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.
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.”Â 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- butÂ 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.Â 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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