Sunday, June 18, 2006

Dear Readers ...

As you might well guess, thoughts on Father's Day lead me back to remembrances of Ben Z'L who was the very first person in all the world to call me "daddy"! I should also like to point out that my son Zac and his sister Kimberly joined me for dinner tonight at my home and presented me with a special Three Stooges DVD 8 pack and two fine cigars.

By now faithful readers of Ben's story should have a truer sense of the inner strength of Ben. He was most assuredly a "gibor"-a person characterized not solely by physical strength as much as an enduring inner constitutional fiber that enables one such as Ben to overcome adversity not merely once, twice, thrice but repeatedly throughout the length of his days.

Please if you will take a few minutes to read these two related chapters, they will, I hope, at the very least remind you to hug your first born and call your dad before it's too late.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~
For Ben ... as always

My mind’s eye can still see the pole-vaulting pit on the athletic field of West Ladue Junior High where I attended the seventh-grade thirty-nine years ago. As a boy I'd look up at the height of the bar and I remember feeling awestruck that someone of my age could possess the requisite qualities of focus, daring and strength to overcome such a formidable height.

That memory has proven itself invaluable to me throughout the years whenever I incorporated its lesson into both my teaching and parenting-not only with Ben but my two other children, Kimberly and Zac, as well. My teaching, however, began with Ben-my first student as it were-to whom I would often say:

"Raise up the bar, son! Never lower it!"

It was always my hope that that reminder would inspire and enable him to overcome his many personal challenges: to reach in, out and beyond.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Reaching in ...

Ben's physical strength was awesome, but it is not that to which I refer here but rather to his “inner strength”, his strength of character.

However, as an aside, if ever he skated toward you at full speed as he once did for me as I stood watching just outside the entranceway onto the ice, I gleaned a fairly good appreciation for what it must feel like to stand in front of an oncoming train! A fabulous ice skater, Ben worked as an "ice guard" for a winter's season at the park district’s ice rink-and whose responsibility was to monitor the safety of the kids on the ice during open skating, picking up the little ones who had fallen and setting them aright.

My indecision …

Ben's personal strength of character remarkably manifested itself following the surgical repair of his infected appendectomy. Soon released from the hospital with a surgical wound deliberately un-sutured, Ben, in order to insure that the wound would heal properly, had to fully pack it twice daily with cotton gauze, tape it shut and maintain the sanitary hygiene of the entire site. He continued having to do this on a daily basis for several weeks.

There was one occasion when I sat across from him in his bedroom and watched him do this self-procedure, but within moments I became so overwhelmed that the choice whether to laugh or cry left me indecisive. I compromised with myself by laughing through my tears of joy!

As crucial for the pole-vaulter as both strength and technical skill are, he, much like Ben, must possess, an inner strength that fills him with a passionate desire to vault formidable heights with ease and grace.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Dear Readers ...

I hope that you will take a minute or so to read the revised Chapter 14 of In Memory of Ben. I do always appreciate your time and interest. Please post your comments on the blog should you have any comments or questions.

It frequently happens that ‘children challenges’ exhaust parental reservoirs of common faith and shared strength, when something as simple as a hug might enable them to survive and overcome their common extremity by a painful moment becoming even the tiniest bit more bearable.

The Accident …

Within several weeks after surviving a near fatal traffic accident, Ben began feeling shortness of breath and chest pain. His posture was slouched over and his walk became labored. Diagnosed as a very severe pneumonia, there was no other treatment option than to undergo lung surgery. Coincident at a time in our marriage when Ben's mom and I had not had any contact with each other for months, had you seen me then, you would have understood why!

At that time, Ben's mom used to say that she could no longer recognize me nor frankly did I myself! Wanting to be perceived as an orthodox Jew, I began dressing in what I thought was the “standard uniform”: dark suit, white shirt, tie, a kippah
[1] and topped off by black fedora.

In actuality, had one probed beyond the garb, he would have discovered I was no one other than a pretender and ‘am haaretz’[2].

While laboring under the false presumption that if by changing my external appearance I could quicken my internal religious growth, I struggled to learn and live by the fundamentals of Jewish orthodoxy. I failed in the end.

A Unbridgeable Distance

Standing by his bedside where he lay recovering after his surgery, Ben's mom and I bore witness to his wrenching pain. Although he fought back mightily, his cries were heart piercing.

"Ben ... be strong, son! Even stronger!" I implored.

How awkward I felt saying these words to Ben as if he were not already doing that! How awful it is to see one's child in pain!Ben’s mom left the room. I found her in the family waiting lounge just steps away. Quietly weeping, she stood by the window just staring out. I wanted very much to comfort her, but I could not! I did not think she would have wanted me to touch her, to hug her! As she often said back then, I was no longer the same man whom she had once known and loved.
So there we were, the two of us, Ben's mom and dad, not ten feet away from each other, but it might well have been hundreds of miles … tragically unable to offer each other even the slightest comfort for our son’s suffering, our suffering: common but not shared!

[1] skullcap worn by observant Jewish men.
[2] An ignorant person, a ‘know-nothing!’