While some knew him as Jonah and others as Mac, we all loved and respected him. And we miss him dearly.

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Jonah fascinated me.

I always worried about him, of course, because he frequently refused to walk the well-trodden path. You know which one I mean — the path that would have led him to conventional purpose and dependable security. The one every parent wants for their child. Here’s an example. Jonah Maccabee certainly was bright enough to have kept pace with every class and every assignment he encountered in school. But it simply was not his way. If he was going to make his mark on the world, it would have to be measured in something other than “Number of Homeworks Completed.”

That worried me. Would he, in fact, ever find for himself a purposeful, secure path?

At the same time, though, I couldn’t take my eyes off the kid. I was just so curious about the choices he did make, the places he did go. Mind you, when I worried it rarely reached a critical level because, frankly, I trusted Jonah. During his senior year of high school, when he’d not sleep until noon on a given Saturday, and he’d catch a morning train into Manhattan, disappearing there until nighttime, not telling us what he was doing, I didn’t worry. Much. I was more puzzled than anything else. When it turned out he’d been participating in clandestine protests against what he understood to be violations of human rights by the Church of Scientology, I was flabbergasted, and relieved, and I applauded his willingness to take a stand for something he believed in.

And I kept wondering where that would lead him.

When Jonah was in the sixth grade, and hadn’t yet made up his mind to never do homework ever again, he asked Ellen if she’d help him with a project by giving him, in place of his weekly allowance, a penny a day for a month, just doubling that penny once daily. I’m fairly confident she didn’t agree to his proposal because I still have money in my bank account. It turns out that this formula — (2 to the (n-1))/100, where n equals the number of days — would have yielded him, in one month’s time, $10,737,418.23.

I love this photo. It’s a little fuzzy because I had to snap it quickly. It’s an extremely rare picture of Jonah ... doing homework! Something about wanting to graduate from high school. June 2008

I love this photo. It’s a little fuzzy because I had to snap it quickly. It’s an extremely rare picture of Jonah … doing homework! Something about wanting to graduate from high school. June 2008

Ellen, also wondering where time and chance would lead our boy, grew eager to engage Jonah’s heart in the events of his life. On this occasion, she observed to Jonah that the generations of our family (the number of people responsible for his having been born) doubled as he moved to each of his preceding ancestors. Thus, Jonah had two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and sixteen great-great grandparents. Building on the allowance scenario, in ten generations 2046 people would have contributed to setting the stage for him to be born. For you math geeks out there, the formula they derived is this: (2 to the (x+1)) – 2 = the number of people who (over x generations) play a role in any one person’s birth.

Jonah loved this stuff. Throughout his childhood, he was always collecting books on the wonders of math and science. Yes, of course his dad encouraged him. But not to worry, Jonah rarely let on that he was drawn to anything his old man liked. Or anything his teachers were trying to share with him. That would have been something for the well-trodden path. He probably figured, “Better my folks should think I’m headed for a life of crime. Then when I become a physicist, Dad’ll get me a car.”

My aspiring criminal headed off to college with a personal library that included Eric Clapton’s autobiography and a copy of the Kama Sutra. Also with him, however, was a book he’d fallen in love with during high school, Zero: Biography of a Dangerous Idea (by Charles Seife). Jonah thrilled at sharing with friends the author’s mathematical proof that Winston Churchill had actually been a carrot (if you’re interested, check out page 127). While Jonah loved humor, using mathematics as your punchline was, in his opinion, a superior level of comedy.

Jonah had been embracing his inner geek.

Moving in Day @ UB (Aug 2008). The beginning of six wonderful months.

Moving in Day @ UB (Aug 2008). The beginning of six wonderful months.

Every parent wonders if they worry enough about their child. Had I not permitted Jonah to go away to college, had I kept him at home, had I locked him in his room, he’d likely be alive today. Of course, he’d be furious with me and, eventually, I’d have had to let him go (if for no other reason than that by the age of sixteen, he could whup me). And so, I do not regret allowing him to fly off to college. He loved UB. The friends, the music, the learning, the adventure – these gave him six of the best months of his life.

No, I’m not sad I let him go. But I’m heartbroken that he can’t come home. And my heartbreak includes mathematics too. 2046 men and women yearned for their line to continue generation after generation through a young man whose name 2040 of them never knew: Jonah Maccabee Dreskin. 2046 dreams have now been canceled.

I’m heartbroken, as well, for the generations that would have come after Jonah, were he to have married and reared children of his own. In ten generations, assuming an average of two children born to each of Jonah’s descendant families, 2046 of Jonah’s descendants won’t ever have been born. Because Jonah’s life was not lived into familyhood. 2046 stories won’t ever be written because the lives those stories would have been about won’t ever get to begin.

So when I cry, I cry not just for myself. I cry for everyone who played a part in bringing this remarkably intelligent and kooky and kind and beautiful young man into the world. I cry for the part he will never play in bringing new life into the world. And I cry for so many others whose lives will be lived untouched by the wonder that was my Jonah Mac — or by one of his kids, or grandkids, or great-grandkids.

Imagine the 2046 variations on Jonah Maccabee Dreskin who — for the next ten generations, the next 250 years or so — would have been running around, doing surprising, wacky things, defying expectations, confounding uncreative authoritarians, and making us fall in love with each and every one of those 2046.

When Jonah was alive, he fascinated me. And he worried me. And he made me fall in love with him every single day. Now that Jonah has died, I no longer worry. He’s out of harm’s way. But I’m still fascinated by him. I will be so forever. And I will continue to fall in love with him … each day, for the rest of my life.


4 Responses to “2046”

  • Anonymous:

    Billy, Thanks for writing about Jonah and allowing us to share both the joys you and Ellen found in Jonah and the pain that fills you as you miss him. Sent with love…your cousin Rena

  • Lisa Tzur:

    Thank you Billy for your inspiring teachings– wishing you all healing and peace.

  • Inda:

    Letting go and allowing our children to live their lives is the never ending conflict.I have been living that situation within our family.My eldest son, who is Jonah's age, is presently serving in the IDF, in addition to during his senior year, announced to us that he's gay, has given me enough worry as to his wealthfare. Will he be safe, scared, alone in life, physically or emotionally hurt… Will he have children and be given the opportunity of the amazing experience of parenthood, will he find a caring and loving partner, community? Billy, even with all these concerns, your beautiful words put this all in perspective. Just that we can all just hope to keep safe and love as much as is within our power.I guess the rest is out of our control.

  • So beautifully written, Billy. You had me laughing and crying.

    My oldest is just 7 and already I can see that balancing act between holding on and letting go can get pretty hairy. The strength (and love and joy) you and Ellen have to trust your kids and let them be truly and fully *themselves* is inspiring.

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