“It’s a dirty job”, they usually say. But then they add, “and I’m glad it’s not me that has to do it.” And without a hint of gratitude. No: “and I’m glad that somebody does it”, or even: “and I’m glad that you do it, Bartholomew.” I mean, I don’t expect much in this world, and I know that I live in hard times in a hard land, but just occasionally, it would be good if a little word of thanks could fall like refreshing rain onto my path.
Of course, I know all the reasons why I get ignored in this way. Everybody dies, and no one wants to be reminded of it. Everyone, in the long run, is dead, and nobody wants the long run to be shortened. It’s funny, it’s as if being reminded of death, or coming into contact with death will somehow shorten their lifespan. “That’s not the case,” a Rabbi once told me, with a scarf wrapped around his face in case he forgot to keep away from me. “Being near the dead does not shorten our lives—it just shortens our useful lives. Coming into contact with the dead is a good thing, when we are performing the duties required of us towards our mother and father. But even then, it means that we become ritually impure, and are thus unable to worship God in the way he requires. Cleansing ourselves of such impurity takes times, and that is time away from the study of God’s word, away from worshipping God in synagogue and Temple, away from sacrifice. Life is too short to miss out on the important things.” And then he threw a copper coin at me, and told me to go away in most unrabbinical language.