Wednesday evening there was rain. Though there were no clouds in the sky. Nothing but blue. Far, far to the north, floating still, the wispiest of a thin white cloud, but overhead—nothing. The rain was very light. Each droplet could be perceived as softly it struck. And also heard . . . because otherwise all was utterly silent. No breeze. All of the animal kingdom holding its peace.
This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. I think of it as “water from the moon,” from the ancient Javanese expression for something that is impossible. For as the Javanese know, the impossible does happen. Not often. But often enough to illume that it is sometimes but the thinnest of scrims that separates the possible from that which is impossible.
I find it melancholy, these soft, single-falling drops from a clear blue sky. I feed on it while it lasts, and always after I think of three things.
The first something that long haunted George Orwell, and which he wrote about several times, but expressed best like this:
When I think of antiquity, the detail that frightens me is that those hundreds of millions of slaves on whose backs civilisation rested generation after generation have left behind them no record whatever. We do not even know their names. In the whole of Greek and Roman history, how many slaves’ names are known to you? I can think of two, or possibly three. One is Spartacus and the other is Epictetus. Also, in the Roman room at the British Museum there is a glass jar with the maker’s name inscribed on the bottom, “Felix fecit.” I have a vivid mental picture of poor Felix (a Gaul with red hair and a metal collar round his neck), but in fact he may not have been a slave; so there are only two slaves whose names I definitely know, and probably few people can remember more. The rest have gone down into utter silence.
The second the final lines from Andre Schwarz-Bart’s The Last Of The Just, the only book I have ever really pressed on people, like an evangelist pushing scripture.
And then he knew that he could do nothing more for anyone in the world, and in the flash that preceded his own annihilation he remembered, happily, the legend of Rabbi Chanina ben Teradion, as Mordecai had joyfully recited it: “When the gentle rabbi, wrapped in the scrolls of the Torah, was flung upon the pyre by the Romans for having taught the Law, and when they lit the fagots, the branches still green to make his torture last, his pupils said, ‘Master, what do you see?’ And Rabbi Chanina answered, ‘I see the parchment burning, but the letters are taking wing.'” . . . “Ah, yes, surely, the letters are taking wing,” Ernie repeated as the flame blazing in his chest rose suddenly to his head. With dying arms he embraced Golda’s body in an already unconscious gesture of loving protection, and they were found that way half an hour later by the team of Sonderkommando responsible for burning the Jews in the crematory ovens. And so it was for millions, who turned from Luftmenschen into Luft. I shall not translate. So this story will not finish with some tomb to be visited in memoriam. For the smoke that rises from crematoriums obeys physical laws like any other: the particles come together and disperse according to the wind that propels them. The only pilgrimage, estimable reader, would be to look with sadness at a stormy sky now and then.
And praised. Auschwitz. Be. Maidanek. The Lord. Treblinka. And praised. Buchenwald. Be. Mauthausen. The Lord. Belzec. And praised. Sobibor. Be. Chelmno. The Lord. Ponary. And praised. Theresienstadt. Be. Warsaw. The Lord. Vilna. And praised. Skarzysko. Be. Bergen-Belsen. The Lord. Janow. And Praised. Dora. Be. Neuengamme. The Lord. Pustkow. And praised . . . .
Yes, at times one’s heart could break in sorrow. But often too, preferably in the evening, I can’t help thinking that Ernie Levy, dead six million times, is still alive somewhere, I don’t know where . . . . Yesterday, as I stood in the street trembling in despair, rooted to the spot, a drop of pity fell from above upon my face. But there was no breeze in the air, no cloud in the sky . . . . There was only a presence.
The third an observation from a character in a novel I will probably never finish. That given the fact that life is suffering, and that the chemical composition of seawater is more or less identical to that of human tears, it is not at all unlikely that the seas, from which life began, are formed of all the tears shed by all the human beings who shall ever live, these waters transported via some temporal mobius strip from all our ends, back there to the beginning.
And on those waters we sail and we sail and we sail . . . .