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