Rated PG = V, A, Mulder POV
Tifereth Israel Congregation
I settled near the back, taking a seat almost near the doors, so I figured I could watch and listen with impunity. It's Christmas Eve, and with Scully away visiting her family, I had nothing to do. No one to pester, no one to call at obscene hours. I was bored.
But it's a Friday night, and I found my thoughts meandering into some pretty dangerous turf. What would I be doing if my life had been different? If Samantha were around - still a part of my family? If I still had a family?
I try not to think about my pathetic excuse for a family much these days. All that's left is my Mother, and we're not exactly a model Madonna and Son.
Boredom hit hard yesterday, and I nearly - nearly - hauled my ass off that couch and went into the office, but I had made the decision to take the day off, and dammit I was going to follow the plan. Watch some TV, eat something home-cooked, maybe do some laundry. No work, no clingy calls to Scully's cell phone, no research reading.
But after six or seven hours of extreme inactivity, I remembered why I didn't do that 'idle' thing more often: I lose control of my mind. Really. My thoughts start to ramble, I involuntarily free-associate nonstop, and I usually end up dwelling on some miserable aspect of my miserable life before I even realize I'm doing it. Hi, I'm Fox Mulder, and this is my mind.
It's just not a safe place to be sometimes.
So I spent all yesterday unintentionally gravitating toward memories of Samantha taking responsibility for my well-being - which was, frighteningly enough, fairly often - and I made my second decision of the week. I would do something about it.
I considered going on a brief drinking binge, but rejected that idea out of hand. Nothing to be gained that way. Besides, I'd just cleaned my toilet.
The boys invited me over for dinner and a 'Conan the Barbarian' movie marathon tonight, but I don't have the energy to participate in the debate over whether 'Red Sonja' belongs in the lineup. Conversation would have inevitably shifted toward what the four of us have in common, though, and I found myself dreading the idea of it. I must be on a downswing: Even conspiracy chat holds no appeal.
After hours of freeform thinking tangential enough to cause brain damage in anything higher up the evolutionary ladder than a tree slug, I skimmed away the mental crud, and arrived at the source of my anxiety. I couldn't stop thinking about Samantha and what she would be doing if she was here.
So I made an impulsive decision, one I'm already regretting, even as I squirm in this red velvet flip-down seat.
I went to temple.
We weren't exactly a practicing family by any stretch of the imagination. Mom was Lutheran, but she wasn't at all spiritual. Dad was Jewish, but being "openly Jewish" wasn't a wise choice for a government employee in the 60s. Or the 70s. He wasn't a spiritual person either. That made my parents a perfect match, I guess. And it explains why they didn't last, that's for damn sure.
My folks didn't pack me up and send me off to either church or temple, so I just let it slide. Sam, however, fell hard for Judaism, and tried her best to convert the rest of us. Didn't work.
So, as I said, I went to temple. Well, Synagogue, actually. 'Temple' implies Reform Judaism, which is, on the orthodoxy scale, roughly...Pagan. This place is a Conservative congregation, which is a little more strict. I doubt many of these people eat pork regularly, but I'm sure plenty drove here - a big no-no on the Sabbath Sin chart.
So I decided to be inconspicuous and sit way back near the doors. It's close enough to make a quick getaway if I get too uncomfortable, but not so far that I couldn't read the lettering on the doors of the ark up front, that is if I read Hebrew, which I don't. It looks like just letters of the alphabet, but who knows, it could be the punchline to some really great old joke.
Well, actually it could be the alphabet. There are ten letters there, five on each door, and if I remember correctly, Hebrew letters also double as numbers. The tribe has a big thing for numerology. I guess that's probably why.
Okay, so do it right, Investigator Boy, collect your evidence and figure it out. The ark holds the bible scrolls. Two tablet-shaped wrought-metal doors, ten letters/numbers...must be the Ten Commandments. So they are letters of the alphabet, symbolizing one through ten. Mission accomplished.
The music here is great. I'm surprised to realize that I remember these sounds. Old, low-voiced men in the front, singing every note of every prayer, improvising thin little harmonies as if they've been doing it for fifty years. They probably have, from the looks of some of them.
There's no organ here - instruments aren't allowed in the synagogue - so everything's done with singing. It all sounds like it's in a minor key, soulful and kind of sad. It's really old music, so I doubt it's meant to be melancholy. It's probably existed since well before Western music was even invented. It's an exotic, ethnic sound that winds around like smoke tendrils, a kind of auditory incense. I find myself drawn to it the same way so many Anglo folks reacted to the Irish soundtrack from that godawful piece of crap, "Titanic".
My heart will go on, my ass. If it was Scully going down under the waves, you bet your ass I'd be hot on her heels, following her to the Great Beyond. Of course, that would have been entirely unnecessary, as there would have been room enough for two on that fucking wooden door, so neither of us would have to die. Those losers didn't even try to fit little Leonardo on that door. Idiots.
Where was I? Oh yeah, music. Okay, so this music kind of speaks to me. I make a mental note to do some more research on the validity of 'genetic memory'. It'll be fun to argue with Scully over it, if nothing else.
So the music is still going, and people are intermittently standing and sitting, and it reminds me of a cheer Sam used to whisper in my ear during services on Friday nights when we were kids. She'd get that evil little twinkle in her eyes, and recite quietly, "Bend and turn and bow and sway; stand up, sit down, pray pray pray!". I smile quietly to myself at the thought of her voice, deeper than it should have been for an eight-year-old, clapping silently in mock-team-spirit. If she's still alive, I bet her voice is deep and smooth, like Mom's.
I arrived well after sunset, which I found a little odd, but hey, that's when services start here. If there's anything I do in fact remember about this whole process, it's that each day begins at sunset. So I was a little disappointed to get here long after the sun set low between the buildings. But I got here in time to see a pleasant-looking old lady light the pair of white candles and recite the blessing over them. She had a faraway look in her eyes, and with her heavy, lilting accent - which I swear sounded Dutch - she carefully and earnestly recited every syllable of the brief prayer. Nice. She sounded like Channa, my Dad's mother. Channa had wanted us to call her 'Bubbe', but Dad feared being 'outed', so we used the Dutch form for Grandmother, which was Oma. Oma Channa. With a little voiceless gargle on the CH.
Channa Mulder was an amazing woman, a kindly little rounded bundle of energy wrapped up with a melodic voice and deceptively fierce determination. She was not a woman to be trifled with. But if she respected you, she was your staunchest ally all your life. Oma Channa's warmth, which she only showed fully to those she loved best, concealed itself exceptionally well within the lifestyle of a matriarch. I loved her fiercely until the end of her life, which came too early for my liking. I was eleven.
I remember there were times after Samantha's disappearance when I would lie in bed, bury my face in my pillow, and call her name, thinking somehow she'd hear me and appear in my room. Things around the house were pretty awful for a while, and I really needed her on my side. If she'd been there, she would have kicked Dad's ass clean across the state.
Anyway, another little Dutch woman was waving her hands over the flames of the candles here in this synagogue, and the anal compulsive in me wanted to "Psst" her and tell her she had a smudge of ink on her arm, but I let it go. Hey, I can pick and choose my obsessions.
Then I thought about its location on her forearm and realized it was a tattoo. A serial number. Shit, a holocaust survivor. The Netherlands were brutalized by the Nazis. It's amazing she survived.
Tattoos are strictly forbidden by Jewish law, which is why they were even more traumatic for all those folks carted off into concentration camps. You're not allowed to be buried in a Jewish cemetery if you have a tattoo. But I can understand why she never had it lasered off. You'd want your kids and grandkids to know how much horror humans are capable of surviving. We're a resilient damn species. I doubt the people in charge of the cemeteries worry about those Nazi serial numbers anyway.
I wonder, if we really can't stop colonization, if we'll all end up in the Reticulan version of Auschwitz. What a horrible fucking thought. I've gotta snap out of it. The thought of being helplessly enslaved is setting me dangerously close to tears. These people don't know what's coming, but I do.
The Rabbi calls out the page number - something that happens intermittently throughout the service - and everyone turns a page in their books, rises and turns. Suddenly, every member of that congregation is facing me. I am fairly close to freaking out when I turn to make my escape, really the best option at the moment, and find that a few rows' worth of people behind me have also turned. Everybody is facing the rear doors, which two ushers are holding open. Okay, so I'm a little paranoid. I gotta calm down.
So I remain this way, listening to the music, reading the left hand version of page 151. That's another weird thing about this place: The prayer book has two versions of each page; one in English, one in Hebrew. Kind of like those annotated volumes of Shakespeare. So I read through the English version of page 151 a couple of times, desperately trying to figure out what the heck is going on.
Oh, welcoming the Sabbath Bride. Nice metaphor, if you believe in that kind of thing.
Which personally I don't.
I also take the time to look at the huge array of names and little orange light bulbs lining the back wall of the sanctuary. The memorials. Only a few of the bulbs are screwed all the way in, indicating whose deaths are being commemorated this week. We're a morbid people, my tribe.
What the heck is that called? The anniversary of a death...a Yahrzeit. Well, that makes sense. "Year's time". That's how long you mourn immediately following the death. If I'm really honest with myself, I've been mourning since November 27, 1973.
It's about halfway through the service now, and everybody sits as the Rabbi approaches the pulpit and prepares to speak. Ah, forgot about the Friday night sermons. The Rabbi at Sam's synagogue used to drone endlessly about the next day's bible portion, and it bored me to tears. I used to take those twenty or thirty minutes and thumb through the end of the prayer book, looking for neat poems in the "auxiliary worship" section.
I remember one particular poem talked about life on other planets. I still think that's pretty cool, and impressively open-minded, for a six-thousand-year-old religion.
But one of my favorite poems wasn't about God or religion or prayer at all. It was about two seas in Israel: The Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. It said that the Sea of Galilee gave up one drop of water for every drop it received, sending it downstream toward the Dead Sea, but that the Dead Sea jealously hoarded its share. Every drop of water it received it kept. The poem said that the Sea of Galilee supported all kinds of life, because the taking and the giving went on in equal measure, but that nothing would grow near the Dead Sea. The final lines, and I'll never forget them, read, "There are two seas in the land of Israel. There are two kinds of people in the world."
The poem wasn't signed, but I wonder now who wrote it and what had happened in the author's life to create the need for that kind of sentiment. It makes me sad, and I wonder for a while how much I've received and how much I've given in my life.
And I think I'm not out of line when I realize I'm a selfish bastard. My quest, my mission, my work, my pain, my life. I'm the Dead Sea. And Scully's the Galilee. I will do something about this. I will find a way to make things better for her. She deserves it.
This Rabbi, however, is not forcing me to seek out alternative forms of entertainment. He's a young man, only in his thirties, and he's talking about a synagogue bombing that's been all over the news for the past two days. He's talking about the ramifications on public safety and on the hearts of children learning to grow up in fear, and he's right on all counts. Not a word about God or prayer or organized religion in the entire sermon. I like this guy.
I read up on the congregation and Rabbi Seidel before I chose this place. Their website said he knows how to juggle. So this choice was a no-brainer.
By the time he's done speaking, heads are nodding in assent all over the congregation. Glad to see he's appreciated.
The music should start again, but first there's the Mourner's Kaddish: The prayer of remembrance for the dead. It's spoken aloud, but only by those actively mourning the loss of a loved one. If I'd been observant, I would have recited it for the entire year following Dad's death, and for a week each year, on the anniversary of his death. But I'm not observant, so there you go. I'd feel like a total hypocrite asking for God's guidance and thanking God for my own life and the memories of my loved ones, when I don't even believe in the bastard.
And the truth is, I don't really miss Dad. He wasn't exactly Mr. Warmth.
There's no way I could be observant anyway, not only because of the God thing, but also because of the Big Ten, which I don't exactly follow either. I mean, I have killed, but really only when I had to, so I think I'm okay on that score. I don't really covet anything, and I'm fairly decent about the stealing thing. When the cashier at the grocery store gave me too much change last week, I gave it back. I don't really love my neighbors, though. Especially Padgett, but he's not exactly a neighbor anymore.
I definitely fail the test on the 'not having any other gods before me' front. I'm cool on the adultery thing because Carleen didn't tell me she was married, and when I found out, I stopped sleeping with her. But that was more than a decade ago, so even so, I'm sure there's a statute of limitations on that kind of unintentional sin.
But I've really messed up the 'honor thy mother and thy father' requirement. My Dad was, if I can allow myself a little honesty here, one of the primary architects of the most evil organization I've ever heard of in the history of mankind. Not much love lost there. Gave away his own daughter. The fucking asshole doesn't deserve my honor. Mom's a little cold, not really a sin exactly, but she gave away her daughter, and let her husband blame their only son for the loss. Didn't it occur to them to just run? To just snag some cash and get some fake ID and leave the country and hide? To take their kids and protect them, 'cause that's what you do when you're a parent?
They didn't deserve the gift of children. And Scully, who deserves more happiness than anyone I've ever known, has been denied the chance to have her own. She'd be an amazing mother. But she doesn't get to have any children. The world is so fucking unfair.
I wonder if Samantha has any children, or if they took hers away from her too.
So when a few people stand and start speaking the words of the Mourner's Kaddish, I think to myself about those who really deserve to be mourned: My sister, my grandmother Channa, all of Scully's children. Melissa. And, because I'm permitting myself to be totally frank, my own children. I can't have them if Scully can't. So I'll never be a father. This thought has suddenly made me very unhappy. I always thought I'd be kind of good at the whole "Dad" thing. Why am I doing this to myself, tonight of all nights?
The music starts again, and this time the prayers lean toward the 'kingship' of God, so I stop reading and just listen to the melodic chanting.
All this music, soulful but somehow not depressing, reminds me so much of Sam. I'd only ever hear this music when she'd drag me with her to services. I'd go with her on Friday or Saturday nights, but never on Saturday morning. Who the hell needs three hours of non-stop "Oh God, you're so amazingly cool and we humbly prostrate ourselves before you"? I sure as hell didn't I just needed a break from the tension in the house.
I know that's why she took me there, in the hopes that I would find some measure of the peace she found. She always took such good care of me.
Jesus, I miss her so much. I hope she's happy, or at least at peace, wherever she is.
I miss Scully, too. It's only been a few days - oh, get real Mulder, it's been three days, nine hours and seventeen minutes, give or take - and you're fucking miserable. Well, I get what I deserve, doing that 'only one iron in the fire' thing. I probably should have cultivated other friendships, but I'm just not like that. One at a time, and I give it everything I have.
Shit, of course I haven't. I'm the fucking Dead Sea. Take, take, take.
All right, Mr. Introspection, it's time to start giving.
One week from tonight is New Year's Eve. I'm going to show Scully what she means to me. I'll make sure to find out where she's planning to be and I'll be there. I'll kiss her at the stroke of midnight. I'll start the new Millennium with her as a more upbeat, supportive partner. I'll be more sensitive to her needs. I'll be more affectionate. I'll smile more.
I'll do our expense reports for the entire month of January.
The service has ended, and I rise with the intention of leaving and going home to some bad old Christmas movies and leftover takeout. And no more thinking, dammit. But the wall of memorials catches my attention, and I'm drawn to a few blank nameplates with their companion light bulbs.
I stand and stare at them for a good long time, enough time for the entire congregation to empty out into the hallway and spill over into the social room for wine and cake.
Just at the point when I'm confident my mind is a formless, random minefield, something important clicks into place: This is why I'm here. I'm not here to distract myself from loneliness, or to resolve spiritual issues. I'm here, staring at these blank brass plaques, inscribing names into them silently, because I'm here to mourn. I'm here to say goodbye.
It's time to clean my emotional closet, and bring some order back into my life. I'll keep looking for the truth, but I can't keep doing it at the expense of my peace of mind. I have enough to get stressed about. It just makes no sense to agonize over things I can't change.
I try to remember the words for the Mourner's Kaddish, but all I can remember - in English - is 'Magnified and Sanctified'. It's probably another one of those, "Oh God you're so cool please don't kill us all" kinds of prayers.
I screw in one bulb, illuminating it next to a blank nameplate. Samantha. Another, Melissa. Another, Emily. Another - and this one smarts but bad - Scully's innocence.
Another, Dad. Then I come to my senses. He knew what he was doing. He made his decisions, and he lived with them. Eventually he died with them. I unscrew that bulb. He doesn't deserve the same reverence as these others. These were innocents, harmed or destroyed by the callousness of others. I couldn't save them.
They deserved to survive. They deserve to be remembered.
Magnified and Sanctified be their names.
I must look like a lunatic, alone at the back of the sanctuary, staring blankly at this wall. I've probably worn out my welcome here.
I turn to leave, and feel an unfamiliar lightness in my step. Something in me has shifted, but I'll be damned if I know what it is. I guess another session of free-association is in order.
I won't commit to coming back here, or even making the most casual attempt to reconsider my stand on the God issue, but maybe I'll try the ethnic angle for a while. Make some chicken soup with matzo balls. Wear one of those "Chai" necklaces. Say "Oy" more.
Maybe I'll just pick up some bagels on the way home.
Notes: This is officially part one of my Yiddishfic universe. Part Two is rather more sizeable(!), and is a collaboration with the devious, dark, and divine Sarah Ellen Parsons. "The Big-Ass Warpo Mytharc Thingy" will be on fic lists and a newsgroup near you soon.
Thanks to my beta folks: Mary Sebasky, Shannono, and Sarah Ellen Parsons. I only used one of Sarah's suggestions, but hey, nourishing partnerships are supposed to include that 'agreeing to disagree' clause, right?