Sunday, November 22, 2009

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These Lights We Kindle

By Alan D. Busch

“Mr. Busch?” a stranger’s voice inquired.
“Please God. No!” I silently pled, my body trembling. “Not again.”
I girded myself for I knew, with a parent’s intuition,
that something bad had befallen one of my children.
“Yes,” I acknowledged reluctantly. “This is Mr. Busch.”
“Mr. Busch, my name is Ann,” she began calmly. “I have
just left your daughter Kimberly.”
“Kimberly!” I panicked. “Is she alright? Is she hurt?
Tell me where she is!”
"Mr. Busch,” Ann continued as calmly as she had begun.
“Your daughter is fine. Really! We’re about an hour south
of Chicago at mile marker 80. Kimberly was involved in an accident,
but she isn't hurt, not a scratch,” she reassured me.
“I’ve already left the scene,” Ann further explained, “but when I saw it happen,
I pulled over to offer whatever assistance I could. That’s when I met Kimmy.
I promised her I’d call you as soon as the police and rescue arrived.”
“Listen Ann,” I interrupted her as politely as I could. “Thank you from
the bottom of my heart. You can’t imagine how much what you’ve done means to me.”

I realized later I had hung up the phone without getting Ann’s last name and phone number. “Jan,” I called Kimmy’s mother. “Sorry to call you at work but, but …”
“But what,” she asked haltingly. I swallowed hard.
“Kimmy was in an accident, but she’s fine,” I hastened to add. “Not a scratch.”
Kimmy, my baby!” she cried out. “What, what happened?”
“Listen ‘Hon’,” I interrupted, addressing her with an old term of endearment.
I’m leaving to get Kimmy right now. She’ll tell you later.”
I gathered my things and ran out.

When I turned into the gravel lot about a half mile off the interstate, I saw Kimmy standing in front
of the service station that had towed her car. She appeared impatient, exhausted and emotionally
on the edge, but the child before my eyes was the same little girl whose red hair I used to put
up in a ponytail like that of Pebbles on The Flintstones.
“Daddy, I … I’m so sor …” she trembled as I held her, her head on my shoulder, sobbing.
“Shhh … sha shayneh madele.”
“Dad, can we just go home?” she asked, looking battered and worn out.
“Yes Sweety, in a few minutes. Get your bags out of the trunk. I’ll meet you over there.”
I walked over to the garage’s office.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Bill, the paunchy garage owner, admitted.
“And I’ve seen quite a few of these in my time,” he added, looking perplexed while scratching his
head. We settled up.

We stood there dumbfounded, staring at what had been Kimmy’s candy apple red,
white convertible top Toyota Solara. The collision crumpled the entire front end within several
inches of the dashboard, making it look like the bellows of an accordion, The driver’s side door, to
my amazement, opened cleanly. I got in, took hold of the steering wheel and slumped down in the
driver’s seat. “My baby girl almost died here today,” I muttered to myself, desperately straining to
avoid breaking down in front of my daughter.
“Kimmy,” I opened the door. “Sit here by me,” I invited her, patting the edge of the seat. I moved
over. “I need a few minutes,” I softly pled. She nodded understandingly.

Then they came back to me … the eight words I’d never forget:

“Mr. Busch, I suggest you come down immediately."
Dr. Ibrahim Yosef, chief resident trauma surgeon, was on call that morning in the ER
of Cook County Hospital when he called me around 10 o’clock in the morning. My first-born son Ben
had been transported in by Chicago Fire paramedics only minutes before.
“Mr. Busch? Are you the father of Benjamin Busch?”
“Yes, Sir,” my voice quivered.
“Ben has suffered massive internal injuries from a traffic accident,” he explained. It was then he said
them. I sped away from my office in compliance with Dr. Yosef’s “suggestion” in a state of focused
desperation, I knew, I just knew how this day would end.
Two hours later, my father and I witnessed our twenty-two year old son and grandson die on the
emergency room operating table. I knew in my mind’s eye I would stare forever at Ben’s
unresponsive body.
“Dad, wake up,” Kimmy urged, shaking my shoulder. “It’s time to go home.” For my daughter, it was
a moment she wanted to leave behind and move on.

After all, who among us wants to replay the footage of his near violent death? And there I was,
trying my best to comprehend the enormity of nearly having lost a second child by using the only
meaningful point of reference I had, the death of Kimmy’s brother. But this was not about Ben
though I suppose my drifting away for a moment to make the connection is understandable if not
entirely justifiable. It was all about my daughter, that once enchanting little ballerina with the
amazingly long and slender fingers. She now sat next to me on the edge of the driver’s seat, a
grown up soon to be law school graduate whose fingers were still as lovely as they had been when
she danced upon toe shoe. I like to believe Kimmy knew where I had gone for several moments.
Knowing the kind of loving sister she had been to Ben, it would not surprise me at all if she had
gone there too. But today ended, and I thank The Almighty for this, differently than had the other
when I had begun the day with three children but came home with only two. We got up out of the
car. I planted a big “Daddy” kiss on her forehead. “Okay, Sweety. Now I’m ready to go home.”We didn’t talk much. Kimmy, understandably skittish, gasped every time I braked or switched
lanes. “You okay?”
“Yes Dad. Just beat.” An hour and a half later, I dropped Kimmy off at her mom’s house. My heart
sank. I wanted to spend more time with her, but I had to remain true to the promise I had made her
mother. “We’ll get together later,” I reassured myself. As I pulled out of the driveway, I saw the
chanukiah Kimmy’s mom had placed in the front window. The shamash and the first candle shone
happily. “My God,” I chastised myself. “Tonight’s the first night of Chanukah. At first I felt bad, but I
realized that even though the tumult of the day had made me unmindful, it hadn’t severed me from
its eternal message, encoded on the dreidel: “nes gadol haya sham”-a great miracle happened there.

Later that week, Kimmy joined me and Zac, her younger brother, for Shabbat Chanukah dinner. The
table was set, its candles aglow. It was the season of miracles old and new, a time for spinning
dreidels, eating potato latkes and showering chocolate coins upon the heads of children.
Chanukah, The Festival of Lights, was on display in the front window of every Jewish home.
We gathered around. “Sweetheart,” my voice cracked as I began a short speech. “Yes Dad,” she
responded laughingly while drying a few tears.
“This Shabbat is extra special.” I lifted the Kiddush cup. "I am so thankful to have you by my side.”
My right hand trembled slightly. I let a moment pass. The flickering candles shone more brightly at
that instant, illuminating the serpentine path of a single drop of wine running down my hand. I
chanted the blessing over the wine and thanked The One Above for her life. It was a wonderfully,
simple moment.

Reflecting on how that day might otherwise have ended, I rejoiced in my Chanukah
miracle whose fingers I held tightly in the palm of my hand, the best gift any dad could ever
hope to receive.

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