In Italy they say, “Non c’è due senza tre.” Which means, roughly, stuff happens in threes.
The expression comes to me tonight. I’m lying in bed with my wife in Mariposa, California, where we’ve come to visit our son and his wife. Behind the barn where they make cider, above which they have a comfortable one-bedroom apartment, there is a big backyard. In this big backyard, at all times of day, a bunch of deer. Also in this big backyard, a 26 foot camper, in which my wife and I are trying to sleep. Above this big backyard, a big sky totally free of light pollution. I’m urban, with memories of the rural sky I lived beneath when I was a kid. Since we got here, I’ve reminded myself a few times: go out there at night and look at the stars. Tonight is special. We’re waiting for the eclipse of a super blood moon. Well, I’m waiting. It’s a long wait. The eclipse will begin around 2:45 a.m. and will be at maximum at 4:15 a.m. I want to see it. My wife wants to sleep.
I should take delivery of a ukelele today. That’s a fun word to write. Try it. Ukelele. The instrument is coming in the mail.
It’s been twenty years since I played the guitar. My fingers have grown soft and lost their muscle tone. I have muscle memory of chords and songs and licks, but when the flesh hits the frets, bearing down on those strings, memory will do me no good. I have muscle memory of water-skiing too and have no delusions about ever doing that again. Nylon strings will help. Little ukelele-size nylon strings will really help. I’ve Youtubed ukeleles (I never thought I would enjoy writing a single word so much) and now know what “my dog has fleas” really means. Mainly it means I’m going to be memorizing new ways to play chords on the stringed instrument. The dog on your guitar does not have fleas.
In her new memoir Seven Springs Ellen Blum Barish explores big questions about what makes a life. She does so in two compelling narrative threads: one examining a car accident that occurred when she was a girl, and the aftermath of that experience; the other delving into the underpinnings of her faith life, and how that faith informs her relationships and her place in the world.
Barish weaves these two threads together, taking the reader to the scene of the accident, to neighborhoods and locations where we meet friends and family, to class reunions and visits with her parents of over two decades. “I had come so close to the sharp edge of death,” she writes, without ever unpacking that experience. Over the years, what happened to her, to her friends, and how her family handled that scrape with death lies buried “under a blanket of quiet.” Similarly her curiosity about God is buried “under shame and fear.”
This “psychospiritual-archeological dig,” as Barish calls it, reveals the usefulness of a faith tradition. Judaism as she comes to know it is practical. But come to know it she must. Her parents are not practicing Jews. As a child, when she asks her father if they believe in God, he tells her to go ask her mother. Her mother’s answer–she says she doesn’t know–leads Barish to a position of unbelief that lasts into her adulthood.
When she becomes a mother, she engages the tradition. The fruit of that study informs this memoir. “Judaism,” Barish observes, “is by its very nature an ongoing conversation.” That conversation, which she joins and shares, enriches this absorbing story.
On a weekday morning in October of 1971 I got creamed at the corner of Buck and Lawndale Roads. The car I was driving, a VW Bug, collided with a van as I drove through the intersection. On three out of four corners, all flat farmland, field corn had reached its maximum height.
I would have crossed that intersection at approximately 35 miles per hour (no stop signs in any direction), my view almost totally obstructed by corn. I would have been listening to Jethro Tull on the 8 track tape player in my car, the music turned up loud. I would have been mildly buzzed. It was my practice at the time to take a few hits on a joint or a pipe on the way to class. I had started my second year of college. I had a career goal in mind. Behind me, on the back seat of the car were notebooks, textbooks: public speaking, sociology, economics, principles of accounting.
I was told weeks later: after my car was struck it rolled (a VW bug would roll like a ball) into a woman’s vegetable garden on the one corner with no field corn.