Sunday, September 23, 2007

On Fasting and Wordless Eloquence

This didn't start out as a long entry. Turns out the whims of current events had other plans.
 
Item 1: One of the great mysteries in the history of Judaism is this: why do they call it a fast when it goes so slowly?
 
The idea that a person can atone for a year's worth of sins with a day of fasting seems, at least in my case, wistful at best. A team of people fasting on my behalf for a month might - I say might - begin to scratch the surface. Still, with the fear of catching a lightning bolt in the tuchas fresh in my mind, in observance of Yom Kippur dinner Friday and breakfast and lunch Saturday were replaced by healthy servings of atonement, with a booming voice from heaven asking, "Do you want to supersize that?"
 
One learns things over the years that help: go into the fast with a saturated body - it's the water you miss more than the food - and keep the physical exertion to a minimum. And you do get hardened to it after a while. (My kids thought I was insane spending a good bit of Saturday making tomato sauce.)
 
And candles. It's a Jewish practice to light special memorial candles on Yom Kippur in memory of departed loved ones. (The candles usually cost $0.79 each, but earlier in the day I'd found them locally on sale for $0.25. God does indeed work in mysterious ways.) There were a lot of new candles this year - for my father, of course, and for family I didn't know but have started wanting to. A special "unofficial" candle in a votive for Skids. (I'm not sure how God would feel about lighting an "official" candle for a pet, but it didn't feel right not to include her in some way. I take it as a sign of His approval that this candle, too, was on sale.) I think of the collection of candles my grandmother used to lay out, covering the top of her television - I'd started out years ago with the one or two I'd seen my parents put out - and am sobered for a moment by the passage of time.
 
 
Item 2: Wordless Eloquence
 
I was all set to end this entry after the Fasting part. Then I read a news item this morning on the passing of Marcel Marceau and felt things I needed to express. Definitely an "awww" moment. Every era has its luminaries and, after a good run during their lives, they pass and the new generation comes along. It's a good system that gives each generation what it needs without over-burdening history. (Do we really need to know about whatever ancient Egyptian comedians Ramses thought were hilarious?) It's really something when you have the opportunity to experience the work of someone you know will still be talked about a hundred years from now. A man I know, himself a skilled and accomplished mime and clown, studied with him years ago and still refers reverently to "Mr. Marceau."
 
A few years ago I'd heard about a performance Marceau was going to be doing in New York City. It got me thinking about hearing that my grandmother had once seen Houdini perform, and gave me the idea that this was a chance to give my children, probably 11 or 12 years old at the time, the chance to tell their grandchildren they once saw a truly great artist. While the performance turned out to be a little above their young heads, it's testimony to the skills of a great artist that it spoke clearly to an older mime-illiterate like me. The level of detail Marceau evoked with only his body and movements still amazes me. (Example: In once piece he was depicting a man who, in buttoning an imaginary shirt, kept mis-aligning the button-holes and having a piece of the shirt front hanging down on one side. After the third attempt, he picked up an imaginary scissor and cut away the part hanging down. It was funny, but more than that, it was brilliant in its clarity.) There was more funny and sweet stuff, of course, but most of all I remember a piece he closed the show with called, "Bip's Dream." Without a clue going in as to what this curiously titled piece was about, in short order it became clear it was a powerfully moving description of the experience of a young man growing up in Nazi-occupied France. In his obituary, it didn't surprise me at all to learn he was himself a Holocaust survivor who as a young man lost his father in Auschwitz and was very active in the French resistance.
 
Marceau himself once said, "Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us without words?" Indeed they sometimes do, Mr. Marceau. Thanks for giving me an experience I'll be proud to share, albeit with the limitations of words, with my grandchildren.

5 comments:

oldhousegal said...

I found this interesting.  My family was Roman Catholic and fasting wasn't something we were required to do.  The big deprivation was Lent, when you were supposed to give up something you liked.  Being the major foodie that I was, I usually gave up something like candy, a true sacrifice for my pudgy little self.  During Lent we also couldn't eat meat on Fridays, which is how the Friday night ritual of fish sticks with macaroni & cheese was born.  My sibs and I all loved Friday night dinners during Lent, because we were assured there would be no vile vegetable such a brussel sprouts or spinach!  Plus, the mac & cheese had to be Kraft, notable for its bright orange color.  Who says love can't come in a box?

faveanti said...

In our Anglican Church over here in England we don't really have much in the way of rules and regulations and the only time you fast at all is if you're de-toxing.  I did wonder, a long time ago, how come, when others are busy saving their souls by fasting or not eating fish on Fridays or telling all in the confessional, how come WE don't go right up in a puff of smoke?
Angie

demandnlilchit said...

You my friend are an excellent writer....a beautiful mind! It's good to honor the past.

amy122389 said...

A candle for Skids.  :)  I'd have done it, too.  

~Amy

gazker said...

I have never fast, but I have detoxed........... Never again! You must have the stamina of an Ox to do what you do.
Gaz ;-)