Session Notes: Noah [Biblical figure, dates unknown]

This is the furthest I’ve ever reached back, but his voice still comes through clear. 

The candles don’t even flicker: he’s easy to reach, the connection comfortable. As always, there’s a moment of surprise when he sounds like just some guy. There’s always a part of me that thinks the next spirit will be the one whose voice is a chorus of screams or whispers, will rattle the walls. But it’s always just people.

“Sometimes the rain was soft,” he says. 

“You think, because it’s God, oh it will be thunderous all the time. Great buckets of rain! But some days it was just a drizzle, a little wind, it barely moved the boat. It felt like it would stop any minute. That became the strange thing, that was a lesson I suppose: that what made it wrathful was that it just didn’t stop. And that meant that the storm could be patient. That God could be gentle, for a time.”

“Like He was with the animals?” I say.

There’s a pause, then a dry laugh. “I was shaking my head just now, like you can see me, but you can’t, can you? It’s only voices. And only for a short while, yes?”

It’s rare that I get followup questions. A practical man, this Noah. But he’d have to be–this is a man who received a holy proclamation and thought time to get some lumber

“But the animals,” he says now, ”I don’t know if that was gentle. Have you ever had a miracle? I suppose this–” and now I picture his gaze, a broad hand, sweeping over the circle of crystals and candles and mirrors that have brought him into the room– “is a bit like a miracle, no? But in my experience a miracle is often beautiful and sometimes even kind but it is always terrible. It will not be pleasant to witness.
“The animals were so docile and strange. Can you imagine guiding a rhinoceros around by his great horn? My wife and I, we were sore afraid. Our hearts trusted God–that is faith, yes?–but the body still sees a great beast and begs to flee.
“They didn’t need to eat, you see. They didn’t chase or roar or defecate or play. That was the magic trick. They were just there, to be transported. It was miraculous! And for my daughters, what a gift! For my youngest to stroke her small hand down the soft hide of a tiger, the older to peel back the alligator’s jaws and stroke his smooth, bright teeth. After, we had to teach them to fear the creatures because they’d only known them as these empty, dazed things. And so for the children perhaps the miracle of the animals was beautiful, and the natural way was terrible, but for my wife and for me the miracle was awesome: strange and terrible both.”

There are questions I ask every voice, no matter who has joined me in the room. There are rules, too: I must be alone or it won’t work, I can’t lie or it won’t work, can’t speak to someone I knew personally, or someone who’s still alive. I tried to reach a living friend, once, to see if what I had was actually telepathy, misdirected at the dead, but all I got was a week of brutal migraines for my efforts. Have you ever taken two iPhones, put them both on speaker, called one with the other, and then stacked them together? That’s what it was like: screeching, echoing, overloud. Something in the process needs distance to work. 

The friend I’d tried to reach dreamed of her dead relatives every night for a week. They brought her tea, advice, she woke with the taste of star anise and honey behind her teeth. Saturday morning she woke up knowing, with perfect clarity, her great-grandmother’s rugelach recipe that had been lost in the Shoah.

Together we trace the old Hebrew school story, the pairs of animals, the Ark, the wickedness and the warning, the dove and the olive branch, repopulating the earth. 

“Oh, but they think? No. If it were just me and my wife and my daughters for all the world of men–I know this was the way of Adam’s line, but I could not.”

There were other people, then? I ask. Wasn’t the whole point to get rid of everyone else?

“On the whole, yes, but to Adonai, we are a bit like sparks from a campfire, like insects. Not in a bad way! I mean to say we are very small on the face of the world to Him, and many, and very persistent.
“I didn’t take insects with me on the Boat, you know. Not on purpose anyway. But when we made land there was a great fallen tree soaked through with rain and when my wife went to lean against it, a thousand insects burst forth, filling the sky and covering the ground. The people we found were like that: not in God’s plan, either to snuff or to spare. Just still there. But each time we found them–always two or more, small groups together–they had survived by some impossible coordination. One band built thin, impossible stilts up into the sky and perched together, trading turns repairing them with driftwood and kelp as the sea battered their shelter. Another fled high into the mountains, only surviving by sending a single person out at a time to dig through the snow for sunlight. They cared for their weak and hungry. So maybe God sent them their own miracles. Or maybe they made them together, and I simply received mine. Who is to say which is more miraculous?
“I was so thankful for them, though. We were all so thankful for each other. We didn’t want to be the only, the holiest, the most special. We wanted to not be alone. To find others was an incredible gift. It was better than a miracle.”

There’s a long pause, a patient silence. It’s tempting to end our communication here, on the gift of humankind, on miracles made between people.

“What happened next?” I ask instead.

“You said it before–the rainbow, and new birth, and the world come alive again,” he says. He is beginning to sound a bit tired.

“But for you. What happened for you?”

“Ah, I see. Yes.” Another pause. 

In my mind, Noah looks like the Rabbi I had growing up, an older Argentinian man with a slight Spanish accent and a dry wit to soften the impression that he knew everything that had ever happened and what all of it meant. I picture Rabbi Graetz’s eyes crinkling above gray-black whiskers when Noah’s voice warms and slows over his answer.

“Do you have children, my friend? Grandchildren?”

I don’t. 

“I recommend it strongly, although it can be heartbreaking. You grow to see yourself smaller. Off to the side. You never stop feeling your own little hurts, your own joys. But sometimes you realize the most important thing about you is another person, other people. You see them carry your doings and beings out into the world and your heart says, yes, I can rest, I will be ready.”

It feels wrong to ask about the end, or the after, but he tells me anyway. I can see it when I close my eyes now, when I try to imagine the feeling of believing so hard I don’t sink, of putting a hand in the tiger’s mouth, of having a heart ready for rest. I can imagine a great, endless ocean, awesome and gentle and warm. A deep blue night without end, and a fathomless voice come to swallow me whole.

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