The Secret is Burning

but I can’t tell if it’s using us up or lighting

the way. Back from Prague, I tell my father

of the Jewish Cemetery so strangely full of

life and ask if he had to hide being a Jew.

He says, “Of course. A nail sticking up

will get hammered.” At 89, he can barely

walk, has set up chairs in all the rooms, so

he can look for where he left the secret. He

says, “The places get shorter. The time takes

longer. You do the best with what you’ve got.”

Now he talks of his mother’s mother coming to

live with them after Treblinka. Her brother ran

to Israel to put out the secret, only to become a

thief. My father says, “The war let a darkness out

of him he couldn’t get back in.” Now he’s talking

about the cot he slept on as a boy, set up in the

bathtub in case the secret started to burn while

he slept. After the Pogroms, his grandfather

landed on Canal Street where he made boxes

for jewelry, neatly covered with leather, and his

mother as a young woman sewed velvet inside

so soft you could keep the secret there for a

thousand years. He doesn’t know that I’m

holding the mezuzah she carried across the

ocean. His voice begins to tire and the secret

starts to smoke under his tongue. Oh father,

I’ve spent my life making small containers to

carry what matters. But I’ve let the secret

stay a secret. It’s what the secret wants.

For us to taste it, not to spill it. It’s

made me love the bent nail you are.


A Question to Walk With: Tell the story of a truth passed down in your family and how you make sense of it.


This excerpt is from my book, The Way Under The Way: The Place of True Meeting (Sounds True, 2016).


*photo credit: Tookapic

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