It’s your birthday today, and I wanted to wish you a happy birthday. That’s why I’m writing. I wanted to wish you a happy birthday and tell you that I remembered and that I’m thinking of you. Truthfully, we’re all thinking of you, but no one’s saying anything. We rarely talk about you anymore.
I can’t believe it’s been almost four years. I wish you could know how much we loved you and how rough these four years have been for us. You should see how daddy aged, how mommy still can’t look at pictures. Just this Sunday, at the bris of E and N’s little boy, I watched savtah kiss the baby’s forehead and whisper “until 120.” She was crying, Aaron, and I know what she was thinking. She was thinking that the last time she held a grandchild at a bris he didn’t make it. That’s why we don’t talk about you, Aaron, that’s why we don’t mark today – because it hurts, and I think we’ve all had it with hurting.
It has been said that these experiences make us stronger, that we grow and learn from them. I don’t think I’ve ever been further from understanding what strength is, I’m still kind of struggling with the growth idea, but here are some lessons that losing you has taught me:
I’ve learned that this world is transient and our existence, ephemeral. We’re all just travelers passing through on our way to some other place. Some of us go sooner than others, some of us go sooner than expected, but we’re all going. This world isn’t real, and no one is here to stay.
I’ve learned that the people we love are never here long enough. They always die too soon. Looking back on their lives and on our relationships with them we will always have regrets. I should have held you more, Aaron, I shouldn’t have rushed out of bed when you’d come to wake me up in the morning, or to put you in your crib the moment you’d fallen asleep on me. I shouldn’t have gone away that last Shabbos you were home. But I’ve learned that regrets are good thing, because they are proof of our relationship, that it existed, that it was real, even if it wasn’t perfect. More tragic are the relationships over which we have no regrets because we never bothered to develop them at all, because we were so busy doing a million other irrelevant things that neither we nor anyone else really cares about.
I’ve learned that every moment we spend with someone we love is invaluable, which is why when we’re with these people we should BE with them and recognize that the time may not be long in coming when we will wish we could but will no longer be able to.
I’ve learned that love is a responsibility, perhaps the greatest responsibility. I’ve learned that we are exceedingly vulnerable, and commensurate with our vulnerability is our arrogance.
I’ve learned that there is so much anger, and hatred, and pain in this world, and life is too short to fight, to hate, to hurt. We cannot eradicate these destructive sentiments in others or in the world, but we can ensure that we are not the source of them. Concomitantly, it’s imperative that we treat every single person with love, kindness, compassion, patience, and respect. This is true with regard to our friends, and it is even more true with regard to people we dislike or with whom we disagree. We need to “bear with the faults of others as [we] would have them bear with [ours]” (Philip Brooks), because most people aren’t evil people, they’re just sad, or confused, or lost, and they’re trying to find their way. “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle,” Plato said.
When we were sitting shivah for you, Mr. G. Came to be menachem avel. He said that when he was sitting shivah for his son, who died after a 24 year struggle with a muscular degenerative disorder, his rebbi, a famed mekubal, came to be menachem him. They were talking about the concepts of reward and punishment and how they play out in the next world.* The mekubal explained that it’s where the neshamot are in relation to G-d. “Picture a large room,” he said. “G-d is at the center. The more sins a soul has, the further it is from G-d. The less sins a soul has the closer it is to G-d.” My teacher considered this for a moment and then said, “Rebbi, that must mean that G-d is surrounded by children [who are free of sin],” to which the mekubal responded, “Exactly.”**
Can you do me a favor, Aaron? Can you tell Him I’m trying?
Happy birthday from all of us.
All my love,
* Kiddushin 39b and other places.
** Related ideas are explained a fascinating work by this mekubal, Immortality, Ressurection, and The Age of the Universe.