You Want It Darker

harry-thanksgiving-2016

Our son Harry, with whom we enjoyed a great Thanksgiving, has decided to make aliyah (for my non Jewish friends, this means exercising his right as a Jew under Israel’s “Law of Return” which permits Jews and those with partial Jewish heritage or married to a Jew, to emigrate to Israel and, in most cases, to gain citizenship).  His father, sister and I are all supportive of his decision, even though we know it will mean he is a 10 hour flight from Boston. In many ways, if I were his age and single, I might make a similar choice, especially given my experience already living out of the U.S.   In Harry’s own words, posted for his friends on Facebook,

Yes, this move was prompted by the election. I wish I had the fortitude to fight the next few years, to resist what promises to be a very ugly chapter of American history. But I don’t.  I simply can’t. This is not a reaction out of pain, but rather a response to how I can still move forward with the world as it is. I have much more to give, but would sink too deep here to pull anyone else up. I can only do my best to help humanity in whatever way I can from Haifa, and will be praying for all of you fighting for equality and our planet here in the US.

Harry’s decision and his leaving the United States for a new beginning, in an odd way, resonated with my own journey. A week or so before the election, as some of my readers already know, I learned that my fifth treatment in less than two years was not stopping the cancer in my liver. This was a clinical trial that had shown high promise—nearly 70% efficacy between keeping the disease stable and regression—so while my track record so far did not make it surprising that I was in the 30% for whom the treatment does not work, it was still disheartening. It took me a few days to wrap my head and heart around this, and to accept—again—that, in all likelihood, the window of time I have left on this earth is narrowing. Since ending the trial (I begin a new therapy later this week), I have also felt like a tire with a slow leak, some days feeling quite a bit of fatigue and weariness, along with a loss of appetite. I guessed, and my oncologist concurred, that most likely these symptoms are signs that the cancer is slowly but surely advancing.

In the midst of my processing all this came the U.S. presidential election. Like many—excepting most notably Michael Moore, who called it accurately some time ago– I was surprised by the outcome. I was also, and continue on a daily basis to be, disheartened not only by cabinet choices and continuing infantile statements, but also by the burgeoning incidences of hate and bigotry–now numbering more than 700 according to the Southern Poverty Law Center—that are occurring all across the country. The vast majority of these are committed by Trump supporters now greatly empowered by his inflammatory rhetoric during the campaign, and there seems no end in sight.  Some peaceful protests by anti-Trump forces have also turned violent or obstructive, and that is unfortunate, for it clearly detracts from the messages the protestors are trying to send.

In my opinion, we were already becoming unhealthy as a country with growing income inequality and the inordinate influence of big money in politics and public policy—a trend that surely reflected itself in the election.   Now, we can see that, ironically, this trend will almost certainly be accelerated, not reversed–not to mention ushering in a new era of divisiveness and cruelty, and the potentially devastating global impact of dialing back efforts to combat climate change that will affect our children and grandchildren.    There have certainly been periods in our history that have been ugly from a social and economic standpoint, but I think we are about to reach new lows, in virtually every area I can think of. Even with resistance, whether or not the country can recover from the damage about to be inflicted is an open question.   In some respects, this feels like the last gasp of a declining empire, a process that is advancing inexorably—and will likely gain speed– just as my cancer is.

I know this is a dark analysis, and not all will agree or feel they can afford to agree, either with my conclusion or my pessimism.  I hope I am wrong, and that my fears are overly colored by my personal situation —as Martin Luther King famously said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And I can only pray that proves true, and that I can contribute through whatever small actions are in my power while I am still here.

One morning after the election, I awoke as I always do, with the awareness of my illness coming into focus (sleep, meditation, music and long talks with family or friends about something other than my disease are among my few respites from these thoughts.) On this morning, it was accompanied by a new emotion, one at first I didn’t recognize. Gradually I was able to identify it, and I have to say, I was somewhat horrified—it was relief. Relief that I would not have to bear the pain of watching this chapter unfold, relief that I would not have to watch the country continue to be torn apart by hatred and our institutions dismantled in the pursuit of profit and ever growing greed. Just as Harry has come to the conclusion that he can do more good in Haifa, perhaps, I thought—somewhat whimsically, to be sure– there is healing work to be done on the “Other Side,” and I will have a greater role there than I could have here. And perhaps, too, it is another way of managing the inevitable sadness of leaving this world and the people I love.

A day after the election, it was announced that Leonard Cohen, the great Canadian composer and poet, had died. About three weeks before his death, he released a new album, “You Want it Darker.” As I think about Harry’s upcoming journey—and my own—I reflect on how much the words of the album title song have multiple layers of meaning (in Hebrew, Hineni means, “Here I am” words spoken by Abraham, Moses, and Isaiah when they were called by G-d—a more spiritual meaning of readiness to take responsibility, rather than merely reporting physical location).

If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game

If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame

If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame

You want it darker

We kill the flame

Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name

Vilified, crucified, in the human frame

A million candles burning for the help that never came

You want it darker

Hineni, hineni

I’m ready, my lord

There’s a lover in the story

But the story’s still the same

There’s a lullaby for suffering

And a paradox to blame

But it’s written in the scriptures

And it’s not some idle claim

You want it darker

We kill the flame

They’re lining up the prisoners

And the guards are taking aim

I struggled with some demons

They were middle class and tame

I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim

You want it darker

Hineni, hineni

I’m ready, my lord

Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name

Vilified, crucified, in the human frame

A million candles burning for the love that never came

You want it darker

We kill the flame

If you are the dealer, let me out of the game

If you are the healer, I’m broken and lame

If thine is the glory, mine must be the shame

You want it darker

Hineni, hineni

Hineni, hineni

I’m ready, my lord

Hineni

Hineni, hineni

Hineni

9 thoughts on “You Want It Darker

  1. Beautifully. Written, Nancy. I understand completely. Thank you for cohen. Been with us through so much. Call me. Huge changes here. Hope the new trial is heartening but I know you,re tired. Love,helen

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  2. Dear Nancy, first, I love you and know that you will be near. Second, again, totally understand and agree with your comments. It seems that hate is becoming more blatant and those who hate less fearful. It is interesting that Harry making Aliyah. Perhaps that is an option for me, too. I keep trying to suppress the screams and post and talk positively. I think I am remembering that it is Elie Wiesel saying, the survivors faced out and took care of others. My total paraphrase.

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  3. Nancy that was so beautifully written. I want you to know how much you two meant to me because you were so kind to look after my Son Aaron Pickover when he went to Landmark College in Vermont. It meant so much to both Glen and I for someone that would take him in for the Jewish holidays and be there for him. You are really amazing of how you inspire and write so well and open with your feelings about what you have been going through with this journey that has enlightened me to look at things in a different light. I wish you the best of luck and my hugs and prays are with you always. I will be here for you with Sara to help in any way that you want because we have a very special connection over the years that we have known both of you. Hang in there and know that people love, cherish your company. I hope to see you before you leave this world, THANK YOU FOR BEING A GREAT PERSON AND FRIEND. HUGS AND KISSES

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  4. That was beautifully written Nancy. Thank you. It really captured how my wife and I have been feeling since the election. We can only hope that our system of democracy can counter balance the injustices which are surely coming. And as you battle your cancer, you inspire me to better deal with my own situation. God bless you. See you in group.

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