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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A Stone’s Throw

Jonah’s footstone is up. It only took us nineteen months. It’s not that we haven’t been out to his grave. We have. Plenty of times. We just haven’t been in a hurry to do this part of it. We likely feel there’s something a bit too compliant about setting the stone. It means accepting Jonah’s gone. It means there’s probably no way he’s coming back. My head gets that. It’s my heart that refuses to acquiesce.

But there it is. Jonah’s footstone. In all its stony glory. “Jonah Maccabee Dreskin. Yonah Makabee ben Ze’ev v’Eelana. February 14, 1990 – March 5, 2009.”

I spent some time there recently. With the placing of the footstone, I’d assumed that the tiny dreidl and guitar pick which had been there through winter snows and summer lawn-cuttings would disappear. But thanks to the installation guy, they didn’t. Ellen had left the dreidl. And a friend of mine, the guitar pick. Each represents just a little bit of the love so many of us felt for this kid. And still do.

As much as I wish we’d never had to arrange for any of this, I’m pleased with the stone. It’s got little touches to it that I think Jonah would have liked. His full name is there, of course – he loved being Jonah Maccabee, loved the implication of being some kind of modern-day warrior for peace. And instead of a dash between his birth and death dates, we engraved a ukulele. Can you see him smiling? We also added the words, “We’ll love you forever. We’ll like you for always.” It’s a variation on the lullaby from Robert Munsch’s classic children’s story, “Love You Forever,” a book we’d read to the kids hundreds of times. Not only did we all love the story, one in which a parent’s affection transcended all obstacles brought on by the passing of years, but we got such a kick out of how the mom was always singing the lullaby to her child and we each had our own melody for it. Of course, we also cherished the idea that family love transcends all time and space. More than ever, we still believe that.

There is, in fact, something very wrong with the stone. The birth and death dates are far too close together. Not in the layout – the ukulele between them makes sure of that – but in the living of them. I’m so very, very, very sorry that Jonah didn’t get more years. His was a story that deserved a fuller telling. How we wondered where life would take him. How we thrilled at the directions he was just starting to take. This story too could have become a classic.

At the same time, an awful lot did happen between those two dates. I don’t know too many people who packed as much life into so little time as Jonah did. He really did have a lot of ukulele (and so many other adventures that he loved) between his start and his finish.

As I sit in the grass, staring at this new addition to what remains of Jonah’s existence, I notice how really quiet it is out here. And then I think, it’s not that different from what his room usually sounded like, even when he was in it. Of course, he was always wearing headphones so I assume there was actually quite a racket going on. But whenever I poked my head into Jonah’s room, a silence filled the space. A silence that was bursting with activity. I wonder … any chance the same is true inside this new silence?

Jewish tradition invites us to leave a stone when we visit a grave. It lets the next person know someone has been there. I don’t like picking up stones at the cemetery itself, so on my way there, I pulled off the road, got out of my car and, in less than a minute, had picked one up and secured it inside my pocket. It wasn’t until I had arrived to Jonah’s grave and was again holding the stone in my hand that I understood why this was the one. I set it down next to the engraved image of the ukulele, and I smiled at the stone’s black-and-white speckling. It recalled the black-and-white checkered hat Jonah had loved so much. The perfect choice. I can’t have Jonah in my life, and that brings me unrelenting sadness. But there are so many opportunities for all that kooky sweetness of his to enter powerfully into heart and mind. I’m grateful that he still makes me smile.

Even the Hebrew of his name seems right. He was so proud of being Jewish, and of that uncommon, strapping Jewish name of his. One more ingredient that makes this marker uniquely Jonah’s.

Before I depart the cemetery, I zoom out, taking in the larger picture of Jonah’s grave among so many others, some I know and many I do not. Jonah’s appeared there far too soon. But if it must be, then at least it will continue (as Jonah was so adept at doing in life) to draw love from the friends and family who stop by to visit, and to remember, and to feel gratitude for the times we did get with him.

As I walk away, I’m overtaken by the inescapable feeling that I’m leaving him behind. Once more, I remind myself that while his body is there, he isn’t. As usual, my heart refuses to play along.

At the bottom of the stone are letters which stand in for the words, “T’hee nish-ma-to tzru-rah bitz-ror ha-kha-yim … may his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.” Which, I guess, sums up my most fervent wish for Jonah … that he be okay, that he be somewhere that’s right, that he feel loved and cared for, and if possible, that he have the opportunity to use that enormous heart and spirit of his to continue bringing kindness into whatever world he now calls home.

Billy

2 Responses to “A Stone’s Throw”

  • Billy, Ellen, Aiden, Katie, so interesting that just the other day I was wondering if there was a stone there yet! So gald I waited to read this. I will go soon to see it, and it will have that much more meaning. This may seem odd, but not a week goes by that I don't think of Jonah. His memory lives on in many, I know, but I was one of the privileged ones to have spent so much quality time with him as the stage was set to become that Macabee. 🙂 “..T’hee nish-ma-to tzru-rah bitz-ror ha-kha-yim…

  • Thanks for sharing these beautiful words.

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