Revisiting Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai, biblically, was the law-giving mountain, surrounded by a cloud of smoke. Some say it was a volcano that shook with the presence of God. I'd say this description is appropriate to the hospital that carries its name. The hospital that housed my father for 5 months before he died. This is the place that spews the fumes of the dying, where God decides who lives and who dies...

I revisit this "holy" place today. And the first thing I smell when I walk in to Sinai is vacancy. Strange to make this association in a hospital filled with room after room after room of patients in different states of healing or disintegration. But I smell only emptiness. How can I describe it for you? The odor of food mixed with medicine and bodies decaying in front of your eyes. The fumes of the dying. The bodies, vacating. Only vestiges of a life, preparing to go. That is in the air, powerful, stifling, the ancient "cloud of smoke" lingering from the days of Moses. Today, it was there still. Even in the basement—the belly of the mountain—where I went to view my father's medical records. The kind woman behind the glass says, "The records are on film.'s been many years, they can't keep the actual records anymore." Like the stone commandments crumbling to dust, my father's life reduced to film, a transparent material, like a ghost.

It has been 24 years since I stepped into that building. The building where my father passed. But this morning, I walked in to a different space. At least on the surface. A beautiful glass atrium had been built, with a sparrow or two chirping around. A small Paradise before entering Hell. The dim building loomed beyond, however, like an old, familiar cave I had to re-enter. "I'm here to visit my father," I thought. No. Pop's not here, Charlotte. Pop's long gone. A part of me wanted to hit the up button, to the floor where he would've been, just to see him one last time.

I feel closest to him standing in that dark building, where I can pretend he's still there, lying in his bed, with the other cancer patients. I remember the man across from him, with cancer in his eye. The one next to him, with cancer in his throat, like my father. Are they all in a small Paradise now? Perhaps they are the little sparrows flying around the Atrium. I can pretend.


  1. this is a heart-rending, lovely piece, charlotte.
    my father died in a "long-term care facility" after being moved from the hospital; he only lasted 2 weeks in the nameless place, the place where there is no more hope. i never got to visit him there; my mother thought it would be too painful. and then it was too late.
    strange, when 40 years later, i ended up working in the adjoining building to that hospital. i would run in there often, quick, late for work, to the ground-floor coffee canteen...not once forgetting that this was the last place i saw my father.
    [i love your drawings, as always)

  2. Wow, Susan, I am teary-eyed reading your comment and so moved knowing how close our stories are the second person who has shared and I can't thank you enough.

    With much love~


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