Yesterday I went to the funeral of my daughter-in-law’s father. I had visited him just a week before. It’s not unusual that people get sick and die. What struck me is that I had put off visiting him for about a year and I was glad I had woken up in time and had the chance to see him before it was too late. I didn’t know his end was so near. It just happened that way.
Something similar happened to me a few years ago, when I visited someone I hadn’t visited in a long time, finally made the visit and then the person passed away the next day. Some little voice in my head prompted me: Go visit. Now! Thank G-d I listened to it or it would have been too late.
Death itself reminds us to do all kinds of things before it’s too late to do them. We all know that, but when it hits you in the face, when that still, lifeless body is laying there in front of you, you remember.
You remember what you know. The lion’s share of spiritual growth is awareness, and the lion’s share of what fuels problem-solving and human achievement is spiritual growth.
His daughter’s eulogy was the most moving one because she is a person who has awareness. She was aware of and knew how to zero in on his good points. She noticed all the little things he did for people that showed how much he cared. If he felt something was wrong he simply would not stand for it.
His awareness gave him a voice. And his daughter’s awareness gave her a voice with which to speak of his kindnesses, his determination, his faith (as he used to say: “In His hand I entrust my spirit”), his humor that he used to diffuse tension, his gratitude and his attention to people’s needs – as demonstrated by his seeing both the vocalized as well as the silent cry of a person and by his taking action to help.
The emptiness of the absence of a voice is palpable. I guess that’s true of anyone but his voice was a strong, insistent one.
Interesting also that he died on the tenth year anniversary to the day that his son was shot and paralyzed by terrorists at the age of eight. He has spent much time over the years helping his son learn to walk again. There has to be a meaning to this but I don’t know what it is.
At the Shabbat table we frequently read inspirational stories at the third meal. This past week we read a story about the Tzemach Tzedek who frequently saw a vision of his grandfather (while asleep or awake) whenever he had a difficult question that needed answering. One day he was in particular need of an answer but his grandfather failed to visit him this time. He was quite troubled by this. One day he happened to see someone in need of his help and he dropped everything to help him. Immediately his grandfather appeared in a vision. He asked why he is suddenly appearing now. His grandfather told him: “This is the power of love, when you do something to help someone in need of your help out of pure love, with no self-interest at all.”
So I am reminded once again to live before I die, to do everything I want to do before it is too late and most of all to do acts of kindness out of love, with no self-interest at all.