—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!