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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From Which the Water Flows

Ellen and I got to the Pacific coastline in California this past month. I’d thought, “Don’t take anything with you but a book to read and a swim suit. Put a little distance between you and Jonah for just a few days. Rest your spirit.” It was a wonderful week. Long walks on the beach, hours of play in the ocean surf, music and friends aplenty.

So often playful as a puppy, Jonah’s sweetness acclimated easily to the water.  Wildwood, Sep 2004.

So often playful as a puppy, Jonah’s sweetness acclimated easily to the water. Wildwood, Sep 2004.

And Jonah was everywhere. On the beach, in the water, inside the melodies, and alongside the friends. I should have known. You don’t spend nineteen years loving someone and then put their memory on a shelf while you go out and hit the road.

Besides, Jonah loved the ocean. And no matter how big it is – the Pacific’s about 60,000,000 square miles, covering a third of the earth’s surface (stats which Jonah would have liked) – every drop contains a little bit of him. I know because each time I touched it, anywhere, Jonah came to mind. Here’s why.

Once upon a time (for the five summers of 2000-2004), the end of August meant “Road Trip” for me and the kids. For the first three of these adventures, Ellen wasn’t available at summer’s end to drive aimlessly through faraway towns and villages, so it was just me and the three kids. I’ll leave some of those stories for another time. The important detail here is that, one summer (2002), we decided to go find a beach. And that’s how Wildwood, New Jersey, entered Dreskin legend and lore. Almost at the southern tip of the state, Wildwood was (in those days) a pretty wonderful family vacation spot. That first summer, we stayed in a Best Value motel called the “Sea Foam,” four of us crammed into one room and two beds. We had the time of our lives — hanging out on the balcony, walking the two blocks to the beach, riding boogie boards in the water, building sand castles, buying ice cream from the guy with the pushcart on the sand, and happily consuming far too many pizza dinners.

They were so proud of their engineering feat. Wildwood, Aug 2002.

They were so proud of their engineering feat.
Wildwood, Aug 2002.

We took this trip to Wildwood for three summers in a row (Ellen joining us for the second and third). By far, the happiest moments for Jonah were in or near the water. He spent hours and hours there – in the morning, the late afternoon, and even late at night (not swimming, but just watching and listening to the surf). With whomever was up for the experience, Jonah just seemed drawn to it. With Aiden, there were sand castles (sand kingdoms!) to be constructed, the pinnacle of which was a series of bridges beneath which the two boys would gleefully thrust their hands to demonstrate their success in building a sand-structure that was actually suspended over open air.

I loved meeting Jonah about 100 yards into the surf where we turned ourselves over to the ocean’s slopping waves as they came crashing down on us. Katie and Aiden loved to join us for this, Ellen frequently keeping a watchful eye from the shoreline. With or without boogie boards, we’d stay out until we were either fully waterlogged or freezing. And for three very happy summers, Wildwood’s restless surf and sun-swept beach kept all three of my kids happily engaged at summer’s end.

Maui sunset April 2005

Maui sunset
April 2005

We didn’t return to Wildwood in 2005 because I’d been on sabbatical that year and had returned to work by August. That didn’t keep us from the water, however. In April, we abandoned the Atlantic coastline and set out to learn how the waters of the Pacific Ocean might inspire our sand-and-surf carousing. Maui was our destination, and Jonah couldn’t have been more pleased (he was planning to purchase an authentic Hawaiian ukulele, which excited him greatly). The weather’s amazing in Hawaii, so time on the beach is more like outdoor prayer. Every moment is accompanied by this powerful sense of gratefulness for being lucky enough to experience the beauty and grandeur of this consecrated meeting of earth, air and water. Playing in the ocean’s waves was now accompanied by making sure we were there to watch the evening’s sunset in the west. Jonah, sometimes lounging in a chair and sometimes just standing up to his knees in the water, never took his eyes off the way the descending sun transformed the “wild blue yonder” into a multi-colored, and rather mind-blowing, light show. And the second the last ray of sun dropped below the horizon, we would see a peace descend over Jonah as well. On Friday evening, we welcomed Shabbat as we’d never done before, singing Lekha Dodi and greeting the Sabbath Bride as she skimmed across the ocean’s surface from wherever Shabbat comes, enroute to the holy temple that is Hawaii.

After Maui, we never returned to Wildwood. Not because it no longer fit us, but because in 2006 Katie graduated from high school and the end of August became our annual drive northward to the anthesis of Maui — Buffalo, New York — where Katie and Jonah attended college. But water continued to draw us in, Niagara Falls now becoming our maritime pilgrimage, this time mesmerizing us with the awesome and exhilarating power of its waters’ relentless flow.

Who could tire of this? Sesame Place, June 2004

Who could tire of this?
Sesame Place, June 2004

It seems that water played important roles in our family’s life at other times, as well. In December 2006, we crossed the border into Mexico and spent a delightful, water-filled week in Cozumel. More importantly, though (and more humbly, too), my family kidnapped me each Father’s Day (from 1997-2004) for a drive to Langhorne, Pennsylvania, where we’d spend a day splashing around with Elmo and The Count at their home on Sesame Place. Amazingly, the kids didn’t outgrow this for a long, long time. Jonah was 14 years old when we spent our final Dad’s Day there. That’s how much he and his brother and sister loved the place. Toward the end, we might still pose for a picture or two with Cookie Monster or Oscar the Grouch, but it was the water that drew us back again and again. Jonah and Aiden would simply disappear into the park, occasionally resurfacing to drag one or more of us on Sky Splash or into Big Bird’s Rambling River.

So yes, Jonah was very much with me in California. He and I had always shared our wonder at the beauty and the power of water. Everywhere we had encountered it, we’d both witness its strength, its charm, and its perpetual invitation to jump in and just have fun. It will always be, I imagine, an elemental reminder of the life we shared and of the times we loved.

Oh, and one more reminder of Jonah fell in my lap while I was in California. Window-shopping, I came across a t-shirt that Jonah would have loved. In fact, it was Jonah’s voice in my head while I read it: “I can’t hear you over the sound of how EPIC I am.” Classic Jonah.

The ocean may be big, and it may be powerful. But it pales in comparison to the gigantic, unforgettable and life-shaping impact that Jonah Maccabee Dreskin had on me.


2 Responses to “From Which the Water Flows”

  • Thank you for sharing the continued gifts of your thoughts with us, Billy. Not only does it keep us connected with Jonah's spirit, it also reminds us to keep connected to spirits of our own. -Sandi 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing the continued gifts of your thoughts with us, Billy. Not only does it keep us connected with Jonah's spirit, it also reminds us to keep connected to spirits of our own. -Sandi 🙂

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