Monday, August 27, 2007

Dear Readers,

I type this post no more than fifty feet from where I dropped Ben off to catch the train the morning of November 22, 2000. The old train station is now a bustling Starbucks where Kallah and I hang out, and the entrance way to the train has moved immediately southwest about one hundred yards up.

I'm presently working on two projects: 1) a compilation of essays about the mere handful of folks who have left a deep and indelible impression on me. 2) the other is a collection of ramblings of a man stricken with early onset Parkinson's Disease which-as the kids these days say: "SUX!"

As the Days of Awe approach, I invariably find myself making cheshbonos in the hopes that after fifty three years, my most nagging preoccupaton is whether or not I merit to be called a "decent human being."

Toward that hope, I submit the following Chapter from In Memory of Ben, revised.

“ … in the draft of God’s exhalation …”

It’s almost 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


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 satisfied with that

explanation however much it might make me an apikoros[1],

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[2] 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 the souls and prayers of those

who love(d) him may barely escape collision.

I believe Ben’s soul hovers in synagogue 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


I felt it (him) 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 happens to 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-


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.

[1] One who challenges tenets of religious belief.
[2] Repentance; atonement
[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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