"As I stood watching the women, I noticed Sylvia, standing apart in a dark, little niche in the hall. She was 'on the other side,' as people said about those they regarded as senile. Usually remote and disoriented, Sylvia seldom spoke.... I was puzzled seeing her now, for she was very animated. I could not hear her from where I stood, but I saw her lips moving. She bobbed up and down, from one foot to an-other, almost dancing, waving her hands upward, weeping, laughing, shaking her finger, head, and shoulders, seeming to scold or argue with an invisible antagonist. On her head was an odd white patch....I moved closer and stood next to her. She was...conducting her own private Sabbath service.
"The white patch on her head was a piece of folded toilet paper, pinned precisely in place. Beneath it her hair was damp. She had combed it neatly with water. Following Orthodox custom, she had covered her head to say the prayers. I was very close to her, but she didn't see me....I took her hand and wished her a good Sabbath. The physical contact was startling. Something suddenly flew open, as though a window shade had snapped up. For a moment I felt as though I was standing inside a membrane with her. She smiled and clutched me so fervently that her hard, yellow nails raised red welts on my forearm.
"'Look, darling, how beautiful it is today,' she said. 'I am rejoicing in the Sabbath, like always. This I must do because if you wouldn't rejoice in the Sabbath in this world, you wouldn't know what to do in the world to come....So on Sabbath, I get all dressed up, the best what I can, and let my heart rise up....'
"Sylvia reached her hand to her hair and shyly, vainly, smoothed it beneath the head covering. The gesture bespoke a sense of inner beauty on this Sabbath eve....
"'On Sabbath, darling, there is only joy. You shouldn't cry.' She reached up and with great gentleness wiped away my tears. 'Shabbat shalom, you should have peace.
"'You see, darling, I still know all my prayers. I still got all the sounds in my heart. It comes back to me every week like this, like the Sabbath soul, neshoma yetera. All the prayers, the psalms, the hymns. My Jewish heart is lasting long.' Sylvia was here, on this side, connected and present, tied by a band of memory to God and the day, and for that instant, to me."
1. Entire quote from Myerhoff, Barbara, Number Our Days (New York: Dutton, 1978) 259-60.