Dan arrived at the church as planned; some twenty minutes after the Sunday morning prayers began. Consequently, he had to park in the lot at the top of Hill Street and take the long walk down to the corner where Hill and Church meet. It was a bitterly cold morning and he had been anxious the whole drive down. He didn’t want to run into anyone he knew, especially someone from her family. He had been avoiding this trip for some time but it was something he knew he had to do; something he knew he wanted to do.
His favorite long gray coat, the one he only wears to synagogue, kept him warm as he walked briskly toward The Crossroads Presbyterian Church. The street was quiet and still and there was not a soul in sight except an old Chevy making its way down Church Street on course to meet Dan at the intersection. Although he could have crossed the street, Dan preferred to wait for the car to reach the intersection where it turned left and retraced Dan’s path back up the hill and into the parking lot. He then crossed the street and continued toward the large white church with the soaring spire that seemingly grew taller as he neared it. Dan chose a circuitous route to his destination in the hopes to remain undetected. He sprinted up the hill on the right side of the church and entered through an old rusty gate in the back. Although it had been seven years since that awful day, Dan knew exactly where he was going. He carefully maneuvered his way around the gravestones until he reached her gravesite at the perimeter of cemetery. The sound of the church organ playing in the chapel cut through the thick gray sky and elicited in Dan long forgotten feelings of guilt that were born from his desire to choose love above his faith.
Kim’s headstone was marked with a simple cross and was decorated with fresh flowers. The words “beloved wife and mother” were engraved below her name with a small dash separating her birthdate from her death date. The vacant spot to the right of her tombstone inexplicably filled Dan with sorrow and forced him to confront the question that had always plagued their relationship. Did he love his faith more than he loved her?
Dan’s breath puffed smoke into the frigid air as he began to recite the Mourners’ Kaddish. He
abruptly stopped half way through the ancient text and resumed contemplating his conundrum. He knew he loved her but he also knew, as was evident by them never marrying, that he did not love her enough to forsake his faith. Dan bent to the ground and easily found a stone and placed it on Kim’s grave. But what if she were Jewish? as Kim often asked. He always told her that of course he would have married her.
Dan now thought about Joy and their life together and how much he loved her and their two children. What if she were not Jewish? Although he couldn’t give up his faith, he knew he couldn’t give her up either. Dan bowed his head quickly and continued with his prayers silently when he noticed someone entering the front gate of the cemetery. Dan always knew in his heart that he and Joy were meant to be and that if she weren’t Jewish he would never have allowed his faith to give up on him. Dan’s head was now spinning with a plethora of unanswerable questions. Was it their shared faith that caused him to love Joy so deeply?
Would his love for Kim naturally have been stronger had she been Jewish? On the other hand, was faith just an excuse he used to avoid telling Kim that he just didn’t want to marry her? Dan had learned in life that people often lie to themselves and others just to avoid what can sometimes be a painful truth.
Dan shuttered from a surprised tap on his shoulder, “Excuse me sir, did you know my mother?” a voice said. Dan turned around and looked at the tall young man before him.
“Um--, yes, I knew your mother-- from work. She was a really wonderful person,” Dan responded. “So, I guess you know she’s been gone seven years today.” The young man stood next to Dan as they both stared straight ahead at the grave. “You know, I remember that day as if it was yesterday,” he said with tears streaming down his face. “Just before she passed, she told me that if I should ever love someone, I should never let anything get in the way.”
“That’s sound advice,” Dan said.
“Yes, sir,” the young man responded. The two of them stood there in silence for a moment. “Sir, I hope you have someone you love so much that you will never let anything get in the way,” the young man continued.
“Yes, I believe I do.” Dan looked up at the young man and smiled. “Well, I must be heading home. All the best to you and know your Mother is missed.” Dan put his hands in his coat pocket and gave the young man one last smile. He turned from the grave and proceeded to the front gate and back to his car. In his pocket he felt a yarmulke that he must have shoved in there the last time he was at synagogue. “Hmm,” he said with a chuckle and a smile. Dan then got into his car and zipped out of the parking lot anxiously looking forward to getting home and back to Joy. - Craig Sherman