Losing them, fixing them, forgetting to put them in
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I could hear the Jehovah’s Witnesses before I saw them,
two black women dressed in black,
conferring politely on my porch steps.
I ran to the door to head them off.
“Thanks anyway,” I said, “but I’m Jewish.”
“We visit everyone,” one of them said,
and I remembered my grandmother back in the seventies,
marooned in our suburban home,
waiting out her latest bout with hemorrhoids or pneumonia
until she was deemed well enough to be shipped back
to civilized Brooklyn, where she lived alone
in a stuffy, rent-controlled apartment.
Eagerly she’d greet the Witnesses
who dropped by every day to debate with her.
“God?” Grandmother would say,
all eighty-five furious pounds of her.
“Don’t talk to me about God!
Where was God in the concentration camps
when Nazis tied the legs of pregnant women together
so they would die giving birth?”
The missionaries knew no decent answer
but were game to stay and talk with her,
which is more than I can say for the rest of us.
They returned again and again,
and so a bridge was formed,
made of loneliness, fear, and doubt —
God’s favorite materials —
and something moved across it,
something holy. Call it whatever you want,
even if it was only the ordinary human traffic
of listening with half an ear
to another person’s incurable despair,
all the while hauling one’s own truckload of sadness
from place to place, looking for a spot to park.