Today is an interesting day. It started off by attending the Bar Mitzvah of a special child, and will end with Christmas dinner with the family.
This morning I was privileged to escort a friend’s daughter to the Bar Mitzvah of a schoolmate of hers. My friend had to work today so she asked me, as her closest Jewish friend, to take her daughter to the occasion, and maybe help her understand what was going on in temple. I was glad to help her out – as she has helped me over the years. It was the first Bar Mitzvah I have attended since losing Andrew, so I was not sure how I was going to react – especially considering that this one was for a special child – Zak.
To clear things up, and to cover my ass somewhat, I am not sure what this young man has, or what has made him special, or if that is even the correct politically acceptable term this month. But after meeting him and attending the affair, and observing him, it is obvious that he is a “special” child – not in any way derogatory or judgmental, just setting the stage for the story. And if I offend anyone by using this term, especially his parents, or anyone else, I apologize in advance. It’s not the first time I have inadvertently, unintentionally offended someone; and let’s face it, it won’t be the last.
Back to the story.
Being Proud. I proudly recalled, while I sat there at the beginning of the service, Andrew’s Bar Mitzvah. How proud I was that my son reached this glorious date in his life. How he worked hard to learn the prayers, to learn the haftorah, and to write the obligatory speech thanking everyone. We pushed him to study and learn over those preparatory months, but he worked very hard on his own. He was on the ice four or five times a week, went to Hebrew school two or three times a week, went to regular school every day, and still managed to learn his Bar Mitzvah obligations. It made us both proud that he accomplished all this.
And then I looked up at the bimah this morning. This young man had not prepared much, it was beyond what he could handle. He did not write a thank you speech or read from the Torah. But as I sat there, and he ascended to the bimah for the first time in his life with that gorgeous innocent smile upon his face, I was just as proud of him as I was of my son. I looked over at Zak’s father, who was sitting next to his father, and the two generations were as proud as any parent I had ever seen at a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. For them, this was the Bar Mitzvah of a lifetime. Zak stood up there smiling and holding his mother’s hand as the cantor and rabbi read from the Torah, as his mother said the prayers, and as his older brother stood next to him. That little bit made them just as proud of their son as I was on the day I got to stand next to Andrew when he was called to the Torah for his Bar Mitzvah; so different, and yet the same proud feelings.
Later that morning I was thinking of the proud moments that I had with Andrew in his short life, as well as so many of the proud moments that I will never get to experience with him. I both smiled and cried on the way home.
I was also thinking of Zak. Chances are his moments will be different from Andrews, or from many of the children whose parents read my journals. Many of my friends and colleagues were proud parents when their kids got their first job at an investment bank, or got into medical school, or joined their first start-up. The posted it on Facebook, called the family, and mentioned it when I was with them.
I don’t think that Zak’s parents will have these same moments as we have had. But, in their way, they will be just as proud, if not more proud, of special mile markers in his life. For Zak has to work harder, and be more focused, than our kids did to pass a test, or to graduate from school, or even to make friends. His parents get to share his joy and his innocent love just as we do, and they get to be just as proud of his accomplishments and his mile markers as we do of our children’s.
Many of our children are near one end of the perceived spectrum – getting that job at an investment bank at 23, buying their new Audi at 24, and taking their parents out to Peter Lugers – just because they can afford it now. Many special children are at the other end of the spectrum, where their mile markers don’t include big financial accomplishments, but emotional accomplishments, physical accomplishments – moving out on their own one day, or getting a job at Target or Walmart where they fit in and love greeting people as they enter the store. For some, that greeter job is the chance of a lifetime that they can smile and welcome strangers, for hours at end, just saying hello and making people happy as they enter the store. It brings them great joy and happiness to have that job – probably more than the investment banker or the lawyer. And for their parents – they are just as proud of their son’s accomplishment of being a greeter as any parents I know whose child works elsewhere. For Zak, I only met him for a brief couple of hours, so I have no way to knowing what the future holds for him. But on the proud parent’s spectrum, I think his parents have surpassed most of us with what their son has accomplished so far in his thirteen years.
The point? What’s the point of this journal? I am not sure exactly. Does there have to be a point or a lesson as there usually is? Maybe this is just an observation. Or maybe it is something that we can all reflect upon. I know I am proud of what Andrew did accomplish in his 21 years – and I know I told him that very often. I am also very proud, and continue to be so proud of what Nicole has accomplished, and what she continues to accomplish in her life – and I tell her this as well.
Maybe that is the point. Share your proudness (if that’s a word) not just with your friends, and not just with your family, but also with your children. That is what is important. Make sure they know how proud you are of them – every single day. Not just of the big events, but that you are proud of them in everything they do. This goes for not just our young children, but even if your “child” is 30 or 40 or 50.
I can sleep at night knowing that my son knew, up to his last night, that his mother and I were very proud of him – because someone once told me what I am saying here now.