Thursday, April 4, 2013

Past and Future in the Present

ALPERS: Come with us, Schlissel, and have a look at my grave.

SCHLISSEL: Why not? What else have I got to do?

During one of the first years I taught high school English, I had my students read “The Tenth Man” by Paddy Chayefsky, a television drama from the black-and-white era. What I remember most about the play is the opening scene in which a group of aging Jewish men try to hold a traditional morning service but lack the necessary tenth man for a minyan (religious quorum). And they’re in a hurry because several of them want to visit their cemetery plots that day. Hence, the exchange from the play quoted above.
The exchange seemed funny to me forty years ago and so perfectly Jewish in tone, and it still makes me laugh today. Of course, the irony is that I visited our own future gravesites last week (while Audrey stayed in the car). So what’s so amusing!
Luckily, I am getting ahead of myself here. I should probably set the scene a little. We didn’t actually go to the cemetery to see our plots last week, but since we were there anyway, I figured, why not? Or as Chayefsky wrote, “What else did we have to do?”
That probably doesn’t make things any clearer, does it? Let me try again.
Both of Audrey’s parents died around Passover time, so she observed the anniversaries of their deaths in the past two weeks. They died 43 years apart, but their graves are covered today by a common headstone. We went to visit those gravesites before Passover and laid a rock on the headstone to show that we had been there and were remembering them. Our visit had an extra purpose, which was to confound Audrey's mother even though it has been five years since she died. Audrey’s mom had long predicted that no one would ever visit her in the cemetery after she was gone, but here we were. Surprise! OK, that seems better. But what about our graves? Is this where the plot(s) thickens?

Audrey's parents' graves are marked by 
this slightly askew stone.
A few years after Audrey’s mom died, an elderly cousin also passed away and was buried “just around the corner” from Audrey’s parents. A few months later, the cousin’s son-in-law called to say that his cousin on the other side of the family (are you confused yet?) had moved to Florida and was trying to sell the cemetery plots he had purchased in New Jersey but wouldn’t be needing now. Were we interested?

Amazingly, we were. And I’m not exactly sure why. There is something about making several visits to a cemetery over a brief period of time. You start to think of your own mortality. And you also begin to think about bizarre tasks you should probably get out of the way while you’re thinking about them—such as purchasing cemetery plots. The opportunity was there, and we took it. Now we’re the proud(?) owners of two plots in a quiet area under a lovely tree. It looks very peaceful. And we’ll be spending eternity just a few yards from my in-laws and a few hundred yards from many other members of Audrey’s extended family. Plus, the Tick-Tock Diner is nearby so our kids can put stones on several graves at the same time and even enjoy a little lunch after they come to visit us many years from now. That is, if they’ll ever come. Should I suggest that they print out this blogpost—just as a reminder?

Should we draw a map to show our kids
where to find us for eternity?

1 comment:

  1. There is something quite disturbing about this post, but I appreciate the lunch tip for our future visits! XOXO