by Nessa Rapoport
A Friday afternoon in midsummer, the huge sky smudged by mist yet oddly bright. I was on holiday, alone in a cafe overlooking the harbor. My excellent husband had taken the children to swim, lending me that rare gift in a working mother’s life, a quotient of solitude.
But hamu me’ei: My gut was roiling, breath constricted by terror. I was — in this beatitude — falling with no net, down, down, into the depths. A friend was abruptly ill, and I did not know how to live without her.
Please. Please, please.
As my mind chanted its supplication, I was eating a delectable slice of peanut butter pie. The beauty of this world, crumbled crust, silky mousse in my mouth: Who would willingly forfeit it?
I looked down at the pie (yes, it would blunt my appetite for Shabbat dinner), which I told myself I did not have to finish (although I already knew I would), and almost missed what I beheld when I looked up.
The opaque sky mysteriously vanished, as if a scrim were being raised even as I watched. From the farthest end of the horizon, a rainbow unscrolled across the heavens, inscribing a pure, perfect arc, lucent, glimmering, before my lifted eyes.
In front of me, You, evanescent, manifest.
My turbulent spirit, capsized by fear, was righted, eased. I could offer only: Please. Please. But You answered me: Whatever transpires, I will give you of my own strength to bear it.
O my rock, my redeemer, refuge of the brokenhearted.
And so I returned to the world. Bone and blood affirming: Who is like You, baring your outstretched arm — please, please — offering your sign, for an instant only, and yet it was sufficient.
Against the dusk your signature became ethereal. I stood up, pie forsaken, to find my family. Shabbat arose, departed. But the promise was not consumed.
Twenty years later, joy is more lavish, but suffering, that sneaky thief, infiltrates
extravagantly. Still, when I falter — and I do — your glory appears before my inner eye, sometimes fortifying, sometimes so shrouded in plundered darkness that I cannot find my way.
Is it my shortcoming or yours? I do not know. But I know this: Hidden or present, You endure, saying, when I can hear it (let me hear it): I am with you, eternal, ever, always.
Nessa Rapoport is the author of a novel, Preparing for Sabbath; a collection of prose poems, A Woman’s Book of Grieving; and a memoir, House on the River: A Summer Journey. Her meditations are included in Objects of the Spirit: Ritual and the Art of Tobi Kahn,Tobi Kahn: Sacred Spaces for the 21st Century, and Embodied Light: 9-11 in 2011. (c) 2014 by Nessa Rapoport. Reprinted with permission from Sh’ma (http://shma.com/) September 2014, as part of a larger conversation on “First Encounters With the Sacred.”
Featured Photo: Rainbow, Doubtful Sound, New Zealand, appeared on the Facebook page of beloved Talmud teacher Rabbi Judith Abrams, z”l, who died the week of Parashat Noach (when the story of Noah is read from the Torah). Photo by Steve Abrams.