After someone we love has died, it’s a rare and exciting moment when we realize they’ve just reached out to us, a paranormal “shout-out” that reassures us they are okay and that they continue to care about us. I don’t necessarily subscribe to this belief – in loved ones interacting from beyond – but I most certainly recognize that connections between us and them exist. These connections are wholly felt and therefore, on some level, experienced.
Unlike many of his friends’ reports to me, I have not dreamed of Jonah since the first week after he died. Those ongoing, even if rare, nighttime “encounters” are extremely meaningful to Jonah’s compadres. And while sometimes I creep myself out walking through our darkened house in the middle of the night, I don’t personally expect Jonah to pop in and say hi (although I certainly wouldn’t object … … Jonah?).
But sometimes, events converge in such a way as to feel rather uncanny. “Why is that thing that’s happening in front of me right now happening in this place where I’m standing at this moment?” I’m not willing to ascribe supernatural origins to these occurrences. But they’re very cool. And I won’t completely rule out the possibility.
Here are a couple of those moments. You decide for yourself. Is it a “shout-out” – is Jonah saying hi – or in our lives where thousands of unexceptional moments slide by each and every day, are occurrences like these just bound to happen? And is it we who “organize” them, adding the meaning that gives them a place in our lives? Either way, I welcome these moments. If nothing else, they remind me of my boy. And I like remembering my boy.
1) Jonah’s UB belongings were packed up and shipped to us by the university. When these four very large boxes arrived home (somewhere around March 12), it was both a very sad collection of last effects, as well as a kind of bizarre treasure chest. This was what remained of Jonah in the physical world – his clothes, his books, his Rubik’s Cube, and whatever other belongings a college student would manage to squeeze into his dorm room. We feared but also wanted to savor unpacking it all. Of course, in these boxes, we came across Jonah’s musical instruments: his electric guitar, his ukulele, and his mandolin. I found myself rummaging through his mandolin case. Who knows why. Jonah had been there, so I wanted to be there too. Anyway, inside the case’s pick box, I spied a very odd-looking object (certainly nothing like a guitar pick or anything else one would expect to find in a space like this). As best we could figure, it resembled a baseball-shaped piece of candy wrapped in cellophane. But really, we had no idea. The very next day (Wednesday, March 18), Ellen was driving into New York City with our close friends, Jeffrey and Susan Sirkman, to hear another friend’s (Zoe Jacobs’) senior cantorial recital at Hebrew Union College. Stopped at a traffic light, Susan remarked, “Oh, isn’t that interesting.” Ellen turned her head and was stunned to see “half a baseball” protruding from the glass of the window in the car that was parked immediately adjacent to where their car had stopped. In Jonah’s mandolin case, a practical joke – a make-believe baseball crashing through the window. Pure Jonah. One moment in time. A random glance. A random comment. And a piece clicks into place. Jaw dropping.
2) My father and I have always shared a love for things pickled. Not anything, mind you (well, maybe him … he grew up during the Depression … but I grew up picky). Good dill pickles were always in order, and then (in the remaining juice) radishes and celery we’d prepare together. A generation later, Jonah and I shared this love. He and I would especially look forward to the empty pickle jar, to slicing up a stalk of celery into bite-size, pickling-size pieces, and placing them into the juice (more like shoving them in, to fit as many future-consumables as possible). It would take three days for the pickling to ready our celery, and the two of us checked in with each other throughout, both to make sure the celery wasn’t eaten before its time, and also to make sure the other hadn’t eaten them before our time. Shortly after the conclusion of the shiva week, neighbors Sandy and Peter Rosenthal showed up at our door with a container of half-sours they’d picked up from the temple’s annual 5th grade visit to the Lower East Side. My head knew the trip had been planned nine months earlier, but my heart said that Jonah was back for some pickles. Big smile. Fast forward one year. This past week. Once again, the Rosenthals provide a new container of pickles. You may already be minimizing the paranormal element here, but the kid’s dad refuses to acquiesce. Jonah immediately comes to mind, and with the first pickle, these words: “I dedicate this to you, boy.”
3) Why do you suppose, of all days, on March 5, 2010, the first anniversary of Jonah’s death, I see, for the very first time in my entire life (other than on television) a van that displays “Medical Examiner” on its side? This isn’t a happy encounter for me. Jonah’s death remains, to this day, of undetermined cause. The Medical Examiner in Buffalo, Dr. Jim Woytash, was in personal and regular contact with us throughout his investigation. He was respectful, kind and thorough. And then he was apologetic that he could provide no clear answers. I see this van as I’m driving my family to the cemetery. What possible kind of connection could this be? And yet, how is it that this would happen at this time, in this place? Of all days.
4) Later that same day, it is the middle of the afternoon and I haven’t yet had lunch. Absentmindedly I stop by the local deli. Tony and Lisa are familiar, friendly faces, and that’s probably what drew me there. I order a turkey sandwich on a roll. As I’m leaving, I realize I don’t order sandwiches on rolls much anymore (calories, you know). Today I do. It was not a conscious act (other than consciously being hungry), but again, why this day? Until Jonah went away to college, it was my routine, following the Shabbat morning service at temple, to stop by this deli and pick up sandwiches for the two of us. Once Jonah left for college, that pretty much ended. I might go in to get a pound of this or a pound of that, but not sandwiches. Except for today. Of all days.
Connections are everywhere. We may be manufacturing them ourselves, or perhaps they really are a loving touch from beyond. Either way, I will continue to welcome them. If for no other reason, they usher in cherished memories of a kid I wish I could share a sandwich with or get the scoop on why there’s half a plastic baseball in his mandolin case. Until then, I’ll keep my eyes, and my heart, wide open.