A time for turning

The synagogue I belong to holds its Rosh Hashanah day services up on Mount Lemmon, a mile above the desert floor.

One of the early overlooks, on the way up Mount Lemmon, happens to be the one where Katherine’s ashes were scattered. It’s also the overlook where, 13 years ago, lnhammer, dancinghorse, Katherine and I watched lightning and thunder clouds dance across the desert floor, watched until our hair stood on end and we knew we really ought not stay out any longer. I’ve stopped there a couple of times in the 2 1/2 years since; it wasn’t a comfortable place anymore, but it also wasn’t a place I could simply drive past.

Anyway, this year, at services Rosh Hashanah eve, I had the sudden thought that I should stop at that overlook and say kaddish–the Jewish prayer for the dead–there. Not something I’m sure Katherine would have approved of, actually (then again, maybe she would; with Katherine it was always hard to tell), and it wasn’t even the proper time for such a thing–one says kaddish only during the first year after someone’s death; on the anniversary of their death after that; and every Yom Kippur. But sometimes, when one’s inner voice says to do something, one has to listen.

So I drove up the mountain Rosh Hashanah morning. The mountain range has been changed by this year’s heavy rains, and maybe by the fires of years past, too; as I drove I could see gouges, like the marks of dragon’s claws, running down slopes where the rock slid away. When I reached the overlook, and walked out into the desert below, things felt different there, too. Maybe the rocks had shifted and moved in subtle ways I couldn’t quite place; but if I’d believed that people leave psychic imprints behind, I would have said Katherine’s presence wasn’t as strong there as it used to be.

This wasn’t the first place I’d noticed this, actually. There’s a route across town that overlaps with the drive to Katherine’s apartment, and for some time after she killed herself, that drive always brought to mind the week after her death, when lnhammer and I made far that trip far too many times to help deal with the consequences of what had happened. Yet this fall, I made that drive several times, and I noticed something had changed–that things felt different. Again, maybe it was just the physical change around me: desert plants giving way to desert houses. But whatever the reason, the drive didn’t feel like the drive to Katherine’s apartment anymore; it felt like the drive to … well, to wherever I was driving, each time I made it.

Anyway, I walked out into the desert beneath the overlook, and I said kaddish–first whispering, self-conscious, because I’d never said kaddish alone before; then a little louder. The prayer, while said for the dead, is not about death at all–it’s entirely about praising God. I’ve always liked that.

I don’t know that I felt anything in particular, when I’d finished reciting those few verses. It seemed an okay thing to do, though; it also seemed like a thing that I wouldn’t need to do again.

Before getting back into my car, I glanced back over the overlook one more time. The desert where we’d watched lightning dance was filled with houses now. The overlook was becoming its own place, much like the drive across town was. If I believed people left psychic imprints, I’d say this one was moving on; or maybe just that I am, that the city is. Tucson has changed a lot, in 13 years; even in 2 1/2 years.

I drove the rest of the way up the mountain, to the Boy Scout camp where services were being held. The ground where we prayed was covered with sprigs of green. I thought they were grasses at first, but they weren’t; they were hundreds and hundreds of baby pine tree seedlings, growing in the wake of the rains and the fires. Things change. Even for mountains, there’s a time for turning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *