Friday, March 2, 2012

"Seeing Death" by Liza du Preez

What did the rabbi mean? Reuven thought to himself, shaking his head, while his mind combed through the thoughts about this morning's lesson in the Shul. He climbed into the bus which was heading over the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco, where he was going to work, heavily burdened with reasoning and contemplation.

The meaning of life, he seriously pondered this thought. He recalled that the rabbi talked about life – about chai; the meaning and the reason for one's own life. Chai in Hebrew meant to be alive. Reuven sat back in his bus seat and sighed while confusion spun around in his brain. He watched the untamed sea through the red metal barriers; slide by slide it passed by.

Slide by slide, frame by frame just like life passed by, he thought. Reuven started to think about chai. He thought about his family, his grandparents, and about his parents. He thought about what they had endured to keep their emunah – their faith and their chai. He could remember the tattooed numbers on his grandfather's and grandmother's arms, which they were forced to get in the concentration camps of World War II.

These thoughts about the torturing his grandparents had to suffer were too painful to recall. Reuven knew and remembered that the rabbi at his Shul said everything in life is a test that had to be passed to form one's character, one's faith and one's life. He looked down at his small leather Siddur – Jewish prayer book and at his leather Chumash – the first five books of Moses.

Yo'ma ytz'veha Ha'shem chasdo ova'ha'lailah shiroh imi t'filah l'El chai'ya. He recited the verse from memory. This verse is the verse in Psalm 42:8 the rabbi used. What a beautiful verse, he thought, when translated to English it means – Yet HaShem will command his loving kindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the G-d of my life.

Reuven sat back in the bus seat and sighed again. He looked around in the bus, which contained only a handful of people. He turned back and looked at the sea again through his window. They were in the lane closest to the sea and the barrier. The weather outside was dull, gray clouds and a gray sky framed the stormy sea. Barely visible mist droplets softly tapped against the window and slowly ran down. He watched the Bridge barriers pass by, again slide by slide, alternating the shadows in the bus.

Then something out of the ordinary caught Reuven's eye and a sudden uneasy feeling filled the pit of his stomach. The bus slowed a little because of the morning traffic. Reuven looked back out of his misty window. His worst fear was realised although it felt like it was all happening very slowly frame by frame.

The wind started blowing and a cold chill filled the air. A few meters back he could see a person standing on the edge of the bridge, on the outside of the barrier; ready to jump.
Reuven felt useless, but he and the man shared a short moment as the pale man's eyes looked right into Reuven's soul through his eyes. Sad eyes which masked a torn heart behind his pale face. Reuven's lips and cheeks felt stiff like stone. An icy cold feeling ran down his spine to his legs, his heart aching in his chest. He felt numb throughout his whole body.

It all seemed surreal to Reuven. Then the man jumped; free falling from the bridge down into the wild sea. As the person fell from the bridge, Reuven's heart felt like falling with him. Nothing could be heard; everything could be seen. Flashing in his brain, over and over, were the vivid pictures of death, frame by frame and moment by moment. His heart pounded in his throat, its beating echoed in his ears. Quickly a shiver ran throughout his whole body, accompanied by his trembling hands. He looked around at the cars, but no one seemed to notice it.

Chai, he uttered, "lost," he shuddered, letting out a cold breath, "just like that." It was gone in that one moment and for that one person who jumped. He knew that the Golden Gate Bridge had the highest suicide rate, but he never vaguely imagined he would witness one. Almost immediately he started earnestly reciting Kaddish – the Prayer after a death - in Hebrew.

And protect him from the tribulations of the grave... Forgive and pardon him for all his sins, for there is no person so righteous on earth who does only good and never sins... Praying the words of the Kaddish made him realise the rabbi's message, which now made more sense each time he thought about it.

"Chai without emunah-faith and without emet-truth is without life, a person is then without soul. If a person knows the Almighty, then a life is worth living, with emet-truth in emunah-faith. Then, if a person is living a life worth living, he needs boundaries, teachings, laws - the Torah - first five books of Moses." He spoke these words out loud with the Rabbi's melodious voice and donated wisdom accompanying Reuven's Kaddish.


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