The Forgotten Song
I was trying to remember a song this week. Usually I have a song pop into my brain, and I have to figure out how I know it or the words that go with the tune. This time, I remembered that an old friend had taught me a song, but I couldn’t remember any other detail other than (1) it was in Hebrew, (2) I used to sing it all the time and (3) I heard it again at a Purim party a few years back.
I searched popular song lists and my notebooks, but I couldn’t remember anything about this song: not the tune, not a word in the title. I could just remember where I was when I learned it and this memory: when the boy sang it to me for the first time, I was thinking about a child I once saw in Tzvat struggling to carry an enormous dog down a set of stone steps. I had asked the boy if I could take his photo because it was such a funny image, but the boy refused to have his picture taken. That’s what I was thinking about while the boy sang — that child and his dog.
I decided that I wouldn’t bother wasting my whole morning trying to remember the song title; I would go straight to the source. I would Google the boy who taught me the song and email him. It had been his favourite song 20 years ago. He would know exactly what I was trying to remember.
The first hit was his obituary.
He died about two years ago. His picture was at the top of the obit. He looked the same, though his curls were thinner.
This is what I thought about as I looked at the photo:
After my grandfather died, he organized the whole camp to sing John Denver’s “Country Roads” when I returned to work because he knew I needed it. He would call me up in the middle of the night and invite me out to eat cake. I think of him every time I use the word ‘incredulous’ because one time, while we were eating lunch under a tree, I used the word while speaking to a child and he said, “I am incredulous that you would use the word incredulous with her.” And I looked at the child and said, “What does incredulous mean?” And the child returned the definition. He used to go with me every week to the Peace Pagoda. He once kissed me in my living room while I was balancing on the bike I was rebuilding, my feet on the pedals and my hands on the back of a chair.
All those things happened, and now he was gone.
I don’t know why I felt so sad. I hadn’t seen him in 20 years. I hadn’t spoken to him in probably 15 years. I felt like I didn’t have a right to feel sad; like it wasn’t my death to mourn because I chose to let us drift apart when I moved out of town. But I was sad. I was really sad because there was once this person on earth who would thoughtfully teach an entire camp of children to sing a person’s favourite song just because he knew she was having a hard time and now that person was gone.
I started crying, and then his song popped into my brain.