essays tzaddik stories

yahrtzeit for the tzaddik

Do I still get to cry?

The first year ends, and I’ve been living the dying over and over. Actually, it all started two years ago with her. And I just couldn’t get over it, and then, wham — the tzaddik is ill, the tzaddik is terminal, the tzaddik is gone.

I think it’s time to pack up the tears, and see what I can do about the black circles under my eyes.

Narayan Singh Khalsa (aka Michael Lincoln) says that everything important about us is written on our faces. That someone astute can just look at us and know what we’ve done and what we’ve been through. And then he would tell us. Okay, it was always in his cryptic symbology, but once you got used to his languaging, he really did make sense.

But I never believed him. Until now.

I hit the wrong key on my keyboard last week and punched up the PhotoBooth thingy which I didn’t know was there. So that led to a couple hours of wasted time playing with the function, only to discover that Narayan had been right all along.

Look at those eyes!


Grief so embedded that I don’t know how to undo it at all. A graven image of grief. The rest of the body speaks the same language, of course. But I can’t stand going any further than the eyes. That’s scary enough for the present.

So, I’m wondering. If I focus on changing this picture of the self, will the grief go away?

If I can find a ‘happy-thought’ —

If I can make the body not hurt —

If this, if that … go to the gym, hike more miles each day… maybe become a vegetarian… then the face will change again, right? The body too?

But the grief doesn’t go away, does it? The pit in my stomach? The emptiness carved deep inside me?

I’ve heard that expression, “you look like you’ve aged 10 years…” and now I know what it looks like.

Okay, so this is my self-indulgent thought on this yahrtzeit of my father’s. Interesting that I’m not spending the time praising him, talking about how much I miss him, about his brilliance, his protection, his wisdom, his goodness. Pining. Moaning.

The tzaddik. The tzaddik is gone. He’s not even in my dreams, anymore.

No, this is me talking about me, instead.

No, this is the old, chin up, shoulders back, stiff-upper-lip, suck it in, suck it up, get a hold of yourself, stop the crap, stop the whining, stop, STOP, STOP!!

Yahrtzeit. One year. The first year. The first visit to the cemetery. Deal with a stone, a plaque. Move my sister to rest with my dad. Get organized. Take care of business.

Say goodbye.


Maybe not.

I keep wondering if it’s time to remember the living. To remember that I’m living. And not just in a nightmare of dealing with the aftermath.

No more self-indulgence.

This is what ritual was invented for. This is why we have something called Yahrtzeit. Why we light candles at prescribed times. Why we say Kaddish. Why saying Kaddish helps. Why hard-liner atheists have a rougher time of it than people who are calmed by ritual. Not that ritual has anything necessarily to do with belief. But they do seem to go hand in hand often enough.

What might be a good atheist ritual to ease the pain of loss? Surely there’s some rational way of letting go the grief. And I’m not talking meds, here. Nor shrinks of any denomination. No. This is not pathology. It’s just the life cycle.

Maybe what helps most is to turn my head eastward. To Brooklyn, of all places. To watching my kids thrive. So, okay kids, I’m facing your direction, more than I’ve done all year. I’m not placing this at your feet exactly, I just want you to help me laugh. I don’t need grandchildren (god forbid). Just a little laughter.

Oh. And it’s not all on you.

I’ve got work to do. Time to get back at it. My work. Not just everybody else’s.

Okay bootstraps, this is me pulling, pulling hard…

Answer to question at top of page: Enough is enough. And I’ll check in with a mirror a year from now and see what I’ve written upon my own face.

By mira

Mira Z. Amiras is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies and founder of the Middle East Studies Program at San Jose State University. She is past-president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and has served on the Executive Council of the American Anthropological Association. She is co-founder, with Ovid Jacob, of Beit Malkhut, a study group in Jewish sacred text. She's most attached to the creatures of her body and her household — first and foremost, her kids, of course: Michael and Rayna — and then the other folks large and small of various species, including Roshi and Vlad, a whole lot of hummingbirds, the old parrot who lives next door, and a beautiful garden that does what it will.

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