The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the month “August, 2015”

The Choice of No Choice

first published 7/29/15

drought-cow

 

Ka

When you’re poor you do not have a lot of choices. The poorer you are, the fewer choices you have. We were so poor, I had only one choice.

I had seven to care for…my wife, my five children and myself. I had no work. The soil was so barren, nothing grew. We were starving to death.  We had already lost two little ones, but we didn’t have the luxury of mourning. Poor people living in such dire conditions know better than to become too attached to infants until it’s clear they have the strength and will of spirit to survive. Life for us was difficult and precarious. Chances of living to an age of self-sufficiency were not high.  This is not to say we did not do our best for our children, but we were philosophical when they did not survive. So many died young. That was just the way of life.

Of course, as they got older, as their personalities developed, they became more precious to us. My oldest daughter was 14, born during better times, when we had some hope. She was quite lovely and graceful, a very sweet child.  She was strong and smart. To look at her made me happy and proud, and yet sad and ashamed that she had been born to me — I who could do nothing for her. I wished I could have offered her more.

One day, I was approached by a man from the city who offered to give me money for her. He promised to take her to a place where she could have a better life – lots of food to eat, pretty clothes. My wife wanted to do it. She knew the promises were hollow but she would have sacrificed her for the benefit of the rest of us.   But I was not naïve. I had heard about what they did to the girls from the small, poor villages. Stories came back, in bits and pieces. They were horrific. I  had heard of the kinds of things they made the girls do. I knew the kind of lives they were forced into. It was said these girls were usually dead of drugs or beatings or suicide in just a few years.

I couldn’t do it. I could not sell my daughter like a goat, to be slaughtered. I could not condemn her to a life – such that it was — of slavery and abuse. It was not her fault she was born to such a useless father.   As desperate as I was, I knew it was immoral to sell my child. I could not bear the guilt, even if it meant saving my other children, at least for a while.

So, I did what I had to do. This was discussed with my wife who finally agreed that my plan was the only way.

I knew of some plants that would put us all to sleep so we would never awaken. We fed them first to the youngest, then the older ones, then my wife and I took ours.

There was no pain and at least we died together, in our own hut, as a family. It was more loving and peaceful and compassionate than watching each other die, one by one, from disease and starvation, counting the days until finally Death came for us, too.

————–

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Love, The Way He Wants It

Originally posted July 23,  2014

 maria ospenskaya

Cle

What did I ever do to make him hate me so much? I was good to him, or so I thought, but I see now that how I loved him was not how he needed to be loved. I suppose I smothered him. That’s what he used to tell me, but I never understood how. All I wanted was for him to be happy, successful. I wanted to teach him how life must be lived, to achieve was he was destined to achieve.

When he was a child, he loved me. He was my special man. He took great pleasure in making me happy. He was obedient and considerate. But as he grew older, he became more independent. He no longer took my advice even though I knew he was making mistakes. It pained me to see him on the wrong path.

But he did OK for himself, anyway, and I was happy for that although I admit I felt cast aside. I felt useless because he no longer needed my counsel. And each time I tried to help him, to offer some suggestion, he would get angry, as if I didn’t respect his choices.

It wasn’t a matter of respect for his choices. It was that I was his mother. I needed him to need me, and it pained me that he didn’t.   He didn’t need my advice, didn’t need my money, didn’t need my comfort, didn’t need my love.

I think there is no greater rejection than a child for a mother, except perhaps a mother for her child.

I am just starting to understand that he would have needed me for the most important thing of all if I had only offered it: unconditional love. Instead, I only grudgingly accepted that he was perfectly fine without me.   I never really rooted for him because I was too concerned trying to figure out a way to make myself needed. Whenever he achieved something good, I’d be sure to let him know that it might have been even better if he’d only done it a different way.

If I’d only told him that I trusted him to make the best decision for himself things might not have ended as they did… not really talking for decades, save some meaningless conversation at the occasional wedding or funeral or other family event.

This was the greatest sadness and frustration of my life…that my one and only child had no love for me, not even at the end.

Sometimes, I try to talk to him, differently now, but I’m not sure he hears me. I think the only voice of mine he hears in his head is the one I put in there when he was young.

He seems happy and well-adjusted. I suppose I should be grateful for that, but of course, this was not my doing. Perhaps if he’d failed in his life, I could have thought, “See, he really did need me after all,” but in fact, he was right all along. He didn’t need me because I never gave him what he wanted most: to simply be accepted as he was.

 

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Forbidden

first published July 26, 2014

hasids2

Yi

If they had known what I was they would have thrown me out of the community. That would have destroyed me.   Such love, such relationships, were not allowed. It was more than sinful; it went against God’s commandment to be fruitful and multiply.

I married young, as proscribed, and my wife and I had eight children. I was a good husband and a good father, but I lived all my life hiding my true feelings.

I first felt the stirrings as a young man in the Yeshiva, surrounded by boys and other young men, young rabbis, teachers. I felt a kind of love and attraction that I never felt for a woman. Perhaps it was merely that I could understand men better. In our community, men and woman had very different and specific roles.

I suppose there were couples who really loved each other, but I suspect that more just played their part, did what was expected. Men went to work and studied and prayed. Women raised the children, kept the home, obeyed their husbands. And in this duty, in this obligation, a kind of sentimental attachment was forged. The love for one’s spouse was an extension of one’s love for God.

When I was young, the feelings were inchoate, vague, undirected at any one specific person. I simply preferred the company of men. But this was not unusual. Unrelated men and women were not allowed to be alone with each other, thus men were always together. We prayed and danced and socialized amongst ourselves. Any affection I felt towards another man I assumed to be perfectly normal.   And truly, it was not strange for me to spend most of my free time in the shul, praying with my brethren.

But when I was 32, I met another young man a few years older than myself. He had just moved from another community to be closer to his wife’s family. We quickly became the best of friends, spending as much time together as possible; always seeking out each other’s company. We spent hours discussing obscure religious tracts and the minutia of Jewish law. Initially, it was a meeting of minds. We had a deep, spiritual connection. I always looked forward to our walks and conversations about the most profound subjects. Nobody had ever understood my mind the way he did.

I missed him when we had to be apart for a few days (over a holiday, for example, when we had obligations to our extended families).

And then, one evening, it happened. We were a bit drunk after a Purim party (the only time Jews really get drunk). We were walking home from the shul. It was very late and we’d been amongst the very last to leave. The street was quiet and dark.   We came to the corner where we had to part, each to go in our own direction home, and there was a look that passed between us; a look that said, “I feel it, too.”

We lingered, wanting to savor the moment. I don’t know what gave me the courage, but I reached out and touched his hand – just a brush of my finger against the back of his palm. He took my hand in his and pulled me close, first glancing around to be sure nobody could see us. He drew me into the shadows of a closed storefront and kissed me.

The kiss lasted for what seemed like blissful eternity. I could taste the sweet wine on his tongue. We were drunk enough to lose our inhibitions, but not so drunk as to be foolish or careless, so that was as far as it went. What else could we do? Even if we’d had the opportunity – a place to go to be alone – we would not have done it. We were men of God, and such things were forbidden.

But from that point on, we were damned, or at least it felt that way. It didn’t matter how much we desired each other; ours was a love that could never be consummated. The desire was both a blessing and a curse. Strangely, this torment brought us closer. We were both feeling the same emotions; both learning so many deep lessons about love and duty and choosing our obligations to others over the fulfillment of our own selfish needs. We were both traveling the same path, both equally committed to remaining on it. This was how we shared and nurtured and demonstrated our love.

Our physical relationship consisted at best of a furtive touch when nobody was looking; a “brotherly” embrace that lingered a bit longer than it should have; the feel of his warm palm pressed against mine with our fingers entwined as we danced the hora,  trancelike, ecstatic. I lived each week for the few brief moments at the end of Shabbos prayers, when I could safely feel his arms around me.

We still spent time together but rarely allowed ourselves the opportunity to be completely alone or in any compromising situation. We were careful never to let ourselves become too tempted. We did not get drunk together again. Sober, we were much more sensible.

And so it went. I preferred his company to that of any other human being; valued his wisdom more; thrilled at the sound of his laugh. There was never a moment when I did not think of him. Ours was a deeply spiritual relationship and remained so for decades. Our chasteness was a testament to our love of both God and each other. We both agreed: This was a test put upon us by the Almighty and we would embrace the challenge and rise above it.

And then I got sick. I was only in my late 50s but the cancer came on fast and I was gone in a matter of months.

He was at my bedside when I died, along with my wife and children. We prayed together in those final days, until I could no longer speak, until I could no longer remain conscious. His presence and love calmed me and let me pass over in peace.

I know he still feels me in his heart when he prays. I know I still live in his soul, as he does in mine.

 

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Home Sweet Wherever

first posted July 20, 2014

vintage-map

La

I grew up in more than comfortable circumstances. My family was not rich, exactly, but well-to-do and influential. My father was an important government official so he held some sway in the community. People deferred to him, which was a kind of wealth. My mother had been born very rich, descendants of a royal family, although their influence had faded. In that regard, they were impoverished. My parents’ marriage was one of convenience — her wealth for his influence, and then, both together, they were back on top.

I lived in a big house with servants until I was about ten. Then came a huge shift in political power and my father lost his position. My mother’s family money and assets were seized. Overnight, we had nothing.

I knew something was wrong, of course. My parents were arguing a lot; my mother was crying all the time; my father was sullen and angry. We had to move from our large home with many rooms and fine furniture into a small house near my grandparents’ property.

The adults were always whispering amongst themselves. I could sense their fear but none of it affected me…or so I thought. I was just as happy being in the country, having my grandparents close by. Now my mother looked after me – not a nanny or a servant – and I was happy to have her attention, although she was often weepy and distracted.

After a few years, our situation became dangerous, so the family made plans to leave the country. We sold whatever was left of value – which wasn’t much anymore. In any case, not too many people were buying.

We left together, and passed through a few countries, living here and there for a few months or a year. Money was always a problem because neither my parents or grandparents had any real practical skills, and none of them spoke any other language well enough to blend in or get by.

Finally, we ended up in a place where my parents found others like themselves. In this community, well, I won’t say they flourished, exactly, but they were able to find work teaching.   They slowly, eventually, learned the language and customs of the new place, but there was always something sad and broken about them until the day they died.

I was a child, of course, so I was better able to adapt. I was quickly able to pass for a native. I grew up and forgot about our old life and made my new life in a new place.

I went to school, got married, had children who were even more “native” than I ever was.

When I was much older — my children were grown and had moved on with their own lives; my husband had been dead for several years — the regime in my country of birth fell. I felt drawn to return, to reclaim my history, to see what might have been.

The city, the land of my earliest memories was gone. War and deprivation had changed not only the physical landscape but the cultural and social character as well. These were no longer “my people” but a country of strangers. It was only then that I felt that I had no place to call home, no place where I could be accepted as “one of their own.”

I had no childhood roots anywhere except everywhere, which was nowhere.

I eventually moved back to my adopted country. It was closer to a home than anywhere else. It was where I went to school, fell in love, got married, raised my family…but a piece of me now felt missing, like a big jigsaw puzzle minus one critical piece. Most of me was intact. The picture was clear.   But I would never be complete, never be whole.

It was with this knowledge, with this understanding and sadness in my heart, that I finally came to the end of my life.

____

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No Philosophy, No Mechanism

All New Post

candle smoke

 

Pa

From the time she left me until the end of her life, all I wished for was that she would finally comprehend what I’d always been trying to make her understand.   Even after the years passed, I always held out hope that one day she would have an epiphany and all would become clear; that she would finally see her own truth from a new perspective, one which afforded her safe distance from her pain. I prayed that one day she would see in herself all the beauty that I saw. I willed that she would understand that believing something is either good or bad fortune is simply a matter of perspective.

She was too unhappy, too caught up in her own pain, to make sense of any of it. I tried with all the love and forgiveness I could muster to keep at her my side, though she fought me as if I were a demon.   She lashed out at everything – good and bad –equally. She had no philosophy, no mechanism by which to extract any value from her suffering.

A tragic life is one in which suffering is in vain. Where pain brings no growth; no advancement in understanding; no deeper empathy for others. No breaking of walls. No ability to be vulnerable. No opening of the mind and spirit. No conquest of fear.

Fear shades the light which illuminates the Truth.

 


 

As I was writing this, my first impression was that it was a man speaking of his lover, but after a while I had the sense it was a parent speaking of their deeply unhappy, emotionally-challenged child. There was  pain because the child predeceased the parent (by suicide, perhaps.)

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Hope Springs Eternal, Damnit!

praying hands

Mo

Hope ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’ve seen people invest their entire lives hoping for something that will never be when they should be making something out of what’s right there in front of them.

I wasted most of my best days chasing something I wasn’t ever gonna catch. I neglected my family. I neglected my finances. I neglected my health   People in my church told me to “have faith…it will happen!” and they thought they were doing God’s work. I will tell you, they were doing the Devil’s work, because what did I get in the end? Nothing. Sure enough, not what I was running after all those years.   My wife was long gone, hitched up with some guy who treated her a lot better than I did. My kids? They barely knew my name. I never supported them, not in any way.   I had no money. I was living hand-to-mouth. I was chasing smoke.

In my younger days, I would look at the guys who’d given up their youthful dreams (whatever they’d been), gotten married, found steady jobs, raised their kids in a decent place, in a decent way; I’d look at them and think, “Coward!”   I thought they were all pussy-whipped, in one way or another, at least the ones whose marriages lasted. But eventually I realized that for the happily married ones, their wives made them better men, and they knew it. Without that steady hand at the rudder to keep them on course, they would have drifted off in a cesspool of booze, cheap women and no commitments to anything.   They would have been like me.

Except I was taught it was a sin to stop hoping. I thought it was a sin to give up faith. I believed in myself. That was the most important thing. I had to keep plugging away, as a sign of my devotion.

I knew a woman with a very sick child. That little girl was sick for years, and the mother prayed every day. She hoped and she prayed. She counted on God to make her daughter well. But in the end, the girl died. And that mother was inconsolable.

She had, on occasion, sat in the hospital or fretted in bed at night, wondering what it would be like if the child died. Maybe it would be better for everyone. The girl would never be well; she would be a burden all her life. Her care would be expensive. Was it terribly selfish to want a life without such hardship, both for parent and child?  The mother was only in her 20s herself, with her whole life ahead of her.

But everyone told her to “Never give up hope.” “Have faith!” “Believe in the Lord!” They said it as if they were channeling Jesus himself and knew his will.

When the girl died, the mother was consumed with guilt. She knew she had put aside her faith to think about herself for a moment or two, here and there. What a horrible mother she was! She didn’t deserve to have children! It was all her fault. God was punishing her because of her inherent selfishness.

You get the idea.

She ended up in a mental hospital.

That’s where faith got her.

She was never able to work through the untruth of all that.

Some things just have their time. We walk through the corridors of the maze of our life, only able to see what’s immediately around us. We can’t know what or who is on the other side of that wall or what or who is around the next corner; certainly not what’s around the next three or ten corners.   Sometimes, we come to a split in the path and we have to choose a direction. Sometimes we find ourselves at a dead end. Sometimes we are on our path alone; sometimes with others. But no matter when we die, it’s always one short corner from the end of the maze of that particular life.

Faith, by itself, it not a virtue. It can even be a vice when it’s faith in the wrong thing.

Maybe the best kind of faith you can have, the only one that makes any sense, is a belief that you are listening to the universe correctly… the faith to be open enough to allow the spiritual realm to guide you – not where you want to go, but where it wants to take you.

 

**************

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Working the System

New Post

tree against night sky

Ipo  

It is in the nature of human beings to place their faith in a system of logic in which the world makes sense. They seek the type of structure which best suits their outlook. If they are the kind who need tangible, visible proof, they turn to science. If they are the kind who need ritual, they turn to religion.   If they are the kind who don’t cotton to authority, they take a more nebulous spiritual path.

Strict adherence to any of these paths is not the answer; these are only the ways to the answers.

Most humans don’t get beyond the specific rituals of their chosen path.   They follow, but they don’t chart their own way. They stop seeking long before the real quest even begins.   They become distracted by easy answers to their questions and quick solutions to their problems.

Gurus speak of becoming one with a higher consciousness. Scientists speak of the wonders and secrets of the universe. Priests and rabbis and imams speak of abandoning oneself to God (i.e. giving up the ego.)   They all speak of the same thing. When one understands that, they are just beginning to comprehend.

Humans look for word from on high. They seek guidance.  They look for signs.

There are no signs needed. All the answers are within your own heart.

 

_____
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Double Post… Sorry

Hey Gang…

Sorry about the double post today. I’m going to rerun the Ipo post in 3 days to get myself back on the every-three-days schedule.

Carry on!  Enjoy the summer (or the winter, for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere!)

-Adrienne

Only the Lonely

Originally posted July 14, 2014

Lonely_Old_Lady_by_Nocturnatum

An

I didn’t start out being depressed. It just came upon me insidiously and gradually. I stopped caring about the little things and soon, I no longer cared about the big things either.

I’d never felt much compassion for depressed people. I thought it was self-indulgent to wallow in one’s own misery. Get up! Go out! Help another human being! Get a hobby! Take a new lover!   To me, depression was a result of a sense of loss of control of one’s circumstances. The only way to shake off the feeling was to regain control, in any way possible, even if it meant shifting one’s expectations; setting a lower bar for what was considered “success.”

This theory had worked for me for most of my life, but then, perhaps as a result of my age or my hormones, I no longer felt I had the ability to control my life. Either I wasn’t physically able or because I no longer had the time to master something new or because I didn’t have the connections to those who could help me.   When I was young, everything was possible. As I got older, I realized I would never learn to ski or climb Kilimanjaro or go trekking in the Himalaya.

In any case, my usual remedies stopped working. Every day, I felt less able to shake the sense of hopelessness. I had friends, but they had their own problems. Ultimately nobody cared if I left the house or not; if I wore the same old clothes day after day or if I dressed to impress; if I ate right or if I subsisted on cheese and crackers. Nobody cared more superficially if I was happy or blue.  I kept up with the news and latest technological and scientific advances so I could remain current, but nobody cared what I thought or had to say. Only the opinions of young people mattered. The world was moving so fast, and I just didn’t have the energy to keep up.

I felt increasingly isolated. Perhaps some of this was my own doing. I withdrew, and as I withdrew, nobody seemed to notice. And the less they noticed, the more I withdrew, until my world was sad and small. I lived with the realization that I was nobody special and never would be, despite believing all my life that I had something unique to offer.   My problems, my needs, my feelings were of no significance to anyone.

My death was slow and by a thousand cuts, as is often the case. I gradually took less care of myself until the cumulative damage did me in. I never had the nerve to kill myself, but I was relieved when the end finally came.

 

 

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The Commitment-phobe

originally posted July 11, 2014
Greeting card by Adrienne E. Gusoff

Original greeting card by Adrienne E. Gusoff

Ze

 When I lived, I loved women. I wasn’t a womanizer exactly but I really appreciated the opposite sex – their femininity, their softness, their eagerness to love, their emotional view of things. There was something about the way they existed in the world that comforted me.

I loved quite a few and more than a few loved me, but there was something missing in me. Or perhaps nothing missing at all, but rather too much of something else. Either way, I could never commit. In the penultimate moment, just before I was about to trust and make myself transparent, I would panic and behave in a way that would ruin things beyond repair.   The greatest sadness of my life was that I knew, down in my soul, that I would always ruin it like that.

I knew my fear was the reason I would never have what I wanted. Each time, I would fight the urge to self-sabotage, but always, it was stronger than me, stronger than whatever woman was trying to save me. I felt weak in the face of it. And I felt ashamed and guilty for the pain I caused her, because she was a woman after all, and women should be nurtured, not wounded. And mostly, they were good to me and did not deserve to be hurt. And that made me feel more guilty, still..

I started each new affair full of hope that maybe, somehow, this one would be different; that she could guide me though the maze of my black soul, out into the light. It would be wonderful for a few months, and then, the panic would start to set in. I would invent ways to push her away without actually ending the affair, because, of course, I still wanted the benefit of her affections, of her body. Some of them abandoned me after the first incident but others – the martyrs, the wannabe therapists, the amateur social workers – stuck around in the belief (which I did not dissuade) that if she was just sympathetic, understanding and patient enough, perhaps she, above all the others, would be the one to win the prize of my heart.

But soon they had to weigh how much pain were they willing to tolerate in order to prove they were worthy of my trust; how much emotion would they have to invest and how much self-esteem would they have to sacrifice, to be the last woman standing. And for all their time and labor and sacrifice, what would they get?

Just me.

Eventually, they all came to understand that I wasn’t much of a prize.

I was hardly worth suffering over, but my special talent was making them think I was. In the end, they all figured it out. They were always happy and relieved when they finally stopped caring about me. It’s a sad legacy.  For this, I felt — I still feel — shame and guilt.

This was my life, living in this purgatory, knowing what I wanted, seeing it, getting so close to it sometimes I could taste it, and then running away before I held it in my hand. Over and over and over again.

A tragic life is one where love is wasted.

 

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