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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Two Years

Jonah'sYahrzeit.2010Try as I might to not count time in terms of how long it’s been since Jonah died, I find it an impossible undertaking. Through acts of determination, I can sometimes turn off that clock – in fact, I can turn off most of my being conscious that Jonah has disappeared – but there are moments when it all comes flying back. As I’m sure you understand, Jonah’s yahrzeit is one of those moments.

It’s been two years.

Incredibly, so much water has flowed beneath that bridge. Gone are the incessant tears that came daytime or night, at home or on the road, during seemingly happy moments and certainly during the dreadful ones. Gone the abject sadness of sitting in his room, the cheerless hours wading through his photographs, the wrenching heartbreak of trying to grab hold of anything that might restore the feeling that he’s still here.

I’m writing less frequently about him too. Not because I want to; I’d like to write more. But mostly because life has resumed its claim on me. After all, my family needs me. And I need them. There’s a job to do, as well. Woodlands Community Temple has never left me looking around for something to keep myself busy. And so life, and all of its attendant parts, has me relinquishing my compulsion to seize everything that’s Jonah, and exchange it for something that resembles, for all intents and purposes, normalcy.

I think what I’m trying to say is that the grieving process has done its job. I am not “healed.” Jonah’s death is not “over with” (I doubt that could ever fully be … though ask me again in another two years). I have not “moved on.” But I think I may be learning how to “carry on.” I think I’ve relearned the way to access life’s blessings. And I’m enjoying that.

When the time is right – when there’s either a little bit of breathing space, or it’s time to force that space – I come back to be with both the fullness of spirit that was my son Jonah Maccabee, and also with the emptiness of spirit that his absence has burnt into my heart. I don’t know if this is how it will always be, but that’s how it is for right now.

I think I’ve learned a lot these past two years about grief. I say “I think” because, while I’ve learned about my own grief, I don’t know that I understand what anyone else is going through. What I do know is that I’m a lot quieter around people who are mourning a loved one’s death; I’ve learned humility in the face of loss. I won’t tell someone else how it will be or what they must do. I’ll extend a hand, lend a shoulder, offer a bit of my heart, and try to let my caring absorb the tiniest bit of their pain. Maybe that can help.

And if I know the person who died, I’ll share a memory about how that person lived. I’ll do this because I remember that when I was immersed in sadness for Jonah, the very sweetest thing anyone could do for me (can still do for me) was to start a sentence with, “I remember when Jonah …” God, I cherish those memories. Maybe others do too.

Two years after Jonah’s death, I’m still learning how not to die myself. These are tough lessons, but I’m getting there. And I’m grateful to all of you who have helped me along the way. It’s kind of funny – through tragedy I have learned how much abundant blessing remains.

But I wish there were easier ways to achieve that understanding.

At one of the services during the week of shiva, our friend Cantor Leon Sher sang a lovely and touching Dan Nichols piece, called “Beyond.” It’s a beautiful homage to God that expresses appreciation for the exquisiteness of the created world. Prior to the service, Leon had asked Ellen if she would write out the words for him. During the service, while listening to Leon’s singing, I noticed the words Ellen had given him, that she had neglected to capitalize “You” and “Your,” as is customary in making reference to God. Suddenly, I heard the piece not as an address to the Creator, but to one of God’s created … my Jonah.

“May your wonder be celebrated. May your name be consecrated. May your brilliance never fade from the magnificent world you made.” As I considered the multitude of ways Jonah had built magnificence during his two decades, I knew this song had become a prayer, and I was praying that I might be able to live my life in the years ahead in a manner that would honor Jonah’s memory — both through recollections of his years among us and through acts that would be done in the spirit of the way he had lived.

The rest of Dan’s words clinched it. “May your name receive the same beauty that you bring, though you are far beyond the sweetest song we could ever sing.” Far beyond, indeed. And we do still sing. Jonah has finished his work. His name is a good one. And now, we who love him and remember him, try to ensure that his name does receive the same beauty he brought to it.

The next time I hear Dan Nichols’ “Beyond,” the capital letters will most likely have returned and God will once again be its subject. Just the same, part of me will always treasure “Beyond” as a thank you to God for having shared Jonah with me, even if only for a brief while. It will be a thank you because, as much as I miss him, I’m even more grateful for the years he walked (sorry, strutted!) among us. And it will be a thank you to Jonah for bringing us closer to God. Because that beautiful soul of his, all gruff and comedic so that it shouldn’t be too easy to detect the angel residing within, has pointed my heart ever moreso toward a sense of what it is we humans can, and ought to, do with these bones and muscles we’ve been lent. Like Levi Yitzhak, who, when he died, people were surprised to learn how much good he had done for so many, I am still experiencing the stunning moments of young people who share with me a cherished memory of theirs in which Jonah (or Mac, it depends on when you met him) brought much-needed light and kindness to their world.

All of it simply humbles me. And still I love. Jonah’s death cannot erect any kind of barrier against that.

Zekher tzadik livrakha … may his memory always be for a blessing. And with the way it’s wrapped itself around my heart, I can’t see it being anything but a blessing.

Billy

This entry is an expansion of a piece I wrote for Woodlands Community Temple’s Makom newsletter (March 2011).

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