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Thursday, September 16, 2004

From the "Inscribed in the Book of Life?" department:

OK, it's Rosh Hashana. Am I going to go to shul today? No. Am I getting together with family? No, but I'm going to make some calls tonight after getting back from school. However, I'm doing a lot of thinking about Rosh Hashana related stuff thanks to an odd coincidence.

There's now only one remaining original member of the Ramones left. Johnny Ramone died yesterday. It's weird...first Joey dies, then DeeDee, then Johnny. Leaving only Tommy Ramone, the drummer. It seems like quite a few people from the original Punk Rock wave have died...Joe Strummer of The Clash also comes to mind. End of the Century indeed.

I have been aware of the impermanence of life pretty early on. My father was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis when I was 8 years old. People tried to hide it from me, but it's hard to hide facts from a precocious little girl with a voracious appetite for reading. I knew what happened to Lou Gehrig. He got sick and died. I had no idea who Stephen Hawking was so I had no reason for a slim hope that my father could live for decades after the diagnosis, albeit in an inert, useless body. (Stephen Hawking was diagnosed in 1963, the year of my birth, and is still among the living. Some dispute whether or not his affliction is ALS because of his continued survival.)

The references in the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur liturgies to "The Book of Life," and being inscribed therein, had a frightening edge after that. Would my dad be inscribed in the Book Of Life, or would he be taken this year? Would my mom? Would I be? There was a point where I had very real anxiety during the whole stretch of one year's High Holy Days whether or not I'd have my name written in God's magic book. I might have even had the first panic attack I ever experienced during that time.

Remember, my parents were very assimilated and we attended first the Reform Jewish temple that my paternal grandparents were members of, and then later on the Reform temple that my uncle belonged to. None of us ever became members of any congregation for ourselves. We were classic "High Holy Days Jews"...roughly akin to the Christians who only attend Church on Easter Sunday and Christmas Eve. Nobody on either side of my family were hardcore.

Looking at my life now, the season speaks to me more in Zen Buddhist terms than anything else...the awareness of the impermanence of life. It's the opening lines of the Japanese classic "The Tale of the Heike Clan" that speak to me more nowadays.

The sound of the bell of the shrine of Gion echoes the impermanence of all things. The hue of the flowers of the teak tree declares that they who flourish must be brought low. The proud ones are but for a moment, like a daydream in spring. The strong are destroyed in the fullness of time, they are but dust in the wind.

Come to think of it, there's a strain of Jewish thought that sounds an awful lot like that...Ecclesiastes comes to mind here. Nothing is permanent, everything is mutable, everything changes. To everything (Turn! Turn! Turn!) there is a season.

Anyway, I feel the impermanence of life acutely with everybody I lose, whether they are people I personally know or people who have touched me indirectly, like The Ramones and The Clash did. I'm going to be 41 in November...I should expect this. But you never get used to it, just as you never get used to a San Fernando Valley Summer and its raging heat.

My mom used to say that the hot Santa Ana winds were God's way of driving home the point of being totally serious about the reflection and self-assessment you were supposed to be doing at this time. The heat was, in her estimation, a preview of Hell. Never mind that Jews, particularly Reform Jews who are basically the Unitarian Universalists of Judaism, don't really believe in the Zoroastrian/Manichaean concept of Hell that became a part of Christianity. Some Jews believe in Sheol, a shadow-world where the souls of those found wanting and not admitted into Paradise dwelled until their souls dissolved into nothingness. Some actually believe in a species of Reincarnation...the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer spoke of it frequently. Some believe, like the Unitarian Universalists, that eventually all souls find their way into Paradise. (Save for those who were absolutely depraved and evil like Hitler whom God personally blasts into nonexistence at death.)

The uncanny thing was my mom passed away about 11 years ago, and ever since then I can't seem to recall a heat wave concurrent with the High Holy Days since then. There's still 9 more days to go, and we could have a heat wave yet before the sunset that ends Yom Kippur. Actually the weatherman is saying we could have heating up as early as Monday...hmmm...

I've got some more to say but I think I'll end this post here.

Oh yeah: Feliz Diez y Seis de Septiembre to everyone living in or with roots in Mexico.