Faith & Values
“Rabbi Judah the Prince said, ‘There are those who acquire eternity over the course of many years, and there are those who acquire it in a single moment.’ ”
Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah, 17a
It was 2 a.m. on Feb. 3, 2012, and I was in a California hospital sitting at the bedside of my father, Ron Glickman. Dad was recovering from heart surgery; he’d been getting agitated at night; I was doing the late shift to provide a calm, familiar voice if he needed it.
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For several days, I’d been thinking a lot about fathers and sons. In fact, the events of that past week had allowed me to think of little else.
A few days earlier, I’d helped my friend Andy bury his father in Chicago. Andy and I have been best buddies since we were 5 years old, and it was an honor to officiate at his dad’s funeral. After the ceremony, I walked alone to the car. Sitting down, I looked back across the snow, and, from behind, I saw Andy and his brother standing at their father’s grave, hunched against the wind. When Andy turned toward the car, I saw that he was weeping. Seeing him, I wept, too.
At home, my 18-year-old son, Jacob, had been going through a hard time. Before leaving for the funeral, I’d been doing all I could to help. I felt bad that I had to travel; I hoped he understood.
That night in the hospital, I remembered speaking to my uncle on the phone the previous afternoon. When I described Dad’s late-night agitations, he said, “You know, whenever Grandpa was in the hospital, the exact same thing happened to him.” “Grandpa” was Al Glickman, my father’s father, who had died 10 years earlier.
Now that it was after 2 o’clock, I was getting tired. I looked at my father in bed, and for a moment — just an instant — the man I saw there was not Ron Glickman, but Al Glickman, my grandfather. Dad was thinner and healthier than Grandpa was at the same age. But lying peacefully under the blanket with gray hair pulled back, the two men looked exactly the same.
Years from now, I wondered, might my son Jacob stand at my bedside in another hospital? Looking at me, might he see my Dad in the same instant? And is it possible that, years later, Jacob’s son will look at Jacob and see me, too?
I wanted to record my thoughts — if nothing else, typing might help keep me awake. Turning on my computer, I opened a blank document and entered the date: “February 3, 2012.”
Somehow the date seemed familiar: Feb. 3 … Then it hit me. Feb. 3 was my grandfather’s birthday. That day, Al Glickman would have turned 99 years old.
Since that night, thank God, Dad has recovered, and now walks several miles a day. Andy is engaged to be married, Jacob is thriving in college, and this past February, my family noted the centennial of my grandfather’s birth with wistful, loving smiles. And as for me, I still hold dear my memory of the night I spent beside my sleeping father — I always will.
The events of our lives all seem so big to us when they happen. But that night in the hospital, I realized that they’re even bigger. Every experience we have — each joy and triumph, each bliss and each pain, each love and each loss — is a vital strand linking past to future. Together, they form a strong rope that spans time and connects us with generations of the past and those yet to come.
Fathers are born. Fathers ail and heal. Fathers die. Sons grow and grow and grow. And through it all, we can find eternity — sometimes in a moment, and sometimes in the vast enormity of time. That night in the hospital, I found it in both.
Rabbi Mark S. Glickman leads Congregation Kol Shalom on Bainbridge Island and Congregation Kol Ami in Woodinville.
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