These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem


Posted on March 20, 2011 by Jean

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When I drove down Whiskey Row, past the town square, someone was standing by the county courthouse, playing bagpipes. Part of my mind noted how odd that was.

I parked my car by the funeral home and got out. I walked with determination halfway to the door. Then I turned around and walked back to my car.

But there was nothing else to do, except go inside. And ask for my father’s ashes.

The box was heavy. It was in a paper bag. I didn’t carry the bag by the handles. I held the box tightly to my chest, both my arms wrapped around it.

When I drove past the square again, the bagpiper began playing “Amazing Grace.”

My brother, his girlfriend, and I scattered Dad’s ashes in the forest. No music. Just Kaddish. And the three of us, wordless.

After I returned to Israel, a song started going through my head; it’s obscure and I know it only because I love fiddle music. The melody and lyrics wouldn’t leave me, so eventually I opened my computer to listen to it. The version I’m familiar with is simple, just fiddle and voice.

I am a poor, wayfaring stranger,
Traveling through this world below.
There is no sickness, toil, or danger
In that fair land to which I go.
Wayfaring Stranger performed by Jack White
You can’t love fiddle music and blue grass without eventually stumbling across country gospel. Although the melodies are beautiful, the lyrics of those songs often rubbed me the wrong way. Now, though, this one seems perfect:
I was standing by my window on a cold and cloudy day
When I saw the hearse go rollin’ for to carry my mother away.
Will the circle be unbroken, by and by, Lord by and by?
There’s a better home awaitin’, in the, sky Lord, in the sky.
Lord, I told that undertaker, “Undertaker, please drive slow,
For that body you are hauling, Lord, I hate to see her go.”
Will the Circle Be Unbroken performed by Iris DeMent
And Vince Gill’s voice nearly erases any differences in theology.
I know your life on earth was troubled
And only you could know the pain.
You weren’t afraid to face the devil;
You were no stranger to the rain.
Go rest high on that mountain.
Son, your work on earth is done.
Go Rest High on That Mountain performed by Vince Gill
What comfort does Judaism have for times like this? Only this:
…lead us toward peace, guide our footsteps toward peace, and
make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace…
Blessed are You, Adonai, Who hears prayer.
Where are you now, Dad?