Cuba Journal: The Stories Were Over


The Stories Were Over

By this time it was dark on the road from Havana to Trinidad. Almost pitch dark, the last vestige of a long day slipping away, the road had narrowed and we were all tired and hungry, a bit weary from the hours of bus travel. Quiet on the bus.

Staring out into the countryside of former tobacco farms, sugar plantations, modest country houses, I was dreaming into near-sleep bumping along after what seemed a long ride on the Chinese-made Yutong bus (the wa-wa).

I was dreaming out onto the road into the gathering night in whatever country we were moving through, I had reached a road weariness enough to require a pause and a calculation: where am I?

Cuba. Small road from Cienfuegos, the largest city in the province of Cienfuegos on the southern coast of Cuba, founded by the French in the early nineteenth century, to Trinidad, the World Heritage site founded in the sixteenth century, in the Sancti Spiritus province.

It was also the dissonance of being so close to home and so far, ninety miles from the Florida Keys did not make sense in the isolation of this island that had been this remote for this long in our imaginations. A dozen times a day I reminded myself of the proximity of this island to our land mass to the north; it made no intuitive sense to be that close to the United States and to have the history that we have with each other.

The possibility now for the geography and the politics to conform to geographical reality signifies an especially wondrous time to be here; there is the opening, for the first time in my adult life-time anyway, to a narrowing of the ocean of ideology that separates Cuba form the United States. Ninety miles at its narrowest point to Key West makes no intuitive sense, Havana to Miami 230 miles. It’s 230 miles from where I live in St Louis to Indianapolis.

I was dreaming something like this when Reb Shlomo intruded into what I call my mind and drew me into another reality entirely: it’s the 16th day of the Hebrew month of Heshvan, are you going to remember my yahrzeit [anniversary of passing] this year? You’ve marked my yahrzeit with a story and a concert for at least ten years, it is now winding out on my 21st yahrzeit and no mention of me?

I checked my phone calendar and sure enough whatever spiritus-sancti clock ticks away in the soul had rung and awakened me to the notion that in a few minutes his yahrzeit would pass and I had not marked the event in the respectful way.

But I was on a bus in the gathering dark of rural Cuba. What the heck. I grabbed the microphone and launched, evoking the minority opinion: when you don’t know what to do, launch anyway. I asked permission. Permission granted.

I told a [brief] version of the story that had expanded over the years into at least ten chapters, the story I call: How Shlomo Gave Me My Name. The story in all its forms has been published in a small journal in Israel for at least ten years, every year I think the stories are over and every year another chapter erupts. Irrupts.

I had written another chapter for this year’s journal and though it had been published, I had not received my copies from Israel and it slipped my mind, the Shlomo saga, besides I am in Cuba and in the gathering gloom of whatever rural roadway I was traveling lulled me to dull on this the 16th of Heshvan, 5776 since the creation of the world as we reckon time, that ticked away when I realized sitting in the wa-wa next to my ya-ya that Shlomo’s twenty first yahrzeit had passed without a thought a mention a word a melody an acknowledgement of any kind.

I launched and with the help of the Chinese microphone in the dark told the [abbreviated] story of how Shlomo gave me my name, a story of truth with miraculous qualities called a memorat as defined for me by my teacher Dov Noy.

The only part of the story I laid out on was the romance aspect of the tale, as it is the locus of meeting between my beloved and myself in our early days as students in Jerusalem occupying the very place where Shlomo lived years before she and I met.

I also mentioned the difficult parallel story of the light-dark nature of the tale. The story is not all light all over, but my beloved and I were joined into the Shlomo story in a unique and sentimental way that I mentioned in passing but did not dwell on.

Many of the chapters of the story as it would play out over the years since retained those qualities of tale told and tale hidden, text and sub-text, what we call the hidden and the revealed. I told the revealed story with a nod to the hidden story for the careful listener.

Over the days after the telling, several people took me aside and shared with me features of the story that touched them the most, and some even with additions onto the Shlomo motif that added something to my own understanding of his living and his dying and the impact he has had on generations who survive him.

A feeling began to stir within me that had stirred several times before, one I recognize from being a repository and a contributor to the art of Story: I had thought the Shlomo stories were over. I felt another chapter rising from giving over the most recent version.

Several months ago I had told my editor in Israel, I think the Shlomo stories are over. Maybe not.