(You may want to listen to this while reading.)
1. Pour havdalah wine, some bleeds through your fingers, spills like watercolor into the siddur pages. . . light the braided candle, recite the blessings, hold in the cry, know that you can’t. Cry, and cry fully. Cry as you complete the recitations. Let the pages soak in tears. Cry as you look at the light. Cry as they ask why. Cry in your daughter’s arms. Embrace the waves of sorrow, and let them embrace you. Succumb. Because after you do, you will stand and wash your face and you will hug your wife and hug your children and make coffee and put on Orchestra Baobab and grade papers.
2. Sunday morning Hebrew School. Your 5th and 6th graders swinging their legs in their seats are enclothed coils of wonder and springs of energy and untapped molecular reserves of multiple personalities. Their names could be Joyce and Richie and Rose and Jerry and Cecil and David and Bernice and Sylvan and Danny and Mel and Irv. They look around like they’ve just arrived here. Everything you teach them seems familiar, as if they’ve heard it all before. Old souls, the lot of them. You’re the teacher, but it is you who learns from his students this one thing: we are whole because of each other. No one knows that before class you spoke to a friend about a gun.
3. You spend the day galavanting Little Five Points. With your love and old friends, it’s the healthiest you’ve felt in a month. Street hustlers and addicts in rags and hipsters and skateboarding kids and flannel wearing dudes, coffee houses, bars, pizza joints, record stores, vegan eateries, and disposable culture. Just enough sketchy, just enough Greenwich Village and South Beach of old. The crates at Wax and Facts are overstuffed with treasures. You find Joplin and Jawbox and Johnny Hartman, while Lis finds Radiohead and Jeff Buckley and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. Something that bounces your head is playing at just the right volume to drown the voices of everyone around you. Lose track of who and where, of what and when. How is always known. You can’t escape the how of things. Maybe if it was louder. But do you even want to? Also, the why . . .
4. Why are you yelling? she pleads. What? The music loud at Junkyard Daughter, scents and circumstance timescape the four of you back to South Beach in the early 90s, to Pop, the collectible chachkah store on the corner of 11th and Washington, down the block from Uncle Sam’s. Girls with nuclear Armageddon yellow hair, purple eyes, nose rings. The clerk behind the register in a monster suit. An older floor guy gawks at customers while folding smooth a tapestry. Leaving in a blaze of nag champa memories pulling us apart by the molecule, you declare your levity and carelessness in the October sunshine, dancing to the car. What are we listening to? Why are you yelling? Because for so long you couldn’t hear a thing through all the noise and the noise you clung to now the noise you held is gone. Quiet, you pay attention to the traffic and get everyone home safe.
5. On the menu: guacamole with chips and some beer to start, followed by arroz con pollo with tostones on the side. Tonight we’re drinking local beer. Reformation’s Stark is a toasted porter with just enough bitter dark on top of the sweet vanilla undertone to make you wonder if it’d be okay to have one of these with lunch or for a snack like some people drink a soda or have some juice because goodness in a can this cold poured into a clean glass is the kind of goodness you want to take part in on a regular basis if you don’t mind the beer gut and early onset of some kind of long and horrible end. Meanwhile, Jude is a deceptively strong Belgian style tripel, sweet and poppy, easy going down with a smooth, banana nut touch. It’s the kind of beer that makes you wish everyday could be like today. Needless to say, l’chaim and cheers. Cans popped and poured, you take a sip and chop cilantro under the heavy knife. Every serving of your guac must crackle in the mouth with freshness and that starts with freshest green leafy cilantro. Janis wails on the lo-fi and the kitchen starts to take on the long dancing shawl of song and slicing silver stainless steel blades and cilantro perfume over her shoulders, the blues rocking her through like a hard cry, taking you, too, her hand illicit on your hip pushing you to move. The kitchen, she speaks to you in these whispers as you dance. Half a red onion is next under the heaving knife, sliced and diced and chopped and laid over the bed of chopped cilantro. Scoop in the avocado meat; drench in limes you squeeze and squinch in your fingers; drop in the Chalula and kosher salt and you’re game for some mixing and smashing and stirring with one dollop of mayo for good measure. Serve with the corn chips and back away declaring dinner will be ready in an hour, so make that last. The sounds of your friends delighting in your guac dip build another shield, stand you taller against the onslaught of the dark of the quiet you’ll have to face when dinner’s done and everyone’s passed out and you’re stuck with your own thoughts. You brown the chicken in olive oil at the bottom of the deep silver pot.
6. Chicken removed, you deglaze the bottom of the pot with some Fosters, simmer it down, and drop in the chopped peppers, diced yellow onion, and hashed shallots. Drop in gobs of garlic and stir it up. Let it get glossy, Tio Isi had said, and then gangbusters on the rest of the goods. The wooden spoon leans at rest. Buckley sings Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and the purity of lost voices astounds you. How can such beauty coexist with its opposite? How can anyone not be taken by music like this to love all of existence as connected by that thing: that rhythm that keeps moving, that melody that breathes the same air?
7. In with the chicken, in with the red strands of saffron, in with the beer, in with the bullion, and stir. Keep yourself moving, let the tunes rise to the brim of your eyes while you focus on the countertop cluttered with spices and spoons. In with the turmeric, in with the cumin, in with the black pepper, in with enduring. Two bay leaves and a small jar of pimentos for good measure. Stir the wooden spoon, let the crisped chicken pieces and vegetables and beer and spices mingle and absorb, become one thing, one thing together, holding each others flavors, supporting each other’s unique textures and tastes. Stir and churn and let it rest. Turn off the stove-top fan because you want the aroma to fill the house like warmth from a fire on a cold night. In ten minutes, you’ll pour in the rice, when the final wait begins. And in the waiting, you move to the library with G, who sits at the keys as you light 13 candles, cradle your mug, and try not to wonder what’s next. So while his hands glide and crash and play, you sit back and raise your glass and pray for families in Kentucky and families in Pittsburgh and your own family and your own friends and your students and for all the bullshit to just come to a peaceful end and leave the rest of us alone. Nothing hurts in that prayer. You want it to hurt. You want to feel this more fully, all of it, the company you keep and love, the food you make for sustenance and joy, the evening sky you see looking up in the backyard, the cold autumn air you breathe. How easy. In and out and repeat. Just breathe. How do you pray when you don’t know the prayer for this anymore, this apathy about the impossibility of trusting that anything will ever be okay any moment of any day? All you have is now. And now — with beer in hand, and friend playing the upright — and now you pray.
8. Rice cooks slow and fast. More than 20, less than 30 minutes. Catch it on time. Like your mind. Going where philosophies die and are reborn. Meanwhile, fry some tostones crispy so they taste like an idyllic memory. The house’s acoustics cradle George’s playing in a warm cocoon of audial delight. You know that the solution isn’t more guns. But until the world rids itself of this age old poison once again enabled, you and your family and your friends and your community are targets. You can’t help but believe this. Vigilance, awareness, you embrace them. So too training. So too defense. So too. You pray for this, too, this dream of plowshares. And both are imperfect acts of persistence, as is this meal on this day we’ve chosen to make festive in celebration of loving, lifelong friendships.
9. There’s never been a time when you didn’t fear for your life or the lives of your family. Being a Jew also means you’re one link in a long chain of the enslaved and persecuted and raped and murdered. People believe you’ve been numbed into an acquiescent softness after a couple of safe generations in America. In this America. But they don’t know the underlying paranoia that’s always been there for every Jewish minute you’ve been alive, whether you resembled a drunk freak on South Beach or wore a kapote on Shabbos. This is America. You’ve always been a target. You learned to fight. You fought. You trained. You learned as a kid and later again as an old man. When you walk home in the dark from someone else’s Shabbos table, your senses are heightened and you’re listening for the hair on the back of your neck to stab the air with insistence. When it’s your time, it’s your time. Nothing will stop it from happening, whatever it happens to be. Ask the children, ask those left here to mourn. Ask the parents, the friends. Ask yourself. You can tell the world. Anything can happen at anytime anywhere. Right now, your daughter is away from home. How afraid are you? How much of that trust you pray daily to have in the Gd that knows you do you really maintain, do you really hold? Do you really trust? What choice! And this is when you pray.
10. Everyone eats until they can’t eat anymore. The joy they celebrate in eating and savoring has nothing on the joy filling you, the cook, the chef, hot oil stains on your wrists. Here it is, anyway. Life at the table, food you bought and chopped and rubbed and sauteed and mixed and folded and simmered and boiled and fried and served. Life before the dining room window, the blinds open to the October night. Look at us, you say, together, full in the moment, now. Another l’chaim, cheers, to life.
11. Before authorities release their names, you know they could be Shayna or Hannah or Emily, they could be Simmy or Gabe or Brad, they could be Nathaniel or Yisroel or Josh, names from your classrooms, faces not much different than those you know at your shul, lives not much different than those you’ve known all your life. And yet wholly different, their own, like their voices, now lost, stolen. You wonder if the gun is a sign of an ultimate despair. Who do you think you are? You have lessons to plan, papers to grade. There is coffee and good music. You’ve cried. You’ve prayed. You’ve enjoyed the bounty of the earth in food and drink. You’ve enfolded yourself in moments of truth and love in friendship. Tomorrow you will teach your children well. And that’s what’s next in perpetuity, however dark outside the realm of light: to persist.