Kissing the City

It is 9 A.M. and my family is staying together in a home in a suburb of LA. Down a winding road, where last night, my grandparents allowed the GPS to dictate how many feet, exactly, until turning left because the street signs in this small town are too slight to notice in the dark.

Two nights ago, we celebrated a wedding, with dry wine and long eyelashes and too many flowers and a brimming silver cup of blessing. May you respect each other. May you challenge each other for the good. May you raise children who will walk in the path of our forefathers. May you be blessed.

It is 9 A.M. and someone is frying eggs with jalapeño and someone is on the internet, checking into their flight, and someone is still sleeping. My uncle is wrapping tefillin on the porch. There is rhythm in his movement. He is etching deeper what has become permanent so many years ago. All I can think about is how I am a sucker for clichés.

He stands before tumbling hills. They weave in and out of each other, meeting to connect a home, to birth a tree, to lay still and feel the slopes of the other’s form. The clouds that frame them are not unlike the flour we spill onto a countertop before rolling dough, beautiful in its familiarity and dependable grace. The air, too, is lovable in its stability, in its unwavering commitment to making sure it never gets in the way.

My uncle is setting the tefillin box on his forehead now. Secures it, touches it, brings fingers to lips. This is his romance with G-d, and I look away.

I am facing the wall now, tracing its veins and its bruises, the battle scars of a life well lived in small town, rich man America. Its skin is peeling. Some day, a new plaster will make itself a home here. No one will eulogize his ancestry. His siblings will not attend the funeral. Yesterday’s glory is satisfied to go nibbling on smoked meat and sunshine.

My praying uncle removes the tefillin from his head, kisses it and places it down on the table with a tender slowness I have not seen before. He is standing on a porch that has lived and will die. We are standing before mountains that can reach only till the sky. Here, on this ground, a limited being has spoken with the Eternal. He transcends the years we are allotted in this life. He is kissing the city, I think, he is kissing the G-dly letters in this porch. And this time, I do not look away.