The Most Valuable Possession


It is Friday night of the weekend of my sister’s wedding and my parents are hosting Shabbos dinner for friends and family from out of town. Dessert has been served and the kids are running around with their cousins while the grownups drink coffee and talk. I am standing outside on the terrace staring at streaks of orange and red and thinking about my grandfather. It is only a week since he died and his absence is palpable.

The painted sky is simply beautiful and I can’t help but think about how this is one of those moments where all of my grandparents would have told me to try and burn all I see and feel into memory. It makes complete sense to me to do so. In so many ways memory is the most valuable possession that we own. Sometimes it is the most painful but I try to focus on the positive and think of it as being the most precious, most beautiful and most valuable.Sunset in Shenandoah 1

Midway through my musings I have this bizarre thought that 25 miles north of me my grandfather lies in a box that is buried beneath a mound of dirt. He was claustrophobic and for a long time very unhappy about the idea of being placed inside the casket. Long ago I promised him that if he knocked on the casket I would stop everything and pull him out. I remember telling him that there were better ways to get attention than to be buried alive and he told me to stop being a smartass, but the smile on his face made it clear that he appreciated it.

The day of the funeral I made a point of bending over to whisper, “grandpa, this is it. Knock three times on the ceiling and I’ll get you out of there.”  If you haven’t noticed I have a dark sense of humor but he appreciated it and that is all that matters. He didn’t knock and so we carried him over to his body’s final destination and I watched as he was lowered into it. I suppose that it is important to clarify that I wasn’t the person who verified that he was inside- but  I have to believe that no errors were made.

However I can verify that the rabbi and I made sure that the entire casket was covered in dirt.  My sunglasses hid the look in my eyes as my shovel rained dirt down upon him. It is not the first time that I have helped to bury a loved one and it probably won’t be the last. Some people don’t like it but I take it seriously. It is one of the last courtesies that we can extend to those who wander off into whatever lies beyond the pale.

Saturday night there was another family function and I found myself standing in front of the home I grew up in with my kids, cousins, nieces and nephews. We tossed around a football and I watched boys who used to be babies turn into almost pre-teens before my eyes and thought about how much has happened. Close your eyes and life has a way of getting away from you.

It reminded me of people long gone and some just removed from my life who spoke about potential and living up to it. That is something that I sometimes find troubling…potential. Or maybe it is more appropriate to say that I find unfulfilled potential to be troubling. It sometimes eats away at me and I get lost in the land of what could have been and perhaps what could be. It is a line of thought that I try not to get caught up in as it is not real productive to dig at the wounds of what I wish could have been. I don’t have many regrets, but those that I do are…painful.

That is not the sort of possession that I am real fond of, but I suppose they help to make me who I am. From a different perspective we could say that they help to make me who I am going to be. Yep, I said going to be because who I am today is not who I am going to be tomorrow. That is not supposed to be some sort of goofy philosophical comment but acknowledgement that what is happening today is having a significant impact upon me now.

I wonder what sort of possessions this experience will leave me with.


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  1. TheJackB August 16, 2011 at 9:40 am

    @SocialMediaDDS Hi Claudia. I have been making a concerted effort to live in the moment and not get caught in the past or the future. Not ignoring them, but life in the present makes me happier.

  2. TheJackB August 16, 2011 at 9:21 am

    @psychicjazz I like that last sentence. The choice to keep moving and experience newness speaks to me.

  3. SocialMediaDDS August 16, 2011 at 8:35 am

    Wow…what a beautifully written and moving post. I am so sorry about the loss of your Grandfather…and your warmly humorous reassurance to his claustrophobia that you had his back. And, finally, your last paragraph is profound and thought provoking…it speaks to a philosophy of living in the moment… and in that philosophy, you are right…who you are right now is not going to be the same as who you are tomorrow. And, in my opinion, there is joy in that…in that impermanence…because it allows us to be more fully in the moment. The “potential” is not a ‘thing’ to obtain…rather it is an energy to experience. (I apologize for waxing so philosophical here but your post really spoke to me)


  4. psychicjazz August 15, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Life is filled with such learning. It is only when we choose to let go of the old and have an appreciation of the now — when we can stop spinning in circles. I choose to keep moving forward and experience newness in each step.

  5. TheJackB August 15, 2011 at 9:00 am

    @marianne.worley You are absolutely right. Every person that does more than just pass through our lives has an impact upon us.

    I see no reason not to try to make the best of it all. In my mind there is no better way to help honor their memory.

  6. dgupta5150 August 15, 2011 at 4:27 am

    @brucesallan good morning

  7. marianne.worley August 14, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    Each time you lose someone you love, especially those you were very close to, you become a different person. Some people use that opportunity to reflect and become a better person, while others choose to ignore the impact. I know this experience is already giving you more faith in yourself–and more determination to accomplish your dreams. (That’s what happened to me.)

  8. TheJackB August 14, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    @FatherFactor Thank you. Some of the best learning experiences of my life come from these sorts of interactions.

  9. TheJackB August 14, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    @BruceSallan Hey Bruce. If we can’t learn from our regrets and our mistakes than life is a lot less interesting to me.

    As for your point about getting older, well getting better at living is paramount. We may not have some of the physical benefits that we had when we were younger but the wisdom and life experience should count for something. It would be more than a shame to waste that by not taking advantage of it.

  10. TheJackB August 14, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    @kamkansas I am with you- celebrating their lives makes far more sense than moaning over their loss. Thank you for your kind words.

  11. TheJackB August 14, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    @BetsyKCross Hi Betsy. I rarely worry about whether people understand my intent and desire for a post. Some of the best comments and experiences come from comments that really aren’t related to the topic.

    I understand the idea of trying to to do the best we can for the kids. It is part of being a parent and I have never found it to be cut and dry. I have had more than a few opportunities to leave for better jobs but have always been reluctant to do so because the family interaction has been so important.

    But now that there are no great grandparents left, I am not so sure what I will do.

  12. FatherFactor August 14, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    Life is certainly a breath…and that is never more evident than when you lose someone close. Thanks for the heartfelt post and the willingness to let your readers in. Very encouraging…

  13. BruceSallan August 14, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    JB, I love the heart, soul, and honesty of this post. I believe the ONLY good thing about getting older is getting better (at living life and how we relate to others). That is the main point I got from your openness here. Sure, we all have regrets. Learn from them and don’t repeat ’em and then maybe something good comes from something we wished we had done differently. I KNOW your grandfather appreciates you. We share the same belief in ritual and the same dislike but respect for some of them, e.g. funerals. My mom had a thing about visiting graves which I never shared. But, I promised her that I would visit hers and I’ve done so. I stop by for only a few minutes, say hello, bring her up-to-date on our family, and honestly express how much I miss her and my dad, who is right there next to her. But, he was always the quieter one and he didn’t care if I visited him after he was gone. I chose to visit my parents A GREAT DEAL while they were here and alive. I still carry that feeling and am so grateful I did…that is a regret I’d rather not have learned from…

  14. kamkansas August 14, 2011 at 1:20 am

    Jack, I’m so sorry for your loss. What a poignant story about your grandfather. You say that you wonder what sort of possessions this experience will leave you with. I suppose it’s different for everyone, but when my grandparents died, over time I learned how to celebrate their lives instead of focusing on the fact that they’re no longer with me on Earth. The wonderful memories they made with me warm my heart and make me realize how lucky I was to have them in my life. You and your family will be in my thoughts. With my sincere condolences, Kathy

  15. BetsyKCross August 14, 2011 at 1:12 am

    Hey Jack,

    There’s so much here to talk about! But one thing stuck with me: regrets.We have a choice to move home to where our parents are and I can’t escape the fact that some of them won’t be around in ten years. My husband asked if it was right to move back. You know..what about what the kids need? I feel that there is nothing more important than making memories with family if you can. My heart is heavy every day because my dad has no one to stop in and tell him how his grandkids are doing. Honestly, my “success” in life has boiled down to letting my friends and family know that I love them. My kids need more memories with their grandparents! Everyone says I’m too hard on myself. But That’s how I define success, like it or not.

    Sorry if I go off on tangents! It’s always hard to really understand someone’s (your) intention for a post! Guess that’s the same for everyone.

    Thanks again!


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