As the holiday of Passover comes to a close, we prepare ourselves for the service of Yizkor, the four times a year service that is held to remember our departed loved ones. I am reminded of my late grandmothers, but at the same time I am reminded of those that are still living.
Yizkor is a service that is held four times a year: on the last days of the holidays of Passover, Succos, and Shavuos, as well as the holiday of Yom Kippur. Traditionally, during the time of the holy Beis Hamikdash (the holy temple in Jerusalem), the entire population would come out during the three holidays and gather in Jerusalem. It was only natural that people could easily therefore remember their departed family members on the last days of the three holidays. Now, even though the temple is (for now) no more, we still remember our beloved family members during these times of the year. Interestingly enough, Jews of Eastern European descent ask that people who have both living parents to leave the prayer area of the synagogue to hopefully promote long life for the parents. I therefore don’t have a personal experience with praying the Yizkor service however I can only imagine that it is quite meaningful to those who do.
It’s hard to believe that it has already been sixteen years since my mother’s mother passed away as it hasn’t been that long since my father’s mother passed away. Whenever I sit down to briefly watch an episode of Days of our Lives (briefly because the show has been getting steadily worse over the last year and has taken to firing practically the entire cast) I think of the mid 1980s when I would come home from school or summer time activity and find my grandmothers watching their favorite soap operas. I really only got to see Days of our Lives during the summer or when I was sick as it was on before school was over.
Some of my most fond memories from when I was a child was getting lessons in life from my grandmothers as pointed out in the storylines of the soap operas. My grandmother would point to the infidelity of a character and would tell me that I would have to be careful in falling in love later in life because a person could tell you that they love you one day and then find themselves kissing somebody entirely different the next day.
Oddly enough, I am also reminded of my grandmothers when I see a young child being taken care of by his or her grandmother and the child decides to yell about something or another that seems astonishingly trivial to me. It could be that the child does not want to sit in a certain way, or the child doesn’t want to hold his or her grandmother’s hand. Whenever I see something like this I think about how I used to be fussy sometimes and it never occurred to me when I was that age that my grandmothers would not be around forever and that I should really appreciate them while they were around. I don’t think it would have helped if a weird older guy carrying a couple of teddy bears would have approached me to enlighten me about this bit of information so I never take the time to tell kids about it, either.
All Things Remembered
I was at a comedy show the other night with a few friends – Elizabeth, Justine, and David. There was a particular sketch that really stood out to me. Rather, it was part of a particular sketch that stood out. Early on in the sketch, they were discussing how Kurt Cobain had passed away and then the shifted forward a few years to the day that Shannon Hoon (the lead singer of Blind Melon) died of a drug overdose.
The conversation was littered with people interrupting and asking what the date was. The joke was, of course, that even though everybody remembered the date of Kurt Cobain’s death, nobody seemed to remember when Shannon Hoon died. Why was it so easy to remember one date and so astonishingly easy to forget another? Did it have anything to do with the popularity of one band versus the popularity of the other? The troupe played on this theme some more by having one actor be the “Bumblebee Girl”, the girl who played the part of a bumblebee in Blind Melon’s song “No Rain," not be particularly bothered that the lead singer of the band has passed away.
This also brought to mind one day after a class I was taking during the spring of 1999 at Rutgers. The professor could sometimes be a little bit crass but he was one of the smartest people I had ever known. He had been talking about how quickly we forget people of history and how few people really are remembered.
Consider this: Was Shakespeare the only person writing plays during the time of Shakespeare? Of course he was not. Were there many other people writing plays during his life? Quite possibly. Shakespeare is the only one that is best known by people in general. I asked about a handful of writers that were popular at the time and wondered if he thought they would be remembered a few hundred years later and he said that they probably would not be remembered.
What chance did that leave me, I thought to myself. Not a very good one, I sadly answered to myself. I thought of the Peanuts comics where one character would rhetorically ask (in the context of the character being criticized for doing something “wrong” or “bad”), “In one hundred and fifty years, who is going to know the difference?”
It is important to remember those we love and cherish when they are alive as well as when they have passed away. We remember them through song, writing, and even getting together with members of the community to say a few words of prayer. Though it may be the case that people will forget about us in one hundred and fifty years, we can preserve what we have now and cherish that which means something to us.