by Frank Pauc
This first appeared in Frank’s blog on January 1, 2022, as “What Do I Do Now.?”It is republished here with the author’s permission.
“Be here now.” – Ram Dass
A few flakes of powdery snow fell from the sky to settle on to the shoulders of the people standing at the gravesite. It was cold. A man wearing a fedora pulled his overcoat closer to himself. Everybody wore something on their head. A couple men only had yarmulkes as head covering. The ground was frozen, and a light wind ruffled the top of a tent that had been set up for family and guests.
I think of that day as I carry Asher in my arms. It’s cold today too. I got up dark and early to care for our one-year-old grandson. I am watching over Asher so that my wife, Karin, can a get a bit more sleep.
The funeral was only three days ago. It was the second funeral for me in as many weeks. Ellis died after a long struggle with cancer. His death came as no surprise, but it still hurt. I am not sure how Ellis felt about me, but I loved the man.
Asher plays with his blocks and his little trucks. I sit on the living room floor with him, observing how his tiny hands move quickly and with dexterity. His fine motor skills improve with each day, with each passing hour. The boy scatters his toys throughout the house. Later, I will pick them all up to give Asher the opportunity to do it all over again.
The rabbi explained at the beginning of the service that the “levaya,” that is the funeral, comes from the word to “escort”. He told all of us gathered that the levaya consists of two parts: we first escort Ellis to the next life, and then we escort his family to their period of mourning. Our job was to give Ellis a proper burial, to send him on his way to Hashem.
I am feeding Asher a banana. He loves bananas. He is shoveling in the pieces of fruit with both hands. He is hungry and apparently ambidextrous. He loves food. He savors it. When Asher eats, he is in the moment. nothing else matters.
Each of Ellis’ family members shoveled earth onto his coffin. The members of the family recited the mourner’s kaddish. Then all of us there formed two lines facing each other. We formed a path for the members of Ellis’ family to walk as they left the grave to go to their cars.
Rabbi Dinin said, “We are now going to escort Jane and her family as they go to grieve for Ellis. You don’t need to say anything to them as they pass by. There are no right words or wrong words to say. Just be there for them. Just be there.”
We spoke softly to the family as they walked past us. Perhaps they heard me say, “Be at peace.” Maybe not. I did what I could.
There is a fundamental question is Zen: “How can I help?” It is not a riddle like: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” It is an eminently practical question. We ask ourselves this question continuously. Zen meditation enables a person to recover the innate ability to know what to do moment to moment. We rediscover our way to intuitively know how to help.
The answer to the question is often simple, but seldom easy. Sometimes it means taking control of a situation. Sometimes it means getting out of the way. Sometimes the answer calls for gentleness. Sometimes, as any soldier knows, the answer may even require an act of violence. However, we know what must be done, and we are able to do it if we choose.
I have just put Asher down for a nap. I held him close to me until he fell asleep. I had no need to look at him. I could feel his breathing slow down, and I could feel his whole body relax. Asher is at peace.
After Ellis’ family got to their vehicles, I walked away. I glanced back at Ellis’ grave. He too is at peace.