I’m standing by the sink, rubbing my fingers round my toddler’s smaller ones. I’m singing “Comfortable birthday,” and my voice sounds overseas to my ears. Its cheerfulness belongs to another person — somebody I heard as soon as. Was it a puppet in a kids’s present? Was it a kindergarten trainer? It might’t belong to me. Not now, at any fee. Not whereas the most recent obituary in my newsfeed remains to be twisting my insides.
My son giggles, and I startle. How lengthy have I been staring on the mirror? How lengthy have I been singing for? Was it sufficient? Or am I nonetheless one stanza away from safety, one be aware away from beating loss of life?
“Let’s sing the ABC tune as nicely,” says the stranger’s voice upon my lips, and I restart the method. However this time, I’m counting seconds in my thoughts.
One. “A, B.” Two. “C, D.” Three.
My thoughts is a metronome, a stopwatch, a defend.
* * *
My son’s fingers are so small in my very own, and so unmarked by life. And but, regardless of my studying and my scars and all my grand adventures, I really feel so very small proper now, as small as he’s. What good are all my ideas and phrases and previous achievements, when right here I’m, with naught however fingers and tune and cleaning soap to fend off loss of life?
And numbers, after all.
I am going on counting.
Once I was little and unmarked myself (or do I solely assume so now? I by no means felt brand-new after I was youthful), my lecturers mentioned that we should always at all times think about ourselves as if we’re hanging within the stability between God’s E-book of Life and E-book of Loss of life. Each little act is likely to be the one to tip the size, they urged us. So don’t develop complacent! Make each act rely!
And right here I’m now, working exhausting to remain on the literal facet of the dwelling, by no means realizing what act would be the one to tip the size. Does the road between the Books of Life and Loss of life lie on this droplet, or the following?
* * *
Numbers don’t come naturally to me. Passwords and dates slip by means of my thoughts and go away no traces. Even now, when numbers carry weights I can’t ignore, they arrive and go and fail to vary me. Two-Hundred-and-Nineteen useless in Israel, whole. Two-Hundred-and-Fifty-Two useless in Massachusetts, in sooner or later. I hear the phrases — I do know that they need to horrify me — after which they cross once more, and I’m unmoved.
However then I catch a reputation. Or see an image. Or a element jumps at me as I scroll down, ever down, on my display screen and thru obituaries. A girl I have no idea sang to her father on the telephone as he lay dying. A person I by no means met awoke from intubation and discovered that his personal father died of COVID-19 whereas he slept. A good friend visited three Zoom shivas, and located no phrases to share there. One other misplaced a cousin whom he beloved however not often noticed.
Every element, every title is sort of a nail that wasn’t tightened correctly, ready to snag my consideration and pull threads of grief and fear from what was well-woven peace of thoughts. Every of them sends me down a rabbit gap of “what ifs” and escalating sorrow. Every of them unravels me, and leaves me breathless and undone.
Cease, I inform myself.
Cease. Concentrate on what’s inside your energy to manage.
Don’t consider the deaths (my God, to die alone like this, to this point out of your family members, and what if we get sick, who’ll watch our youngsters…), don’t consider the mourners (my beloved sister-in-law is a nurse in NY, what if she will get it? My dad and mom aren’t younger, what if, pricey God…), don’t consider the longer term (will we ever meet our associates once more, and lean in opposition to one another with careless, informal affection?).
Suppose solely of what’s inside your potential to do, proper right here, proper now.
Ask your self: What’s in your fingers?
Concentrate on that.
I rub my toddler’s fingers in mine.
* * *
Years in the past, there was a time after I felt sad with some circumstances. “Let me let you know what labored for me after I was a prisoner within the Soviet gulag,” my father informed me (immediately – and unintentionally – placing my ennui in comical perspective). “You may’t management your circumstances. So assume, as an alternative, about what you may, and need, to attain inside them. After which ask your self: what can I do right now to make it occur? What can I do proper now?”
The destiny of humanity doesn’t lie in my fingers proper now.
My family members’ tomorrows don’t lie in my fingers proper now.
However proper now, proper right here, my toddler is mine to guard.
Proper now, proper right here, his joie de vivre is mine to uphold.
Proper now, proper right here, my angle is mine to form.
And so: I sing. And this time, I personal the cheerful voice upon my lips.
My son is laughing, and my love for him burns painful in my chest.
* * *
The clergymen within the Temple used to rely too: one, one and one, one and two. Every quantity was a part of the Yom Kippur service, their approach to beg God to grant us extra life. Did their fingers ever tremble, did their voices ever falter? Did they ever really feel concern, did they ever lose rely?
And the way did they really feel once they dealt with the choices, once they held, of their fingers, a lot greater than mere flesh? Every providing is an expression of somebody’s regrets, hopes, or gratitude. Did the clergymen ever balk within the face of this intimacy? Did it make them really feel highly effective, unworthy, afraid?
There’s flesh in my fingers. Flesh — and a few bubbles. Transient, mortal. Right here right now, later — gone.
However for now — there may be life. For now — we’re right here, nonetheless.
Sure, we are able to die. However for now, we are able to stay.
* * *
“As soon as I noticed a violinist enjoying and I assumed: Between his proper hand and his left — solely the violin,” Yehuda Amichai wrote as soon as. “However what a between, what music!”
I’m no extra a musician than I’m a priest within the Temple. But proper right here, proper now, with my son’s fingers in my very own and a tune upon our lips, the gap between my fingers accommodates its personal kind of hopeful symphony, its personal method of transcending the boundaries of mere house.
I do know that I can’t defend my son without end. God’s Books of Life and Loss of life can’t match inside my grasp.
However as I imbue my actions with alternative and with intention, I write myself, for this one second, into the ebook of those that are actually, absolutely, irrefutably alive.
* * *
I dry my son’s fingers, and switch away from the sink and the cleaning soap and the mirror. New chores await, new trials, new unhappy information to undo my peace of thoughts. I stroll on, and pray for every part that lies past my powers. And as I stroll, I ask myself: on this new second, what’s in my fingers?