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Requiem for a fighting angel
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A wasp bit me on the cheek the other day. And not the White Anglo Saxon Protestant variety, although that has happened in the past, too.

This was an angry stinging insect, pissed at my proximity to his or her home. I had plenty of warning, including an earlier bite. But some of us are stubborn.

I took Benedryl, dabbed some Caladryl and finally smeared a smuch of papaya. Too late. The sucker got me good. But I did eat the rest of the papaya, which I never think to buy.

This happened several days after Savannah’s Lyn McDonald passed away and two days before Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. At 48, Lyn was an angel of a woman, young, passionate, engaged with life, a gardener, a philosopher, a fighter.

Yom Kippur is the holiest of holy days for Jewish people. It follows Rosh Hashanah, which is the Jewish New Year, now numbering 5766.

And while I am not a practicing Jew, I do occasionally “come home” for one or more sabbath services during these holidays, swollen cheek and all. This year I attended the Kol Nidre service the night before Yom Kippur.

The familiarity, the collegiality, the people, the memory of those who have passed away and the celestial voices of the I Cantori choir make the trip worthwhile -- even if I still don’t understand the theology, the responsive readings or the need, really, of so many religions, so many churches, so much doctrine.

I had that same dialogue with myself the day of Yom Kippur. But this time I found myself sitting in a church, St. Paul’s Episcopal on Abercorn Street. I was at a requiem mass for Lyn. Once again, I sat more as an observer than a participant.

I was not uncomfortable. The interior of the sprawling red-brick church, a building I’ve passed hundreds of times without going inside, is knockdown gorgeous. The congregation seems enthusiastic, ecumenical, committed and inclusive.

The priest appears to have a good sense of humor. Just as important, he showed a good understanding of Lyn and her family. Still, none of that meant I understood what was going on during the mass.

But when Father Willoughby announced the family was inviting us back to Lyn’s garden in Baldwin Park for a “celebration, “ well, that I could understand. Two hours after the service, which began under lowering skies, the sun came out and the mourners either moved to Baldwin Park or returned to the synagogue.

I chose the garden, a chance, I said to someone, “to see a real garden.” The McDonald’s backyard filled up quickly. People talked and laughed and cried before breaking away to savor the basil, guess at the tarragon, take in the rosemary.

Most stopped to smell the single, blooming rose. The garden is welcoming and warm and challenging, not unlike Lyn.

But it’s hard to go home after something like that. So after checking in with the animals, the mail, the phone calls, the emails, I scooted downtown for a walk and maybe a chance to see the moon.

Most Jewish holidays start on the tiny sliver of a new moon, so I was seeking some open space to look up, to see a plump and growing moon, a harvest moon.

Once downtown, when I saw a crowd of people at SCAD’s Red Gallery, I squeezed in, too.

The poet Jim Moore was speaking. The name was familiar. Then it hit me. That week I had just heard a poem of his on Garrison Keillor’s “The Writer’s Almanac.”

Maybe it was because of Yom Kippur, when we can’t help but think of people with whom we once shared High Holiday services, people who are no longer with us.

Maybe it was because of Lyn’s passing. But the poem of Moore’s that Keillor read registered with me. It was called, “It Is Not The Fact That I Will Die That I Mind.”

It’s about the unique nature of every person, the singular way we do the most ordinary of things, the individual way we love a tree, a sister, a dog.

After addressing the group, Moore took questions. That’s when he posited the similarity between poetry and memoir writing.

Both forms start the same, he said, with an assumption: Life is difficult. Both end the same, too. With something hopeful.

I’ll have to think about that . I’ve got the first part. A wasp bit me on the cheek the other day. But I’m still looking for the second.


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