Saturday, November 22, 2008

From The Grave

The long wooden coffin sat six feet in the ground, regulation depth. It was made of a pretty light wood, not at all glossy, with deeper colored wood grain running from top to bottom. On either end of the coffin was a triangle, a kind of light embellishment. The base of the triangle was parallel to the end of the coffin’s edge and the pointed crown faced into the center of the long box. Within the two triangles, separated by five feet of smooth blond wood, the wooden grains ran perpendicular and created a beautiful juxtaposition of shapes. On top of the coffin, in the space where the heart center might be if the body’s head was closer to the blacktop drive and the gathered mourners in black, was a wooden star of David, which was about the size of a man’s outstretched hand. The coffin was simple and humble and made of matter easily absorbed into the earth. The female rabbi stood beside the rectangular hole, facing the small group that had their backs towards the empty cemetery drive, empty except for the limo parked five feet away and the four other midsize cars that stood parked and silent. The rabbi wore an outdated dress from the early 90s, made of mostly purple fabric that had abundant square swatches different colors and multiple pockets. She led the people in prayer. Twenty voices lifted into the air, a low mumbling of vowels and consonants…
Yit'gadal v'yit'kadash sh'mei raba….
Their eyes were fixed on the small piece of cardstock that the cemetery officiate had handed them.
They said it in unison. The left side of the card was in Hebrew, the other was the phonetical translation of the prayer into English letters.
I did not say the prayer, the words had no more meaning than if I had been watching a Korean soap opera. I did not fall back into the pleasant embrace of a half hearted ritual that I had memorized twenty years ago. I heard the prayer buzzing in the background and I heard the sobbing of the widow on my right. Someone handed me a box of tissues and I wiped some fallen tears from her eyes. I held the box of Kleenex with both hands and stared at the coffin. I let my gaze soften and focused on the feeling of pain and energy that radiated and pulsed in my chest. I looked at the box in the ground, containing a man, a Being in transit. I saw a box just a little below the surface of the earth. "The EARTH!" I thought to myself. And the feeling of amazement and wonder coursed through me. This is the earth. It seems like such a simple statement, such an ordinary fact, but the realization that we are indeed upon a sustainable mound of soil and magma and liquid fire that continually transforms itself felt infinitely more real as I looked at the box which contained my grandfather. I felt the ground under my thin shoes a bit more distinctly. The smallness of our state hit me like a loving hand and my mind quieted.
The cut ground was a rectangular hole surrounded by a bright lawn of green grass dotted by simple whitish-gray headstones. At the far end of the open grave was a pile of soil, the mound of rich earth just waiting to be returned to its rightful place. To make room for the coffin, the soil had been cut in an inverted triangular shape, so that the perimeter closest to the surface was larger than the smaller space which held the body. Long sticks of thin metal rebar held the neatly severed earth from tumbling. In moments when the mourners paused and the rabbi took a few breaths, I heard small chunks of earth break from the holds of the rebar. Small bits of soil fell and broke across the wooden coffin, making pretty, delicate thumping sounds as the pieces scattered across the smooth wood. The little clusters spoke to me, singing soft lullabies of the living soil that awaited. The earth was barely patient enough to wait for the mourners to finish their chants and return to their waiting cars, it yearned to fill in the gaping hole. To move to the lowest point, the point of least resistance, the point of stability, is the Law of Falling, and the soil would not follow the wishes of the humans that had gathered to cry.
The earth, though patient at times, calmly breathing even after cement has flooded its surface, is ultimately without mercy. Its compassion is objective. There is no sentimentality sprouting from its folds. We come forth though its devices and nutrients, we come from its stone and water and air, and to it, we return, like lost little children finally coming home to sleep.

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