She asked me to come over, and I was secretly afraid. Not of her, you understand, but of my emotions. Eventually though, sudden free-time left me no recourse, and so I found myself sitting in her living room, surrounded by pictures of the dead. I rested cautiously on the cushions of her sofa, not knowing quite what to say, listening to her talk until I found my voice.
Then again, she was generous in that peculiar way of the elderly; they are more than happy to tell you about their lives. And I was happy to listen. Listen as she conjured forth images of boats, handsome doctors, the Dominican Republic in nineteen thirty-nine. The places she left behind.
Slowly, I realized that she and I were both casualties of the War, and though age separates us in this life, she’s always felt like an old friend to me. (After all, we lived through the same hell, it’s just that God chose her to live while I had other paths to follow).
Suddenly, overwrought with homesickness, I couldn’t help myself. I asked about her husband, about her childhood, about Berlin –as though her memories could knit back together the heart that had broken when they forced us to leave the place we’d always called home. With each word, sweet and terrible, we became closer and my heart shattered again as we recounted the night of broken glass, she speaking –I listening.
Three hours later, I sat in my car, sobbing as though the tears could drain the grief that inhabited my body out through my puffy eyes.
You see, the terrible irony is this: after the War there were so many dead. And how I wish I could be one of those who bravely stand to pray for strangers (because there’s no one else). But the prayer just turns to ash in my mouth and I choke every time. How, how can I praise God when I’m still looking for myself amongst that six million of names?