Thursday, January 15, 2009
I just finished my time as shomer for Rabbi Lew. Part of the Jewish burial ritual is to make sure that there is always someone sitting, watching over the body until the time of the funeral. It is important that the body not be left alone at this time. I see it as a way we can accompany our loved one in this last part of their journey on this earth. It gives us a way to honor someone, hold them close before we have to let go.
It is traditional to read Psalms during this time. We arranged for the shomerim in shifts, and many read Norman Fischer's "Opening to You," his interpretations of the Psalms. Norman is Rabbi Lew's closest friend--they traveled many of the life's paths together--the Iowa Writing program, the Zen Center, Makor Or. Norman was also a shomer, taking these last steps with Rabbi Lew.
I read Psalms, chanted Torah, shared some other writings. But mostly I just sat in silence-sometimes in meditation, sometimes having conversations with Rabbi Lew in my head. Because I had the overnight shift, 8P - 8A, there was lots of time. I also brought a skein of yarn and crocheted. I started a scarf--a pattern I have recently developed, something I can do without too much thinking. It's a spiral pattern, which felt appropriate as a spiritual metaphor for the teachings Rabbi Lew has given me. The scarf is crocheted lengthwise, and I chose to make it 108 stitches long. 108 is a spiritual number in many traditions. Eighteen is the number that represents chai, life, in Judaism. 108 is 6 X 18--Rabbi Lew had completed six decades of life, with the seventh unfinished. The Buddhists ring bells 108 for the New Year. It's also a sacred number to the Hindus. And it happens to be the number of stitches on a baseball--another spiritual pursuit of Rabbi Lew.
In the midst of the last row of the scarf, I ran out of yarn. Somehow, that seemed right. For loss of Rabbi Lew leaves many of us feeling incomplete. He left us far too soon; he had so much more to teach us. But we will continue the teachings he left us--in deed and in study. We will pass them on to the generations ahead. His life, like the scarf, may have been cut short before it's time, but his memory and his light will shine on for many years to come.