This Is What Men Do

By Diana Rico

June 4, 2018

This Is What Men Do

At the tiny Eretz Shalom Cemetery on the mesa south of Taos, I feel like I have stepped into a John Ford Western. The impossibly big New Mexican sky dwarfs the mourners standing in sagebrush around a six-foot-deep hole in the ground. Vigas and ropes are laid like roofing materials across the gap, and on them rests our friend Michael’s body—startlingly uncoffined, wrapped in the white shroud of the Jews, his adoptive tribe, and over this a red-and-black Pendleton blanket, symbol of his Oglala Lakota ancestors. 

After speeches and prayers, the rabbi calls for volunteers. Instantly a dozen men step up, grab the ropes, and in perfect sync lower Michael’s body into the grave. Suddenly I am transported back to some ancient, primal time before time, and electric gratitude shoots through my cells: This is what our men do, what they have always done. They bury our dead for us. 

There are certain men who know what it is to be men and care for the women and children and provide what is needed. I think of Michael’s maleness—such a generous energy, so heart-full—and I feel it among these men, feel the goodness in their sinews and bones as they wordlessly pick up shovels and scoop up the dust and empty it over Michael’s remains. It is a visceral shock and an incredibly comforting one, this witnessing of their return of his body to the mother earth he loved, only thin cloth separating his flesh from her.

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