It was my privilege to assist Reuben in the editing and publication of his collection of spiritual stories, The Curse of Blessings. I did not name myself in the introduction to that collection. I thought to remain anonymous among the four who used to sit with him in Central Park, entranced by one story after another.
After Reuben moved to Florida, I tried to write my own stories without success, taking pen to paper, hours at end, to no avail.
Over the phone Reuben told me I was afraid to risk, afraid even to expose myself by name. Names are not to be taken lightly. We’ll see that soon enough.
But a name alone is not a story. “Allison” was all I had at the top of the page, no title above, nothing beneath. So I traveled to Florida to be with Reuben, hoping he might connect my name to my stories.
“It’s a matter of angels,” he said. “If you can see your angels, you can write your stories.”
I did not see angels and told him so.
“They’re not that difficult to find,” he said.
“Where should I begin to look?”
“Most any story of lasting power, but we can look at the originals. You know them. Come, I’ll show you.”
He took me to his synagogue. He said it was not a time for religious service, so we would likely be alone, except for the angels.
The synagogue was an old building, not much more than a house in a residential neighborhood. One might walk by it and not know it was there.
“You can learn a lot from what isn’t there,” he said.
In the synagogue, long tables and chairs, not pews like my church. He led me to a raised platform and a cabinet in the wall. From the cabinet he withdrew a Torah scroll draped in a velour cover.
“The originals,” he said as he laid the scroll on a table, uncovered it, rolled it open. “Genesis through Deuteronomy. The beginning of the world to the death of Moses. It doesn’t get more original than that.”
He encouraged me to come forward. I saw black Hebrew letters glistening in crisp columns. The letters seemed to float above the ivory parchment.
“You can read this?” I asked. “You understand Hebrew?”
“Reading the letters isn’t so difficult,” he said. “Reading through the letters is the challenge. The Hebrew letters are written in black fire, like flame, as if they might leap from the parchment at any moment. Can you see through them? Can you see the holes and the spaces? That’s white fire. That’s where the angels live. Underneath every word is an angel.”
“What are we going to do?” I asked him.
“Play with fire,” he said.
Reuben held a silver pointer in his right hand. The tip began a circuitous route through the white of the parchment. He spoke in his storyteller’s voice.
The earthling had no name for it, no knowledge, no experience of anything with which to relate. There had been harmony, then the absence of harmony.
I interrupted him. “What are you reading?”
“I’m not reading. I’m discovering.”
“You’re not reading from the Hebrew?”
He touched the pointer to a word at the top of the first column.
“Beraysheet,” he said. “That’s Hebrew, the first word in the black fire. That’s reading, not discovering. ‘In the beginning.’ The Hebrew words never change. But if you look beneath the words, into the white fire, what we find there can be expressed in any language, if it can be expressed at all.”
He resumed his storyteller’s voice.
The earthling began to shudder in loneliness, not knowing it was lonely.
It had but one desire, to return to harmony.
Compassion flowed into it, suppressing that desire.
And then an imperative. “You are to be my partner in the process of creation. You are to set things deeply into space and time so they are anchored and cannot return. You have the power to name. So, go name. Find things worthy of naming and name them. Anchor them to dimension by the weight of a name.”
The imperative was to name things, not feelings. Things, not processes. The earthling had no experience of feelings, no knowledge of process.
The earthling stumbled. Over what had it stumbled? Something had shifted in front of it. A rock. Granite was its essence, so granite it became. With a name it ceased moving.
Marble, shale, slate. Once named, each ceased moving. Each became fixed in space and time.
As the earthling walked through creation, it scattered names across the ground, pinning each thing to its place.
The earthling encountered an entity that was not rock, but grew from a motivation that came from within. It was not granite, not marble, not shale, not slate. This was something to be planted in the earth so it might reach toward heaven. A plant. A particular plant. A crocus. An orchid. A lily.
Without names each plant had drifted through the air on leaves spread wide, tendrils of roots brushing across the earth. With a name the movement of each was reduced to a single column of light. Such was its purpose. The earthling planted each with a name.
The earthling encountered creatures that gazed back when gazed upon. Such creatures ran from names sensing impending restriction. But the earthling threw a name after each.
“Fox,” and the fox fell to earth, crouched on all fours.
“Wolf.” The wolf howled its complaint.
“Horse.” The horse whinnied its frustration.
“But that’s what you are,” the earthling said. “You are a fox, a wolf, a horse.” What choice did they have but to submit to the weight of a name?
The earthling named everything it encountered, anchored everything until there was no entity left unnamed, only itself. Empty of purpose, the earthling sensed a loneliness so profound no flow of compassion could mask it.
“I’ve fulfilled my purpose,” it said. “Everything has a name but me with no one to give me a name. I am without name, without purpose, without another like me to stand beside me. Every creature has its partner but me. I cannot bear it. Take me back,” it prayed. “Take me back.”
The Creator pressed the earthling deeper to earth, deeper still, into a profound sleep, then split it, one side from the other, female and male. Upon the female the Creator impressed the name Eve, for it was the mother of being. Upon the male, the name Adam, for it came from the earth.
Reuben’s silver pointer remained on the parchment, marking a stop in the flow of his imagination. He looked up, waiting for me.
Waiting for me to do what?
The earthling and I had something in common. Everything had a name but me.
Did Reuben know that?
Allison wasn’t really my name, only what I was called. When the earthling gave a name, it gave its essence. Allison wasn’t my essence, only what my parents had labeled me.
But then the Creator didn’t have an adequate name, either.
“Why the Creator?” I asked, hoping to be diverted from the white fire boiling under the Hebrew letters. “Why not God?”
“Not God,” Reuben said. “Not for me. I want nothing to do with God. Too many horrors attached to the name of God.”
“But Creator is all right?”
“Until it becomes a curse. When people start saying ‘damn creator,’ I’ll have to find something else.” With the silver pointer he tapped the parchment. “What do you see?” he asked.
He nodded. “What do you see in the nothing?”
A white dot in white space was what I saw, but I didn’t know how to speak of something without definition. A nothing. I shifted my eyes from the parchment to the wall, but the wall was ablaze with white fire. The ceiling as well. Everywhere, white fire, and I was only a dot within the white fire. The dot above the letter I. That’s what I told Reuben.
“I see the dot above the letter ‘I.’ That’s all I see.”
“It’s a beginning,” he said.