting into opera at will and others who would never be mistaken for ordinary. As Rachel began services, I imagined my dad beside me, looking over my shoulder to see where we were supposed to be. “Here, Dad,” I told him, pointing to the Baruchu. I saw him nodding.
During our songs, I sang loud if not always on key, and at my own pace, which is our way at the LJCC, realizing that usually I would be embarrassed to let my dad hear me sing, but years of singing in this room have cured me of that. Dad didn’t know the words although he did perk up a little at “Oseh Shalom” because he recognized the tune.
During the quieter times in the services, I imagined asking him where he’s been for the last decade, and him shrugging in response. “Has it been okay?” I asked him. He nodded and looked a little confused to be here with me.
When it was time for the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, as I stood with Ken to the Kaddish for him, Dad wondered if she should stand up too. It’s confusing to know what to do when you’re dead, we both agreed. He decided to stand but not say anything, which worked well because he didn’t know the prayer so well anyway. I remembered saying the Kaddish with my siblings at the little service after his burial, hardly anyone in the room Jewish and few able to say the words without tangling them. I still struggle to pronounce everything right and at the right pace although I’ve had so much practice over the last decade.
By the time services were over, I could feel my imagination letting him go although the oneg, when we eat treats and have some challah after services, would have been his favorite part of all. I could only head down the stairs with the others, wishing him well wherever he is and wondering what his life would have been had he not died relatively young. Wherever he is, I hope it’s adventurous and glows like carnival glass in sunlight.