The Child in Room 18

This week I did something I pray that none of us ever have to do. I visited a child who was actively dying and his family. There is no way to express the feeling of dread that welled up as I navigated the corridors of Scottish Rite. No way to express the rush of tears that were summoned by the sobs of those that stood vigil. No way to express the anger and confusion that come with standing beside a family that has been robbed of hopes and dreams. No way to express the sense of holiness and solemnity that comes with watching a grandmother stroking the hair of the child. No way to express the unpredictable decent of laughter into tears and back to laughter. No way to express what it means to speak to a child not knowing if he can hear. Not knowing what to say. Making promises that I must now pray to be able to honor. Promises to remember, to respect, to celebrate. No way to bracket images of my own children. No way to sidestep the theological implications. No way to empathize with the parents, drowning in the grief of anticipation. No way to assess what Amichai called the diameter of the bomb. No way to process the artwork drawn by the older brother with the caption, “Good luck in heaven!” No way to thank the nurses that patiently and attentively made handprints and footprints for loved ones. No way to express what it means to be able to turn around and walk away. No way to know if my counsel is that of a sage or an idiot. No way to hit send on an email that will wound people that I care about.

It’s not about me. It’s about all of us. Together we make order out of chaos. Together we make meaning out of biology. Together we mourn and eventually celebrate. We cry on one another’s shoulders. We stand behind, beside, and among brokenness. We gather shards, patiently, indignantly, courageously, and reluctantly. We stand within the breach and look toward the light. Sometimes in the light we see the face of a dying child. Sometimes the sun/son shines so brightly we can’t help but cry.

A Wedding and A Funeral

In the last week and change I’ve…

…attended a conference in New York

… co-officiated my youngest brother’s wedding in Los Angeles with my wife, also a rabbi

…watched my daughter walk down the aisle as flower girl

… spent quality time with family that I rarely get to see including cousins, aunts, uncles, siblings, parents, and grandparents

…spent time in the recording studio working on an album of original Jewish music

… had the worst case of food poisoning I can remember

… and attended a funeral of a colleague who lost her mother.

Weeks like these have a way of opening our hearts. Conferences remind us how much learning there still is to be done. Food poisoning makes us appreciate health! Creating and recording original music nourishes the soul. Spending time with family helps ground us. And life cycle events bring the past, present, and future into conversation, reminding us how much we all share as human beings.

Most people won’t ever know the feeling of officiating at their youngest brother’s wedding. It’s a profound privilege and deeply moving. To know that he’s found his life partner is really a joy.

I’ve attended a number of funerals in my life but something happened at this funeral that I’ve never experienced. The eulogy was delivered by the deceased’s grandson. And it was delivered entirely in Spanish.

I don’t speak Spanish. But even without speaking the language I felt like I knew exactly what was being said, or at least what emotions were being conveyed. A number of people around me also don’t speak Spanish and many of them were crying along with the bereaved. How can a eulogy in a language I don’t speak for a woman I didn’t know be so powerful and stirring?

On the plane back from Los Angeles I watched “Dallas Buyers Club.” I wasn’t prepared for the power of the narrative– the story of a man, who when faced with death, decided to reject the premise of his diagnosis and live out the rest of his days to the fullest of his being. The lead character was a complicated individual to say the least, but at the end of the day his humanity and his desire to live a meaningful life are the enduring legacy I took from the film. How often do we connect to our purpose(s) as human beings? How often do we look ourselves in the mirror and ask whether we living meaningful, purposeful lives? Do we speak in these terms to others? Do we help others in their quests to live meaningful lives?

In the rabbi’s eulogy he shared a few of the lessons we could all learn from the life and example of the deceased. Honoring tradition, overcoming obstacles and having grit, and others. What are the lessons that others will learn from us?