August 12th, 2018
I sat on a bench outside of St. Rita Church this morning. A woman walked up to me and said,
“You really look tired.”
I rubbed my eyes, and replied, “Yes, I am.”
Two days ago, when I was sitting with the Syrian kids and reading stories, Nizar said the same thing,
“Hey, Frank, you look tired! Are you tired?”
Earlier I had mentioned to Nizar’s mom that I was tired, in Arabic. (“Ta’abaan”)
I do feel worn out. I look into the bathroom mirror and red eyes stare back at me.
I am convinced that most of this weariness is the result of the interactions I’ve had with the girl we love, especially during the last several weeks. Since the end of June, my life has been chaotic. So has Karin’s. We have gone from one crisis to another with scarcely a pause in the action. It feels like an Indiana Jones movie. It has been nearly impossible to plan ahead, and we cringe every time the phone rings. In particular, the last week or two have been brutal. At one point we did not know if the girl was alive or dead. We have spent days talking with cops and the young woman’s probation officer. We grow weary. At least, I grow weary.
Yesterday Karin and I attempted to celebrate our thirty-fourth wedding anniversary. We were married in Karin’s home village in Germany back in 1984. A lot has changed since then. Maybe everything has changed. I am hard pressed to think of anything that has remained constant other than the fact that somehow we are still together.
Karin and I had simple plans for our anniversary. We wanted to go to Mass together in the morning, and get a blessing from our priest. Then our ways would diverge. Karin wanted to go to the State Fair grounds to look at the sheep and wool exhibits. I wanted to go to the synagogue to pray, and then to have a long-postponed kosher lunch with my friend, Ken. In the afternoon, we were thinking of going to a German restaurant for dinner. Karin had suggested the idea. Karin had also bought a bottle of Riesling for later in the evening. As background, Karin was raised in the Taubertal, a wine-making region of southern Germany. We didn’t have a Riesling at our wedding, but we drank something similar. We had numerous bottles of Markelsheimer Propstberg, a slightly-sweet, full-flavored, fruity wine. I remember it well.
Mass on a Saturday morning is a bit odd. Most churches do not even have a liturgy at that time. The only reason that it is available at St. Rita is that the parish is run by a group of Augustinian priests, and they have a school for novices on the site. Saturday morning Mass tends to be an intimate affair that draws mostly an older crowd ( a much older crowd). There are sometimes a few younger people in attendance, but they tend to have a peculiarly intense sort of Catholic religiosity that is both impressive and rather irritating. Father David, the new novice director, celebrated the Mass. He’s a thin man of fifty years who wears large, horn-rimmed glasses that give him an owlish appearance. He’s a quiet man who displays a quiet sort of compassion toward others.
At the end of the service Father David called Karin and me forward. He announced to the congregation that we were celebrating our thirty-first anniversary. Thirty-one years? Thirty-four? At this point in life, does it even make a difference? He gave us a blessing, and then he said to me,
“You may now kiss the bride!”
Karin and I kissed.
It was a nice touch.
I dropped Karin off at the fair grounds. The girl we love was supposed to have a phone interview with a local sober living house at about that time. She was calling the sober living house from jail. I had set up a pre-paid phone account in order for her to do that. I was hoping that it would all go well, and that the folks at the house would allow the girl to join them. Karin hoped the same thing. Once I stopped at the curb, Karin walked away from our car in search of sheep, and maybe cream puffs.
I drove across town to the synagogue. As I parked, I got a series of text messages from Karin. Apparently, the phone interview had not gone well. The residents of the sober living house were not entirely convinced that the girl really wanted to stay sober. In one text, Karin asked me if we should visit the young woman at the jail in the afternoon, between one and three o’clock.
I groaned. Can’t we be left alone for even one day? This meant that I couldn’t have lunch with Ken because Shacharit in the Shul goes until at least 12:30. I texted back to Karin and reluctantly told her, “Yeah”. Odds were that our girl was expecting us to visit, even if Karin had not actually promised that. There was no way to let the young woman that we were not coming, since we couldn’t call into the jail. The girl could only call out. Karin told me to pick her up at noon.
I figured that I had about an hour and a half to spend at the synagogue. I put on my black yarmulke and walked inside. (Side note: Karin had knit the yarmulke for me. She does that sort of thing.) When I got there, they were still waiting for enough Jewish men to make up a minyan. They were momentarily disappointed when I showed up. I’m not Jewish, so I literally don’t count. The guys were happy to see me, but not as happy as they would have been if I could have been a Jew for a day.
I stopped to talk with Ken. I told him that lunch was not happening. He was okay with that. I wasn’t. I was upset, partly because I had been looking forward to a meal and conversation at his house, and partly because I knew that, as an Orthodox Jew, Ken has done all the meal preparation the day before Shabbat. All his culinary efforts had gone to waste. Ken knows about the struggles that Karin and I are having. He spoke to me about how God never places too heavy a burden on to a person, but it sure feels that way sometimes. He gave me a quick hug.
A couple more congregants showed up, and they could get the service rolling. Yesterday they read the Parsha Re’eh from the Torah. I have only a minimal understanding of Hebrew, but I know enough that I can follow along with the English text in the Chumash. I can usually also keep up with the prayers in the Siddur.
In the text from yesterday, Moses said to the Hebrews, “I place before you today a blessing and a curse.” Somehow that struck me. I don’t know why.
The reading of the parscha is interrupted briefly after the first three aliyahs. At that time the rabbi prays for those people who are ill. The Jews always pray for our young woman. Every Shabbat, without fail, they pray for her healing. They don’t even know her (well, Ken does), but they say her name each and every week. Every time they pray for her, I feel like crying.
I had to leave after the reading of the Haftorah. I think it was from Isaiah. On the way to the Fair Park, I had to stop at a traffic light. There was a young man on the side, holding a sign saying that he was homeless. He was munching on blueberries. I called to the young guy. Then I pulled out some cash and handed it to him. He thanked me.
I asked the guy, “What’s your name?”
“I’m Frank. So, how did you get to be homeless?”
Tim replied, “I have a drinking problem. I lost my job a year ago, and I’m trying to get my act together.”
The light turned green.
“I hear you, Man. I got to go.”
I drove off.
I got to the State Fair, and picked up Karin. I was in a foul mood. She noticed that quickly. She has known me for a while. It is an hour drive from State Fair Park to the jail in Kenosha. That gave me plenty of time to stew. As an added benefit, traffic sucked hard.
We had been to that jail many times in the past, so Karin and I knew the drill for getting to see our loved one. We filled out our paper slips with the stubby pencils provided by the Sheriff’s Department. We slipped the papers and our ID’s to the woman behind the Plexiglas window. She had issues. She had to make a couple calls and consult with a number of people. She finally told us,
“We can’t let you visit this woman. She is under a suicide watch.”
“You got to be fucking kidding me. Now what happened?” (This was thought, but not spoken.)
She gave us back our ID”s. The woman continued to speak in her clipped, bureaucratic voice,
“Next time you should call ahead before coming.”
I mumbled, “Yeah, okay…”
She kept talking, “I didn’t ask for this. Don’t be upset with me.”
I sighed deeply, “Yeah, fine…”
“Just call next time, and make sure that she is available.”
I wanted to strangle a puppy.
Karin and I drove home. My mood was black: a rancid combination of anger, sorrow, and fatigue. I radiated Sith energy. I let Karin know that I really didn’t want to go out to eat.
We kept away from each other for a couple hours. I laid on the bed and read parts of The Healer of Shattered Hearts, a book of Jewish spirituality. Reading that often helps. Somehow, Jewish spirituality feels so real. It just does, especially with regards to suffering.
In the evening, Karin asked me,
“Do you want me to open up the bottle of Riesling? We could have a couple glasses, and eat some snacks.”
So, Karin and I sat in the kitchen. We lit the wedding candle that we got from her Onkel Kurt and Tante Aga back in 1984. We light the candle every year. It might be the only thing we still have and use from the wedding. Well, the wine glasses are from then too. We filled those with the Riesling.
Karin wanted to look at old photos. Those are melancholy for me. Many of the people in those pictures are long dead. Those who remain alive are very different now. Karin and I are very different now. We only vaguely resemble the newlyweds from three decades ago.
We sat and talked, as old married couples do. We are an “Alte Ehepaar”, as the Germans would say.
I asked Karin, “You want to watch a movie?”
She brightened up a bit. “Sure, what?”
“Kung Fu Panda.”
“Oh, that’s on Netflix.”
“Good, let’s watch it. We need something like that.”
And we did.