There was a blaze of light and I could feel the car
soaring into the air. I drew a deep breath, bracing myself for the
crash, but it never came.
Instead I was a kid on a van moving into a new
neighborhood. I could hear the gravel crunching under the wheels. It
was daylight, bright daylight, and I couldn’t understand it.
Something had gone wrong. Time had run off its
track. My mind wrestled crazily with the thought. It couldn’t be
true. Things like this just didn’t happen. I was back at the
beginnings of memory.
Then it was gone and I felt the steering wheel
shatter. One moment I was looking stupidly at my hands holding onto
the remnants of a wheel that was no longer a wheel, and the next
moment I was flying crazily into a looming, leering darkness.
Somewhere deep in the silent, noiseless dark,
someone was calling my name. It echoed hollowly, metallically, in my
mind, the syllables rolling toward me like waves in the sea.
"Dan—ny Fish—er. Dan—ny Fish—er." Over and over
again I could hear the voice calling me. Somehow I knew that I
mustn’t listen to its siren song. I mustn’t listen to its sound. I
mustn’t even hear it in my mind. Desperately I fought against it. I
pushed hard and closed my mind to its echo. A sudden pain rushed
through me and I tensed in the excruciating agony.
The pain grew stronger and stronger, and yet it was not a
physical thing that I was feeling. It was a vague disembodied pain
that floated through me like the air I used to breathe.
The air I used to breathe. Used to breathe. Why did
I think that? The pain filtered into me again and permeated my
consciousness, and my question was forgotten. I could hear my voice
screaming in the distance. Its shout of agony was ringing in my
ears. Slowly I slipped back toward the darkness again.
"Dan—ny Fish—er, Dan—ny Fish—er." I could hear the
strangely soothing voice again. It was soft and gentle and held
within it the promise of rest and peace and relief from agony and
yet I fought against it, with all the strength I had never used
against anything before. Again the voice faded from my mind and the
How sweet the taste of pain when all else is gone
from your body. How you cling longingly to the agony that binds you
to the earth. You breathe the pain as if it were the sweetest air;
you drink the pain with all the thirsty fibres of your being. You
long for the pain that lets you live.
It was roaring sweet and agonizingly pungent inside
me. The pain I loved and held so close to me. I could hear my
distant voice screaming in protest against it and I was happy in the
feeling. Anxiously I reached for it with my hands but could not hold
it; for once again it slipped from me and I was plunging into the
quiet, restful dark.
The voice was very close to me now. I could feel it
in my mind as once before I had felt the pain in my body. "Why do
you fight me, Danny Fisher?" it asked reproachfully. "I only come to
give you rest."
"I don’t want to rest!" I shouted against it. "I
want to live!"
"But to live is to suffer, Danny Fisher." The voice
was deep and warm and rich and comforting. "Surely you must know
that by now."
"Then go away and let me suffer," I screamed. "I
want to live. There are so many things I have to do!"
"What is there for you to do?" the voice asked
quietly. "Remember what you said a few short minutes ago? The words
you spoke to your father: ‘There’ll be no regrets. I’ve had about
everything there is to be had in life. I’ll have no complaints, no
"But a man says many things he doesn’t mean, " I
cried desperately. "I’ve got to live. Nellie said she couldn’t go on
without me. My son needs me."
The voice was as wise and as tolerant as time. It
echoed hollowly through my mind. "You don’t really believe that
Danny Fisher, do you?" it asked quietly. "For surely you must know
that life does not cease to exist in others for any man."
"Then I want to live for myself," I wept. "To feel
the firm soft earth beneath my feet, to taste the sweetness in my
wife’s body, to take pleasure in the growing of my son."
"But if you live, Danny Fisher," the voice said
inexorably, you will have none of these things. The body you once
inhabited is smashed beyond repair. You will not see, you will not
feel, you will not taste. You will be a shell that remains a living
organism, a constant burden and agony to those you love."
"But I want to live!" I screamed, fighting against
the voice will all my might. Slowly I could feel the pain returning
to my being.
I welcomed it as a woman would welcome a long-absent
lover. I embraced it and let it enter me. I could feel the sweetly
welcome agony flowing through as the blood would flow. Then suddenly
there was a moment of pure clean light and I could see again.
I was looking at myself, torn and twisted and
shapeless. Hands were reaching toward me, but they stopped, frozen
in horror, at the sight of me. Was there nothing left of me that
might bring joy to someone’s heart? I looked closely down at myself.
My face was clean. It was calm and still. There was even the remnant
of a smile upon my lips. I looked closer.
My eyelids were closed, but I could see behind them.
The hollow sockets stared vacantly at me. I turned in horror from
myself. The tears were running through my mind, washing away all the
strange new hurt.
The pain began to slip from me again as the light
grew dim and the dark returned. The voice was once more at the
gateway to my mind.
"Now, Danny Fisher," it said sympathetically, "will
you let me help you?"
I pushed the tears from my mind. All my life had
been a matter of bargain. Now there was time for just one more.
"Yes," I whispered, "I will let you help — if only you can make my
body whole that my loved ones do not turn from me in horror."
"I can do that," the voice replied quietly.
Somehow I knew that it would be done and that there
had been no need for me to ask. "Then help me, please," I begged,
"and I will be content."
There was a sudden loving warmth around me. "Rest
then, Danny Fisher," the voice said softly. "Give yourself up to the
quiet, peaceful dark and do not be afraid, It’s just like going to
I reached out confidently toward the dark. It was a
friendly, loving kind of dark and in it I found warmth and love of
all I ever knew. It was just like going to sleep.
The dark rolled around me in gentle swirling clouds.
The memory of pain was dim and far distant now, and soon even the
memory had gone. Now I knew why I had never known peace before.
I was content.
There are many ways to get to Mount Zion Cemetery. You can go by
automobile, through the many beautiful parkways of Long Island, or
by subway, bus or trolley. There are many ways to get to Mount Zion
Cemetery, but during this week there is no way that is not crushed
and crowded with people.
"Why should this be so?" you ask, for in the full
flush of life there is something frightening about going to a
cemetery — except at certain times. But this week, the week before
the High Holy Days, is one of these times. For this is the week that
Lord God Jehovah calls His angels about Him and opens before them
the Book of Life. And your name is inscribed on one of these pages.
Written on that page will be your fate for the coming year.
For these six days the book will remain open and you
will have the opportunity to prove that you are deserving of His
kindness. During these six days you devote yourself to acts of
charity and devotion. One of these acts is the annual visit to the
And to make sure that your visit to the departed
will be noted and the proper credit given, you will pick up a small
stone from the earth beneath your feet and place it on the monument
so that the Recording Angel will see it when he comes through the
cemetery each night.
You meet at the time appointed under an archway of
white stone. The words MOUNT ZION CEMETERY are etched into the stone
over your head. There are six of you. You look awkwardly at one
another and words come stiffly to your lips. You are all here. As if
by secret agreement, without a word, you all begin to move at once
and pass beneath the archway.
On your right is the caretaker’s building; on your
left, the record office. In this office, listed by plot number and
burial society, are the present addresses of many people who have
walked this earth with you and many who have walked this earth
before your time. You do not stop to this of this, for to you, all
except me belong to yesterday.
walk up a long road searching for a certain path. At last you see
its white numbers on a black disk. You turn up the path, your eyes
reading the names of the burial societies over each plot section.
The name you have been looking for is now visible to you, polished
black lettering on gray stone. You enter the plot.
A small old man with a white tobacco-stained
mustache and beard hurries forward to meet you. He smiles
tentatively, while his fingers toy with a small badge on his lapel.
It is the prayer-reader for the burial society. He will say your
prayers in Hebrew for you, for such has been the custom for many
You murmur a name. He nods his head in birdlike
acquiescence; he knows the grave you seek. He turns, and you follow
him, stepping carefully over other graves, for space is a premium
here. He stops and points an old, shaking hand. You nod your head,
it is the grave you seek, and he steps back.
An airplane drones overhead, going to a landing at a
nearby airport, but you do not look up. You are reading the words on
the monument. Peace and quiet come over you. The tensions of the day
fall from your body. You raise your eyes and nod slightly at the
He steps forward again and stands in front of you.
He asks your names, so that he may include them in his prayer. One
by one you answer him.
My sister’s husband.
His prayer is a singsong, unintelligible gibberish
of words that echoes monotonously among the graves. But you are not
listening to him. You are filled with memories of me, and to each of
you I am a different person.
At last the prayer is done, the prayer-reader paid
and gone to seek his duty elsewhere. You look around on the ground
beneath you for some small stone. Carefully you hold it in your hand
and, like the other, one at a time, step forward toward the
Through the cold and snow of winter and the sun and
rain of summer have been close to me since last you were here
together, your thoughts are again as they were then. I am strong in
each of your memories, except one.
To my mother I am a frightened child, huddling close to her
bosom, seeking safety in her arms.
To my father I am a difficult son, whose love was
hard to meet, yet strong as mine for him.
To my sister I am the bright young brother, whose
daring was the cause of love and fear.
To my sister’s husband I am the friend who shared
the common hope of glory.
To my wife I am the lover, who, beside her in the
night, worshiped her at the shrine of passion and joined her in a
To my son — to my son I know not what I am, for he
knew me not.
There are five stones lying on my grave and still,
my son, you stand there wondering. To all the others I am real, but
not to you. Then why must you stand here and mourn someone you never
In your heart there is the tiny hard core of a
child’s resentment. For I have failed you. You have never made those
boasts that children wont to make: "My daddy is the strongest," or
the smartest, or the kindest, or the most loving. You have listened
in bitter silence, with a growing frustration, while others have
said these things to you.
Do not resent nor condemn me, my son. Withhold your
judgment, if you can, and hear the story of your father. I was
human, hence fallible and weak. And though in my lifetime I made
many mistakes and failed many people, I would not willingly fail
you. Listen to me, I beg you, listen to me, O my son, and learn of
Come back with me to the beginning, to the very beginning. For we
who have been of one flesh, of one blood, and of one heart are now
come together in one memory.