A thought has blown the marketplace away
There is a song in the wind, a joy in the trees
Shabbat arrives in the world
Scattering a song in the silence of the night
And eternity utters a day
Eternity utters a day
— Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
The words above were put to music by Dan Nichols, followed by a niggun (a wordless melody).
In mid-April I stood in a tiny cemetery nestled up against the east side of the Sierra Nevada, for the unveiling of the memorial stone for my father, of blessed memory. It was in Mono County, CA, a long drive from where I live. It is the most lightly populated county in the state. As far as I have been able to discern, there are no synagogues anywhere near there.
I started with Dan’s niggun, and, after the prayers were over, ended with the song above, followed by the same niggun. It may seem odd to sing a song about Shabbat entering the world at an unveiling on a bright Monday morning.
This is why I chose it:
I lost three people I care about in the last two years, and in each case, I thought, “Yesterday, this person was alive, and today, they are dead.” Then, with each passing day, it felt as if – indeed, it still feels as if – they are receding farther and farther from me in time. I am on an inexorable journey away from them. Sometimes I feel worse about that than other days. No matter how I might feel about it, every night I lie down to sleep, and I wake up to a new day, taking me farther from them.
The location where my father is buried is breathtaking, next to snow-capped mountains under clear blue skies.
As I sang, the words and the melody floated gently away on the crisp mountain air. The loneliness was breathtaking, too, as I performed the ceremony myself, with nobody but my husband in attendance.
It wasn’t the way I would have wanted it to be.
One Shabbat evening after services three weeks later, I was sitting in the living room of friends, with about 50 other people from my community. Dan Nichols led us in song, including, early in the evening, the song above.
As we sang, I let the love and the perfect harmony of my community surround me. I closed my eyes, and pictured myself at my father’s gravesite, but I was no longer alone. I was standing there, singing, surrounded by other voices. I poured my sorrow into the niggun, while they poured themselves into it, too. This time, it did not drift away on the breeze. Rather, it remained within the circle of singers and imbedded itself in my soul.
Now, every time I picture myself standing at my father’s unveiling with my husband, I will also see, hear, and feel my community there, singing with me.
When the evening was over, I went home, lay in my bed, and closed my eyes. While I slept, eternity uttered a day.