Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Remembrance: a Project

It's very easy to say things about a deceased such as "their memory will not be forgotten." It's much more difficult not to forget.  "Out of sight, out of mind," a cliche that has a lot of truth to it.  I have good friends and relatives who live far away. I stay in touch, but do I think of them often? Not really. Do I think of my mother all the time? No.  Do I always think of her when I'm in shul and reciting kaddish? No.  Sometimes I'm reciting kaddish and have to remind myself of the reason why.

Again, Wieseltier.  Why is mourning limited to twelve months? Because, according to Mannasseh ben Israel, "after twelve months the body is gone and the soul ascends and no longer descends." After twelve months, the soul forgets the body.  And so "the period of mourning is the year in which desire has not yet been defeated by death. When the twelve months are over, and death defeats desire, the soul will be gone. And the son will be back" (Kaddish, p. 552). A prooftext from Psalm 31, verse 13: "I have been forgotten from the heart like the dead, I have become like a lost vessel." Wieseltier: "We [Jews] don't mind not being wanted. We mind not being remembered" (Kaddish, p. 553).

How to keep memory alive? People pay thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars to try. They hang pictures, donate plaques, dedicate buildings, create foundations, anything to concretize the fact that a person who now is dead once lived.  Yes of course the memory of my mother will always be with me, and, I can safely say, with my children. It will be expressed in how we think and act, in subtle ways. I have begun to quote my mother whenever I say something she might have said (sort of like in the Talmud, when one sage states a teaching in the name of a previous one). The point is: keeping memory alive is not easy. It's one of the most difficult tasks I can think of.

And so I am engaged in a project to keep her memory alive. I am fortunate that she liked to write. She edited a book on couple's therapy. She also wrote poems which she shared with us about a year before she died. And there were other writings that I found on her computer (fortunately not password protected), more poems, thoughts about the therapeutic process, thoughts about death, things she might never have intended to share with us, but there they are. And in her filing cabinets there were hard copies of letters and the draft of a book about the problem of drugs in American society. So I took it all and am going through it, and in this way she still speaks to me. My hope is to create a booklet of her writings in time for the first Yahrzeit (anniversary of death). Something concrete that I can say: my mother lived, this is who she was, and, perhaps, this is why and how she will be remembered.

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