As a boy, I would go to Temple with my family on this day.
Today marks the day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. On this day, my father closed his shop and he would put on his suit. He wore an unmistakable brand of cologne with an aroma that can never be forgotten. My mother would wear a dress, and she smelled from her perfume of choice.
My brother and I wore suits as well, but we were not as interested as our parents.
We would walk from our house as a family, and together, we went to the Temple on Merrick Avenue.
I was too young to understand much of the services. I knew the prayers by word, but not by meaning. We sat in the congregation and we listened; then we stood and we prayed.
It is believed that on Rosh Hashanah, the book of life is opened and it is closed ten days later on the holiday of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. The days between the two holidays are known as the days of awe. This is supposed to be a time of reflection. The is a time for repentance.
But as a boy, I was unaware of what personal reflection was and I saw the long, drawn out services of praying and singing to be slow and boring.
When I was little, the only part I enjoyed was sitting next to my father. I was so amazed by his discipline to religion.
I watched him because he knew all of the prayers and the songs by heart.
It was incredible.
No . . .
It was beautiful.
When The Old Man passed, the cars that followed his funeral precession lined from his grave, down and around the stretched driveway, through the gates, and cars filled with people looking to pay their respects leaked onto Wellwood Avenue.
The intersection was so busy that police were called to direct traffic at the cemetery’s entrance.
It was wintertime and days before the New Year. The winds were so painful and crisp, but I felt nothing. I did not feel warm or uncomfortably cold. I felt numb.
If anything, I felt like the empty winter branches of the gray-like tree limbs. I felt like the sky, which was the sad shade of light-colored charcoal.
The winds howled, making the crowd at the gravesite almost too surreal for me to process. I could hear the Rabbi’s voice as he prayed. I could hear the coffin being lowered into the earth—but in a way, I could hear nothing, as if the shock from my grief had muffled my ears.
But without regard for my sadness, and without concern for my family’s loss, the world continued to turn. Lights still went on and off, bills did not cease for a moment of sympathy, and to the rest of our society, life moved as it usually would.
My family’s business was manned by a son-like employee named Rego.
Rego knew my father for decades. He knew my father well and over the years, Rego maintained the foreman’s position at my father’s shop. And throughout the years, he also earned my father’s love and respect.
The business specialized in plumbing and heating; however, The Old Man never refused work of any kind. No matter what it was or how dirty, The Old Man would take it.
Born out of The Great Depression, my father refused to turn down the chance to earn a living.
“You never know what could happen tomorrow,” he would say.
“Someone could come along and put me out of business.”
He would tell me, “I would rather take a job, figure it out, and get it done. If I have to sub the work to another contractor, then I will . . . but at least the job is complete, I kept the customer happy, and I was able to put an extra plate of food on the table.
Rego did not always agree with the jobs my father took.
He would argue, and say something like, “But Ronny, I don’t know anything about roll-down garage doors.”
And The Old Man would smile. “Neither do I . . . but we can figure it out.
And they did figure it out— together.
There was an emergency service call on the morning of my father’s funeral. Rego knew what The Old Man would have said. The Old Man would have wanted the problem solved, and if Rego missed the funeral—The Old Man would have found it more honorable because his son-like employee carried out his wishes and ran the company.
However, the job was a quick fix. Unfortunately, Rego burned himself that morning. He burned his right hand and the inside of his arm.
He told my mother, “The weird thing is it didn’t really hurt.”
He said, “I almost felt as if I needed the pain because I didn’t have the words to express how sad I feel.”
He explained, “The pain in my arm kind of says it all.”
I have not seen Rego since my Old Man’s funeral—but I never forgot who he is and what he means to my father.
I do not say, “Who he was,” or “What he meant,” in a past tense.
I say this in the present tense because who we are at heart is unchangeable, and this will always be fact, even in the face of age, separation, or death.
The body is physical. And since the body is physical; the body must adhere to the laws of gravity. However, the spirit is not physical. Therefore, it does not have to abide to these laws.
I view my doubts and fears along with my anger as the dark and heavy ends of emotion. These are part of the body.
My love and my dreams, along with my wishes and desires are perfectly weightless.
This is my spirit.
It is the body that grieves and it is the body’s weight that holds the spirit.
Like anyone else, I struggle with the dark and heavy end of my emotions. My thoughts have a voice, and I sometimes listen to that voice as if everything it says is fact.
But my spirit also has a voice—however the body creates static, and I sometimes struggle to hear the lighter side of my world.
In the beginning it is written.
This is truth: Who shall lie down, and who shall rise up. It is written; who shall prosper and who shall perish. It is written; who will live and who will die—and of course, it is written; who shall sleep and who shall awaken to eternal life.
Life is an eventual and inevitable journey. And though the body returns to ground, the spirit cannot, because the spirit is not containable. The spirit cannot be placed in a box or lowered beneath the ground.
If I listen to the body; I will grieve forever.
If I allow myself to believe in the spirit; I will still feel loss.
I will weep. But I will also heal and I will overcome through grace.
The signs we see on a daily basis; the tiny memories or glimpses of loved ones, which deep in our heart, we believe are messages from those that have passed—even the cardinals that visit my backyard on a regular basis—these are voices from the spirit.
And if I allow myself to believe, then I will understand my father is more than just a memory, and it would be wrong if I let the body take away what the spirit provides.
While of the body, My Old Man had a giving heart. He believed in sharing with his loved ones, friends, and family.
But of the body, The Old Man had to adhere to the laws of gravity.
However, he is of the spirit now. I can only imagine how giving he must be.
And so, one this morning the 1st of Tishrei 5775, on the Jewish calendar, I say this.
“Happy New Year, Pop. I’m on my way to work.
I sure wish you could stop by. I have a few questions to ask you.”