Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
For those of you who wear rings, this probably sounds familiar: you fiddle with your ring, a thousand times a day, without thinking about it — and all of the sudden, you stop and think about the significance of that ring? There’s that overwhelming woosh of emotion that stops you in your tracks and suddenly you find that you have completely forgotten about what it was you were working on and are reliving some key moment tied to the ring.
That happened to me recently. I was sitting at my desk in Jackson, Mississippi, and realized that I’ve been wearing my ring every day for 10 years. I often get asked if I am married; when I reply “No,” people often look perplexed. Why would I be wearing a nice ring, clearly not a cheap trinket, but also not a wedding band?
My father passed away when I was 19. He was only 47. When he passed, I found that I became terrified that all of my memories, his lessons, the feel of his hugs, and the warmth of his love would be forgotten; like desperately chasing a million balloons just released into the sky. My family wasn’t too big on videotaping and pictures. It was up to my memory, stories from my family, and the few photos that we did have. This scared me because each of those could so easily be lost to time; memories fade, people pass, a handful of photos could be easily lost or damaged. I needed something more… but what?
I struggled with this for about four months. One day I was talking to a friend and she suggested I get a tattoo. I have to admit, I liked the idea. I knew exactly what I wanted to get. At my dad’s funeral, as they were lowering his casket into the ground the rabbi came over to me, whispered a kindness in my ear, and tore the ribbon I had pinned to my jacket. That was what I wanted: the torn black ribbon.
I thought, What difference would it make if my flesh was scarred when my heart was scarred more deeply than any damage a needle could do? But I knew what a big decision a tattoo would be, particularly because of its historically taboo nature in the Jewish faith. I knew that when my time came I wanted to be buried where the rest of my family; I wasn’t sure if they would allow me to be buried there with me being tattooed. So, I decided against the tattoo. My friend then suggested wearing a piece of my father’s jewelry, but my father didn’t wear jewelry. We sat and pondered for some time and then she bounced up and suggested that I get a ring.
Her explanation was logical and beautiful: it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t his. What matters is the meaning that I give to it.
Soon after I went to the jewelry store and purchased this ring with a meaningful engraving inside. At first it was awkward to wear, but day by day it became more normal. Part of me. Now the ring does exactly what I hoped it would do for me: it keeps my father in my life. When I’m scared, angry, frustrated, worried, elated, in any kind of emotional moment, I find myself reaching for my ring. It’s almost as if I had my father there with me, helping me through.
Ten years after losing my father and getting this ring, I am sitting at my desk and I have a new appreciation for Devarim 5:16 which reads:
Honor your father and your mother as He commanded you, Hashem Your G-d, in order that your days will be lengthened and in order that he will make it good for you.
I wonder if part of the meaning of this passage is that by remembering my father, by honoring his life, his lessons, his love, and his legacy my life is longer and better because I am not destined to be alone, to be without the wisdom of another; that remembering his life reminds me to appreciate the life that I have and to find ways to constantly make it sweeter, brighter, and more fruitful. I don’t have to worry about chasing balloons because this ring keeps them tied to me, accessible at any moment, holding precious, vivid memories tethered in place.