Category Archives: mystery

Kaddish for my cousin, Dr. Stephen Markow, d. 2/26/15

[Reposted and adapted from a Facebook posting from earlier today in response to his daughter Nina Markow Eigerman’s announcement of her father’s death.

Nina. I am so sorry. I first met your father so long ago that I have no idea exactly when. When indeed do first cousins meet each other?
Through our parents, for certain. My mother, recall, was your grandmother Betty’s “kid sister.” I remember “kidpix” of him, with your father, with Marian his sister, and with Betty when your father Eddie was stationed in Texas during WW2 as a military dentist.
Maybe I recall your father clearly for the first time when he was in his teens, in Midwood High School in Brooklyn, where you all grew up. He and I quibbled now and then about opera. He was older than me and seemed a bit intimidating, but I lived through it because he had an extraordinary sense of humor and the sometimes inconsequentiality of arguments about opera or musical theatre in general. What else, after all, do opera people do? His sense of humor was matchless, even when he was doing his work–maybe because he knew how and when to apply humor.
Nina, please let this story be part of your and your brother Greg’s best memories: One evening in December 1967 I gave up on “toughing it out” because I could not chew solid food. It was so excruciating that I was almost in tears. It was bad that even drinking soda or coffee hurt. So I called your dad’s office and then took the long subway ride from the Bronx to 50 Clark Street in Brooklyn, your father’s dental practice that he had inherited from his father, Dr. Edward Markow.
Steve always had a classic rock station piped-in, I think WNEW-FM, which made it a bit more bearable and certainly more entertaining. He looked into my mouth and said one word: “YUCK!” Then he told me all four my wisdom teeth were impacted, and had to come out. Now, all at once, or do we do it in two trips? NOW, Steve, for Godsake, please, now! Your dad shot me up with enough Novocaine to torpedo a heavy cruiser, yanked them all, said “Oh shit” a few times as he gazed upon the ruins of my mouth. He wrote me a scrip for Tetracycline which I filled in the drugstore on the way to the Clark Street IRT station, on the first floor of the Hotel St. George. Two nights later I I was able to eat red meat again. I thought I’d died and was in Paradise.
Years later,I recall your dad and Debbie entertaining me and my new wife during the shiva period for your grandfather, my uncle, in 1969. I think by making a few salacious comments to us about borrowing the bedroom, they were making us laugh and easing the pain they surely felt for my uncle.
I’m surprised today at the depth of my grief for this good man. We hadn’t seen one another in 40 years; but he carries some of the few unsullied memories I’ve retained from my childhood. Your father was a remarkable man, Nina. He was a mensch. He was that from before the night he met your mother-to-be at a performance of Don Giovanni at the Met, and bought her a drink during the intermission. You know all this. I suppose it’s family folklore. I’m really saying it to myself, for myself, from a space of sadness I didn’t know I possessed.
Please extend my condolences to your mother and brother. Please say the same to Marian, his sister and your aunt. Life will not stop or even pause, yet we must pause for a moment to regard the life of this good man who was your beloved and loving father. From one cousin to another in the name of yet a third: Be comforted.

Reaffirming Doubt

Take a look….

I show you doubt, to prove that faith exists.
The more of doubt, the stronger faith, I say,
If faith o’ercomes doubt. How I know it does?
By life and man’s free will.

— Robert Browning, “Bishop Blougram’s Apology,” 1855

He published it in 1855 as part of a collection called Men and Women. When did he write it? I don’t know. Surely it was after 1845, when John Henry Newman, an Anglican priest, abandoned the Church of England after considerable inner struggle and converted to Roman Catholicism (he was ordained priest a little over a year later and later was named a Cardinal). Newman returned from Rome to an England still beset with negativity toward Catholicism. It was probably rather like Arkansas in 1960 or the chic philosophical-literary salons of our own day. Whoever said that anti-Catholicism (maybe even anti-Christianity) is the last acceptable prejudice absolutely nailed it.

When I read “Blougram” in 1970 for a Victorian literature graduate course paper, it was little short of electrifying.  I know the usual Browning’s Greatest Hits, but this poem, with its tight logic and almost percussive rhetoric, showed me more than I’d expected. I’d never thought much about religion, just about a God of whom I was deathly afraid: and here was the portrait of an urbane and cultivated churchman dismembering by language alone an annoying little Fleet Street journalist with a wonderfully terrible  name: Gigadibs. And Gigadibs, 38 years ago, reminded me a bit too much of myself for me to be entirely at ease.

I would not have wanted to argue faith with Bishop Blougram. I still wouldn’t.

The good Bishop taught me about doubt. Indeed, the entire poem–over 800 lines–is about the tension between faith and doubt, and how doubt, far from being a flaw or sin, is absolutely critical to building and even reinforcing faith. Faith without doubt is childish and parroting. Faith supported by doubt, doubt that leads to faith, is muscular and able to withstand personal challenges.

And so yesterday.  I was not thinking of Robert Browning when I wrote about doubt and despair.  But I am now.  I have never regretted less anything I’ve ever written. The stated belief that punishment never ends may in fact have been part of some deeper spiritual healing–because God knows I need it now. Simply the ability to say those awful words, to pronounce God a capricious bully…like the MasterCard ad says, “Priceless!”

If I am compelled to renounce skepticism in favor of “drinking the Kool-Aid” of any doctrine, I simply will need to leave the room. The revival meeting can go on without me.