Here I Am
I just sobbed like an infant as I finished reading the Foer book. Much of it did hit very close to home, but it was also the saddest book I've ever read, and one of the best and most powerful. I'm otherwise speechless. And I miss and need you.
I'm not sure I really knew fiction could do that. I'm pretty sure even IJ
didn't ever make me cry. And I have no idea how anyone writes a novel like this. I know I couldn't.
Life is precious, and I live in the world.
(Penultimate line of the novel.)
“I looked at him lying there, my stoic child, so still. I started crying. Just as I'm about to do now. I got on my knees beside Jacob's body, and I cried and cried and cried.
“You let me go on for a long time, then coughed, and jerked back to life. I was never more angry than when you put yourself in danger. When you didn't look both ways, when you ran with scissorsI wanted to hit you. How could you be so careless with the thing I most loved?
“‘Don't ever do that again,’ I told you. ‘Don't you ever, ever do that again.’ Still flat on your back, you turned your head to face medo you remember this?and you said, ‘But I have to.’”
Deborah started crying again, and handed Irv the page from which she'd been reading.
“In sickness and in health,” he said. “Jacob and Julia, my son and daughter, there is only ever sickness. Some people go blind, some go deaf. Some people break their backs, some get badly burned. But you were right, Jacob: you would have to do it again. Not as a game, or rehearsal, or tortuous effort to communicate something, but for real and forever.”
Irv looked up from the page, turned to Deborah, and said, “Jesus, Deborah, this is depressing.”
More laughter, but now from trembling throats. Deborah laughed, too, and took Irv's hand.
He kept reading: “In sickness and in sickness. That is what I wish for you. Don't seek or expect miracles. There are no miracles. Not anymore. And there are no cures for the hurt that hurts most. There is only the medicine of believing each other's pain, and being present for it.”
“Only one thing can keep something close over time: holding it there. Grappling with it. Wrestling it to the ground, as Jacob did with the angel, and refusing to let go. What we don't wrestle we let go of. Love isn't the absence of struggle. Love is struggle.”
“The nice thing about reincarnation is that life becomes a process rather than an event. You don't need to achieve enlightenment, you only move yourself closer to it. Only become a bit more accepting.”
“Most things shouldn't be accepted.”
“Accepting of the world”
“Yes, I live in the world.”
“That's more complicated.”
“One life is too much pressure.”
It was scary how quickly and completely his past could be rewritten, overwritten. All those years felt worthwhile while they were happening, but only a few months on the other side of them and they were a gigantic waste of time. Of a life. It was an almost irrepressible urge of his brain to see the worst in that which had failed.
Why couldn't he express to a single personto himselfthat even if he understood that divorce was the right thing to do, even if he was hopeful about the future, even if there was happiness ahead, it was sad? Things can be for the best and the worst at the same time.
Judaism emphasizes intelligencetextually, ritualistically, and culturally. Everything is learning, everything preparation, perpetually filling the mental toolbox until we are prepared for any situation (and it is too heavy to carry). Jews make up 0.2 percent of the world's population, but have been awarded 22 percent of all Nobel Prizes24 percent if you don't include the Peace Price. And with no Nobel for Being Exterminated, there was a decade when Jews wouldn't have had much of a chance, so the practical percentage is yet higher. Why? It's not because Jews are smarter than anyone else; it's because Jews put their emphasis on the kinds of things Stockholm rewards. Jews have been training for Nobel Prizes for thousands of years. But if there were Nobel Prizes for Contentment, for Feeling Safe, or the Ability to Let Go, that 22 percent24 percent without Peacewould need a parachute.
Life is precious, Jacob thought. It is the most important of all thoughts, and the most obvious, and the most difficult to remember to have. He thought: How different my life would have been if I could have had that thought before I was forced to.
“You're a fighter,” the vest said to Argus, ”aren't you?”
Jacob didn't like that. He didn't like thinking of Argus fighting for the life that was about to be taken from him. And while he knew that age and illness were what Argus was fighting against, there they were: Argus and Jacob, and a vet to carry out Jacob's wishes at the expense of Argus's. It wasn't that simple. Jacob knew it wasn't. But he also knew there was a sense in which it was exactly that simple. There is no way to communicate to a dog that one is sorry that we live in the world but it is the only place that one can live. Or maybe there is no way not to communicate that.
Argus's eyes rose to meet Jacob's. There was no acceptance to be found in them. No forgiveness. There was no knowledge that all that had happened was all that would happen. As it had to be, and as it should be. Their relatiobship was defined not by what they could share, but what they couldn't. Between any two beings there is a unique, uncrossable distance, an unenterable sanctuary. Sometimes it takes the shape of aloneness. Sometimes it takes the shape of love.
“OK,” Jacob said to the vet, still looking into Argus's eyes.
“Don't forget how it ends,” the vet said, readying the needle. “Argus dies fulfilled. His master has finally come home.”
“But after so much suffering.”
“He has peace.”
Jacob didn't tell Argus, “It's OK.”
He told him: “Look at me.”
He told himself: Life is precious, and I live in the world.
He told the vet: “I'm ready.”