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A Journey with Frequent Stops

—is what Jonathan took on the six train on the way to mid-town where he was in seminary. At this time it was so crowded that he would actually sit in the motor man’s car because forget a place to sit, there was no place to stand. And he would use this forty minute to an hour journey from Brooklyn to mid-town to clarify his mind, or, what might be actually closer to an accurate description, to let his greatest fears and anxieties run free so that once having let them do their worst, his mind could rest easy.

–what Jonathan did was to sit where the motorman would sit and imagine he was being subjected to the ancient methods of execution — by burning, by stoning, by strangling, and I’m not sure the fourth one — maybe decapitation? You could ask somebody who knows, I think. Not important. But he would ask himself what is it that he would not do even if he was threatened with death at that very moment.

You know they have found that golf pros if they simply imagine taking a swing and don’t move their bodies at all, when it comes time to play on the green, their stroke actually improves, even though it was “all in their heads”. It was like that with Jonathan. He was able to find some clarity about what he believed was real, by putting himself through this exercise of what he would allow himself to be killed rather than deny.

And in a sense it gave him a sense of the ultimate goal of his life — because if he knew what was real then and there — while he was in the uptown six stopping at union square — as a young rabbinic student, not yet married, no kids — he got a bird’s eye view of what would always be true, at least always be true for him, even when he was a father, and a grandfather and on his actual last day — which it turned out was from cancer.

But what about all the rest of it? All the parts of his life that were not what he was willing to sacrifice his life for he was so sure of it? What of all the starts and stops on the way to that final moment of exhalation, in Mount Sinai, grandchildren gathered around, some of them sad, some of them looking at their phones.

What about that?

As the train started moving again he realized with a flesh-dissolving almost unbearable joy —

–I believe that too!

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4 thoughts on “A Journey with Frequent Stops

  1. Life has lots of stops, but we’re never sure which is the last one. I like what George Burns said when he was 98 and someone asked how he wanted to die: “Shot by a jealous husband.” That’s how I want to go.

  2. Jay Murphy says:

    Having faced death nose to nose for sometime now, how I end up going is an odd reoccurring thought. I also consider all the times, which are so numerous that I have enough now for a hearty book, that I have escaped by luck, action and the grace of random chance I find I cannot settle on a preference of exit.

    I remember looking out the window of the helicopter stretched out on the gurney going over Taylor pass on the mountain thinking how cool it was to see the top from this height.

    While the pilot talked over the head set about landing on top of the mountain on the way back at Columbine I watched the Arivipia hills undulated thinking of how easily the Apache disappeared in those hills which reminded Edger Rice Boroughs of Africa.

    Those same plain of hills and the Klondike river which I had wondered where for more than 8 thousand years people had lived.

    I remember cresting over the saddle and having Tucson appear ahead of the low flying helicopter aimed at the upcoming hospital roof top.

    I think, God I hope the don’t drop me getting out of this thing.

    They put in the room. It was Thanksgiving. They left the room and me sitting there on the bed.

    I woke on the floor with both shoulders tore up.

    The next two weeks it was all about the heart.

    I lived and went to another hospital to fix the shoulders later on.

    I enjoy a good start and stop story.

  3. The golf pro using the Feldenkrais Method, same method I was taught as a means of controlling pain and of creating muscle memory for when I would finally be able to exercise again. Powerful stuff. Engage the brain, build the narrative of successful movement or emotion. Funny how the same method can do the exact opposite: you can become an expert at winning an argument but losing the fight, becoming inured to hurting or failing or hating.

    Still, clearing oneself of the stress, frustration, anger, and suckitude of the day can free up the mind and heart so one might fill up with joy and love upon arriving home. But what if you get caught in a time loop while trying to exorcise the worst of the day? You could be trapped in the bowels of a self-made Hell. You might find yourself wishing you’d practiced positive engagement of the mind, which, of course, is another level of Hell in the time loop: woulda coulda shoulda. Coulda shoulda woulda. Shoulda woulda coulda. Whichever order strikes you. Repeated often enough, it takes on the cadence of the train and you become entranced by and entrenched in the powerful inertia of what might have been. But you can’t seem to stop because there might be a lesson in there, a decision or an action that might have changed your luck if only…gotta find it so you know what to look for next time.

    Eventually, analysis paralysis takes over and you’re no longer a mere passenger on this locomotive of madness, you’re now the conductor.

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