Colette said, “What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.”
I’m going to do a tahara — a burial ritual — at the cemetery in our village in a few hours. Whenever I get a call to go to the burial house (and it’s only once every few months, thank goodness), I’m immediately given a sharp jolt of awareness about being alive.
Sometimes, I confess, I go through my day, from one activity or gotta-do or gotta-get-through without perspective on how good I have it. Like the photo above, there’s something blocking my line of sight. Something that stops me from appreciating all my blessings. (FYI, that photo was taking while visiting my college roommate, Mary Eldred. We hiked in the Independence Mine State Historical Park in Wasilla, Alaska. No, we could not see Russia from there.)
So, that’s why I keep participating in the hevra kadisha, the burial circle. It is very unnerving, humbling, spiritual and powerful. It reminds me again and again to remember that sooner or later, the circle of life closes.
Edith Wharton is credited for saying a good one, “If we’d stop trying to be so happy, we’d have a pretty good time.” Sometimes, happiness is beside the point. Sometimes, we can change our lives and find serenity just by being aware, being present in the moment.
Just for today, I want to remember to clear away all obstacles that prevent me from seeing, and truly appreciating, all my blessings.
It’s after the burial circle ritual. The woman who died was named 94-year-old Rachel Weitzman. She had beautiful white hair. Her hair, in fact, was the inspiration for the white hair of the character, Sophie Zuckerman, in A Remarkable Kindness. Rachel was from Holland and survived the Holocaust. She embodied the spirit of my message above. She was always so full of appreciation and wonder. I used to see her down at the beach when we went for our early morning swim.
As the other members of the burial circle and I were doing the tahara, dressing Rachel ever so gently in her burial shrouds, we noticed the numbers given to her at Auschwitz, tattooed on her arm. One woman in the burial circle commented that it was a fitting tribute to bury this woman who survived so much on International Women’s Day.
I wonder how many Holocaust survivors are left…And how many people still deny that it happened. The witnesses and the proof are dying out and soon there will be nobody left.
May her memory be a blessing to all of us.