On being bread


“…a lot of the time I feel like bread catapulting through space; and sometimes I think it would be a relief to break the crust.”

In July, when I was in Białystok, Poland, for the second time in 2018, my partner grey and I lay prewar maps, and wartime maps, over the current map of the city, to try to find places that could no longer be located materially. We walked and walked the paths we had deciphered through our study, and the paths we had created out of necessity, where the lines simply would not match. We let the city in through the soles of our feet, each step an intermingling across timelines. Here we were. There we were. Now we were. Then we were.

We were then now here and there.

So, it is time and being that I'm thinking about. Being in time, with time, across time. And it is the measure of time as relates to being that I'm also considering. How to be now. How being now is shaped by being then. How to endure time (then, now, future), being as I am. The perforations of time, and being perforated. How magic and tragedy are sometimes twinned.

In Judaism we are instructed to grieve along a very specific set of practices, in a very specific relationship to time, all of which is grounded in community, all of which is life-oriented. These practices, as I understand them, are intended to protect our journey through loss while giving that journey structure enough that even when we venture to follow those who have died, we cannot; we are gently tugged back to earth, to the place where we must make sense of the world in its new shape, by living our lives in that world-of-a-new-shape through the exponentially unfolding "now." It isn't about leaving loss behind in time, but living through loss in time, and among others.

(The DSM gives us what, 6 weeks now before bereavement becomes pathology?)

I do not know if these practices could ever have been sufficient to the task that was left for those who survived industrial-scale genocide. I don't know what time following that could feel like.

I do know how time folds like dough being kneaded. 
This shape then this shape now was that shape but this shape and now; and so on.

Things can get mixed-up, without structure, and place, and ritual, and others. But also things just are mixed-up, because unlike maps that try to fix narratives of place onto geography and memory, usually through erasing something, time doesn't actually have lines. But like lines on maps that can seem permanent, grief denied it's journey can begin to structure space and the experience of being across time. Which can be problematic because unlike dough, that might eventually become bread, time does not, even for a single second, assume a static or fixed form, it just keeps going. How to reconcile the thing that has become fixed with the thing that defies fixing? Maybe the problem lives in the assumptions I've embedded into the question.

Either way, a lot of the time I feel like bread catapulting through space; and sometimes I think it would be a relief to break the crust.

How did I get here?

Right, today has been another difficult day after many difficult days recently, and one day in July in Białystok, as Grey held witness, I lit a candle at the site where the Great Synagogue was burned down with 800+ Jews inside. There we found innumerable firebugs clambering between the stones, and that seemed like some kind of sign of endurance across time that I should trust. I needed to talk with my ancestors, and the firebugs let me know they were there. I needed to confide in them about what my life here, and now, and for a long time really, has been like, at least in part. I told them about how I wanted relief from the crust of myself. How I wanted for the cycle of grief which was too wide for the time allotted to the people from whom I come, to finally be complete. That I was tired. I asked them to help me with this work, to help me find trust in the world of which I have always been so suspect; largely, I suspect, because of what happened to them. I asked them to help me find trust that I belong here. I asked them to help me orient to life in a more solid way than I've been able to on my own, in honour of their lives, the ones they lived on earth. I wanted to find my way into connection with that which has always been diminished by how their lives were taken. Because there was something there before that, that feels more urgent and finally more important. I prayed so hard.

Like the places that existed somewhere between the three maps we used to chart our path in July, there are some things that evade fixing, that cannot be taken. There was something that always remained theirs, and that is still there and is still their's, here, now and then, and it is mine too. And I want my life to be worthy of, and structured in relationship to that, first.

For now I'm still a hunk of bread. Still afraid. Still not sure about how to do or deal with being in time now. Still hurling across time. But what I learned through the conversation we had that day in July, through all that praying, is that this isn't it, that I have to remember to talk to my ancestors more, that the work may stay hard but that I don't have to do it alone, not always. That the intermingling across time, my perforations can be a gift, and a portal. That we can get mixed-up and not lose ourselves completely.

mia amir