Sunday, February 12, 2006

276. Song of the Sea

There's a blizzard today. Hysteria has ensued, newscasters warning of the next apocalypse. Our mayor, who ran billion-dollar corporations and knows a real crisis when he sees one, remains underwhelmed, suggesting we stay indoors for a few hours and relax until snowplows make it possible to go to the jobs tomorrow to which we'd really rather not go. Across the street, a long line of people shiver in flapping scarves and snow boots as they wait to order croissants from the gourmet bakery. And I sit in Starbucks nursing a Super Grande Extra Hi-Test, or whatever it's called, listening to a compilation of 70s rock while the creeping whiteness covers brave souls who shuffle and slip right outside. Just a few reasons why I love New York.

At services on Friday night the rabbi spoke about the beginning of the Song of the Sea, as the Israelites prepare to take a leap of faith into the Sea of Reeds. "Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord," it says. But "sang" is actually in the future tense--"would sing." Why this choice of word, asked the rabbi (and Rashi, a thousand year earlier)? Maybe, they suggest, we live fully in the present only by singing for the future and surrounding ourselves with the music of hope. I thought of the rabbi's words this Shabbat morning when I met nine-day-old Gavriella Malka, who carries in the song of her name the strength and gentle warmth of her great-grandparents. She's the first cousin I've been able to welcome into this world; when others of that generation arrived, their parents were just addresses on the yellowing pages of a notebook buried among my mother's papers, phone calls never returned, holiday cards bearing names I once heard but had long ago forgotten.

I do see certain members of my family quite often, but at the other end of the lifecycle. As a child I went to very many funerals. (When I started attending services after years away, the only melody that sounded familiar was El Maleh Rachamim, the prayer of mourning.) My parents did an extraordinary job of shielding me from the worst of the sadness, and I always felt safe, secure and loved no matter what was happening around us. I really did not know that other families were any different. My mother, the youngest of five, had four older brothers who all died between my fifth and twentieth years, their wives following right afterwards. Two of my uncles died on exactly the same date, five years apart. I don't know how my mother stayed sane in the face of so much grief, always able to share the smile that defined her father and everyone who followed. That smile, that sweet, deep laugh, shines particularly brightly in my cousin Phil, Gavriella's grandfather.

(To be continued.)


~Jan said...

Lovely, lovely writing. And a kiss for the baby.

Regina said...

Me, too, please! I love the name Malka- I am thinking of taking it for my Hebrew name- it means "Queen" if I am not mistaken (which is what Regina means in Latin as well). BTW- how much snow did you get?

alto artist said...

Thank you--and I will pass on those baby kisses!

"Malka" does mean queen, a perfect translation of your name. We got about 12", all now mush, which was incredibly beautiful for a day until it turned many non-snow colors.