At the cemetery, in accordance with Jewish tradition, my father and brothers threw spades full of dirt onto the coffin—I demurred—and then the workmen filled the grave. It struck me as somehow barbaric and mind-boggling to stand there while they actually buried Anita.
In the car going home, I sat beside my mother. "Life is a dream," she said. "My mother used to tell me that."
A mourning candle marked with a Jewish star flickered on my stove. As the days passed, I wondered if it was possible to return to the way I'd lived: drifting. I recalled how once, when Anita was already housebound, I'd asked what she was up to. She'd just ordered a box of pens with the inscription This is the day which the Lord has made. Rejoice and be glad in it.
At the end of seven days, Orthodox Jews blow the candle out. I inhaled and blew—it felt like blowing out Anita's own soul, like releasing her to her new world, and being expelled back to the quotidian. I took a slow walk around my Brooklyn block, and saw for the first time that even the street of throbbing, filthy diesel trucks held something sacred.
Ordinary life subsumed me after that, but only up to a point. Soon I sat my husband down and told him about the hollow places in our marriage—and our relationship gained energy; the life force flowed back in. I became more nurturing of my writing students, and made it a higher priority to spend time with my parents.
What a relief to hear a wake-up call at last! I only wish it hadn't taken the loss of my sister to rouse me. How much better to discover life's evanescence without the parachute failure or some other calamity. Why wait for a near-death experience when life itself is a near-death experience? I wish someone had told me: You're allowed to hear the call even if the crisis happened to someone else. Life is always a risk, never a possession. Anita, who contemplated ultimate things, could have told me that. Baby, as she might say, when it's over, it's over. This is it, my pet pachooch! Better live in a way that inspires rejoicing.
We Hear You!