Memory is tricky — like a continuous wave that hides its particle nature; like a flip-book comic that turns still pictures into motion — at times it binds together distinct moments of experience into whole cloth, flowing fabric which we can wrap around us like a prayer shawl, viewing the connection between past and present as one fluid unity. Yet, sometimes, the cloth tears and that halcyon view is ripped from our grasp. Life is divided forever into the before and after.
I still have the shirt I wore that day. I spy it hanging on my clothes tree from time to time, gathering dust one hook below still-not-dried-from-sweat tee-shirts or too-clean-for-laundry-yet jeans. Taken by chance from the closet at 6 am, that blue-checked all cotton (no-iron) oxford covered me throughout the day. I rolled up one sleeve for tefillin in the morning and pulled a sweater over it in the evening when I sat down to learn. I was wearing it still when the news came, while we searched the hospitals, and the moment I was told, finally, at midnight, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away….”
It was a good friend from my local hevra kadisha whose penknife slit through the cloth the next morning, the row of fathers standing aside the eight prone bodies, their sons, shrouded in wool awaiting burial. Under a hot Jerusalem sun, we all rent our garments.
Jewish law stipulates that those who meet a violent death are buried in their clothing. “For the blood is the soul….” Do blood soaked garments contain too much to be left behind?
At graveside, someone removed the tallit in which my son’s slight, 16-year-old frame was swaddled. Under that was a white plastic body bag, and my neighbor, standing shoulder deep in the grave, sliced it open as they slid Avraham David off the stretcher into the dark earth. Fully clothed, the soil was piled over him — shovel by shovel — enveloping him in the ground, until even the faintest outline of a body was gone. We are of dirt and to dirt we return.
But that shirt, a vertical slash leaving horizontal threads looking like fingers reaching out to each other, never to meet again across the now ruined pattern, still hangs in my room gathering dust. We, left behind to mourn, remain forever naked in our pain. The warp and woof of life torn asunder.
As in years past, I will be hosting a memorial concert on Avraham David’s yartzheit. Please join us for an evening of devotional music in the mystic Sufi tradition on March 9th, 20:30 in the Tekoa amphitheater.