Monday, December 29, 2008

Darkness & Light

My half-sister's father died in his early 30s, when my sister was only 7. She and my mother moved to New Jersey and, a few years later, my mother married my father and had me.

I grew up under the shadow of this man I never met. He was the reason that my father wasn't my sister's biological father. And he was the reason that my mother always got sad a certain time of the year. As I child I saw many many pictures of him and, despite the fact that his death was in fact necessary for me to exist, I felt close to him.

Because of him I understood at a very tender age that it was possible to die young--a harsh lesson that I learned several times over as several of my parent's friends, all in their 40s, all with with children, passed away during a few horrible years in the 80s.

Why am I thinking about all this now? I had a great Chanukah with Chamudi--the best ever--and am feeling happy and healthy and excited about the future. But a few recent tragedies are weighing on my mind.

First there's our friend's girlfriend, in her 30s, who had a brain anurism last month and in now convinced that she's in 2001--before she had her children, before she divorced her husband and met our friend.

Then there's the personal history I just read in the New Yorker written from the perspective of a grandfather raising his daughter's three young children after his daughter dropped dead of a rare and undetected heart problem. I wept through the entire thing.

Then there's a co-worker, a father, who died last week in a motorcycle accident.

Finally there's that poor Chabad couple, the Holtzbergs, z"l, so brutally murdered, and their 2-year-old son, just the same age as Chamudi.

All of this amounts to a bit of gratuitious contemplation of my own mortality as we finish the Festival of Lights and bring in the secular New Year, and heightened anxiousness over my time on this earth. What if my recent inability to call up some words is the beginning of some sort of premature mental decline? What if my muscle ache is more than a muscle ache? And the like.

Having children heightens our experience of everything in life, and mortality is no exception--my life matters more because it matters to him. And when I contemplate him living without me I hurt deeply--both for him and for me. What would his life be like? Would he ever be the same?

I'm just about ready to move away from these dark thoughts and embrace my exuberant preschooler at this end of his school day. Because the only bright spot in this kind of maccabre contemplation is that it reminds you--without the mark of tragedy your own life--to live and love as fully as you possibly can.

Happy New Year from Ima Shalom.

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