Image by Jim Salter, Associated Press.
Today I drove through University City as I have done many times over the past thirteen years. Today the St. Louis area turned again to the sense of Spring that had come too early and which was interrupted by a week of cold, which left all the magnolia blossoms dead, their normally bright blooms appearing in ambushes of joy throughout the city now like brown dirges, their depressing refrain repeated every few blocks.
It has not been the first time that I have passed the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery since it was desecrated on a weekend last February, but in today’s ordinary, good Spring sunlight, the act became more horridly real to me, perhaps just because of the ordinariness of the day.
This was the cemetery that was next to the Missouri Council of the Blind thrift store which I visited so often, and the Goodwill, which was just down the road and then moved across from it. This was the cemetery which I passed on the way to church and which occasionally I would look across at while waiting at the light pondering the Jewish names and thinking of the heritage of the city. This was a burial place for some of the families which always intrigued and attracted me, walking down Delmar Boulevard of a Saturday morning, the men black-hatted, the women wearing dresses, perhaps pushing a stroller or leading a troupe of smartly dressed children on their way to or from synagogue.
And also, though it was hate of a different, depressingly ancient sort when this desecration occurred, it was disheartening that it seemed that the St. Louis region was once again going to be at the epicenter of racial/sectarian hatred and strife. And then something amazing happened, as the Muslim community in St. Louis and other places rallied to fundraise to undo the damage, and the ends of the perpetrators, while perhaps providing a sop to craven and secret hate, were undone in acts of loving kindness.
Chesed shel emeth-an act of pure, true loving kindness, especially in reference to burying the dead with dignity and reverence, which the dead cannot repay-this is what the name of the cemetery itself means. And, so, I offer this reflection and the following haiku.
kicked down by hate; unworking
chesed shel emeth
true loving kindness-
to bury the dead-cannot
be undone by hate
again on the fault-
line, shaken by hate, we turn
to face each other