- Write the details of your story once upon a sacred time
Photographers call it the blue hour, those moments when daylight begins to fade as the sun completes its descent, casting a blue shadow over the swaying tress in the park across the avenue. With no particular reason other than to celebrate the passing of our sacred time together on an unusually cool weekday evening in the South Texas spring time, my father and I pulled two lawn chairs from the overly stuffed garage and sat, lighting up cigars and serving each other a glass of neat scotch, the way him and his old friend Ben Blum used to do. "I've been thinking about him lately, " my father said. It had been some months since Ben's passing at age 96, my father communicated with him through letter writing up until week of his death.
This occasion, of a cigar in one hand and a 15-year-old Irish scotch in the other, became ritual for us by way of Ben. We now celebrate every major occasion in this fashion - my father's birthday, father's day, Thanksgiving, Christmas. "Why not tonight?" I asked, pushing my father to engage in this sacred ritual with me. As Mircea Eliade writes, the only way to pass through the transition of profane to sacred time without danger is through the act of ritual. There we were. We had now entered the realm of my father's memory, dreams, and stories.
In this class I've heard that depths go unknown. And since I believe that to be true, each puff of cigar smoke seemed to breathe the life of wonder into my father's stories about Ben, about Philadelphia. Nearly 30 years my father's elder, they met at a marksmanship club on the outreaches of inner-city Philadelphia in the 1980s. Like my father, Ben was an avid reader. I wondered what a man who fled Odessa, Russia with his family across European mainland, then sailed by boat to arrive at America's shores, then traveled to the west coast and back by train, would enjoy reading. "Anything he could get his hands on," my father said. Marine biology, comparative religion, the New York Times, Scientific American magazine - the man kept a den of books, of literature, of cigars and rifles and pistols and reloading equipment and mechanic's tools and scotch. Yes, he would cast the bullets for all the ammunition by his own hands, trained in metal working, of course. After his return from World War II, he worked at the same garage in his neighborhood up until his retirement. He competed in shooting matches well into his 80s and early 90s. He ate Italian hoagies from Abner's and spinach pie pizza and broccoli fries from Lou Fanti's pizza parlor.
Again with Eliade, these moments of sacred time continue as a succession of eternities. As it should be with old and dear friends and loved ones, these stories pick up right where they left off, each time with some new unheard, untold story unfolding. I wondered if anyone in Ben's family tells these stories about Ben the way my father does...