The Beginning of My Obituary


Aviva gave me my Hebrew name, Chava. She was four.

At dawn, my parents pulled up in front of my house, for me to drive them to the airport. The Aquarius supermoon, setting in the East, followed us as we drove to Bradley. On my way back north, I watched the sun rise, fog resting over cornfields, the river clear and still. Mani was still in bed when I returned with lattes, her soft, warm skin the best welcome home.

Yesterday, I had a conversation that will stay with me for a long time. I dare say, forever. I went to talk to our rabbi, over coffee on his covered back porch. I had initiated the meeting, and was surprised when he offered up Shabbat morning for me to come over. But as it turned out, this was no working meeting; it was “holy talk” we were doing–talk of life and work and direction and the Jewish journey I have danced with and around for many years–twenty at least, or quite possibly twice that, since I came here all squinty-smiled and curly, with a heart full of history.

You can dance all we want, and sometimes, when you stop dancing, that is when the thing that won’t let you go flows over and out in the form of words, or wordless tears, the tears of knowing, of calling. Of love and of fire and of not having answers, only openings, invitations, initiations.

He told me a story, about a mohel (this is the person who performs the brit milah, or ritual circumcision). This mohel had a helper, a woman, who carried his bag of instruments and ritual objects. She carried the bag for him 500 times, assisting and watching, before becoming a mohel herself.

My parents stepped onto the curb by American Airlines with their two suitcases and a bag of snacks, including a taste of the wedding cake we tasted yesterday. I was impressed by how little they had packed for their 10-day trip to visit my father’s brother. “If it doesn’t fit in here, it stays home,” my mom said.

The rabbi gestured around his house. “I’m a simple guy,” he said. “This seems pretty opulent to me.”

How much do we need? I wanted to offer, right then, to carry his bag–for the baby namings, the weddings, the hospice visits. To help rewrite the translation of the confession offered to and spoken by the dying, that they might end their life with a clean heart. To build something. He asked me to write my obituary, as if today was my last, and another set five years from now. “Can you not picture it, where you want to be, what you want to have done, in another five years?” I stumbled, and then remembered–we are moving towards Elul, that month of introspection and reflection, when the season turns and a quiet mind replaces confusion or grasping at answers.

When I stopped dancing, he spoke. And I listened, feeling the truth of who I am and what I’m doing here. It was such a gift, in that moment. To be seen, and known.

After, Mani and I drove, first to a Chipotle, our new favorite (and only) nut-free eating-out option, and then to taste wedding cake. We chose the lemon with lemon buttercream filling and vanilla frosting, and two little fondant birdies on top. We trolled around TJ Maxx and Mani got a workout shirt and I got a lime green silverware organizer and a Boston Red Sox lunch box for Pearl. We read Aviva’s latest letter from camp, filled with hearts and exclamation points and news and miss yous and love yous. Mani read a Nathan Englander story out loud as I drove west on Route 2, and we ate more cake when we got home, calling it dinner. We fell asleep around 11:00, and I got up at 3:45am to get ready to bring my parents to the airport.

Life is like this, profound and mundane. Dancing through the days, busy, and then sometimes, suddenly, the lid comes off, and I go inside to trace the light from my pelvic floor to the crown of my head. That’s when I pray–I do, I pray, in my way–to tap into that place of opening, where truth resides and wants to emerge and shine. My nature (is this human nature?) is to want to know how, and when. What to do next. To figure things out. But the prayer is for something other than this, which is to say for quiet, the stillness of staying present to what will surely unfold, not without work but in a way, without effort. To schlep the bag, both humbled and lit up by how much I don’t know and the hunger to learn and do.

It’s early now, not yet 7:30am. But not as early as it was a few hours ago. And the moon is just now setting a few times zones west of here as seven billion moments happen around the world, all of us doing something, thinking something, feeling, needing, wanting, hoping, planning, grieving, sleeping, waking, losing, loving something. We each have a part, a reason for being.

I haven’t settled in to write my obituary yet, but I can tell you how it will start: With my Hebrew name.

4 thoughts on “The Beginning of My Obituary

  1. gailnhb says:

    I thoroughly enjoy reading your writing, Jena, especially these posts about how you are living your beautiful, messy, poetic, extraordinary, ordinary life. I like being able to picture you and your beloveds doing what you do. Thank you for sharing your stories with us.



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