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Sagacity at sixty

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We reverently refer to them as CHaZaL, a Hebrew acronym for "Our Sages of Blessed Memory" many of whose wise teachings we find in the first book of the Mishnah, known by its Hebrew title "Pirkei Avot" (Avos)-Sayings (Teachings) of the Fathers.

As I planned the content of this piece, I decided that its theme would be "turning sixty" which I happened to have done this past twenty-eighth of November. I am now officially part of that group known in Yiddish culture as the "Ak"(s)-"alter kockers". I'll leave the search for an acceptable translation to you.

Seriously though, Jewish life places wisdom and learning on a high pedestal-even those who have attained a high level in secular scholarship are accorded recognition because Jewish belief holds every intellectual gift and natural ability derive from G-d which we recognize in the brocha (blessing) ...

Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, Who has given of His knowledge to human beings.

I have heard it said that one acquires sagacity at age sixty. "Sagacity"- now there is a fine word for you, defined as that which a man possesses which elevates his status to that of a sage.

By no means sure that I possess anything even remotely resembling sagacity, a feeling overcame me on my sixtieth birthday, to say something, you know something one might reasonably expect from a sixty-year old whose wisdom might be coming in, kind of like wisdom teeth, painfully and subject to dental extraction, ouch!

'What have I to show for my years?’

My amazing wife and our healthy and beautiful triplets-who turned one year old this past eighteenth of December.

There are many, many folks busily embittered by their travail. Identifiable by their refrain "Woe is me!", their lives are so out of balance, they complain, which, by the way, they are because they've neglected to weigh all of their positives on the other end of the scales. They haven't any, they insist. Forever bellyaching about not having enough of what they lack, they fail to recognize and be thankful for all they do have.


An old friend of mine from my shul whom I have known for years. Years back, I taught both of her sons in my Sunday school class when our families were members of Emanuel Congregation, a reform temple on Sheridan Road, about 5900 north on Chicago's north side in Chicago. During my eleven years of teaching there, I enjoyed the privilege of holding my class in the office of Rabbi Emeritus Herman Schaalman.

As sweet a lady as you could ever imagine, Brenda knew my son Ben from the time he was a little boy. And with knowing him, she knows what befell him and my family on November 22, 2000. I see her bittersweet smile every Shabbos morning when she sees the triplets, an expression borne of the remembrance of tragedy coupled with unbridled joy.

Brenda recalls our tragic past without permitting it to spoil the love she feels for my wife’s and my new babies.

Thank you, Brenda.

And so it pleases me to announce that a piece I wrote three years ago marking my first son Ben's tenth yahrzeit will be published in the next edition of Our Tapestry, a literary journal of Jewish bereavement.

Looking Out the Rear Window: Ten Years Ago (edited by the author)

"It's time for you to pick up and move on. Time heals all wounds. It'll get better, you'll see. You do have other children, don't you?"

Well, as a matter of fact, I do and have moved on. Had I not, I would not have been able to write this piece. "Moving on", however, does not mean a bereaved parent does not leave a portion of himself behind.

Unfortunately, many believe parental bereavement, the loss of a child, is an equivalent to the loss of other family members. It is not. The reason? It is the only loss that turns the world completely upside down.

Mourning in the Jewish tradition is a finite period of time and varies in length from one to eleven months depending on the relationship of the deceased to the mourner. The Mourners' Kaddish is recited in the synagogue in the presence of a minyan, an adult quorum of ten males.

I mourned our loss of Ben for one month in accordance with the Jewish laws of mourning. I have grieved for him, however, every single one of the three thousand, six hundred and sixty-five days since his death.

Parental bereavement receives no vacation days.

Do you remember as a kid when you and your folks took one of those great road trips? When your dad was at the wheel and your mom "patiently pointed out" that he should have gotten off at the previous exit? Do you remember that? G-d, I sure hope so. And if not, well just follow along anyway.

There was a time in our nation's history when folks, even kids, could sit however they wished in the comfort of their automobiles. Many kids, including this writer, ended up turning around, kneeling in the back seat and spending hours looking out the rear window.

And now, as a bereaved parent, I have been looking out the rear window for ten years but never, I assure you, while in the driver's seat.

Perhaps you're wondering what advice I have to offer ...

1. Keep the faith. Giving up on G-d is actually a subterfuge for giving up on yourself.

2. Create an alternate presence for your deceased child by doing good works in his name.

3. Do not isolate yourself. Life is with people. Birth and death are the opposite bookends on the "bookshelf of life".

4. Many folks want to know what they can do to help. Tell them.

5. If you wish to be by yourself, fine. Keep it short, preferably in a house of G-d.

6. Be busy, very busy. Idle hands lead to grievous thoughts.

7. Take no life for granted. That includes your own of course.

Stuff I regret ...

1. Ben loved skateboarding. I didn't. I wish I had. (Now every skateboarder looks like Ben to me.)
2. I miss the grandchildren for whom Ben would have been a great dad.
3. No child can proudly say of my son, "This is my dad." Therein lies one of the many tragedies of Ben's death.

Living life after the death of a child is not an act of betrayal. There is, after all, a time and place for everything. Somehow it seems appropriate-even after the passage of Ben's tenth yahrzeit-that anyone who wishes to look out the rear window for a while is welcome to join me.



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