We have enjoyed bright days in early spring here on the coast of Maine. The sun delivers a punch for the first time in six months. But the wind has its power, too.
Yesterday, a cold, cold wind blew fiercely in from the northeast. My daffodils bent sideways and whipped back and forth, as though they were buffeted by a very Euroclydon from our antique past, by the levanter that shipwrecked St. Paul.
I took yesterday off from writing my book about my past, about my poet father and how his lyricism contributed to Channa’s and my conversions from Judaism to Christianity, and I drove the three miles to Popham Beach.
Popham Beach is a swath of sand, miles long in both directions, rare for rocky-beach Maine. Far out, rock ledges caused the wind-whipped seas to blast up in white furies. Two-and-a-half miles out from the beach is Sequin Island, topped by Maine’s tallest and second commissioned lighthouse, commissioned by George Washington back in the past, in 1795.
For beach-goers, at least when the tide is dead low, there is a rocky islet, called Fox Island, which one can reach by foot, but you had better watch the tide carefully for it comes in fast, and people have been arrested by its sweep and then have been trapped on Fox Island.
You had better watch your own past carefully, too, otherwise you may be arrested in the past and trapped by a crime you wish to deny.
As I drove to the beach, I put into the CD player the original cast disk of The Fantastiks, which my college had done the year before I arrived as a freshman actor, and which Dad and I had seen there together several nights in a row. I opened my roof for the first time since winter, and I cranked up the music very loud. I sang along with Try to Remember—I am not a skillful singer—and when we got to It Depends on What You Pay, sung by Jerry Orbach as El Gallo, I sang that, too.
At the last note of that clever song, there is a rousing cheer by the two fathers and by El Gallo, who has sold the fathers on the idea of the abduction, for which he uses the word rape…"It’s short and businesslike.” Stirred, like El Gallo and the two fathers, I punched the air and cheered. Yes!
In that instant, suddenly, I was my father.
That song had tickled my father’s fancy, and he had punched the air and cheered, too, with exactly the gesture and the intonation I used.
My cheer was so much his, I was him.
When I arrived at the beach, I shut down the music and sat quivering in my car. Far from getting a break from Dad, I was still at least half him. This thought blasted through me. I had just been my father, because of a gesture…and he, long dead.
Then another thought blasted in. Perhaps Dad had used that gesture and intonation because he had seen his father use it, too, back in his father’s day. And I wondered—had Dad’s father used that same gesture and intonation because he had seen his father use it, too, in the even farther-back day?
Then I was slammed by a really big thought-blast.
If a gesture can be so evocative as to take me, in an instant, back a generation, or even back several generations, then might a gesture take me back even farther than that? Might a gesture take me back to my deepest known ancestor?
Could I trace that same gesture all the way back to Eberhart the Noble in 1281?
Might Eberhart the Noble have gestured in that same way when he rose from his knees before the Holy Roman Emperor, and stepped backwards away from the throne and then through the throne room door? Then might he have looked at the new ducal seal in his hand, which had just been granted to him by the Emperor and which had made him the first Duke of Württemberg, at his age of fifteen? Might he have pumped his fist in the air in the same way as I had pumped mine, and used that same expression…Yes!
As I sat in my car before walking out onto the beach, my emotional inhabitation of my father diminished, and so my mind came more into play than my heart. Here’s what I pondered: if a mere gesture can do this, then what about sin? Can sin, too, do a snap-back?
I sin today. I sin in a way that copies my father’s sin. Did my father sin in a way that copied his father’s sin…and so on backwards in time?
Forefather Adam lied to God, and he accused Eve, thereby disrespecting his wife. I disrespect my wife sometimes, accusing her of faults which—truly—are my own, not hers. I duck my responsibility to love and to touch her, as I am enjoined by God to do, with a chrism of sacramental grace. When I disrespect her this way, I do not honor her need for true, straight-forward, and timely communication, along with direction, during our spiritual passage.
Does this--my sin--snap me back, in an instant, all the way to Adam, and to his hiding in the Garden, and to his lie?
Could I be responsible for the Fall?
My defense attorney stands up and places himself before the judge. “No, no,” is what he says. His strategy has been to use the SODDI defense.
“Some Other Dude Did It.”
That’s his strategy.
“No, no. Not he.”
[“The SODDI Defense” was originally posted in April 2013.]