I spent yesterday with a very religious Jewish women. A newly single mother of 7 children, she is also a musician heavy on Beastie Boys influences, a producer, a camp counselor, a laundress, a sister and an aunt. But mostly, she is a believer.
And she wears a head scarf to prove it. And she says a bracha before eating a handful of cashews. She gives thanks to God regularly. The same God, presumably, to whom I give thanks when I make Shabbat dinner for my kids and we bicker over who will say motzi—the blessing over the challah—that evening. And then my husband blesses my children—a tidy two of them—and we give silent thanks again, for their health and goodness. And then we return to our secular lives. There is a Yankees game to watch, laundry to fold.
But for two days there has been this cricket trapped in a wood beam in my living room. All day he is quiet, and all night long he chirps with such sharpness and echo that I have to retreat to my bed and close the two doors in between us to escape. Ordinarily I love crickets, love the sound of them in symphony—outside of the screened windows. Outside.
I tried setting a trap (hoping he would hop out the way he hopped in)—a trap of apples and watermelon—wikihow suggested a drizzle of molasses, but that seemed excessive. Nothing. The chirping persisted. And again he was quiet during the day. But when he started up last night, my religious friend was here and she suggested we consult Perek Shira, a text that praises each and every creature on earth. She’s a hippie, my friend. We were going to praise the cricket to let him know he has been heard and understood and blessed, maybe? I was skeptical, but such is desperation. It makes us suddenly and deeply pious.
Unable to find a recitation specific to the cricket, we combined the locust and the grasshopper and we really did dwell on the simple invocation from Psalms, in hopes of quieting him but also saving him and ourselves from calamity. Calamity. And the thing is, all of the sudden the chirping stopped. Just like that. At just the right moment—the same way the red sea parted just when it was supposed to, just in time. And it took my breath away for a while. We said our goodbyes, my friend and I, and I didn’t tell my kids what we had done because I was afraid. Of what? That they would believe in God and prayer. Yes.
Because here is the thing. A little girl died last week, a nine-year-old girl. On the last night of sleep-away camp. And I am only connected to her the way people are sometimes connected—through grandparents who attend the same synagogue, friends who grew up with the parents, 9-year-old daughters born the very same year, one on the west side and one on the east. And both girls went off to camp for the first time, and only one of them came back. Thousands came back really. But one did not. Calamity. And it is just so very hard to believe in God this week. Because a nine-year-old girl is gone from this earth for no good reason—is there ever any good reason? Nothing happened in the nick of time the way it was supposed to, the way the red sea parted, saving all those people and gobbling up all of the evil. And I don’t believe for one second that God saved the cricket. But maybe we gave him some peace and he let go. And the grasshopper says, “I lift my eyes to the mountains from where shall my help come?” (Psalms, 121:1)
I do believe in a lot of things—in Mother Nature and modern medicine and Bob Dylan and yes, the Beastie Boys. So, I’m saying a prayer. Because such is desperation. May this little girl find her way to the angels and be given the wings she deserves, and may she be cared for and may she be praised. And please, may her family find some peace on this earth.
Maybe the cricket stopped chirping right then because he felt heard, cared for, praised. And that was all I could do for him, in the end.
And all I can do today is give, in Riley Sandler’s memory and in her honor.