Many years ago, I remember seeing a cartoon depicting a pubescent bar mitzvah boy at the bimah (altar of a synagogue), addressing the crowd: “Today I am a man.” Down in the congregation, two middle-aged men snicker knowingly at each other: Yeah, sure, kid.
Since becoming widowed early in the year, I’ve wondered what the typical reaction is among my fellow widderfolk to this particular and very unwelcome life lesson. Of course, although certain general patterns can be observed, when you get down close enough, every reaction is unique.
And I wonder: Is this the final lesson that life has to teach us? For me, that lesson, at the moment, seems like this: You will be loved, if you’re lucky, but just know that all those who loved you will die and leave you bereaved — or else you will die and leave them bereaved. Drink a wedding toast to that.
Is the acceptance of death — your own death — the true marker of maturity? More than marriage, parenthood, self-sufficiency, all those positive things? Does the negative really end up overwhelming all the positive things in life?
Or is it not a negative at all? What dreams may come, as that guy once said?
for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.
Or to put it another way, maybe we’re not supposed to know what happens after; it’s not part of the parameters of the game we’re inside of.
One thing’s for sure: Childhood ended a long time ago. And even my 11-year-old sons, who must soldier on without their loving mother, are living a real-life version of one of those cruel ol’ Disney cartoons, like Bambi or Dumbo. Except that their father is still around, and hopes that will be enough, hopes that it will be enough in the end to forestall catastrophe.
And he hopes he will not succumb to bitterness and anger for the rest of his days, having seen very clearly, with personal intent, what life has revealed itself to be.
“Today I am a man…”