Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Both, At Once

Reservoir East-side Skyline
The Reservoir at dusk

My Hebrew teacher is telling me about a friend of hers - a guy she went to college with - who has been battling cancer for nearly 10 years. She just found out that he's coming home soon from the NYU hospital, hospice has been called, the battle is ending.

She is shaken up about it, as one would expect. I know that feeling - the sadness coupled with helplessness. I have no words of wisdom, but we sit and shake our heads and frown about it for awhile.

Then she asks if I read the Sunday Style section (and I have to admit that I'm a spotty Times reader at best), because there was a big announcement recently for a wedding she will be attending. She shows me the invitation that arrived in the mail: it's the fanciest, poshest one I've ever seen.  Etchings, embossing - the thing is a work of art.

As I pick up each piece of it, feeling the weight of expensive paper between my fingers, she points out the list of wedding events. The rehearsal dinner at Per Se (say what!? holy canape!), the morning ceremony, the evening dinner downtown, the next morning's good-bye brunch. The dress code is listed below each event, and it is not casual.

"I'll have to buy a new cocktail dress for this thing," she says. "My friend is dying of cancer, and I have to go dress shopping. I know?"

I do. I tell her how, when a friend was diagnosed with cancer four years ago, it was about this time of year. I had needed to buy some seasonally-appropriate shoes for work, so I stopped at a shoe store on the way home from work that evening.  But I couldn't shop.  I just stood there, staring at the displays, thinking, "This is dumb. This is so dumb. I need to buy shoes, but Bridget will never need to buy shoes again. How can I be buying shoes at a time like this?  But I need to buy shoes. This is dumb."

The thing about death is that life doesn't stop for it. It often feels like it should, but it doesn't. There are still happy weddings to attend, there are new seasons that won't be held up. It's a weird disconnect, a troubling tension to navigate.

"Joy and tears," my teacher sighs, "Well, what are we gonna do?  Let's read the bible."

And so we do, as that's our purpose for gathering each week. We pick through two chapters of Isaiah, teasing out the English meaning from the Hebrew letters on the page. We start with Isaiah 55 (a personal fave) and end with chapter 56. We read beautiful imagery about renewal, and it's mixed in with stark prophecy about the sorry state of things. Good and bad, hope and destruction, flip-flopping within chapters.  And though we look for it - there's no easy resolution to be found.  Sometimes it's just both, at once.

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