Tuesday, July 07, 2015

July 7, 2015--The Rabbi

We were about to leave for Anne and Boyce's annual July 4th lobster bake when the phone rang.

Sensing my disinclination to answer it, Rona said, "Pick it up. With everything going on it might be important."

"The caller ID says 'Unknown Caller.' Anything important would be coming from someone we know."

"Oh, answer it. We have time. If we leave now we'll be early."

So I answered it, "Hello. This is Steven Zwerling."

In a booming voice, the caller said, CONGRATULATIONS!"

"Did I win something?" I asked. "Like from Publishers Clearing House or from whoever it was earlier this week who called to say, 'You have been selected for a cruise to the Bahamas'?"

"No, this is Rabbi ____ ."

"Rabbi what?"

"Rabbi ____ . I will be conducting your mother's service on Tuesday."

"Oh," I began to comprehend. My mother came from a traditional background and the family thought she would want a rabbi to preside over her graveside service.

"It will be my honor," he said.

"What a strange way to begin this conversation," I said, settling into a chair.

"I'm not following you," he said.

"The CONGRATULATIONS business. Why are you congratulating me? My mother died three days ago. Are congratulations in order? I mean, she died at 107 and three days. Not anything resembling a tragedy, but still . . ." I trailed off sorry I had answered the phone.

"That's my point," he said.

"Your point being?"

"That you are to be congratulated for having a mother who lived such a long and meaningful life. Actually, she is to be congratulated."

"She did have a very long life and indeed it was meaningful in more ways that I can describe."

"I hope you will try to do that for me."

"Do what?"

"Tell me about her meaningful life so I can talk about that at the service. I won't pretend to have known her but will refer to what you and other members of the family tell me about her. Does that sound all right?"

He was a rabbi after all and I am sure he picked up that I was still not comfortable with the way he began the call and so I said, "I still think you got off to a bad start with me. But of course I am willing to talk with you about her."

"I am deeply sorry if you took it that way. Perhaps I overstated how I was feeling about what I already had come to know about her. I was overcome with joy when I began to learn about your mother. And maybe I was a little envious of you. My mother . . . Well, that's another story  fro another time."

As he was talking, in his own way apologizing for upsetting me, I began to think about what he had already said, as if intuiting the joyousness that I had been secretly feeling.

I had been feeling joy and had not spoken about it out of concern that I would appear to be not caring, not sufficiently sad. Yes, I am sad, how could anyone not be after the loss of a wonderful mother even after so many years. Is it greedy to want more? Yes, I thought, but still I wanted more. Now I am left with memories and feelings. Enough to fill a lifetime, true, even if I am fortunate enough to live as long as she, but greedily I still wanted more. Want more.

"Are you still on the line?" I had lapsed into silence.

"Yes, I'm still here."

"Can we proceed?"

"Of course. It's just that it's taken me a moment to assimilate how you began."

"I understand, The congratulations part."

"Yes. But, you are right. And thank you for helping me to be more honest about the way I am feeling about her death. More important, about her life."

"So, congratulations are in order?"

"Yes, indeed they are. This is all so complicated."

From two years ago

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