One Foot In One Foot Out

One Foot In One Foot Out

The Gracie stories part 15

I thought I would write the stories until the end; wondering what sort of drama or consciousness might rise with the inevitable denouement then; the end. But maybe not. Why wait for the utterable loss that will come in its own time, having squeezed the experience for what its worth, to have talked by type through this period of separation.

Also there was the conflation of care; for my daughters when they showed up, for my sacred partner who was laid up completely, my daughters went back to their homes in exile and my sacred partner starting to resolve and the injuries receding into storyville while Gracie continues to decline; the record of compassionating for compassion-a-tors. Caring for sentient beings.

If I thought anyone was reading these stories, I might have stopped posting but I wouldn’t have stopped writing. Another value inherent in writing; it’s an act with a commit. It has to be done. It’s not a share. It’s a need. Writing has always felt that way to me.

And a Witness to the removal of all that is dependable, not so much for me, but for this beast canine who pushes through with whatever she has left. I’ve recognized what I’ve seen many times in the men and women, the human beings I have accompanied up to and through their deaths.

Not everyone, but many. There is a nobility and steeliness – an occupation of spirit into body-less-ness — as the body releases one function after another when a person moves toward death if death comes at the end of life and knowingly; this I have seen more than not when accompanying people through that passage. The highest yoga. I always felt privileged to accompany people that way, every time, and long ago it has lost its fear for me though as a young man it was a difficult meeting with my own natural death-less-ness.

I mentioned earlier that I have earned whatever I can give by having experienced most everything that comes my way; not death. Death is the one experience that those of us who work around it haven’t experienced to its fullness. We may have stood at the edge, but the edge has held.

Still we have all experienced life in its many deaths in order to birth something new. Some of us more dramatically than others, but all of us are familiar with what it means to lose something to gain something else, to die to life, to let loose of something for something else to rise, etc. We know the algebra of life and death, but it’s not the finality of death as Death.

I can imagine how conscious the deaths I have witnessed have been or not been; there seems to be a consciousness to a point and a semi-consciousness after that and always I take the talmudic dictum seriously, a person dying is due everything the living is due. I take that not in a technical sense but in a consciousness sense: read to him, talk to her, tell her what you haven’t told her before, if there’s anything left to say, say it now, sing to him, read poetry, read your letters, assume he hears every thing, every single thing you are saying washes up on the shore on consciousness or preconsciousness in some way.

Once I was called to the bedside in an emergency of a Russian matriarch. She was in her death bed with her people gathered around her, all of them dressed in their finery, all of them whispering quietly among themselves as she drew her last breaths; so they assumed.

She was in a hospital bed in her apartment. She was propped up and her head on the pillow with her mane of white hair, her drawn face, she looked enchanting. Eyes closed. She was certainly near.

I said the holy prayers then I turned to the group sitting quietly around the room: talk to her, tell her you love her, remind her of your memories, sing to her, speak poetry.

One after another marched to the foot of her bed and in Russian gave a soliloquy, each one lengthy, emotional, and I assume poetic about – my Russian isn’t that good — but every body and soul communication came through clearly.

She lived another two weeks and everyone thought it was a miracle. It was no miracle, it was the softness of the human soul expanding into the places where the body had receded; the soul rising toward its home, in G*dliness, from where it came.

I think about death that way after having experienced it for others so many times. Every now and then there is a restlessness into death, generally from individuals for whom there was a restlessness in life, but mostly something more gentle into that good night, when there is time and inevitability.

So I’m going to end these stories before the seam of Gracie’s death. I will see her through it now that I am released somewhat by these stories, having found a way to sleep a little better, adjusting to this, to that, working through the pull on my heart that her decline means for me, instructed by her animal walk through life, one foot in her water bowl gobbling up the kibble I leave for her in her feed bowl, recognizing in her story many stories, living my own story in my Italianate home in a Milanese suit, a panama hat from Ecuador [Ft. Wayne, Indiana], in front of the screen as I tap tap away when there is nothing – else – for me – to do.

Amen.

jsg, usa

Science Meta-Science

The Science of Caring for Older Sentient Beings
Or: Addiction and the Need for Sleep

The Gracie Stories, part 14

I am watching carefully through these weeks and these stories the adaptations I have to make to care for Gracie the noble beast as she is going through her transitions to the end of the arc of this life; a kind of scientific journal marking my discoveries. I have the greatest respect for pediatricians, patricians [typing error too delicious to delete] neo-natal medicos and veterinarians who do not get verbal responses from their cared-for.

A lot of what I know about my children when they were little or my animals — nobody knows better than me. This I am sure of.

Yesterday morning Gracie got stuck in her palace, couldn’t quite get herself up on her legs. I popped my head in, willing to help her, she looked at me for a moment and in her eyes I read this: give me a moment. So I did and she got up and out and made a nice poo poo right in the middle of the steps down to the grass. She made it outside what the heck.

Gracie is still eating well but she is weakening. She doesn’t even attempt the stairs ascending and needs help on the stairs descending. It takes a moment after she awakes to get her bearings, I think both physically and cognitively, though I may be extrapolating here.

Still, my science is sound I think, as well as my meta-science. This morning I am fixing for her another palace downstairs to hang out in so she doesn’t have to make the stairs up to the second floor where we sleep, it will be better for me too as I don’t sleep when she doesn’t sleep. Gracie, you’re keeping me up all night long.

Every time she re-negotiates her Turkish cell I wake up. She makes a circle in her cell goes back to sleep and I’m up another two hours. And it’s hard, hard for me to go back to sleep. It’s like being in the sleep clinic every night.

I notice also that she doesn’t hold her doodi [Fr.] so well anymore. I have studied that as well, so I guide Gracie out the house right away and this morning I heard myself say: come on girl, don’t let any sh** fall out your ass. This the technical language I have adapted for my home purposes.

The interruption in sleep also stokes my addictions. I disguise the problem by referring to it like sleep-walking, but it’s not like sleep-walking it’s like addiction. I buy stuff on Ebay.

When my daughters cleaned out my shoe shelves they saw I have six pairs of the same black shoe. Why Daddy? I like them. For a long time it was shoes, then pens. Now it’s hats. Bought two last night. Panamas, I’m supposed to be fooled that they were made in Ecuador but I don’t care. That’s exactly the nature of addiction: you want it, you want it now, you don’t care, you lose your restraint.

The hats will arrive, I’ll wear them and swear off Ebay. I need to sleep.

jsg

Poo Poo On My Shoes

Poo Poo On My Shoes

The Gracie Stories, part 13

At the funeral I did several weeks ago I had poo poo on my shoes, several entries back, the cousin and caretaker of the man I buried mentioned that the deceased had one good friend who he hoped would come to the funeral. It seemed important to the cousin that the man might show up. The deceased it seemed lived a sad, desolate life and it felt significant that this one guy, his friend, would show up for the funeral. I asked before we started the service: is his friend here?

No, said the cousin, I was thinking he might come.

I started the prayers and made the holy chants and about ten minutes into it, I saw someone hurrying toward us through the cemetery. He was walking/running like a tattered coat; there was a flailing of arms and legs and an eagerness in his approach. This must be the friend, I thought.

After the holy prayers were said and the casket settled into the grave, we began to shovel the dirt as is the Jewish custom. The friend was eagerly supervising; though no one had designated him to do that, it was sweet.

He whispered to me as he passed me by the grave: he was a great person, he had his problems but he was a great friend. I will miss him. Extremely loyal. A loyal friend, all my life.

He left as abruptly as he arrived. It touched me; the white fire of it, not written whatever this relationship was it was not disclosed to me, but his eagerness in his arrival, his style of entry, his assumption of responsibilities, his departure as abrupt as his arrival – all of it opened to me on a secret of human relations that was not articulate but present in this life that had been described to me in mostly sad and frustrating episodes. Here: a friend.

A few weeks later, I ran into that friend. I noticed him in a place I would have never placed him — I needn’t mention the place as that would needlessly complicate the story – but this was clearly one of his places and he was comfortable and planted there. He didn’t recognize me.

Another chapter of the deceased story cracked open to me, but I didn’t ask, didn’t push the door open on it, just that he had been connected to someone maybe a whole group of people that might not have been known to his family was heartening to me.

It was also the unlikely conflation of worlds; I would have never placed the deceased, from what I had been told of him, and therefore his friend, in this place. It was another unlikely conflation of stories to me that happen and in some ways I am tracking them through these stories and all stories; the arc of stories that intersect and conflate, merge and separate, with delight and surprise I am living in my head or watching from one of my Italianate porches.

Today Mugsie walked by with Lucy. Mugsie lives down the block and Lucy is I guess Mugsie’s new sister, they are both canines, and Gracie left the porch where we are sitting and meeting students and went down and sniffed around them a little. Good for you Gracie, some return to normal; this grand up and down, jumping in jumping out, running and returning (see Ezekiel 1:14) quality of existence. Another good description of writing: to track the ascents and descents.

Passover is over. This is the secret that was whispered to us by our teacher while we were still not-free: the in the out the running the returning the up the down the ascents the descents the near the far: it’s the same. You’re close, you’ll be far. You’re far, you’ll be close. Don’t take it so seriously. You’re in for the ride of your life.

Just fed Gracie on the porch. She ate out of her food bowl with one leg in her water bowl. What the heck. The peace of the near and the far, the in the out.

jsg, usa

Gracie Stories part 12, Ray Charles is Brave

Ray Charles is Brave

I finally slept. A whole night so to speak.

I have never slept. Even as a kid, I had trouble sleeping. I always figured I was just one of those people who didn’t sleep much and I didn’t seem to need much. I did fine for many years on a few hours of sleep and I didn’t think much about it. I acquired a load of degrees, was very diligent in my work and studies, never fell asleep sitting up or driving, etc.

I was also of the school that wherever I stopped I dropped and went to sleep. I used to delight in sleeping in my boots.

I was living on one of the more charming deserts of my beloved country, as far away in geography and ethos as possible from my homeland. I was alone there for a long while and I acquired the habit of curling up under my precious sleeping bag with all my clothes on, even my boots. I never slept as well in my what I call my memory as I slept under that soft old-school sleeping bag with my clothes and boots on. I don’t believe that sleeping bag has ever slept outside not once.

There was something machismo about it for sure and also something, well, dissolute. But not entirely dissolute; I also preferred it. I got up, brushed my teeth, splashed some water on my face and I was out the door. I wasn’t dressing in Milanese suits at the time but I wasn’t a slob either. I thought it was great. I lived like this for what seemed like a long time.

Nowadays when I am serious about sleep or when my sacred partner is out of town I fish out that same sleeping bag and I crawl under it with all the finery intact underneath, boots included.

I feel now the absence of sleep. I went to one of the clinics where they hooked me up — what?! I have a problem sleeping you expect me to sleep with probes on my head — in your bed? It was an absurd exercise for someone who can’t sleep; so they watched me not sleep. The sleep test had an inherent flaw: it was based on observing me sleeping under torture. I snuck some heroin so I could at least catch a few hours [note: I call all sleep aids heroin].

I did get something out of the sleep studies and I am sleeping better than I have probably ever slept in my life. Except these days. I am back to sleeping in my boots wherever I light.

I am listening for Gracie the dog in her cage and my sacred partner on her throne/bed [she has an egg crate foam platform on her side of the bed that lifts her up like a ridge over myself in the valley below] and everyone is sleeping tenderly. I’m plugged in.

Gracie often needs to go out, etc. and when she does she circles her cage like she’s in prison in Turkey and I take her out.

Taking her out has developed into a new routine. She can’t quite negotiate steps; she is overcome by the gravity of descent and she has lost confidence in ascent. So she waits for me at the top of the stairs. I take a slight hold of her collar and guide her down. This works surprisingly well and she submits to it; you can teach an old dog new tricks. It feels like I am helping Ray Charles off the bandstand.

I feed her on the front Italianate porch, covered, and she makes the more gently sloped stairs down to the front forty with relative ease. She stays out there on her own, pretty much pacing the porch and looking out at the world though I know she doesn’t see. She doesn’t hear either. She has never gone anywhere but the front yard though there is no invisible Forbidden Planet business there.

When I bring her in I have to now carry her up the second floor stairs. She just won’t try the stairs anymore by herself. That’s the phase we are in, and as long as I am home we have it worked out.

I am home most of the time.

She used to love to sit on the front porch and watch the world. She never went anywhere but the vicinity but now that she doesn’t see nor does she hear I suppose it’s easy to get disoriented.

The other night late someone showed up at the door with her; he found her wandering around in the middle of the big busy street that is a long block down from my house. He looked familiar to me but I can’t identify him. Is this your dog? He asked. Yes. What’s her name? Ray Charles. Ray Charles was wandering around Hanley Avenue [her name and address is on a collar coin but she is also sporting a nice bandana there these days]. She must have gotten confused and followed someone else down the street.

Still I let her out on the porch and she hasn’t repeated her mistake, though I do check on her more often and always she is pacing the porch stopping to gaze out as she once did though I imagine she doesn’t see much.

Poor Ray Charles, I think. Then there’s the nobility of pushing through when one after another of what is known is taken away. Ray Charles continues on. She eats well, my fingers and hands are recovering, she paces and flops in her palace when she is tired, much like myself, when the day is done with me, with my boots on.

I Become Food

I Become Food

Grace stories part 11

Yesterday was my Dad’s yahrzeit and my beloved brother and I met at the shul and said the holy kaddish for Harry. We didn’t talk much, we sat together and prayed. We’re brothers; what’s to say.

He was closer to Harry in some ways than I was. Harry always said he wasn’t going to make the same mistakes with my [little] brother that he made with me, and to his credit, he was much more involved with my brother than he was with me in our growing up. Harry often apologized to me on Father’s Day, in a rather formal way, something he felt he had to say but it hurt me that he felt that way. I couldn’t have loved him more in my mind and whatever mistakes he made passed me by. G*d knows I made a load of them in my little life.

Earlier in the day while taking Gracie into the pen I had a dog cookie in my hand and she mistook my hand for the cookie and clamped her canine jaw down on it and it hurt like hell and I couldn’t extract it for a long moment. I put her in the pen and began to bleed like crazy; she had the vice grips on my hand. Her jaw is strong; doggies are built to tear apart non-kosher flesh and she returned to praeternatural food gathering for a moment.

I bound up my middle finger on my right hand, the one that expresses my take on existence if left to my own unsocialized self, and went on with the day. I’ve had only interrupted sleep these last days and I was grumpy the entire day. Both my daughters and my sacred partner required or at least asked me to serve them, I did, but by the time of the evening prayers for Harry, my finger was throbbing and swelled and everyone I encountered got the authentic finger f**k you. I meant it.

My beloved brother saw my finger and when I told him the story he wrote me a script for antibiotic and told me what can happen when a canine bites that deeply into something like a finger. He explained what he learned dissecting a hand in medical school and how quickly an infection can spread up the tendons, etc., and then I would have a serious problem. I already knew as I had imagined it driving down Delmar the other day, wondering what sort of guitar for the left hand I could play, remembering Ravel who was commissioned by Wittgenstein’s older brother to write him a concerto after he lost his right arm in World War I – this in what I call my mind.

My brother is smart, an excellent scientist as well as a true person of compassion, he is in my mind the doctor equivalent of Atticus the lawyer. I listen to him. I went and filled the script and started the antibiotic right away. He generally doesn’t treat me but I could tell he thought this was serious enough to get on it right away. Man it hurt too.

I met everyone I knew waiting at the pharmacy, to all f**k you and I didn’t explain.

The compassion flagon was hard hard to refill; I was tapped. Gracie ate my hand, everybody wanted a different food, it was Passover, etc., though I made one of the best pieces of salmon I’ve ever eaten that my son and his girl dug into when they returned from the movies. Nice baked potato – simple, good fare. Salad.

I am preparing to go to the prison house this week. I generally bring a seder in a box with me during Passover; it’s peak experience. The offenders speak eloquently on all the implications of freedom, inner and outer. I wrote an Haggadah that treats the Passover experience as a ritual of inner liberation: on Purim we become one with each other, on Passover we become one with ourselves. This year I am taking a journalist with me and don’t know how to explain stopping to visit the camel.

How fragile the compassionate response is – so easy to dissipate. I thought I was immune. Even sleep can deplete the compassion reserves. I used to sleep in my boots wherever I lit; I’ve returned to those days and it’s not so terrible. At least I’m not sleeping in my car.

I put on a nice Hickey Freeman suit, established 1899, in order to get a tetanus shot. Jacob Freeman and Jeremiah Hickey, Rochester New York, they called their building The Temple. I bought the suit in Detroit, nicely tailored by Abraham the Lebanese artiste, etc., midnight blue worsted wool, gold pocket fold from Italy. Vintage.

giacomo buonomo

Bundle of Crazy

How do you tell an old dog to go back to sleep

The gracie stories part 10

I was in the midst of REM sleep Bosch dream when I head the click clack of Gracie’s nails on our floor; she must have pushed her way out of her heikhal/cage. I jumped up and helped her down the hallway and down the stairs, outside into the dark (still dark just before dawn I forget what the Talmud calls this part of the night/morning, it is parsed much more carefully than night morning etc., chatzot is more like midnight and according to Nachman it is the most holy time).

She went down gently sloped stairs into the grass and pee’d and I waited and what the heck, filled her bowl outside with water and put some nice doggie kibble in it and realized I was in my underwear having fallen asleep in a fever that way. It was cold last night. While Gracie was on the lawn I went inside and wrapped myself in a blanket on the couch, all this I marked in what I call my mind this way: none of this could happen if I was living in my car. This was not residue from my dream, just the way I think.

When I was toasty and certain I would not return to sleep I went out and retrieved her, brought her back upstairs and with a biscuit returned her to the cage-palace intending for the both of us to return to sleep. It was still deep dark though the birdies were beginning to stir.

Tonight is my Dad’s yahrzeit; 23 years ago he passed away in a hospital in Detroit held by my beloved brother. I couldn’t be there; my daughter had been in the hospital, just released I believe or maybe still in the hospital, I can’t remember now. It’s one of the regrets: I couldn’t be there. It pulls at me.

None of my kids remember my parents too well, they were all little. Another regret and they don’t ask about them that much so I don’t say anything. I wonder if they would be startled if they asked me: how much to do you think of them? Every day. If that would get their attention like it did me when I asked my father the same question.

In some ways, I idealize my parents both their faults and their gifts I am sure. They are like the old Temple for me; they no longer exist except in this grand idealization that was and I return to in dreams; the more I thought about it the more I realized that when I married into another family I received their bundle of crazy which made me long even more for my own bundle of crazy that had passed. Or so I thought.

The more I thought it through the more I know that I carry my own family’s bundle of crazy with me wherever I go; no need to idealize, no need to idealize at all I am my mother I am my father I am that whole bundle of crazy I grew up with and when I need a fix I call someone or look in the mirror. Thus, my children needn’t ask and I have jettisoned the responsibility to explain. They know from me being their father just where I came from. My wandering Arameans are wandering around inside me and wandering around the house with me and when I leave, they wander out there too.

Pop, tonight I will say the holy prayers on your behalf and that I am you does not diminish one jot the gratitude I feel for you as my father. You gave me everything; especially that dreamy saudade, I got it most from you.

Where did you get it? That’s Levi Yitzchak’s question, freedom: when does it begin? It’s an infinitely regressible concept.

I fell back asleep for a few hours, an hour maybe, someone let Gracie back in and she made it up the stairs herself. I put her in her cage palace, asked her gently to get some sleep, I’m tired Gracie, please go to sleep for a while. Dream up.

jsg, usa

This and This

This and This

The Gracie Stories, part 9

She holds her leg up when I retrieve her from the Italiano dog pen next to my palatial estate, just as she used to when she was little and about to launch after a rabbi or a rabbit or a squirrel in the yard. Rabbits are bunnies after they cease being charming, rabbis generally are heavy of tongue and expositors of conventional wisdom and entered this story with a mistake of the keyboard, squirrels for international readers are large rodents that look cute but aren’t.

In Hebrew squirrels are sna-eem; from a root that signifies they are hated once you get to know them. They make their homes in attics and eat all the wires of the house until the house short circuits. Then they take over with legions of co-animalists who await the darkness. It is unknown as of this writing where they sleep at night. They live wherever one lets them. I had a neighbor once who shot them with what used to be called a squirrel rifle; he has been gone for years and what happened to him I hesitate to imagine.

Now and again I see Gracie return to a posture of her youth, just as I remember my mom and grandmother did in their old age when recent memories eluded them but a person place or thing long buried in the past rose as if it were present in front of them. Gracie doesn’t see and she doesn’t hear but one of the wild orange cats of the neighborhood still gets a rise out of her now and again and the tensing of muscles as if she were about to chase after as she once did. I love this and find it not sad exactly but that word I learned in Portuguese from the Italian writer Tabucci who passed away last week: saudade, as in nostalgia, wistfulness, a yearning for what is lost, evanescent and perhaps unattainable.

I am nodding to my own Portuguese Jewish pause in our exilic journey to the New World by acknowledging an emotion that overcomes many others in my feeling pack; saudade what my friend the Lily the Queen reminds me has an approximate in Hebrew: er-gah, with an ayin.

It is Sunday second day of Passover and I am sitting on the porch with Gracie pacing. I just finished with a student and Gracie ate a meat dog jerky and seems almost oblivious to the surroundings but I notice the release of heat in the air brings her some extra energy. It is cool today. She paces and looks better than yesterday.

She has had a way of reviving through the last several years so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised though it is clear how uncertain she is on her legs. I have learned to accompany her up and down the steps with just my hand on her collar and this seems to help; when I am impatient I carry her up the stairs but I don’t really have to right now. I yield to my own impatience and I know this is the way with all care-givers (see nomen professionalis in a previous entry) whether taking care of old mommas or old doggies. Patience. Relax into patience.

I mentioned in an earlier post how deep my meditations have been with the group I have been sitting with, that continues and I am sure the relation with a deepening meditation practice and a deeper well of patience in my care-taking are joined in the geometry of the giving self when self recedes and giving ascends.

Last night we offered up a second seder for the folks at the Covenent House. There was a woman sitting right near me who just celebrated her hundredth birthday. She told me she couldn’t see well enough to read the Haggadah and I didn’t know how closely she was listening.

During the part of the Haggadah when we discussed the Wandering Aramean section, I am always struck by the telegraphic notion of bringing the first fruits to the Kohen, after all that to take a little something of what you have grown to the priest, give it to him, then tell him your whole complex story, you and your ancestors, in a single paragraph. “My father was a wandering Aramean. . .” etc., one paragraph what a skill it is to express oneself that way. I could talk for two days straight and not express my tale, this in a paragraph. Hemingway would struggle with it but not Homer and not the little Jew who brought some vegetables and fruits to the High Priest after having walked out of Egypt through the Wilderness and into the Land and grown something to survive on.

Just after the Wandering Aramean segment, the one hundred year old lady who reminded me of my own Grandma Ida, my Daddy’s mother long ago passed, took a plate of goodies and mounted her walker and told me she had to leave but not before she stopped on her way out to whisper to me her story, a hundred years of it, in a paragraph.

Haggadah means a telling, the root is n-g-d: to be against, set against, this and that to tell by means of this and that, but there is no that. It’s always this and this.

jsg, usa

Sin Ancia y dolor

Without Anxiety or Pain

Gracie Stories, part 8

We played a gig at the Covenant House last night, old folks home on the campus of the Jewish center here, and the director has an idea to bring people from the community into the center so it’s not isolated. I understand her philosophy now and I realize how wise it is. The room was electric.

The concert was devoted to one of the four stories I tell/sing from the Sarajevo series: this one on the Sarajevo Haggadah.

The mix of the people elevated everyone: residents of the Covenant House, those who came to hear the concert from the community, the Bosnians who showed up, a few others who were equally obsessed with the mystery tale of the Sarajevo Haggadah as I have been.

I brought two copies of the Haggadah with me: facsimile editions prepared in Sarajevo, one in the early Eighties I prefer and one more recent. I pointed out a few features of the Haggadah: the miniature paintings with which it begins, its colors, sienna red, bold blues, bright copper, the wine spills, the signature of the Catholic censor when it passed through Italy, the crests of the Kingdom of Aragon that gives us a clue to its origin in the 14th century, the doodles, the mysterious dark lady who sits at the seder table, Rabban Gamaliel teaching with a whip in his hand, the piyyutim/poems at the end, the beautiful handwritten Sephardic tilt of the script, I tried to show it off in the editions I had brought with me.

Then the Brothers and I started to jam. First we played the holy tunes that this story began for me: a set of maybe six or seven tunes my teacher had taught me that he had picked up from Sarajevo. I knew from the moment I learned these tunes, over thirty years ago, that they were special and the environment from where they arose was something I needed to know about. Now I do, though circumstances have prevented me from ever visiting there.

We then launched into the narrative poem/song I had written in the voice of the Haggadah, singing and scatting and jamming our way through the mysterious tale of the Sarajevo Haggadah. It was delightful.

There is a woman who lives at the Covenant House and comes to all my gigs. She’s a survivor. The first time I met her she said some things that were startling and beautiful, life-changing if one were to truly live them, about the deepest subjects. Every time I see her, she speaks large. How can a person become accustomed to such talk?

Last night the Brothers had their first experience with her. I eavesdropped on her big talk with these young guys who are sensitive and humble enough to hear it. Signs and wonders, it was just what we were singing about: signs and wonders. It’s what she always talks about; living in signs and wonders. She crawled out the pit of the world and this is what she talks about.

My favorite song for Passover is an elevated melody from Sarajevo that matches the most pedestrian midrashic text about numbers and plagues and blood with an incandescent melody. It’s not the melody of this song that has captured me; it’s the melody attached to the text, the text and the melody in the perfect mix like the perfect sauce transformed by the blend of ingredients. You cannot imagine melody and text joined in this way, but when you can, every experience is transformable in this same way.

Gracie unstable on her feet. She has some confusion about outside and inside activities. Still she eats everything placed in front of her and tonight I will sleep sin ancia y dolor, without anxiety or pain, another of the songs we sang last night. Alma vida y Corazon: soul, life, and Heart.

Jumping In, Jumping Out

Jumping In Jumping Out

Gracie Stories, part 7

Not a good night for sleeps. My reading schedule has fallen off though the Kindle helps and when that’s too remote, I have an app on my phone and the story of Hannah Arendt and Heidegger can be read on a phone too.

Heidegger was handsome, everyone agrees, dark eyes, etc. His wife more vocally anti-Semitic than he was (after all he was making it with Hannah when she was a student in his class and for many years after) it’s a curious story. How in the hell could such a mind join the Party.

I sent a great piece off to a couple of magazines. I even got a response from an editor at the New York Times Magazine to whom I sent it by mistake. But hell – a response from the New York Times — nice.

Gracie spent a quiet night in her lair but I guess I am listening for her so it interrupts my sleep-ful-ness. I’ve always been this way.

This morning I left the house with the feeling I have had several times in my Life: the desire to walk into an unfamiliar place and ask for help from people I have never met. Magical thinking. Can you help me? I may be the only one who can. Thus begins the story.

I shook it off and continued up Delmar Blvd, thinking what if I lost my right hand and couldn’t play the guitar? Could I figure out my pieces with just my left hand? This in what I call my mind.

A guy encountered me at the coffee shop where I was grabbing 20 minutes writing this and I could see him reading my piece on the screen as we were talking and I was embarrassed for a second, then what the f**k.

I’ve been meditating with a group of people and I’ve had two experiences in a row of deep deep meditation. In both I was visited by my father.

My father passed during Passover more than 20 years ago and I guess I am more aware of him during these days, but more than that he visits me when I am learning something new. I once asked him if he thinks of his mother, long after she died. Every day, he said.

Wednesday night I am playing the Sarajevo Haggadah story with my new friends. I’ve practiced the unfamiliar material, playing in new ways, and it seems when I am sitting and practicing is when he most shows up. He has showed up twice in these deep meditations, a kind of leil shimurim as it is referred to in the Torah, night of conscious watching – me for Harry, Harry for me. I felt him so strongly and it was more than a feeling it was his sensibility, his listening presence to what I was giving.

He had passed before he heard my music or read much of my writing but he reappears. Now in these meditations.

The midrash quoted in Me’am Loez; G*d hovers over every living thing and demands: grow. Gracie weakening, my heart tearing new pieces, the response to grow – a single simple directive feeling my G*d hovering over me and my father hovering within me – one making a simple demand the other luxuriating in the sound of new material the deeper reach of the season too that is called Raza/the secret of the Passing Through or Passing Over or as I prefer the Jumping In Jumping Out.

It’s all the same to me, our teacher says, near and far, in and out, close and distant. He whispered this in Egypt, by the way, before the whole journey started.

I offered up my distance and isolation from everything I love the most, raised a sweet savor and G*d, as it were, descended into the pit. Somewhere in between we meet.

It Is What It Is

the Gracie Stories, part 6

A difficult day; too hot to leave Gracie outside today, I let her out in the morning, helped her down to the grass and into the pen next to my Italiano home, let her hang out there an hour or two with a couple of delicious meaty chews, brought her back in. She was worn out, I had to carry her inside and she didn’t finish one of the meaty chews. First time.

I called the veterinarian who is sympathetic and helped me through the passage of my last noble beast, the great Wallie mighty bulldog, who lived long and well until the last day of her life. Yom Kippur. I asked the vet’s assistant to have him call me back. About what? She asked.

I want to talk to him about. . .I don’t know the language. . .I’m generally quick with words but I couldn’t get the words out from under my tongue. I wanted to say euthanasia but that didn’t come out, put her down or whatever that expression is always seemed so artificial to me I don’t believe I’ve ever uttered those words, I want to hold her on my lap while the life ebbs out of her is what I was thinking but I just couldn’t say it. I understand, she said, I’ll have him call you back.

I put Gracie upstairs where it was cooler [it’s 90 degrees today here in Paradise] and went on my way to do some shop shop for the coming holiday. I am an able and quick shopper. I know the grocery stores like a frog knows the pond, as Plato used to say. I know exactly where everything is and just what I want. I can load up a sophisticated mid-size SUV imported from Detroit full of groceries in half an hour — tops.

I went to the local mega-store last night too, late enough when I wouldn’t have to deal with any traffic, hurtled my way through and made most of my Passover purchases. The lady at the check-out was impressed at my skill and also commented on my elegant Milanese fashion; I have taken to wearing suspenders and do not dare go out of the house without the complete attire — natty straw fedora, a very tasteful red iridescent tie, vintage, that I found and stole off of ebay, one of the suits I purchased in Detroit and had tailored by my personal team of Lebanese couturiers.

I was meeting with someone later that day about some grant requests I am recommending and my veterinarian called. I have to take this.

I went outside and told him that Gracie was declining. When it’s time, I said all in euphemism and innuendo, I want to come over when there’s not a lot of people; in the evening if I could, come and go quietly if you don’t mind. He assured me that however I wanted this to happen, he would help me.

I returned to my meeting. Finished it and bought my sacred partner a sandwich without bread, it is wrapped in lettuce or something, it’s not Passover yet but we are all starting to think this way and when I got home Gracie was snoozing quietly in her lair. Hot outside, good to be inside. So – did we snatch away another day?

My sweetheart gave me a nice plant someone brought over, it was drooping and she asked me to put it out in the sun. I did and as I am sitting here tap tapping away I can see the plant reviving in front of my eyes. How I have missed these mysteries of life, death, resurrection that are all around me in the most natural within-nature ways is overwhelming me. I am in Italy as I sit on my upper porch, of course, which adds I think to my sensitivity to natural law and beauty.

I am in love with life on life’s terms. Bring it on, yours truly, Giacomo Buonomo