I sit off to the right across from the African-American man who is three rows up from the Polynesian-looking young woman who knows all the words to the prayers (without even looking at the book). There is a man who plays percussion in the band. Muslim or Jewish? Israeli? American? Palestinian? Middle Eastern somehow. Full lips and olive skin, high, aquiline nose. Tribe-indiscernible. He wears a shaker around his ankle, like an indigenous person performing a ritual might (at least in my imagination). The gay couple is to my left – matching shoes, same-cut pants in two different shades, plaid shirts: Garanimals for Grown Ups. Like Eileen Fisher for middle-aged women or Vineyard Vines for teens– we all have our uniform. It is Friday night in this place we call Temple – this urban, corner-constructed-prayer-intended-space. We have Greco-Roman inspired, coliseum-like columns out front. We take up a city block. We are a settlement, a cathedral, a landmark, a place for people coming together (to fall apart).
It’s another week passed. We ask, “why” in the face of a car accident in a place called Nice. It was no accident at all, by the way, and not at all nice (read in English, not French). Deana, who sits next to me at the restaurant’s bar we go to after Services (I am no cook), takes out the Mass card she made for her husband. She shows me how handsome he was. The prayer on the back is Jewish she tells me: “We Remember Them,” though she changed it to “I Remember You,” because they never had children. Her cousin wanted to know, “Why would you use a Jewish prayer on a Mass card? We’re Catholic, you know?” A prayer is a prayer, Deana believes. What does it matter Jewish or Catholic?
Deana is 78, in the Lord and Taylor bargain she got earlier in the day. She gives me coupons she cut, so I can get one too. Her husband died, and she has had dinner here every night since, sitting at this bar, even though she doesn’t drink. Twice she tells me that she tried a booth the first time she came, about three months after he passed, but it was too sad. Too lonely, I add. The “kids” – the waiters, bartenders, hostesses, bus boys – take care of her. “They have been wonderful to me.” A hamburger every night, a connection to kindness, a conversation with people you know.
Two years Tuesday he passed, and Deana hasn’t cried yet. She wants to, it just won’t come. It’s the hardest part not being able to have a big cry and feel better after. “You know how that is after you have really sobbed?” Yes, I say. I do. “Do you think you might be afraid you’ll fall apart, and that is why you don’t cry?” “No,” she says. “I know I’ll feel better.” So what is it, we wonder together, coming up scratch. The doctor thinks she should see a “shrink,” Deana’s not so sure, preferring dinner.
So, in this week-upon-week of world scale bombings and kids down the street who are cutting, families without homes, I sit next to Deana, and all I can tell is there seems to be an over-and-over: we come together with those who have been wonderful to us and those we hope will be…and beyond this it is hard to know where to look, how to be, what to grab onto…
©Gabriella Strecker, 2016