The hard truth I need to face during these three weeks is that it’s time for me to get on with my life, to get back to being myself, as if I can. It’s been almost nine months since my father died and I’ve been coasting. It’s ironic that at a time of national mourning, I want to move on from personal mourning. But, maybe I want to feel something other, to be someplace other, than where I am.
After five years of authoring at least an article a month, I stopped writing after publishing a memorial piece after the shiva. Aryeh told me that he wasn’t himself for the year after his father died and I didn’t really understand what he meant then. I do now.
My father died on November 9, 2016, the day after the U.S. presidential election, the one in which I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either candidate. After the burial, I brought back home to Israel my father’s wedding ring, which I now wear, and a selection of his books. My father was an avid reader until his last year. A student and teacher of history, he lived through the books he read and shared with others. In his move to assisted living, he had to pare down to just a fraction of his substantial library to the Kadosh Kedoshim, the Holy of Holies.
From those precious volumes, I selected works by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Eric Hoffer, Morris Raphael Cohen, and Primo Levi. I also brought home a novel, Life and Fate, by Russian author, Vasily Grossman. My father rarely read novels, but this one, he had told me was riveting. He also told me it made him cry. And I can’t recall my father crying.
My father was also an active reader. By that I mean, he came prepared to read with slips of scrap paper by his side, a pencil in hand. The slips he inserted in pages that he found significant, life lessons bookmarked to be easily referenced. The pencil was for making small check marks on pages, a flick of his wrist to identify something that was meaningful, an idea to think about further, a turn of phrase that moved him.
So, with my father in mind, I decided this week to pick up and start reading Life and Fate, with the goal of finishing it, all 900 pages.
This really was not as simple decision for me as it sounds. I had been an avid reader of books of any length for most of my life, but now like so many others in our generation, I suffer from attention deficit due to extended hours surfing on my laptop, tablet, and phone. I can digest the daily Washington Post in the time that it takes to swipe through it. Before starting an article online, I use the sidebar to scroll down to see what I am getting into before I decide whether or how to proceed. I am a master skimmer. Admission, I have skimmed many books, which now qualifies as having read them.
However this week, after starting my day davening at Shul, each Kaddish with him in mind, we sit down at home for a cup of coffee and a good read. It doesn’t mend the hole that won’t be repaired, but it’s better than before. It feels like quality time.
It’s been three mornings now. My father’s check marks in the book are guiding me along. I can’t wait to encounter him next, his voice, still by my side.