Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In the midst of winter, I discovered that there was in me an invincible summer

A few months ago, I wrote that I had started reading the blog of Rabbi Billy Dreskin. Almost a year ago, Rabbi Dreskin and his wife, Cantor Ellen Dreskin, lost their son, Jonah, in an accident. Rabbi Dreskin started his blog as a way to record some of his thoughts and feelings, as he tried to live in the wake of this terrible tragedy.

I knew of Rabbi Dreskin through his reputation, as well as some of his writing. He is a talented, sensitive, insightful writer. To have that talent applied to such a heart-wrenching topic has been extraordinary; his emotional honesty, his palpable grief, his faith in life - they all come together in a blog which makes me constantly want to read more, at the same time that it makes me dread the next entry, knowing how difficult it will be to read. I've rarely been so moved as I have been by these writings.

On Saturday night, the family, along with their synagogue, held the 1st Annual Jonah Maccabee Dreskin Memorial Concert. It was a way to honor the memory of their beloved son, and also to raise money for the Jonah Maccabee Fund, created in his memory. The concert began with Havdalah (the ceremony which ends Shabbat), and some words by the Dreskins:

“In the midst of winter, I discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.” These words, penned by French author and philosopher Albert Camus, touch upon two of the predominant roads our family has traveled since the death of our son and our brother, Jonah Maccabee.

On the one hand, our journeys have been plunged into a bitter, cold and dark winter as we’ve struggled to learn how to live without our sweet Jonah by our sides. His presence had been such a powerful and joyful one, and we continue to stagger beneath the simply unfathomable prospect of moving on without him.

At the same time, we have never been alone in our anguish. Each one of you has been with us, fearlessly taking our hands and helping us to negotiate the rocky path that leads toward well-being. Like Camus, we have found there is indeed, in the midst of our winter, a precious and invincible summer. We are blessed to have you with us. Tonight. Eleven months ago. And in the times ahead.

Our Havdalah this evening not only marks the end of Shabbat and the beginning of a new week. It is also, we believe, a reminder of all the times we journey between two worlds. None of us escape all sorrow; the light and the dark envelop us all. Yet throughout, there is the choice, always the choice, of how to respond. Through wine and candle and spice, Jewish tradition chooses life.

When the day of rest is ended, choose sweetness, warmth and openness to all of life’s offerings. Do not settle for kodesh, for holiness, on holy days alone. But transform the ordinary, the khol, into holiness as well. Just as the ordinary memories of our beautiful son and brother have now become sacred memories, holy memories, let every page of our lives become sacred text. Let us not squander a single moment. Let us make a Havdalah, a separation, that pushes all of life into the realm of abundant blessing.

Reading an eloquent parent tracing the path of mourning doesn't make for easy reading. But, if you feel up to it, spend some time with Rabbi Dreskin's blog. And, as always, be so thankful for the blessings that you have. Every single day.


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