Ten days ten pieces No. 6

John Told Me A Story, No. 6a

Then John told me a story that he had heard from his friend Janet.

There is an old man in summertime who sits on the bench in front of the court building every day and says hello to her. He is always there, nattily dressed, a skimmer hat perched on his head. He always smiles, always nods hello to her. Then one day he isn’t there. And the next day, and the next. Janet looks for him. A few weeks of summer passes and Janet wonders what happened to her man.

Then one day he returns. He nods and smiles and for the first time she says something to him. Where’ve you been? I thought you had gone away.

No, missy, he says. It’s been too hot out here lately, so I’ve been sitting over there, across the street, inside the lobby of that building. I could see you from there, the whole time. He smiles and Janet imagines him watching her, smiling at her from within the lobby of the air conditioned building across the street. She pictures herself looking for him the days he didn’t appear and imagines him watching her frustration and sadness at not seeing him. I’ve been watching you. He smiles.

Yeah, said John, that’s what happened to me. That’s just the way it was with me.

jsg, usa

I Was There parashat VaYeilech

I Was There

Mose spoke to Joshua, his successor:
He told him a couple of things but what I remember most
is the phrase chazak v’ematz
Be strong and courageous;
I loved it when Mose talked about courage
he was one of the few who did.

Mose said not to be afraid
G*d would accompany us;
G*d would not have brought us this far
to let us go on alone, Mose said.

Then Mose did something really important:
he sat down and wrote the Torah.
He wrote the entire document so we would have something
for sure
to tell the future.

He wrote it down for us
the whole thing.

When Mose was done writing, G*d began to speak with him.
Your days are drawing near to die,
G*d said to Mose,
Go get Joshua and stand in the Tent of Meeting —
So I can give Joshua final instructions.

That’s what they did;
Mose and Joshua stood in the tent of meeting
and G*d appeared in a pillar of cloud —
so we didn’t catch everything.

What we heard was difficult:
it was about the future
and what we would forget and how someone
would have to remind us now and again —
what we are all about.

So Mose wrote out the Torah
then he made up a song
Mose taught us the song that day
it was a song, or a poem —
and some of it was heard and is known —

And some of it
remains secret.

There is a known song
and a secret song;
a known poem and a secret poem.

One is flesh and form
the other bone and spirit.

jsg, usa

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Maqam Bayat

D E half-flat F G

Every Shabbat is associated with a musical figure, a maqam,
Arabic cognate of maqom = place.

Interlude or Why I Hate Death

I Hate Death

I hate death
you spend 30 – 35 years
40 years maybe 50 years
coming to know someone
you become heart to heart
soul to soul with someone
it takes 25 years for that —

When you know someone 25 years
you begin to melt into each other
you become like them
they become like you
we often call this love —
it’s melting;
I melt into you
you melt into me.

When you know someone for thirty years
it’s soul to soul.
When you know someone for 30 years
it’s more than melting
your souls begin to converge
we call this
convergence:
We become one
something different from each of us
we become one somebody else —
this happens at thirty years.

That’s why I hate death;
After melting into each other
convergence
becoming one with each other —
I hate death because after that
someone dies
then you have to wait
thresholding we call it;
we wait on the threshold for each other.

I hate death because someone dies
then we wait on the threshold
until we are together again.

This is called God;
we all wait on the threshold
for our beloveds
they wait for us;

That’s why I hate death
it’s the waiting
until we join each other;
this is God.

This is what we mean when we say
we are waiting for God;
God is waiting for us;
it’s code for —
we are God waiting for each other.

We wait:
this is the source of all
our God hunger.

Heart to heart
melting
soul to soul
convergence
becoming one
25 years
30 years
40, 50 years
death
waiting at the threshold —

God.

jsg, usa

Saved by Tears; ten pieces ten days; no. 5b

Saved By Tears

Rav said, All the ends have passed, and the matter . . . depends only on transformation [teshuvah] and good deeds.
But Shmuel says, It is enough for the mourner to stand in his mourning.
– Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97b

“I called my project ‘the legend of the hidden Thirty Six,’ ” Todd said, “was it necessary that the 36 be hidden — to redeem the world?”

A young woman with black leather boots emitted a low groan, heard from one end of the room to the other, a deep sigh of sadness, “where could we find such people today?”

There was an old man who came in from the rain with disheveled hair and holding a cup of coffee, he said softly, “they are present in every generation. Present but secret. The difference is then they were manifest, now they are hidden.”

I felt the sadness and the optimism in the arguments of Rav and Shmuel, the necessity for the tears to somehow wash the world clean — not to change it in the common ways — simply to weep the world well, to cleanse it with our tears. A sad redemption, but a redemption. I felt it in my fingers and my fingers played it on my lute. I tried to explain it, but I played it better. I cleansed myself with the music and many times since, with my tears, I wept myself well.

I don’t know how the world is to be saved, unless it is to repair it with tears. To weep the world well.

I recalled the artist I met in Italy and the stories that he occasionally told, especially the tender ones. I recalled the softness, the weeping in his eyes when he told them.

I was talking with J. on Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of teshuvah transformation between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. He was telling me about a friend of his son who had died in a car accident. “I was in New Jersey with a big big client,” J. said. “I live for this stuff, but I didn’t want to be there.”

“You don’t live for this stuff,” I said, “not for this, not for that, but for everything that issues from the mouth of G*d.”

“My head hurts,” J. said.

“You’re saving the world,” I said, “you’re saving the world with your tears.”

Again, it was the weeping that drew me to these stories. When I returned home, one day while playing music with Will, I began to weep, quietly and inwardly. I had learned how to cry in such a way that no one noticed.

The world would not be saved in the common, obvious ways; it may not be saved even by the righteous, there may be too few of them, nor by sincere acts of initiative.

It would be saved only by our tears.

jsg, usa

Ten pieces ten days no. 5a; Wash the World Clean

Wash the World Clean

Abbaye said, there is not less than thirty six righteous persons in each generation who receive the Shekhinah [the inner presence of G*dliness], as it is said, fortunate are all who wait for him, and the word for him [lo] has the numerical value of thirty six.
— Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97b

Rav said, all the ends have passed, and the matter depends only on transformation [teshuvah] and good deeds.

But Shmuel says, it is enough for the mourner to stand in his mourning.
— Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97b

In Abbaye’s teaching on the thirty six from the Talmud, the world required a minimum of thirty six righteous individuals, but for what, to exist? To be just? To be authenticated somehow? Thirty six who draw down G*dliness into the world, without them, what?

After a gig one night in Arizona, Sam said, “there are not less than 36 righteous persons in the world, that’s it, it’s a minimum.” Sam had been carried out of Auschwitz after the War.

Someone I did not know, someone who wandered in off the street, said, “It’s a minimum, as if to say, there may come a generation, there may have been, that does not contain thirty six righteous individuals.” She was wearing thick glasses and her glance moved from face to face in the circle when she spoke.

“That’s the problem, what happens if there are not enough good people in the world, what then? It happens, again and again: Auschwitz, Sarajevo, Rwanda, not enough righteousness. It’s not theoretical,” Sam again.

Ida sat next to Sam. She put a tissue to her eyes and only then did I notice her. “What then?” said Ida.

“Some sort of complete transformation, a radical overthrow,” said Rick.

“Tears,” said Sam, “weep the world well. That’s what it takes. I’m still crying.”

jsg, usa

Vision for a Next Year No. 4a

Vision for a Next Year

R. Gamaliel, R. Eliezer b. Azariah, R. Yehoshua, and R. Akiva
came to the Temple Mount
they saw a fox coming out of the Holy of Holies,
they all burst into tears, except Akiva
Akiva laughed. [Makkot 24b]

I saw the foxes on the narrow dirt roads of the lower Galilee inching my way along in a Spanish-built car directioning myself by intuition and finding my way to my destination. But I saw the foxes, it was the week before Tisha B’Av this summer and there was nothing in the obvious associations lost on me. The foxes were small, beautiful, car savvy, easily outrunning me on the car/foot/bike path darting in and out of openings in the foliage at the side of the road where they no doubt lived and thrived. Little foxes.

I felt neither the inclination to burst into tears or to have a particularly optimistic read on the future, though the Akiva laugh is always present within; neither via positiva or via negativa, just via ambiguosa. Who the hell knows what the foxes prefigure: you may as well laugh. They thought it was desolate, Akiva thought it was funny, George Moon thought it was desolate and funny; I think when presented with the sensory information, you may as well laugh.

I also feel the proximity between the laughing and the tears, to me they are right next to each other on the spectrum of human responses to existence when it is not a linear notion but a circular notion. Tears are sitting in one spot on the circle, right next to the tears the funny man and the distinction between the two is subtle. You might think you’re sitting in the tears spot and a moment later you’re cracking up and you realize you are in the next seat, laughing. I spend a good deal of every day in both seats as do most of the people I love.

I recall the description of Bar Yochai, Akiva’s student: one eye smiling, one eye crying.

Akiva, I am sure, knew the prophecy from Zechariah 8:4ff, Old men and old women shall sit again in the streets of Jerusalem, each one with his staff in his hand because, well, they’re old. The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.

If so, don’t take this prefiguring of the foxes too seriously; better days are coming. Akiva of the long look. I begin every year thinking about this.

Or maybe what Akiva had was a real vision. He actually saw into the future and saw what Zechariah described happening; it wasn’t a matter of attitude or posture, it was Akiva gazing into the future and seeing so much restoration that the implication of the ruin brought by the foxes meant nothing to him. He might have been laughing at everybody else’s limited imaginations. Behold the foxes; here’s the story of the foxes drawn in a homiletically limited way, Akiva saw beyond that, eschewed homiletics entirely, had confidence in the future and knew G*d provides. Relax, said Akiva, I saw it and quit making sermons. You’re boring me with your tears drawn from those cute little foxes.

Secret: every so often — what we have here – is a real vision. I enter less safe territory now.

I was in Israel this summer and the second or third evening in the Land, I twisted my ankle in a rather dramatic and frightening way. I saw this at least a week before I came. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t believe it myself; it was just a dreamy imagining that I hurt my ankle when I came to the Land and I couldn’t do much. I had myself a vision; I also didn’t want my friends and family to think I’m crazy, crazier, it’s just not comfortable.

I’ve had visions before and they are not induced by drugs (sometimes by dreams for sure) and some I pay attention to some I don’t, some have changed or authenticated the course of my life. They are not acid flashbacks; I came of age in the Sixties but I bet I smoked less grass than my high school teachers and I was lead singer in a great band and couldn’t get a girl for the life of me. Not any of that. I lived across the street from the MC5 and I spent all my free time in the library. I’m not bragging; this hasn’t as a matter of fact paid off for me at all until about a year ago. There’s just a door that opens once in a while in my head and I look through or out. That’s what I saw about two weeks before I left the States for Israel: an injury, a foot or leg injury in Israel, myself laid up.

What I didn’t see was the virus that followed, one I assume I picked up while visiting the holy Rambam at the hospital in Haifa that really laid me out, drove up a fever that crashed the bell over my head and made me delirious for at least one night and achy and stomachy and prepared for a clean colonoscopy by day two of said Vee-roos [Heb.]. No visions however, just hurt.

My handlers drove me to Jerusalem and dropped me in a hotel room by myself for two days with no food. But it was good; I felt like I was a street addict detoxing except I was overlooking the Old City. So much romance I could hardly stand it.

Blake saw G*d outside his window when he was four. I don’t doubt this at all. Read Blake. My own son picked out angels when he was just beginning to speak, his first word was “light,” and don’t think you know where those angels are congregating. It’s more like Wings of Desire than in the expressed environments of such spirits; in Temple Shemini Atzeres Corporation not a trace. I checked, returning to wisdom of Exodus 25:8, build it and I will dwell within them. Them, not it. All the clues are in our holy Torah. We have to think like Holmes.

After several days in the hotel room overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem this summer, I began to return to my senses. The hotel staff was kind, they knew something was wrong but did not ask. I was there to do some teaching, most of which I had to reneg on, and to study with my music master with whom I met enough to have acquired my pieces which I diligently worked. I had a load of books and the Wifi and figured out foreign access to Netflix, I had a very tasty borrowed Turkish style oud and a lovely German guitar I purchased in Prague and keep in Israel because I have been studying there every summer with my musical muse. I laid on the floor and didn’t speak to anyone for days.

I didn’t have that much to teach anyway. I have entered the listening learning curve of my life, having moved through the talking teaching curve I think as a young man when I had the hubris to think I knew something. I am on the less is more track, find your silence, give it give it give it all away, etc. track. I love it here.

I was high enough overlooking the valley Kidron that the breezes obviated the need for air conditioning, which was wonderful. The air and light of Jerusalem during the various changes of the day is one of the great pleasures of being there. I wondered how the weather was at home? [I knew; wanted to end this piece without pity].

Epilog

I passed away in Jerusalem. It was some kind of strange Kawangee fever that I picked up over the African Asian rift where germs wander when they are bent on revenge.

Until my death, I never once believed in the germ theory.

When found I was laid out on a pallet on the floor of a hotel room cradling a tasty Turkish oud in my arms with a look of such ecstasy on my face that the room keepers thought I was sleeping for two days. Then they decided I was dead.

They wrapped me in a sheet and went about looking for who I was. I left few clues.

They held my funeral between two groves of olive trees. The officiant was a blind holy man, perhaps a woman (“there are so many more than two possibilities,” s/he said when asked), who was called Tiresias, an irony in the Land but just right for the essential ambiguity of the way I experienced life as sacred and ridiculous.

Tiresias described me as light and sound; my soul a luminescent blue, my sound the thrum of insects at night.

Of course I wasn’t dead. I revived. I only seemed to be dead. Ready for the next year.

jsg, usa

Ten pieces ten days no. 3

Today

I went to visit my daughter in first grade. On the blackboard in her room was the following poem, entitled “Today.”

“Today. Today is Thursday, September 13. It is cloudy and cool.”

I spoke it under my breath. Several times. I went outside with my daughter for recess. She had been a little fearful about school that year.

I spent some time every day at school in those days. I felt like the mother bird that built a nest in our front yard. She flew in and out of the nest dozens of times a day. Flying out, flying back — most of the time without food in her mouth — just I imagine checking her nestlings. There was something soothing in this practice for me.

That’s what I was doing at school that day as I stood on the playground reciting the poem that had become my mantra: today is Thursday, September 13, it is cloudy and cool, feeling the kinship with the bird who had built a nest in my front yard. It is cloudy and cool. It was the “and” in the poem that grabbed me — it is cloudy and cool. It might have been written it is cloudy but cool implying some kind of value, like it’s a shame that it’s cloudy — but it’s cool — and what a relief the cool is after the interminable heat of August.

I began to appreciate the acceptance in that conjunction “and.” It is cloudy and cool. Who would have thought a couple of weeks ago, in the thick of the heat, the daily inexorable sun and the humidity, that soon it would be cool. It is cloudy and cool. That’s what I loved about the “and” — there’s no value at all in the poem. It was cloudy and cool, which is simply the way the day was.

I began then to appreciate the beauty in that acceptance. Not only is it what it is, but it is beautiful that way. I could play basketball that day without sunglasses — because it was cloudy and cool. It was a lousy day if you wanted to go swimming, but the days for swimming were over anyway. It was cloudy and cool. The days of swimming were past, new days now: cloudy and cool. Wonderful days to spend in the library reading, but not at the pool swimming. The swimming days were past; now it’s these days — different not better not worse — just is.

I loved the poem “Today.” I went home with my new mantra, speaking it to myself all day long.

The next day I took my daughter to school. An hour later, I was on my way to a meeting and I stopped in at school to check on my nestlings. I sat down in one of the little chairs next to her desk, and I remembered my mantra from yesterday.

I said, under my breath, “Today. Today is Thursday, September 13. It is cloudy and cool.” My daughter heard me and laughed. “No, Daddy,” she said. “It’s Friday. Look –” and she motioned to the blackboard.

It read, “Today. Today is Friday, September 14. It is sunny and cool.”

I forgot: that day was Friday, not Thursday, and on the board was a new poem. I began to speak it. “Today. Today is Friday, September 14. It is sunny and cool.”

“Isn’t it beautiful?” I said out loud, “it’s sunny and cool!” But not so different really. Another day – that day it was sunny while the day before was cloudy — not better not worse, just the beautiful Is-ness of that day.

“Yes,” she said, “it’s beautiful. And so was yesterday.”

jsg,usa

Ten pieces ten days no.2

O Heavens O Earth

Give ear O heavens
And I will speak
Listen earth
To the words of my mouth

I stood on a rock
With You
You were wrapped
In a tallit of light
And there I was given forgiveness
For all of us

When I came down the mountain
My face was fire
And on that fire
A mask

If we believe in justice
It is a double course justice
If we believe compassion
There is no stranger
Or we are all strangers
Not just then
But always

If we believe in good
Then there is good
And only good

You are endlessly forgiving
Compassionate
When will You abandon us –
Never

jsg, usa

We were debating how to bring everyone into the camp
when Blue said, there is no one outside the camp tonight,
there is no other, no them, only us – all of us – within.