She handed out a blank piece of paper and asked us to draw a simple, single line on it. The line should represent our relationship with the G-d, yes the Almighty G-d. The line should start out when we were young, and go up until the present day. It could be a straight line, a curved or squiggly line, a line with sharp angles, or smooth curves. We can start and end anywhere on the page we felt comfortable with, but the line should represent our lifelong relationship with G-d – as we see it.
We all thought for a while. I thought about my religious upbringing that led to my Bar Mitzvah, and my time in the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization. I thought about the Jewish organization’s conventions I attended while in High School. I recalled how I felt when my children were born, my son’s bris, and about how proud I felt as a Jewish father at their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. I thought about marrying Dorothy under the Kuppah surrounded by my family and friends, and standing beside my sister when she was married under the Kuppah as well. These were all times that I was joyful. I recall sitting in temple during Rosh Hashanah with my family as we all prayed together, as well as listening to my children and nephews read the four questions during Passover. These are the times that I was proud of my religious background, proud to be a Jew, and the times that I was proud to say I believed in G-d. and that the relationship was healthy.
Then I thought more about it, as the distressing times of my life came into my thoughts. When I was a 16-year-old boy and this same G-d took my father – not only from me, but from my sister and my mother as well. A 16-year-old boy who needed his father. How can he do that? Why would a good and compassionate G-d do that? The pain and suffering that lasted years and still does to this day – was His fault. Then years later he struck again and took my only son. My precious 21 year old Andrew who was so good, so compassionate, and had his whole life ahead of him – why would he take him? And how could he take him and then expect me to respect and pray to him after that?
I also looked at the fact that he has taken other people who were close to me. Other young men who I coached and mentored were taken in their early twenties, who died in a car crash, or died of some terrible disease. Did G-d cause these deaths? I don’t know, no one really knows. But if we believe what we are taught, He has a destiny for everyone. But nonetheless, G-d has taken these people from us, and for no good reason in my eyes.
So I focused on the line again – and my life. There were many good times in my life that I trusted, believed and prayed to G-d. The high points of my line. Some of my proudest and most memorable times – the birth of my children, their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. Then there were the other times in my life that the line plunged down to the bottom of the page, and probably off the page if I could. The loss of my father and the loss of my Andrew.
My line, and our relationship, ended up looking like a sine graph, up to the top of the page, then down to the bottom, followed by an up and another down. All the way from left to right. Up and down, up and down, until it ran off the paper… and I was stuck. Where do I go from here?
If G-d had been an ex-girlfriend, my therapist would have advised me to move on. Any relationship that is that tumultuous is not healthy for anyone. I would have to agree. But can you move on from G-d? Can you say enough is enough and close that chapter? I don’t think so.
There is a saying that an atheist always prays to G-d in their last few moments of life. I Googled this phrase and came up 7.9 million hits. Try this, it comes up with some interesting reading. So even if you do not believe, in the last few moment many have a change of heart, and all of a sudden want to start that relationship.
So where do I stand now? Where on this line am I today? Going up? Down? Around the curve? I don’t really know. But the line will never reach as high as it did a few times in my life. And hopefully will never sink as low as it has already.
I go to temple most Friday nights, and have for most of my life. I sit there and pray, and sing, and hum along. But I don’t think of this relationship, per se, at that time. Sometimes when I do think about it I am thankful for what I have been given, and at other times I am mad for what has been taken away. But I still go. Week after week.
What I do know is that I find peace in the relationship. And trust me, I don’t find peace much these days. I believe that the people I loved who are now gone are at peace, and I am thankful for that – and I have to be thankful to someone for that. I am able to go see Andrew and talk to him, hoping that G-d is passing along my thoughts and my love to my son, and that he is at peace. And I find solace in that, and that is part of the relationship.
So maybe I am on an upswing these days, hopefully. Let’s see how long this cycle lasts.
So what is your relationship with G-d?
Are you brave enough to think about it?
Or even to graph it out?
Thank you Ronit for this thoughtful undertaking