Several month ago, my husband’s aunt died, and we drove to Kentucky to attend the funeral. It was a cool but sunny November day – not sad enough for the occasion but also not too depressing to make one feel that life is meaningless. Aunt Anne would’ve liked it, too; she used to enjoy spending time outside — playing golf or going out on a pontoon boat. She was from the category about which people say, “they don’t make them like that anymore:” tall, active, with a decisive expression and an equally decisive mind – a piece of which she never hesitated to share with you. She was also a long-standing Democrat (who knew there are Democrats in Kentucky?!), and in fact, she voted by absentee ballot from her hospital bed several days before her death.
There were many people at the funeral, and a Baptist minister, a middle-aged stocky man, gave a nice eulogy, obviously designed to make those left behind feel better. (Well, he did say that God grieves when a Christian dies, which made me, a Jew, wonder about my situation.) Afterwards, women from the church provided a potluck lunch, giving the grieving family a chance to talk with people they don’t see often and reminisce about the past. Not having seen the Kentucky relatives for a while, I couldn’t help notice that those I remembered as early middle-aged looked quite a bit older, and those I remembered as kids looked mature – some of them already parents on their own, and it was good to see this never-ending renewal, as it was sad to think about the never-ending departure. After the service, the minister continued his vigil, cheering teary-eyed family members and greeting out-of-town relatives. He had the mild manners of a good Southerner and the soft touch of a person who officiates at baptisms and weddings as well as funerals. At the end, he approached us, too — asked for our names and where we came from, and then said, “What church do you go to?”
Being the only non-Christian there, I felt slightly uncomfortable with this question, so I mumbled under my breath, “Well, I’m Jewish,” hoping to end the conversation. But, to my amazement, my husband suddenly said, “We go to a synagogue.”
We do?! – I almost said loudly but stopped myself just in time. The thing is that I go to synagogue on the High Holidays only, which amounts to one or two visits a year — depending on my willingness to suffer through the long sermons the main topic of which is trying to shame those in the audience for not coming more often. As for my husband (who is not Jewish!), he joins me only if I threaten him with passing all that suffering on to him — which usually works once a year. In any case, after I got over my husband’s surprising statement, I started inconspicuously pulling him by the sleeve, for the only thing I expected next was an attempt to save us by immediate conversion, so a quick retreat was in order. Yet I was wrong. Instead of proselytizing or banishing us from the holy grounds, the minister, without missing a beat, broke into a monologue about his days in divinity school and his experiences with learning Hebrew and Greek.
On our way home, I kept thinking about Aunt Anne, what a strong person she was, and how she always knew what she wanted — even for her funeral. Then my thoughts shifted to my eventual departure. At first, I contemplated whether I want to be buried in the ground, according to the Jewish tradition, or cremated. Then I realized that I have a bigger problem on my hands – where would my funeral take place? In America? I have only one close relative here – my husband. In Israel? My parents and sister live there, but a Jewish burial has to take place within hours, which, logistically, would not be possible. Also, the last time I talked to my mother about this subject, she said that she wants to be buried in Moscow, next to her parents! And if my mother is not buried in Israel, why would I go there? As for Russia, that is the last place on earth where I want to rest. It was bad enough to live there for 39 years; there’s no way I’d go back dead or alive! Now, I had just one option left – London, which my daughter made her home. Yet I quickly discarded that idea, too, for my daughter has enough things to do while working, going to school, and raising my two grandchildren.
Not finding any solution, I gradually dozed off — still searching even in my dreams. When I woke up, the sky was turning dark and we were already in Illinois — yet another place I would cross without leaving a trace. I straightened up in my seat, looked at the rapidly disappearing lights, and, suddenly, it came to me – what does it matter what happens afterward? As long as I live a good and honest life.