Two nights ago I went to a shivah minyan. In case you don't know, a shivah minyan is an observance at the home of Jew who has lost an immediate family member, a chance for friends and community members to offer comfort, support, and coffee cake. This minyan was at the home of someone I know from my synagogue, after the passing of his 90-year-old mother.
After our household's end-of-the-day rush I was a bit late to arrive at this gathering, and the prayer service was already underway. The living room was mobbed with a tight circle of family and friends. The rabbi encouraged us latecomers to make our way to the few empty chairs at the back of the crowd on the opposite side of the room -- a journey that involved climbing over a couch-full of the bereaved and stepping over a dozen or so laps and sets of legs. It's a disruptive room-crossing, and after it's made you expect -- and are expected -- to stay put. Looking at the obstacle course and then at my huge purse, I thought the better of it and left my bag in the vestibule, under my coat, before wading my way across to a discreet spot in the rear.
We sing some songs (“life is like a very narrow bridge, and the important thing is to cross without fear”), and we have some sensitive Marge Piercy readings; and I am musing about mortality, and about the loss of my own father last winter, and about how precious is it for a community to come together to support each other in times of sadness.
And then I remember that my phone is on. What is worse, I turned the ringer up to full volume while cooking dinner earlier in the evening so that if anyone called, I'd hear it over the noise of frying onions.
In case you’re wondering why I was worried, here’s my current ringtone:
So I am thinking: who might call me now, and how big is the risk? It’s 7:45 at night, so a work call is unlikely, although not impossible if it’s someone from the West Coast who’s forgotten about the time difference. Husband is at the glass-blowing studio at the moment, so his mouth is otherwise engaged; younger child is at home practicing her clarinet, so her mouth, too, is otherwise engaged. I’ve spoken to older child a few hours ago; so while a call is not impossible if there is late-breaking news to report, it is unlikely.
Oh. Right. Mom.
It has been two days since I’ve talked to Mom, and she sent an email this very afternoon which I have not yet answered. Which means that she is certain to call this evening, “just to make sure everything is OK.” Because as every mother knows, if your child hasn't answered an email in three hours, it is definitely because she is in the emergency room.
Only hopefully she won't call during this standing silent prayer. Which will go on for….how long? Another five minutes? Six?
I am calculating how long it will take me, if the phone rings, to leap over two rows of folding chairs, two sofas, five mourners and a rabbi, in order to haul the phone out of my purse and turn it off. It could, of course, be worse. I could have this ringtone loaded:
And now the shivah moves on to reminiscences of the recently departed. I love this part of the service, actually. The stories are always wonderful, and I’m grateful for these small windows into the lives and histories of people in my community. The woman who has just passed away sounds like she was a total gem. My favorite story was about how she and her identical twin decided, at the age of 16, that it was time to stop wearing matching clothes. So they went shopping for new wardrobes – parting at the door, and vowing not to even look at the other one’s selections until they were done. Then they proceeded to buy exactly the same things. Too good!
How awful it would be if, right as this story reaches its marvelous climax, a voice, seemingly from beyond the grave, were to ring out “I KNOW YOU’RE AVOIDING ME…..”
But we get through the son’s moving reminiscences (which are lovely); and the daughter-in-law’s (which are sweet and very funny), and then the crowd breaks off to chat and offer consoling hugs. It is 8:10. And the house gets noisy.
Noisy enough that I don’t hear my phone across the room when it rings – at 8:12. It is my mom, as it turns out. Just calling to make sure that everything’s OIK.
PS: If you want to embarrass yourself at your next funeral, you can download these ringtones and more right from this very website!