Riffs & Jams

We are each a chorus of one. Many singers, many selves packaged inside a single body. Each of us speaks with one unified voice. Yet that voice is composed of and with as many riffs and jams as we are willing to let in. This is what I believe.

These riffs and jams come from everywhere. Trees spirits. Childhood angst. Wild animus. Lost souls. Ancestral fires. Water sprites. Pure love. Universal energy. Angels. So I try to listen. Mostly I run around listing off what needs to be done, what hasn’t been done, what is going to need doing.

But not when I actually run. When I lace up my running shoes and take leave of our home, our driveway, our street––I begin to listen. And they speak to me. The birds. My mother’s spirit. The clouds I splash through in puddles. Even the fabulous transvestite chutzpah of my Uncle Burk who died of Aids before there was Aids.

I mention this now, here, because I had a rather unusual conversation I want to share.

She died
in a hit and run accident
sometime around 4:30 in the morning
near the corner where Witch intersects Hunt
near a friend’s driveway beside the limp garbage bags.

Was it 4:44? Surely, it was not exactly 4:30.
Was she cold? It was cold out. Was she cold?

She was known to pray,
on her knees, in the street.

What was she praying for? Was it what I have been praying for?
You? Are we now one prayer short? Where do our prayers go?

She was known to walk
all hours of the day and night.

Where was she going? Did she get there? Is she there?
Are you running as fast as I am? Where are we going?

She was known to lift her head, her gaze,
her hands and arms toward heaven.

Like winter branches, reaching–
naked before the vast blueness of sky,
the bitter winds, the glaring sun, invisible air–
reaching– for what is, what is to be.

She was not known by many
directly. People knew mostly of her.

A skitzophenic wanderer kneeling on the side of the road
praying, day after month after year for what… for what? What?
It all to come together? The selves, the fractional elements of soul
that get splintered off along the way into orphan phantoms of possibility.

I never saw her until the afternoon after she died.
And it would be wrong to say I saw her. I did not.

I felt a presence running beside me and somehow having read of what happened knew it to be her and I asked if she was okay running on the road side. And then in my mind thought well, it’s not like she can get hit and she laughed. Not aloud. I mean I did not hear it audibly. But she was funny. Set me at ease. The music from my iphone stopped. Not by me. And I ran without music as long as she ran beside me, which was for maybe a mile. I asked if she was staying here long or going straight up. She said she wanted one more walk, or jog as it turned out to be, with everything being so clear and bright. I asked if she was happier. Yes, she said, it’s easier, because it IS all one.

I told her if she needed me for anything, you know, after she goes, to let me know. Told her I’d be happy to help. I was thinking perhaps if the driver needed help with what would surely, eventually, be weighing heavy on his soul. I didn’t know? I like to help. I asked if she’d be willing to sit on my bench up there, help steer my many selves toward each other, help me to see what my eyes cannot, to feel the oneness of it all, to run with grace and mercy and forgiveness, to integrate, braid the strands of my existence into the fabric. Yes, she said, she would. I am pretty sure she is. But it is harder to listen this way. To blue jays on the back stone-wall, tiny worms and spirit.

If she is me, and I am you and we are one,
then perhaps a piece of us has died?

Perhaps we are meant every now and then to walk,
our hands, hearts held in prayer, humble.

Perhaps our prayers have been answered
and we are freer than we think? Reborn?

Perhaps we are meant to fall to our knees
in gratitude, grace at the grandeur.

She told me her name was Esther.
The newspapers call her Alice.
She rests at the corner
of our intersections.

This was my unusual conversation. Unusual for me, not in the having, but the sharing.

Most of us are scared of believing in anything we cannot see. Save for god and atoms. I want to say, It may have just been my subconscious telling me what I needed to hear. Or perhaps it was my vivid imagination. The origin does not matter. Just the message.

But I think this is wrong. The origin does matter. A lot. I think honoring where things have come from matters. Not second-guessing the giver of our gifts.

Ancestors, perhaps even ours, talked to trees and stars and cows––were connected beyond mere molecular structure and wave energy. They were not freaks or crazies living in the margins of their society. They were the wise. Those that could connect directly to spirits were revered most.

I don’t know who Esther is––was. As it turns out the woman who died was named Alice Goldfarb. She lived from 1959-2011. I was wrong about her name. I did not know this while I was running. It was announced later that day.

So who is Esther? Maybe Alice Goldfarb, who was Jewish, had thought of herself as a kind of Esther from the bible, a Persian Princess of a different time. Or perhaps Alice introduced herself as Esther because she knew I’d learn her real name was Alice and I’d struggle with why she said Esther. Because she knew no matter how much I tried to disregard our conversation I wouldn’t be able to; would be forced to wonder if she had offered Esther to me as a kind of parting gift? A message.

I googled Esther. Esther (Hebrew: אֶסְתֵּר, Modern Ester Tiberian ʼEstēr), born Hadassah, is the eponymous heroine of the Biblical Book of Esther. According to the Bible, she was a Jewish queen of the Persian king Ahasuerus. Her story is the basis for the celebration of Purim in Jewish tradition.

However, the more you dig, the more complicated Esther’s story becomes. Esther is the only book of the Tanakh that is not represented among the Dead Sea scrolls. The Greek text contains six additional chapters and many small changes in the meaning of the main text. Some modern scholars question the historical accuracy, suggesting the book of Esther to be a historical novella.

So what? What does any of this mean? It was at first, irritating. I riddle inside a riddle from a woman I’d never met. And then it hit me. Maybe the point is that there is no single story. Not of Esther. Not of any of us.

We tell ourselves the same story about our self and each other over and over until it becomes carved in a kind stagnating, toxic stone and we feel bound to walk the same path again and again. But what if the story was constantly changing? Even after we die?


I went to Alice’s funeral. People that knew her here, in Rowayton, knew one story. The story of a deeply troubled woman who suffered from Schizophrenia, who walked and prayed in the middle of the street, who had several female roommates and lived on Thomes Street.

They did not know, as I did not know before attending her funeral, that her father had breakfast with her every morning. Or that she graduated George Washington University, married and moved to Peru. They did not know she traveled the world as an expert computer-programming consultant until she became too ill to work. That she spoke to her mom everyday and was deeply loved and supported by the synagogue, friends—a whole community of people. They do not know the lengths her family went to respect her wishes to remain independent, how proud they were of her fierce courage, kind essence, her romantic flights of fancy that her father said took her around the world, both physically and emotionally.

How much fuller they would feel to know her full story. How much happier they would be to know she was not alone. How relieved to know that what we see is not the whole story. What we tell each other, what we tell ourselves is only the surface. There are depths and heights we are free to explore.

So, I keep listening for the riffs and jams.