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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
A Picture of Love
I stood up in a close friend’s wedding fifteen years ago in this same temple, and now his son is up there reading Hebrew in cracking sing-songese. I don’t come here unless there’s a wedding or, like today, a Bar Mitzvah. Each time, I hope to connect with the historical groaning that infuses the chants; sometimes I feel a tingle that wants to become a smile, but then I look at my watch and wonder how much longer the services can possibly go on.
My five-year old son sits next to me in a blue sport coat, clip-on tie, and a yarmulke that falls off every time he turns his head. He points at the stained glass high above us and whispers, “Is that a picture of love?”
I lean toward him. “What did you say?”
Slightly louder than a whisper, he’s incapable of whispering, he repeats, “Is that a picture of love?”
I don’t know how to answer. All at once I don’t want to say no, am not even sure I understand the question, am not convinced that I heard him right, and can’t believe he could grasp that love might be captured that way. I look through the prayer book, the English side, trying to find the word “love” in case my son overheard it, but I can’t find it, and besides, the singing is all in Hebrew and means nothing to either one of us.
“Where?” I ask.
“The colors,” he says, “is that a picture of love?”
My five year old son sees in the stained glass a picture of love, and I feel the tingle growing, maybe I have to come back here, and back again – if he can see it, then I have to come back until I can see it.
I glimpse my friend in the front row, catch the widening of his face with age, and I know I look the same. We’re forty, our grandparents are dead and our parents are breaking down, popping pills and saying prayers to try to stretch their failing bodies further into the time of their grandchildren’s lives. Our own bodies have started to hint at what’s to come: I’ve had cancer once already, though of the entry-level variety, and know enough people like me that I’m no longer surprised when someone my age announces it: skin cancer, breast, ovarian, leukemia. When my friend was getting married, when we were twenty-five and rising fast, these things only happened to old people, to aunts and uncles and sometimes teachers.
I look again through the prayer book, nowhere near the line we’re on, I’m certain. “Reveal yourself, our King, and reign over us, for we await you.” I read this line over and over again. Then, I lean to my son. “Tell me again, buddy, what do you see?”
“Up there,” he says, louder than before, “a picture of lava.”
I nod, and then roll my eyes at my silliness. “I get it. Where’s the lava?”
“The red and yellow lines going down, is that supposed to be lava?” he says. Of course: the two stained glass columns lean inward, the ocean tiles at each base giving way to molten colors at the peak where the columns meet. A flame cast in iron rises out of a concrete monolith in the center. “Good eye,” I whisper to my son. “That is a picture of lava.”
The rest of the service is uneventful. We leave early when my son can no longer sit still. Not that I can blame him.
Jonathan Chudler lives and writes in Michigan. His fiction is forthcoming in Story|Houston.