Your bulb is so dark.
I rub you with my chemise cloth,
expecting your bright red skin to shine
as I remove your muddy coat.
I am disappointed.
Your complexion remains an indeterminate shade of brown.
Perhaps your red membrane was sloughed off in the womb,
and is now buried deep in the ground beneath my feet.
I waited as you grew round there
in a protective shell of soil.
You emerged from your gestation,
born into the palm of my hand,
still encased in the color of the earth.
Striations of the purest white scarcely reveal the sharp flesh beneath.
Atlanta calls itself The City Too Busy to Hate. Philadelphia has long been known as The City of Brotherly Love. New York, NY is The City So Nice They Named It Twice. Are these tag lines an attempt to convince us that cities are not the concrete jungles of our imaginations? Or could the public relations hype actually be true?
In Chicago I witnessed a motorcycle accident in which the biker, who was stopped at a red light, lost her balance and fell face-down. Badly shaken and bleeding from having knocked out at least one of her teeth, the woman sat crying in the middle of the city street. Her riding companion helped her to the curb and a couple walking on the sidewalk stopped to help. My friend crossed the street to offer encouraging and calming words to the injured woman. He wanted to ensure that the couple intended to wait with her until the ambulance arrived—not an insignificant wait, though the average response time to a 911 call in various cities is a topic for another discussion.
After the incident, my friend mused about city life, suggesting that it fosters isolation and an unfriendly stance toward one’s neighbors. He wondered whether city people are less likely to help a stranger than their suburban counterparts, asking me, “Did we witness an exception that proves the rule, or has my perception of societal norms been adversely affected by living in Chicago?”
I am not naturally inclined toward cynicism, nor have I personally experienced the breakdown of the social contract between neighbors in the cities in which I have lived. Still, his question lingers in my mind as I walk the quiet streets of my suburban neighborhood, where people generally drive alone in the climate-controlled comfort of their cars. My neighbors wave to me as I wait for the traffic to abate so that I can cross to the sidewalk which runs along only one side of the street.
Are city dwellers too busy to be friendly or too busy to care about the persistent urban myth of their social isolation?
This week marks a period of national mourning in the Jewish calendar as we commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. According to tradition, both the first Temple and the rebuilt second Temple were destroyed on the same day, the 9th of Av, which is now a day of fasting and lamentations. In anticipation of the fast day, a somber mood prevails from the new moon on the 1st of Av until the 9th, and we refrain from eating meat, drinking wine, attending concerts and participating in joyous events. Funerals, however, are permitted.
Last year, I buried a friend on the 9th of Av. It was a typically hot and humid summer day in Atlanta, and the earth itself seemed to exude grief. This year, I stood with a friend on the 1st of Av as she buried her father, just five years after her mother’s untimely death from cancer. After the actual burial, during the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish, I found myself crying and thinking about a passage from the Mishnah*:
“On the first days of the months…the women may lament and beat their hands….What is lamentation? When all of them lament together. Wailing? When one cries out and all respond after her; for it is written (Jeremiah 9:19): ‘And teach your daughters wailing, and one another lamentation.’” (Moed Katan 3:9)
Long ago, the role of women at a funeral was to lead the lamentation and wailing. We were professional mourners, in a sense, responsible for helping others to grieve by leading them in crying. The public expression of grief at a funeral was also considered an appropriate way to honor the deceased.
Today, people sometimes restrain themselves and thus refrain from crying openly at funerals. Perhaps we feel that grief is the sole privilege of family members, those most directly affected by loss. But the act of weeping is encouraged for everyone attending a Jewish funeral; not only is crying a means to heal the open wounds in our hearts, but it also provides accompanying music as the deceased is laid to rest.
* The Mishnah is a compilation of Jewish laws and customs dating from the first century B.C.E. to the first century C.E. The generally agreed-upon date of its redaction is circa 200 C.E.