Sunday, March 16, 2008

Where authors and readers come together!

A bereaved father discusses several life questions with his late son ...

Letter to Ben (with an addition to the original "Letter to Ben" written Thursday night and early Friday morning just a few days before Erev Rosh Ha Shana 5766) ... from the day of this posting about two and a half years ago.

We say so many different things to each other just before and during the Yomin Noraim, the Jewish high holidays: A Gut Yontif, A Gut Yor, Chag Sameach, Shana Tova, and for those of us inclined to use our native tongue rather than the mama loschen, Yiddish, or the lashon kodesh, Hebrew, we say: May the New Year Be Sweet or as I so often say: "May you have a happy and healthy New Year!" And you know what? Regardless of whichever greeting or bracha (blessing) we choose, the common feature that links them all together is they all can be effectively answered by responding "Amen!"

Such a wonderful word this "amen"! It's short, clean and efficient and, in effect, says: "Yes! I subscribe to everything you have said!"Beyond this, we pray that each of us will be inscribed in the "Sefer Ha Chaim"-the Book of Life-for the coming year-that we may be worthy enough to enjoy the mazel, brocho and chatzlacha, luck, blessing and success that the New Year affords!

As a boy, I remember often hearing that without good health, all the riches in the world ... well, you know the rest! So I have begun to wonder: well, what about those who will fall ill in the coming year or who, in earlier years, fell ill, and furthermore what about those- about whose fate we learn, mourn and grieve later-whose names were not inscribed ... no less sealed in the Sefer Ha Chaim? What about them?

We are all "basar v' dam"-flesh and blood-mortal beings for whom death-however untimely and premature as it does so often seem-is as integral to life as is birth itself; dialectical opposites each requiring the other lest what we euphemistically call "nature" gives way to chaos.

None of this however soothes the bereaved parent! That much I know very well. As a matter of fact, I have often found myself examining my own deeds-both present and past-in an attempt to uncover what may be a possible linkage between the absolute calamity of losing Ben and my own considerable failings and flaws. Then I "awaken" because I know in my heart that He does not rule over the universe in such a fashion that a child is sacrificed for the misdeeds of a parent! What a relief having realized that! For as immeasureably much as I miss Ben, I can quite honestly place the blame on no one and most assuredly not on God Himself or ... for that matter the driver of the truck whose failure to signal a right turn led to ...

I even know his name and where he lives ...

but for the sake of Ben whose life I love(d), may I merit the strength to live life free from bitterness, anger and cynicism, and may you Ben dwell on high enough to look down upon the clouds ... on the almost eve of the New Year, 5766 I send you the following few reflections:

Dear Ben,

It's now approaching five years ago that you left us son. That one Wednesday morning, the day before Thanksgiving, November 22, 2000, our last morning together, those few minutes that we spent chatting while I drove you to the train ... how grateful I am that the experience of that brief moment is mine, that its memory remains as vivid today as if it were that day all over again.

Life without you has been and continues to be difficult; there isn't a day when I don't think of you while pondering the many "what might have beens" though there are many moments when I smile recalling how close you and I were! Sure we had our many differences and struggles, but what father and son don't? Though it may be true for a very few that time heals all wounds, I don't think the healing is ever complete and certainly not without scarring.

We've all had to get on with our lives while what happened that day has left you behind; we grow older while you remain forever as young as the day you were taken from us.Over these several years, I have spoken to many parents who have lost a child, and I've learned that each copes in his own way; I don't know how your mom has managed, but I imagine that she too has in her own way-not unlike your sister and brother and all who love you.

Finding the right words to say to you Ben expresses my hope that they'll not only have particular meaning for you but a more universal message for others who might read your story. First off ... know that I loved you and will always love you unconditionally-despite all that of which I so adamantly disapproved ... all of that takes its place within the context of our lives at that time.

As the older of my two sons and the eldest of my three children-while watching your sister and brother take their places in the world-the anguish I feel becomes even greater as I see the grownup sons of other men. We were all deprived of you Ben; it is just somehow so unfair! Soon ... not so many years from now, your younger brother will be older than you; your sister already is though you will forever remain their big brother!

I recall one night when you, your sister, brother and I were together; it might even have been a Shabbat or yom tov-maybe one of our Passover seders together-when the three of you were about to leave on your way back to mom's house, I kissed you on your cheek and felt the stubble of your whiskers on my lips.

Funny what each of us remembers.

*Shabbat ... the Sabbath**yom tov ... holiday; literally, a good day***seder ... meal served on first two nights of Passover; literally: order

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