Way Out of the Maze of Longing: Leonard Cohen’s Recipe

There are two years now after Leonard Cohen passed away.  Our dear Leonard  whom we were so incredibly privileged to know and conversed with. It did feel dizzy at the time, and nothing have changed over the years in this feeling of amazement of being speaking and exchanging views with Leonard. Our beloved ‘L.Cohen’.

‘This kind of people are not leaving us’ – we used to repeat to ourselves in not that successful efforts of self-therapy over feeling orphaned. When living after such people like Wiesel and Cohen passed away, one starts to understand the meaning of the Torah sentences on our Patriarchs who ‘went to his people’ on a personal, emotional level.  

 His signed portraits are in my study and in our living room. How did he know that it would be a great gift to us? We never asked. A Cohen Blessing with his signature heart-shaped Magen David, written and drawn by him, is on the wall of my husband’s study, and he uses it daily. Michael was overwhelmed when he had got it from Leonard, and again, we did not ask. Leonard was so good and so finely personal with his signs of attention to those to whom he would like to do something pleasant and encouraging. His presents – and his presence – turned to be, to substantial extent, our camertones in life.

Leonard’s books are on the shelves, one of them with unbelievable dedication. The text is great and undeserved, but our real treasure there is Leonard’s hand-write.

And then, there  are records, all those CDs accumulated during the years and connected with the pre-histories of Leonard’s making them as we were so grateful to know.  I do remember certain years because they had been marked in my memory by particular Leonard’s concert or record, or both. Those are time-marks for me. I am not a feverish fan by  nature. It had happened in just this one case of Leonard Cohen.

Those personal punctures are marked by that unique voice, that revelation-like smile, that perfect jokes, and that warmth of a great man, the real Cohen, as my husband is always saying about Leonard, the man who was so generous towards people in small and big.

Leonard Cohen. Happy Moments. OPen Archive.

With the records, it still will be a problem for me, two years on. For the first year after Leonard’s passing, I just could not hear it at all. It was breaking my heart further on. Then, after the first yahrzeit, a year ago, I tried, slowly, and it was bearable. But not with all of it.

The problem with ability or otherwise to hear the voice which had been rolling in our house sometimes non-stop was that because of Leonard’s precious presence in our lives, both as a great man who would be so gracious as to write to you in the middle of the night with his uniquely subtle way of seeing and expressing the world around us, and perceiving what you do with that brotherhood of souls, and the artist whose voice was coming from all those records, is that when you are unable to hear that voice, a part of you is cut off.  You are affected by that specific numbness of a part of your soul.

You might think that it is up to you to regulate your emotional life and maturity of your soul. But sometimes you realise that you are mistaken in this supposition. And you only learn it in a painful way. On the way to the dead-end of what used to be an alley. In November weather and its darkness. This heavy month of November.

 When I have started slowly and measurably to listen to Leonard’s records again, there is the one which I just cannot compel myself to do. Actually, it got worse during the last two years since Leonard left.

We were very much personally taken by the drama around his last recorded album, You Want It Darker. I have written about it at the time. We have written to him, too. Even – and because of – understanding that it, most likely, was the last-metres’ distance for Leonard in This World, we tried to reassure him, we were praying for him, we were sending him all support we could think and master about, to keep him with us all as long, as it was possible, destined, and – more. Please, more.

Leonard and Adam Cohen at Leonard’s last public appearance. October 2016. Los-Angeles. (C) NPR.

It was our last letter to Leonard. He was living for 25 more days after his last public appearance in which he was so graciously brave. Leonard always was elegant and charming, and his organic wit was and still is unparalleled. But the brave and thoughtful at this talk with the press at the Canadian General Consulate in Los Angeles three weeks before his passing, visibly fragile but boundlessly spirited, he was southing his son Adam who was instrumental in making and finishing this last album of his father under difficult circumstances of the Leonard’s failing health, and all those present with that light humour coming from sharpest understanding of the state of things. Light as a lovely cloud. I never asked Leonard if he liked clouds – there were so many things to ask, and one is watchful to not overdo in precious dialogues -, but I am inclined to think that he did.    

And come forth from the cloud of unknowing

And kiss the cheek of the moon

The New Jerusalem glowing

Why tarry all night in the ruin  – he wrote it back in 1979, in The Window song.

And then, there was that You Want It Darker song , the title one for the last Leonard’s album, his big good-bye.  We know about all the elaboration regarding that testament of a great Jewish man, about the choir of the Synagogue, and that poetry which was an essential prayer. We were completely taken by that unbelievable courage of Leonard who came out with his most ultimate prayer on stage, metaphorically too. Cohen is Cohen, indeed, but to say “I am ready”  publicly – and to mean it – is beyond the capacities of 99.9% of us. And to smile after that with that gift-like smile. The travelling smile as it was:  it was coming from the cloud of unknowing and returning back to it.

I remember how I was gravely impressed by hearing that public farewell of Leonard. My close  friends who were the same impressed as I was on the depth and openness of crossing the line between the Worlds, were trying to console me concluding:”So, Leonard was ready, indeed”. I knew that, but the departure is not the thing to be consoled about, especially when the leaving one was that man. We were trying to express what we felt at the time, on that rainy day in November 2016.

Two years on, and one year since I slowly re-started to hear Leonard’s records, I just can not do it with his last one. Not with all songs there, nor with the first one which is the last one for me. It is beyond my capacities.

But how special are the ways of our sub-consciousness in getting out of the maze of longing. The next thing I found myself doing after realising that I won’t be able to hear Leonard’s last album ever was writing a letter to him. Not in words, but in images. It did come on its own, I didn’t plan it. I created some new work fighting that gloomy autumn reign, and upon seeing some of the work, I have sensed that it is about Leonard.There was one mighty tree that was as if speaking, it had so much to say, and its narrative and its accents were changing due to the weather, season, mood, and time. I have realised that this is my letter to Leonard.The letter which will be coming to him, up There, during all seasons. With the message or love and remembrance carried on ‘the high silver nerves’, as he had put it in his Window song almost forty years ago.

I glanced at the calendar – it was 6 Chesvan, the actual date of Leonard’s yahrzeit.

Instead of the unbearable farewell prayer-song of the man who was a blessing and a gift to us all, I came back to Cohen’s The Window – and it let me out of this maze of longing, slow but assuredly.  Being quite an expert on longing, Leonard seemed to know on how to get out of it:

And leave no word of discomfort

And leave no observer to mourn

But climb on your tears and be silent

Like a rose on its ladder of thorns

Then lay your rose on the fire

The fire give up to the sun

The sun give over to splendour

In the arms of the high holy one

For the holy one dreams of a letter

Dreams of a letter’s death

Oh bless thee continuous stutter

Of the word being made into flesh

Oh chosen love, Oh frozen love

Gentle this soul

And I thought: how generous in his rich and special spirit that uniquely fine man and great poet was that even not being physically present among us any longer, he is able to get us out of this maze of longing.  And how gentle, graceful and engaging is his soul, indeed.

Inna Rogatchi (C). Letter to Leonard. Homage to Leonard Cohen. Original art panel. 60 x 85 cm. 2018. The Rogatchi Art Collection.