Where Are You…

Inside 4151

It cost $100 bucks and change to transfer some old videos to DVD. A hundred bucks and change to see my grandparents smile and laugh again and for just a moment feel like they aren’t really gone but are just on vacation.

A hundred bucks and change to temporarily forget about the empty places at the table and to pretend time has stood still and my generation is not second in command.

Life has taken some funny turns since you all made your way to wherever it is we go after our time here is done and now we are getting ready for the third big family event without you all.

And though we talked about this day and prepared for it I find myself wishing you were here. I remember your words and your requests and I know what to say but I can’t ever say it as you did or tell the stories the same way and sometimes it bothers me that my children will never have that experience.

But this is the normal course of things and there is no surprise or shame because the outcome was not unexpected, even if not desired. You told me you would fight the clock and I said I would help. We did for as long as we could but I would have liked just a little more time.

Would have liked for you to see the people your great grandchildren are turning into but we won’t be able to share that this time around.

So I have given you these words and shared again those below so that if there is magic in the night that allows you to peel back the veil you can gain a glimpse of life as it is now and as it was.

And if nothing else you will know that even if your names are not said aloud you have not been forgotten.

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.”  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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6 Comments

  1. Ruhani Rabin December 12, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    I had a cousin, he was almost 10 years younger than me. He was born in a stressful and dysfunctional environment. His mom and sister was mentally and physically ill, his father was always busy taking care of those two, elder brother left home and moved to a new city. So basically this cousin of mine never had a birthday, never had a party and never had anything called a family. Even though those days I was in another town, I tend to keep him near me or give him something that he can do. He was a talented artist and emotional. I can see why. Then I left my country .. I moved to another country to make things better but I could not move him. Either way, he was left alone and I get to know time to time that he is falling apart.

    Day before yesterday night, I wake up suddenly at 2am and could not sleep until 6.30am. When I was falling asleep, I get a phone call, I hate phone calls at that time of morning or end of night.. they never bring good news. So, it was my mom and she told me that cousin of mine, he committed suicide at 2am earlier that night. I knew, I felt something went wrong, even though I was almost 5 thousand miles away in a different country.

    Now my only regret – I should have helped him find a way to make peace with his inner confusions.

    I hope he is in peace now. He had enough of troubles when he was alive.

  2. Betsy Cross December 12, 2013 at 3:48 am

    Don’t you think we all have thoughts about our potential and the lack of energy, will, or perfect circumstances to live up to it? I do. So, today is all I work on. I can have extremely “lazy” days where I have a lot I want to do and still don’t do it, but if I DID do it, stuff would get done.
    Instead, I guess I’m teaching my kids to pace themselves and do only those things that have to be done (responsibilities) and love. In between the two…I nap, read, and eat. 🙂
    And I’m pretty sure that my loved ones who’ve passed are very happy that I’ve learned to slow down.

    • Jack December 13, 2013 at 1:32 pm

      Hi Betsy,

      Yeah, I think a lot of these things are part of the human condition and are traits/feelings we share in common. I try to work on a one day at a time basis but it is not always easy, is it.

      Nap, read and eat sounds wonderful to me.

  3. Stan Faryna December 11, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    Knocked this out of the park.

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