Despite our intense fatigue from travel delays last week, we were excited to spend our first day in Nice on foot. After a gourmet croissant breakfast, we treated the girls to a ride on a Ferris wheel, wound our way through the old city streets to the outdoor market at Cours Saleya, then up an elevator to the chateau for a picture-perfect view of the coast, down to the port where we ate at an Indian restaurant overlooking the water and back through town via avenue Jean-Médecin, the city’s central shopping street. By that point we had probably walked about five miles. As much as the girls and I were ecstatic to have stumbled upon a French mall, Philippe was not, deciding instead to return to the apartment to work.
When we finally found our way home, it was late and we were famished. As soon as we entered the front hall, the girls went straight to their room and collapsed on their beds while I took two steps into the living room, where Philippe was seated with his laptop.
“Yeah, she’s here, just walked in with the girls. Let me hang up so I can tell her about Arthur,” he said to whomever he was talking to on Skype.
“What? What about Arthur?” I asked before he had even pressed the red hang-up button. But I didn’t need to ask; I knew from his voice, his face.
“That was Mick. He called to tell us Arthur died. The funeral’s Friday and he just wanted to make sure you knew.” I swallowed, full of sadness and guilt.
“I’ve been expecting that for a while.” Although Arthur had never known—or admitted—his exact birthdate, he was old, in his nineties, and bent over, shuffling with a walker, only leaving the retirement home in White Plains for doctors’ appointments and occasionally to come to synagogue.
It made me sad to think of him dying alone. He had buried his wife Hilda a few years earlier, and, since they had married late, there were no children. In all the years the kids and I had visited the two of them, first in their apartment then Hilda in the hospital and finally him in the home, we only had heard about distant family, cousins and in-laws, in Israel and elsewhere. With Hilda gone, Arthur became a surrogate grandfather of sorts, often joining us and our friends for Friday night dinners, holiday meals, our children’s bar and bat mitzvah celebrations, surprise birthday parties.
The guilt was worse. In the past few years, since Arthur had moved and stopped driving, his health on a downward spiral, the kids and I had each gotten busier. When they were little and I controlled our time, we would visit the aging couple on a regular basis. With them less willing to accompany me, even I had stopped visiting as often. Arthur had gone from a weekly to monthly to quarterly visit; something, someone to check off my list. And it was only once we had boarded the plane to Israel four months earlier that I realized that I hadn’t visited him for a goodbye hug.
II. Anusara Yoga
For five full days, from Thursday to Monday, ending the day before our departure for Nice, I attended an Anusara yoga immersion. Every afternoon, a dozen of us sat around the serene studio on mats and bolsters and blankets to dissect one of the most important yogic texts called Bhagavad Gita. Dating back thousands of years, the Gita is an allegory of war in which the two main characters, Arjuna and Krishna, long-term friends, are at odds with one another. Paralyzed by the thought of killing someone in his extended family, Arjuna freezes on the battlefield, forcing Krishna to reveal his true self as God and command Arjuna to take action. He explains that not taking action is also an act and that if Arjuna fails to take a side, they would all die.
On the third day, the discussion deepened. After spending so many hours together on the mat as well as outside eating lunch under the hot Israeli December sun, our group had gelled. Our teacher Hagar shared with us her fascination with the Tantric view of the text, how each one of us possesses some aspect of Krishna, the divine, how deep inside we are all God-like, whether or not we use or relate to that word. We spoke about how for man life is finite but for God it’s infinite, and that eventually, when we think as the Tantrics did, we realize that finite turns to infinite on a continuum. She asked us to stop and think about how the world is moving so quickly that we don’t even feel it, how one day the world as we know it with people and society will eventually end.
“Yeah, I think about that sometimes, too” said Sarah, a thirty-something American immigrant and yoga teacher in Tel Aviv. “It’s crazy to think that with each day, hour, minute, second that passes, the world is that much closer to ending… we’re that much closer to dying.”
“Ma pitom?” Avigayil said, sitting up, her big blue eyes widening with disbelief.
“Sure. Haven’t you realized that? We’re all getting closer to our own death as time passes,” said Sarah. We turned to Avigayil, in her late twenties, one of the youngest teachers in the room, with a mix of empathy and compassion. The older we get, the better we understand this.
Still, death isn’t something I think about on a regular basis. I don’t sit around with Philippe or with friends and discuss it. I never explain savasana, the final resting pose, also known as corpse, as our own eventuality.
III. Another new year
On the last day of our trip, Philippe and the girls and I drove to a neighboring village of St. Jean Cap Ferrat for a three-hour hike around the cape. For the first few miles, as we walked east toward Italy, we watched the charming Villefranche sur Mer, Nice, Antibes and Cannes disappear behind us. We took turns marveling at the water, which was so clear we could see the rocks at the bottom and jelly fish floating on top. Just as we passed the lighthouse at the tip, the scenery changed with low white rocks jutting from the ground, resembling Mars. As the official family photographer, Daniella lagged behind, stopping every few feet to take pictures, in hopes that a photo could capture the breath-taking beauty.
“This is the best vacation,” she said more than once. “Thank you.” Simone agreed even if she didn’t express it as much or as often. Even though Benjamin couldn’t join us, we were enjoying our togetherness.
That night, I went to bed, full and happy and relieved inside. I curled up with Philippe and felt my body soften, knowing that Arthur passed in peace after a good, long life, that I was alive, sharing a bed and a house and a life with so much magnificence.
My hope for you as the first day of 2012 begins is that your lives be filled with magnificence—splendor, glory, heaven, godliness—too!