Thursday, August 1, 2013


About a month after his death, and again today, I lamented for N, literally. I riffed off the words of a Greek folksong and added a traditional piercing wail at the end of each verse, melting into sobs:  
                   What can I send you, N, there in the underworld?
                   I send you an apple, it rots, a quince, it withers. 

I learned to lament from the old women in a Greek village where I lived for a year in my 20s, doing folklore research. That year, there were 16 funerals and 1 wedding. Women gathered in a tight circle around the body at the wake, or around the grave at the memorial, and lamented with improvised lines—not only for that person but for everyone they had lost. They called out to the dead and to fate, rocked back and forth, and wept openly in collective grief. Their cries punctuating the ragged lament tune were infectious to anyone within earshot, and unforgettable. Those women—the mavrofores, dressed in black--taught me how to give voice to pain. It seemed healthy and natural. Maybe that is one reason why I feel compelled to express, rather than contain, my grief. 

There were other lessons learned in that village. Like consoling mourners with the phrase “life to you now.” Like learning to dance with kefi—an ineffable sort of joie de vivre—and meraki-- passion. It was all woven together in a pattern I will have to rediscover, once I recover more of my balance.

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