Chimes At Midnight

“Just a moment, sir!”

Security guards, in uniform and in plain clothes, seemed to materialize from every quarter.

“May I ask you what you have in your pocket?”

In no time at all he was being patted down by a person or persons he could not see. He reached into his pocket and came up with the handful of red stones he had picked up on Sinai.

The security woman looked at him questioningly.

“From Sinai,” he told her. “To keep.”

“Stones?”

“Because they’re from here,” he said.

She stared at him for a moment and then gave him a smile of such radiance that all the angular suspicion of her features passed away. It made him think again of the Zohar: “The light is the light of the eye.”

He was flying out business class; he had gotten an upgrade on mileage. He took his aisle seat in the cabin and ordered champagne. Moments after takeoff, the plane was over hazy blue ocean. The brown land fell away aft.

The stones were still in his hand, and when his champagne came he spilled them out onto the tray table. When the flight attendant brought him the drink she asked about them.

“Just rocks,” he said. “From Sinai. Or what’s supposed to be Sinai.”

“Oh,” she said, “were you there?”

He began to stammer. Perhaps it was the prospect of champagne in the morning. Had he stood on Sinai?

“Yes,” he said. “I guess so.”

When they approached Frankfurt, where he would be changing planes, he had a moment’s panic. New York? But he had no life in New York. No one there. Yet that was a ridiculous notion. One always had a life. Whatever you lived, wherever you lived it, was life.

Yet he kept thinking of life lost. A woman lost, a faith, a father lost, all lost. So he had to remind himself of something an American painter whose work he had once seen at the Whitney had offered as a credo, which had been fixed on the wall beside his work, and which Lucas had never forgotten:

“Losing it is as good as having it.”

It was a hard text, one of great subtlety. One needed the pilpul, the analytical skills, of a Raziel to interpret it.

It meant, he thought, that a thing is never truly perceived, appreciated or defined except in longing. A land in exile, a God in His absconding, a love in its loss. And that everyone loses everything in the end. But that certain things of their nature cannot be taken away while life lasts. Some things can never be lost utterly that were loved in a certain way.

At Frankfurt airport, between planes, it was a different world.

—Robert Stone, Damascus Gate

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