A necessary pause Although I wanted to write about my second visit to the Etz Hayyim synagogue in Crete, I couldn’t. Looming over me were images from the Boston massacre, the face, in particular, of the eight year old pushing on the restraining rope while cheering for his Dad. That seemed a lifetime ago, a compacted span of pain and brutality born of a hate filled ideology I’d spent years studying and teaching about. Clearing my mind of its ugliness was essential as dressing an open wound.
Who or what could I turn to? I thought of the parents of the little boy. Trying to think of something I might say to them, an appropriate condolence, brought me to tears. What if it had been my child? Or yours?
Unbearable. There were no words, no “I’m so sorry” that I could say without trembling so badly I wouldn’t get past the first word. Almost automatically, I turned my key in the ignition, willed my car to find a place to go.
It seemed to respond. I headed down Highway 29 toward Greensboro, NC but turned off when I saw the Business 29 sign. Close to there was a ramshackle auction house I’d gone to once. Was it a year or two ago? I didn’t know; it didn’t matter. No one knew me there; no one seemed to know about much of anything there other than the plastic gimmicks that seldom sold for more than eleven or twelve bucks.
I didn’t have a map, couldn’t have told anyone where it was or what road it was on. But I thought I knew. Instinct guided me. After following the road’s path for miles alongside the railroad tracks to Greenville, SC, I came to a traffic light and turned right.
Less than two miles later, I saw it. Characters I recognized by their old jeans, worn t-shirts, and mostly smoked cigarettes leaned against the rails of a treated-lumber ramp. They spoke in a language I understand but can’t mimic. One of them talked about batteries for the hearing aids he’d left at home.
I walked past them and went inside. As I remembered, ceilings and walls were unpainted, patched together pieces of drywall and plywood, a stage with a perch for the auctioneer in the corner at one end of the room. A hole in the veneer at the other end served as the snack bar, its counter there.
Chairs were orderly. And old. They may have been throwaways from various doctor’s offices. Children stood on them; they were durable that way. They might last forever; they were the same chairs I’d seen the last time.
Mine was stiff, but comfortable. Although I couldn’t rock back due to its steel frame, I didn’t feel squeezed. Two old ladies next to me were admiring the box of green queen-sized bed sheets they’d just won for nine dollars. They weren’t interested in the pair of knives in a nice gold covered cardboard box for ten.
“How much for this eight piece king-sized comforter set? Will you give me twenty?” the auctioneer began. No one wanted the zebra striped combo; there were no bids until he dropped to eight.
In that room, I saw the same people I had seen the first time I stumbled into that place. I saw the same cardboard boxes filled with police caliber flashlights that plug into your car’s cigarette lighter and plastic horses that go up and down on a two-foot pole. I saw the same gray-haired man with hair to his shoulders and most of his teeth who I’d seen the last time. He was still selling things at “just enough to pay for them” prices. He may have been the owner.
After twenty minutes, my head had cleared. That place had worked its magic. Nothing there held or distracted me. It was what it was; there were no pretenses, no antiques to marvel at, no dealers to bid against, no windows to the world outside.
No one cared that I came or went, but I wanted to thank all of them for being there. It had been my stop along the way to processing the horror that had blocked me from writing about my return trip to the synagogue in Crete.
It had felt like touching home plate on a baseball diamond when no one was watching.
Although it was dark, I knew my way home.