I roam the streets of Budapest, somewhat in a daze. The taillights of speeding cars blur in slow motion. It is 2 AM. A few drunken lips are laughing, while tears streak down my sober cheeks. My heart should be heavy, but I don’t feel a thing. I gaze out into nowhere, into everywhere. I look at everything and I see nothing. I am in shock: My Zaidy has died.
Three hours later I am on the way to the airport. The taxi driver is so courteous. The world moves around me so normally. How can that be when everything has changed?
I go through the airport routine. But this time it’s different. I buckle my seatbelt. But this time it’s different. I don't watch the safety video of how to inflate my life-vest. But this time it’s different. I scan the in-flight magazine’s crossword. But this time it’s different. I'm flying thirty thousand feet above the ground but I have never felt so low. Yes, it is definitely different.
I am waiting for my connection flight in Amsterdam. One man is buying a book at a newsstand. Another is talking on his phone. A woman is sipping a coffee. Another is cuddling her baby. People are being paged. Pages are being turned. The airport is alive; my Zaidy is dead.
I land in JFK. I have checked no suitcases but I carry a lot of baggage. I get my passport stamped and the man tells me, “Welcome back.” Thank you.
I step out, into the yellow swirl of emotions and cabs. I look out the window of my friend’s car and into the window of the unfriendly world. What I see looks familiar but I do not recognize it. We stop by a red light. It seems to be mocking me. It is saying: I will always be here. Without warning it turns green. I guess it too was wrong.
I walk through the door, expecting Zaidy to be sitting at the table, his head hiding behind a newspaper or six. But instead I see an empty space. I see people sitting on low chairs and between them an empty space. I see wet eyes and behind them an empty space. I see ripped shirts and there too an empty space. In my heart, too, there is an empty space. The room is full, full with empty spaces.
I sat in the hospital three weeks before he died. He asked the doctor: ‘Why are doctors always healthy and patients always sick?’ The doctor laughed. He was lying in bed, machines attached to every part of his body, tubes sticking out everywhere – and he was making the doctor laugh. He just wasn’t the dying type. Life rarely is – and he was Life.
He would tell me: ‘Why do you hang out with a sick man, go live life, go home’. I don’t think I had to tell him that he was healthier than anyone I knew. Standing near his bed, listening to him talk, watching him struggle, I don’t think I ever lived life the way I did that day. I don’t think I realized it at the time, only now – now when it is gone.
He just wanted to get out of the hospital. It was like a soul imprisoned in a body. One day that soul just said, ‘I’ve had enough’. It left the hospital; still, they say it hasn’t left us.
But it’s hard, so hard. You may be able to look at a soul but you cannot see it. You may be able to feel a soul but you cannot touch it. Is it so bad to want not only a soul but also a body? I don’t think so.
My father and uncles are saying Kaddish – I have never heard anything so sad. Everyone is crying; outside, the world still spins.
Nothing will ever be the same – not even the things that are different: no longer will Zaidy compliment our flaws; no longer will we take those slow walks up Brooklyn Avenue; Friday night will no longer see Zaide making kiddush. Yet, in the world nothing is different – not even the things that are the same.
So, what now? Zaidy is roaming the gardens, going from an interview with Moses to an interview with the Baal Shem Tov. His press-pass allows him unlimited access. But what will be with us? Do we go back to our normal lives? Do we try to follow the earth’s unchanging cycles? Do we?
No. We take that unchanging universe, that “normal world”, and we try to make it different, we try to make it worthy of a scoop.
That is what Zaidy would want.