Saturday, August 12, 2006

My Afterlife: A Yiddishe Twilight Zone

Let’s speculate a little bit, eh? What if there exists, in spite of my prolonged and vehement protestations to the contrary, an afterlife of sorts? And what if the governing principle of this afterlife is not to induce punishment per se, but a cruel and well-placed irony designed to shake off the dross of what we decide is best for ourselves? What would my personal hell consist of? I think I found the answer.

In the opening scene of my much unexpected afterlife, I awaken to find myself being just my same old heretical, leave-me-alone self. I am not even certain at this point that I am dead. Nothing seems different at all from the reality of yesterday. I get up from the bed, wobble to the bathroom, brush my teeth to rid myself of morning breath, then slip into a wrinkled pair of khaki shorts and any one of a dozen paint-stained tee shirts that litter my bedroom floor. My cat rushes past me, happily brushing herself along my ankle as she goes; her calico tail trailing off from view as she heads for the open bedroom window and to her daily dose of feline freedom. I check the clock and start planning my day. I plan to do nothing at all.

The habitual comfort of mundane routine is suddenly shattered by a loud knock at the door. As I peer through the window, I see two older men standing next to each other in the driveway, both staring directly at me through the un-curtained window, as a third man, equal in stature to the others, stands at my doorstep. I open the door rather cautiously, wondering who these men are and why they are bothering me, of all people, this early in the morning. I am not used to having my ritual interrupted. I muse to myself that perhaps their car broke down or they are lost.

As I step out from behind the door a coarse and raspy voice calls out from the driveway. “Hey you. Reb Yid! Moshe here needs a minyan to say Kaddish and you are number ten! Do a mitzvah and help him out.” Damn! How did they manage to find me? After spending my whole life avoiding shuls, minyanim, and mitzvos these guys somehow figured out that I was Jewish and, much to my further amazement, also knew I wouldn’t refuse them; if only out of respect for the deceased and the man who was grieving a lost loved one. So I changed clothes and followed the men to their shul. “A mitzvah, if just once in while never hurts” I tell myself. Helping out feels good, too, and we don’t always get the choice of how we will be of assistance.

Soon enough, I am at home again and back in my khakis, but without the shirt or shoes this time around. I am settled in at my computer, smoking a fresh pipe of tobacco and writing some thoughts on socialism and Spinoza. I forget about time and I’m becoming once again deeply comfortable and blissfully oblivious to the goings on around me. This is my happy place; the Epicurean garden where the simplest of actions take the form of quietude and unconscious meditative experience. I am quiet. I am alone, and I have not a care in world. The beer is cold and the breeze is nice. My time is my own and I am in heaven. Or so it seems.

Perhaps less than one half hour later, however, I am jolted back into harsh reality by yet another sharp knock at the front door. As I approach the foyer and look out the window, I see, as before, two old men standing in my driveway. “Again?” I ask myself, “This is getting weird.” These two old men are not the same two men as before but they have the same posture and plaintive, but firm, expressions. I did not, however, recognize them as being members of the minyan I attended just a few minutes prior. They obviously wanted something from me and their demeanor suggested they wouldn’t be leaving without it. The third man, already at the door and eagerly reaching his hand out to mine says “Hey you! Reb Yid! Chaim over there needs a minyan to say kaddish and you are number ten! Do a mitzvah and help him out.” His words played like a bad case of déjà vu in ears still ringing from the earlier debacle.

Rather than readily concede to their demands, as I had the first time around for ‘Moshe’ and his minyan, I politely, whilst staving off the appearance of upset at being bothered, inquired “Excuse me, but isn’t there someone else that can help you out? I am, after all, not interested in being part of your minyan or doing any mitzvos. I gave that up long ago. Besides, isn’t there someone that you could borrow from that other minyan?” The old man looked back at me at me with a very quizzical expression, kind of like the way a person stares around you when you claim to have seen ghouls, goblins, or flying saucers and doesn’t know how to respond. The old man then neared himself to me and in a whispered tone, as if speaking to a child or simpleton replied “What other minyan? We are the only ones here.”

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