The Yeshiva Journal Writer

We are having unseasonably bad weather in Delaware over the past month or two.  Heat Waves.  Angry wind and hail storms.  It makes people nervous enough to predict the end of the world and though it doesn’t discourage my riding a bicycle, when thunder grumbles overhead, I decide to be a responsible cyclist and take shelter until the worst of the storm passes.

Most of my recent journal entries have taken place at such times and the journal pages are rain-splattered and have drawings in the margins with little text content.  Today was such a day as I biked to the 7-11 for milk and bread before the worst of the storm was to hit.  Or so I thought.  Instead, I was delayed under the overhang of a densely leafed tree that blocked out most of the drips but not the flashes of lightning.  I flipped through my journal for inspiration and found some drawings I had made last winter … with one unusually morbid drawing of the hollow face of a Holocaust victim.  It fit with the flashes of lightning, the rumble of thunder like distant artillery.

My drawings are not very artistic and I doubt most people would be able to identify what they are, but to me they are shorthand for what rises up within me clamoring to be written about.  Or synchronicity will intrude with an event that aligns with some part of the sketch…like it did last winter.

On a below zero frigid night in Delaware, my bicycle and I were waiting for my commuter bus to take us part of the way home. I was chilled to the bone and stamping my feet to keep warm when a young man walked up to the bus stop who caught my attention. He was eating a slice of pizza as he walked and seemed oblivious to the cold, oblivious to everyone and everything around him.

His suit jacket and slacks were black as well as his raincoat that was clearly not warm enough for such a winter night. He was neatly dressed and smelled of expensive cologne but his attache case was battered, of the out-of-style leather box variety. His billed cap in combination with his gold wire-rimmed glasses gave him more of an early 1900’s eastern European air than that of a computer analyst from the large banking firm near the bus stop which was revealed by his photo ID hanging around his neck.

He spoke to no one but did not appear reclusive or unfriendly. Yet there was something out of place, out of time about him … so much so that I made sure I would be seated near him for closer observation. I patted my “stealth” small Nikon 8400 camera in my backpack that would allow covert photos with its articulated LCD screen and low-light capabilities.

I needn’t have worried that he would be disturbed by my observation or photographing him. As soon as he sat down, he opened his scuffed attache case and retrieved a black and white speckled journal filled with pages of dated entries in black, red, blue, and green ink. I’ve been keeping a journal since I was old enough to hold a crayon, but somehow I was sure his was probably far more interesting.

I am not above eavesdropping on other people writings, particularly journal entries, but it was far too dark in the bus and my eyesight is limited by progressive lens bifocals. And so … for the thirty minutes it took the bus to get to my bus stop, he wrote and I fantasized about what he was writing, what memories he was recording, or what existential questions he was wrestling with.

Within seconds I was sure he was a time-traveler from a Yeshiva in Poland in 1939. He had made his way to America and would send for his new wife and child as soon as he had enough money but somehow instead he found himself in Delaware in 2010 with a slice of pizza in his hand…near a railroad station of luxury passenger cars instead of cattle cars…

It was a silly fantasy but it took my mind off my nearly frostbitten toes that were stinging as they warmed up on the over-heated bus. I do not know who this young man is or anything about his history or ancestors, yet, in my mind when I think of him, I see a Rebbe rhythmically rocking and praying, Holocaust ghostly victims still shrieking without sound, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse racing toward Jerusalem, the millions who continue to visit the Wailing Wall, and yet … despite it all there is still a joyful Fiddler on the Roof reminding us to find love, beauty, dreams, and humor in every moment and in every stranger’s face.

I was the first bus passenger to get off the bus.  I took my bike off the bus rack and paused to look in the bus window.  The young man did not look up at me.  He was still busy writing in his journal.

I wish this young man well and hope there is a new young wife and baby that he goes home to every night to share the dreams and visions that he records in his journal written in inks of many colors.


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