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Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Dying Of The Light

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Most of you probably recognize Dylan Thomas's most famous lines. I've said before that I have difficulty accepting G-d's will in these things...."Baruch Dayan HaEmet" has its place, but those are words I have trouble uttering at the death of children.

My son attends a special education school because he had a stroke before he was born. There is brain damage, but Baruch HaShem, we were spared what could have been a much worse scenario. He's a great kid. He loves his friends, argues with his parents, has strong opinions, works hard, has a wonderful heart....and struggles with expressive language problems, is visually impaired and has left hemiphlegia. Despite a battery of physical issues and some processing issues that make learning a chore, he has never given up. He has an amazing streak of curiosity, a profound belief in G-d and a hope for a Star-Trek-like future where humanity in all its variegated peoplehood travels the galaxy getting along with each other while we perfecting the Universe for Moshiach.

If he has a fault, it's his reluctance to get too close to his peers -- being bullied in first grade for having a limp, wearing glasses, wearing a brace on one leg, and having problems writing and drawing made him wary of his peers. His friendships are selective and careful, although his loyalty to a friend is profound.

When he came to Israel, he left behind his one true 'best friend' who was already attending a different school and had moved to a different neighborhood. Our son was slow to make new friends here, but one boy at his school sought him out. They were a natural fit, as both boys spoke English and D-- often helped Josh when he was stuck in translation, or not "getting" the humor of the other boys, or suspicious of being teased. D-- was enough of a friend also to recognize that Josh needed teasing at times so he would learn to 'lighten up' and not be so quick to take offense (it's hard to read peoples' expressions when you don't see well--and half of interpreting what someone is saying is seeing the other person's face). They shared jokes, they shared music, they griped about their parents, they talked about their futures. They both started vocational training this year, so for two days a week, they didn't see each other as they were at different work locations. Josh talked about having D-- stay with us for Shabbat but also said that maybe his parents wouldn't let him because he was "sick."

Most of the kids at my son's school have physical problems that underpin their special education needs, so I didn't push the overnight-in-Jerusalem thing.

Now I'm sorry.

D-- died two weeks ago. A fever complicated an already complex medical condition. It was sudden and unexpected. It is tragic. It has been devastating for Josh. Where is G-d's justice that this young man, his new friend, a great guy, is suddenly snatched from life?

I didn't have any answers.

My son doesn't talk about it. He spoke to D--'s parents and told them, in front of all of his class, how much their son's friendship made a difference to him, coming to a new school as a stranger. When I asked Josh what he was feeling, he told me he couldn't talk about it because, gesturing to his heart, "It hurts me here to talk about him now. Maybe later, ima."

I went to the funeral with Josh; I made a shiva call on D--'s wonderful parents, who offered us mourners the very comfort we came to offer to them.
It became apparent from the comments of so many teachers, classmates, and friends in the community that their son had touched so many lives in so positive a fashion, and they were surprised--as his father put it, we know him as the boy who didn't pick up his socks and argued with us about stuff, but we didn't know all these other things that people are now telling us!

Most people spend their lives trying to make a difference. I couldn't offer much in the way of comfort, but I, too, listened to the tears and the tales of D--'s outreach to all the humanity he came in touch with, and I came away with the sense that D-- had used his 18 years of life better than many of us use a longer span.

Almost all Israeli kids have cellphones. They all have cool logos. Not Josh. Not now. His cellphone picture, the picture he sees every time he makes or answers a phone call, is a picture of D--, his friend.

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