Nothing moves on stage nor in the darkened theater that cannot be seen from the stage because of the blinding spotlights. The audience understands. It seems to me, the actor, the audience has stopped breathing.
Close your eyes now. Just listen. How do we hear nothing?
The existential ritual of engaging the end of life with someone you love. Holding in your arms the one you love as she disappears into a whiff – a thin white cloud of essence -- into eternity.
I was ready, or so I thought. I have since learned that I cannot “know.” Susan, my wife now of 53 years, lives and thrives and is still “the other half of my whole.” She is what makes me complete. Yet she was supposed to disappear as the prognosis of her cancer became grim. She is an unlikely survivor. My soul was left whole. Perhaps what I can know is that it is possible to love even more. Even when it seems a relationship is complete, it is possible for an even greater bonding.
This Monday the world marks a period in history that oddly reminds me of this ritual. It offers more realism to the “whiff of smoke” metaphor in The Actual Dance. January 27th is the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau. My friend Laszlo Berkowits, now about to turn 92, tells me of the evening when he walked up to a fence. A young Polish boy stood on the other side. Laszlo is Hungarian. He asks the Polish boy: “What is the smoke from over there?” Pointing to tall chimneys from which pour a constant stream of white smoke into the cold Polish night. “Whiffs” of white smoke if you will.
The young Polish boy explains to this naïve 16-year-old Hungarian boy what is happening. Lazlo runs back to his barracks to tell all his Hungarian fellow prisoners not to speak to the Polish boys, “They are too depressing.”
I have visited that place twice now. Once with my friend Laszlo and then again with a group of leaders of the Reform Jewish movement.
I sometimes try to imagine what those moments had to be like for the people run through that horrible place. The young children left behind learning on cold-dark nights what that white billowing smoke meant.
Just as I am told that I cannot possibly know what it would be like to lose Susan, because she did NOT die, it is also self-evident that I cannot possibly know what that was like.
And just as I know that my love of life and Susan can be even greater than it was – “more perfect” than I could have imagined, I wonder if the survivors of those times have make our world in some ways “more perfect.”
When called upon to ponder the tragedy of six-million deaths, I realize that numbers alone cannot begin to reflect such an infinite loss. Rather, the loss I think is reflected in the gifts of those who did survive. Rabbi Laszlo Berkowits, a young boy from Hungary, became an American Reform Rabbi. The founding Rabbi of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Virginia. My Jewish home for nearly 50 years, where my children and now grandchildren are growing up. A flourishing, sacred community. Now among the largest Jewish Congregations in the world.
Imagine if that had happened six-million more times.