"Shomrim needed," read the heading of the email in my inbox yesterday morning.
I checked my calendar and saw that I was available, so I signed up for a shift.
Whenever a Jew is prepared for traditional burial, there is usually a time lag between the body being washed, dressed and sealed in the plain wooden coffin and the time the body is taken to the cemetery for burial.
That's where the Shomrim (guardians) come in.
Jewish law dictates that, from the moment of death until the time of burial, a dead person cannot be left unattended, even for a minute. So during the lag time, people take turns sitting in the room with the sealed casket, reading Psalms and otherwise sitting quietly and respectfully.
It's an awe-filled thing, a humbling thing -- and not to be entered into lightly.
Whilw anyone above Bar/Bat Mitzvah age (13) can serve as a Shomer (guardian), most rabbis I've tlked with recommend that, if possible, the Shomrim be college-age or older. Because of the immediacy of the need -- a Jew has to buried within three days of death unless special circumstances prevent it -- most of the Shomrim in a given community are retirees or people with unconventional work schedules.
I left the house about 90 minutes before my scheduled shift. It was a gorgeous morning, with a breeze and bright sunlight. I thoroughly enjoyed my 8-mile ride across town.
I arrived at the funeral home -- located in a very large and beautiful Victorian house on the National Registry -- and locked up my bike in back, in the carport where the hearse often waits.
After reading the Psalms traditionally said at this time (yeah, there are rules for that), I chanted quietly and finally sat in silence. Do this long enough and your mind will eventually turn to your own mortality -- not in a scary way at all. I treasure this responsibility because it's a way for me to be of use in my community and at the same time to spend some quiet, thoughtful time pondering what really matters in life.
That's the beauty of serving as a Shomer: you're taking part in Jewish rituals around death and burial, but you really have some time to get clear on life.
I ended up sitting with the meitah (corpse) for 45 minutes past my assigned time, because the hearse was late in coming, and I could not leave.
Finally, I called the office downstairs to ask about sending someone else up to sit so I could go.
"Can you hang on another ten minutes?" the man asked. "They're on their way."
I said I could. Fifteen minutes later, a young man and woman, both clad in black, came in to take the casket outside to the waiting hearse. I went to the restroom, washed my hands (which you do after being in the presence of a corpse) and left.
Outside, the sunlight seemed brighter, and the turning leaves more vivid in their oranges and golds. The breeze felt cool against my cheek and every turn of the cranks felt glorious. Riding after Shomrim duty is a great way to process my emotions and, as I like to say, "return to density".
This is an apartment where I lived some twenty-two years ago, around the time I began working at Citybikes. Nine months after I moved in, everyone in the building was given thirty days to vacate; the building was being converted into condos, with walls between adjoining studios being knocked down. We were all shocked and incensed. It was the beginning of gentrification in eastside Portland, and we had no idea at the time how rampant and widespread it would become. We only knew that a lot of us couldn't afford anything else in the area that was available, and a lot of us in the building would end up moving to cheaper rentals in North and Northeast Portland (where today, you can't rent anything under $1300 a month -- and that's a studio apartment in 2017).
About a third of the tenanbts were people of color and several were parents of young children.
I was so angry that I hung a sign in my window saying, "GENTRIFICATION IS ETHNIC CLEANSING WITHOUT THE BULLETS." My neighbors loved it, the manager not so much. Two days later a note was slid under my door by the new owners, ordering me to take down the sign.
I scribbled on the back: "--or what? You're already evicting me." -- and left the sign up until the day before I moved out. Today, I did not see one person of color on Hawthorne, anywhere.
I rode all the way down Hawthorne Boulevard until I found a coffee shop I hadn't tried before.
I came to Coava Coffee on SE Grand. From the outside it looks pretty unassuming. Inside, it looks, well -- sort of unassuming but in a too-big, too-studied, faux-industrial sort of way.
Seriously, the place had been a garage or a machine shop in a previous life, evidenced by leftover machinery converted into seating and counter spaces.
The front counter was enormous, and had no seating along it. Just a counter, with a row of coffee-making racks and filters off to one side.
The whole room felt over-large, too spacious to be a coffeehouse. And the exposed wood ceiling, which made the room very echo-y, would also make it really loyud if it ever did get crowded.
I would've loved to try my hand at that press. Seriously.
The coffee was actually quite good. Pour-over (which, as near as I can tell, means THEY grind the beans and load the filter, and THEY pour the water, all while you watch. Perhaps that's why their coffee starts at $3.00 a cup.)
The honey cake was moist but unexciting. And this combo brought my most expensive coffeeneuring ride to a whopping $6.25. YeeOUCH!
Total miles: I don't know. Ten, maybe. I shortened my ride home with a ride on the Streetcar.
Whatever. I stopped tracking my miles a few years ago, and mileage really doesn't mean much to me anymore. My rides are shorter, and much slower, and far more enjoyable as a result.
So now I just ride.
Because you know what?
Life is short.
Happy riding, wherever you go this weekend.