Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Where authors and readers come together!
“Al Ha Nissim"- A True Short Story About a Purim Miracle
(This story will be published in The Jewish Press (NY), the Largest Independent Jewish Weekly in America) in late February or early March before the Jewish holiday of Purim.)
The entire downtown business district would pour into the streets around 5:30 P. M. clogging the already congested traffic lanes of Chicago’s bustling “Loop”. Blaring horns of Checker taxicabs and city buses made it hard to hear one’s voice, but my father’s voice … I always heard.
As a kid, I fondly recall his homiletic teachings that he’d say “were not worth a hill of beans” if unaccompanied by good deeds. “Words alone are cheap son. Actions speak louder. Remember that!”
One bitterly cold afternoon stands out in particular. A dusting of powdery snow had made everything look so pure. My father and I were on our way home from his office when a shivering, bedraggled man approached us. The butt of a cigarette hung from his cracked lips. His thin, dirty jacket reeked of tobacco and alcohol. “Here, my man. Take this,” my father reassuringly said while removing his long coat and draping it around the trembling shoulders of this fellow. “Be well,” he added with a faint smile. He took me by the hand and headed to the underground garage where he had parked his car. “Daddy, aren’t you cold?”“A bit son, but I would have frozen had we walked past that man without responding. Giving is more blessed than receiving, sonny boy.”
A Generation Later
“That’s it!” I declared after stumbling upon a hamantashen recipe “for dummies” in the Purimshpil edition of my shul’s newsletter.
“Hey Ben … you ‘wanna’ help me with this?” I asked my first born.
“Sure,” he agreed enthusiastically, “but can we save some for us too?”
“No problem! We’ll make an extra dozen.”
Sure. I could have gone to the kosher bakery, but that was not the lesson I wanted Ben to learn. Besides, I had already signed us up to deliver matanot l’evyonim for The Ark, a Jewish social service agency. By late afternoon, Ben and I had helped twelve Jewish families to enjoy a chag Purim sameach.
Six Years Later
Ben offered to help me with Purim deliveries but on one condition-that we not bake hamantashen again. He asserted that at eighteen years of age, he was way too old for “that kid stuff”. We had had a great morning and were heading back to The Ark when an alarming pause interrupted our conversation. Not having answered my previous question, I turned to Ben and saw something I had never seen before. He had seized up and began jerking spasmodically like a steam pump grinding to a halt for lack of oil. Trapped in his own body, Ben turned to me in desperation, bewildered yet hopeful as if to say: “Dad, I sure hope you know how to deal with this!” Truth be told, I didn’t.
I had to be on alert at all times with Ben. Diagnosed with juvenile diabetes when ten and a half years old, he often suffered from hypoglycemia unexpectedly in the course of conversation. You could be chatting with him one moment and, in the next, he might be writhing in the throes of low blood sugar. That’s how frightfully unpredictable it is, but what I saw that morning was unlike any of his hypoglycemic episodes. I had seen enough of them to know. Terrorized by this unfamiliar demon, I rushed to a nearby restaurant panic-stricken. “I need a regular cola now,” I shouted to the counter person. “Please hurry. It’s an emergency!” I ran back to Ben and forced his mouth open. He began to suck on the straw. I feared it wasn’t doing him any good because he had eaten lunch an hour before the attack, but it was the only thing I knew to do. If nothing else, the cola would spike his blood sugar. The nightmare ended after five minutes. We drove home exhausted, bewildered and scared.
Ben’s mom and I agonized for several interminable hours. The attacks kept on recurring. I lost count after a while. Whenever it started up, I’d restrain Ben with a gentle bear hug to protect him from himself. I whispered in his ear quite a lot that terrible day. “What was happening to him?” we asked each other while awaiting a referral call from Ben’s doctor. It never came. Afraid for our son, our patience exhausted, we left for the emergency room. We’d deal with the insurance company later.
As for Ben, not one complaint! He never became despondent or depressed. On the contrary, Ben embodied the virtues of self-reliance and courage-the sort of person to remount his bicycle quickly if he fell off, always ready for the next patch of rough road. Yet, as strong as he was, I am sure the tireless presence of chronic illness wore him out at times.
After waiting six hours for the results of a battery of tests, the doctors diagnosed Ben with Epilepsy. Epilepsy! We were devastated. His seizures continued inexorably for several days during which Ben’s doctors sought the right combination of medications with which to treat him.
Fearful his son had fallen off the derech and set out on an unchartered journey, a father traveled a great distance to visit a renowned talmid chochem.
“What should I do Rebbe?” the father pled.
“Love him now more than ever before!” he responded.
"Dad, I don’t ‘wanna’ do this,” Ben stated unequivocally.
“Me neither Son,” I quickly added, “but we have no choice.”
“What if I don’t do it?” Ben asked threateningly.
“You’ll get very sick!” I hastened to respond. “You ‘gotta’ do it, but I’ll help you.” Ben shuffled along kicking stones, his shoulders hunched, both hands thrust into his pants pockets.“Why me, Dad?” he complained bitterly.
“I don’t know Ben. I just don’t know.” I felt helpless and ashamed. Aren’t dads supposed to have all the answers?
The strength of faith rests upon our belief that … all things do happen for the good. Ben would eventually fashion his own cheshbon. I helped him as much I could oftentimes with questions rather than answers.
Ben, for his part, in refusing to despair of a life of hope, reminded the rest of us to acknowledge the divine paradigm of spiritual strength within ourselves, and thereby see the miracle of Purim revealed.
Purim-a Jewish holiday based on the Biblical Book of Esther
Hamantashen-traditional Purim cookies
matanot l'evyonim-giving of gifts to the poor
chag Purim sameach-Happy Purim
talmid chochem-Torah scholar
Alan D. Busch