Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Dear Readers, this is a revision of "son" 7/1/07


My father calls me “son” more often than he calls me by my

name, and because I am my father’s son, I adopted the

same usage with respect to my boys. Kimberly, my daughter, I

call: Kimuschkele, Kimmy, Kimmy Babe, Sweetheart, Sweety,

Sugar. You get the idea. The list is as saccharine as it is


When Ben was little, people called him by the diminutive

“Benji.” There was always something so grown-up sounding

about “Benjamin” or “Ben.” You know what I mean?

“Ach, such a shayne punim, my baby Sam!’ Sounds funny,

like Morris, Irving, Harry or Ben.

I always enjoyed Ben’s name[1]. As a matter of fact, even as

a young adult of twenty-two years, 6’ 2” in height and around

250 pounds, many still called him “Benji”-as did I on occasion

though he didn’t like it very much. So it became my habit to

call him “son” or “sonny boy.”

One evening before bedtime, he mustn’t have been more than five years old, we

discussed ornithology,[2] of all things.


“Yes, Sonny Boy."

“How come the birds don’t fall out of the sky?” he asked

brilliantly, but not without a partly suppressed yawn.

“D’ya feel the wind on your face when you’re outside, Son?"

“It feels good Dad.” he answered, cheerfully following along.

“What you feel, Son, is God’s breath that He blows, but we call it the ‘wind.’

“Ooookay,” he responded, appearing somewhat quizzical, “but

Daddy remember the birds?” he dutifully reminded me.

“Yes, Son, when God wants to, He blows his breath,” I said.

“Like this, Dad?” he smilingly queried, inflating his cheeks and blowing.

“Yes, Ben, just like that, but when God blows his breath, it

catches under the wings of the birds and lifts them up.” I


“Ooooh,” he replied, scratching his head, eyebrows perplexed

but clearly intrigued by the answer.

We were young parents back then-our children tiny-

a time predating Zac, my younger son.

We were abundantly blessed with Ben and his sister Kimmy, a

time in our lives when we never did not smell of talcum

powder. Much too young back then to have wisdom but abundantly poor so that

we could not afford a house, we rented an admittedly

spacious apartment from a nice Greek lady just on the

southern edge of of a progressively northward Jewish

migration. Frankly I forget her name, but I figured it was okay

to rent from her because Lenny Bruce had commented that all

Greeks are Jews anyway! Alright, truth be told, she was more than

just a “bissel” annoying.

The kids’ mom and I naturally knew little of

parenting; after all, we were in its infancy-barely adults ourselves-but we

did know enough to read to our children every night unfailingly. “Baby-

babble" was an unknown tongue to us.

There was a short while when Ben and his sister were young

enough that they could share a bedroom. Actually, the real

reason was we only had one bedroom other than the master

bedroom. Do you know the age when the kids are already

almost too big for their cribs but not quite big enough for

regular beds? We had to lower the height of the mattress level

in the cribs so that it was not too far above the floor itself.

At that time, the kids’ mom worked the evening shift for a

local grocery distributor. I taught the seventh and eighth

grades at Resurrection School, a Chicago Roman Catholic

parish, on the west side of Chicago. Though they did not pay

me much at all, dismissal was at 1:45 p.m, a fact that made it

very possible for me to get home in time to make a seamless

transition between our two jobs. I was certain back

then that I was the inspiration for “Mr. Mom” though not a

single dime in royalties did I ever receive.

“Okay Ben get back in there,” I gently scolded him, almost too big for

the crib-his mattress being so low that he could climb in and out

with ease.

“Kimmy Babe, your turn Sweety, what story you want?” I

asked perfunctorily, as if I didn’t know.

“Cassie, Daddy, Cassie,” she shrieked, much to her brother’s


“Dad, we read Cassie last night, “member?” he protested.

“Oops, you’re right, Son,” I acceded. “Okay, okay, I gotta a

deal. You’ll have the next two nights, okay?” I asked him, hoping for

a conciliatory approach.

“Okay, Dad,” he conceded resignedly.

“Kimmy, understand? Ben gets to choose the story for the next

two nights,” I said, seeking her agreement with a nod of my


“Cassie, Daddy, Cassie!” she impatiently exclaimed, and so

Cassie and Her Magic Flowers it was … again! Even at a very

young age, Ben was a ba’al shalom.

Against this idyllic background would soon come the time

in our lives when we’d bid farewell to normalcy. Not too long

after we moved to Skoke from the Jewish enclave of West

Rogers Park, Ben was stricken with diabetes at ten and-a half-years.


It’s almost wholly invariable that melancholia overtakes

me whenever I am there. I don’t think it debilitating, short-

lived as each instance is, but it remains a constant in the

equation of my grief.

Yet, I know this is where a grieving Jew should be

because it is a makom kodesh, a holy place, wherein I feel the

presence of my son Ben in its most intense manifestation.

I’ll even venture a remark that may seem odd to some. As

strong a pull as it is to stand before Ben’s grave, I struggle to

sense his presence. Oh yes. I know his body is beneath my

feet, but that’s just it. Ben’s body remains, but his neshuma,

his soul, is elsewhere Where it is, well … that’s anyone’s

guess; it’s in the Olam Haba, floating-as it were-like a feather

caught up in the draft of God’s exhalation-or somewhere in

shamayim waiting for another aliyah that’ll bring him closer to

God. But such is the paltriness of our conception, as if it were

possible to approach Him, The Infinite Holy One. For that

would imply physicality, finiteness of which He has none. Even

the "He of Him" implies a ring of closure around our conception

of what God is and where. You know what? Never mind the

theological gymnastics. I'm satified with that explanation however

much it might make me an apikoros-just as long as Ben “returns” on a regular basis.

I’ve few if any other choices.

And return he does, a sort of tshuva in reverse in that he

returns to us from God whereas we seek, in doing tshuva, to

near Him, to approach Him. We may even cross each other’s

paths on occasion. A heavenly intersection, a cosmic

crossroads-if you will-where neshamos and the t’filos of those who love(d)

Ben may barely escape collision.I believe his neshuma

hovers in shul when I am there. He spends time with me in

that way, I suppose. It is his way of making up for the time

when I sit in our row by myself.

I felt it recently on Purim- a feeling unlike that

of any other experience, anywhere else, including the time I

spend writing in Ben’s room. Though I fully expect this grief, I

am thankful to take my seat in the row behind my dear friend,

Rabbi Louis and his two sons. It affords me the opportunity to

look over the mechitza[3] to the yahrzeit[4] panels on the south

wall and see Ben’s name, the eleventh one in the first column

on the first panel. We have a tradition in shul life that one’s seat

becomes his makom kavua.[5] His seat is next to mine though I should tell you Ben was not a

regular shul-goer. Nobody else sits there however, except my father on Erev Yontif Rosh


Whether it be the thanksgiving of Purim, the revelry of Simchas Torah[6]

or the trepidation of Yom Kippur,[7] my son remains by my side. Other fathers

have their sons sitting next to them. I miss that but I possess something they

do not-the certainty my son lived a life abundant in loving-kindness.

Time moves forward inexorably. It pauses for no one. That Purim

morning I lamented how much time has passed without Ben. I am reminded

daily his absence is forever. No matter how many years have gone by

or however many are yet to come, Ben’s death for me will always remain

in the present tense. I will never say: “Once upon a time I had a son named

Ben.” I won't tell you I'm not glad to be alive because I know I

am a better person for having known and loved him. He taught

me so much. Still ... know there are moments when I am filled

with guilt it was he and not I.

Alan D. Busch


In Hebrew, “ben” means “son."
[2] The scientific study of birds; avian science.
[3] Partition in an orthodox synagogue separating women’s from men’s section.
[4] The anniversary of a death
[5] set place where one sits
[6] holiday celebrating the “joy of Torah”.
[7] Day of Atonement

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