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A Moment of an Instant

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Spring is my favorite time of year. The air smells of birth, renewal and potential. Yet even in the springtime there is death.

The sum total of all time that humans have existed when viewed as a portion of the time that the universe has existed is less than the blink of an eye. A single human life exists for less than a moment of that instant. We might despair that what we do, what we can accomplish in that instant is meaningless, our lives the most insignificant of events as the great plan unfolds before us. How can one person, one husband, one father, one grandfather, one uncle, or one pharmacist possibly count and make a difference?

Religious figures who shape our faith, great scientists and statesman who shape our world, writers who shape our thoughts, fathers who shape our souls, these are people that may not have lived like everyone else, but like everyone else they too died. We are all people. The people who are often viewed as the most exceptional people of all were of course no exception. And they too existed for no more than a moment – less than a heart beat. My father fought a battle which we are all sooner or later are destined to lose. He lost his battle.

Nahmanides, a Rabbi from the 13th century wrote Torat Ha’Adam or The Law of Man. He stated that “every individual knows melancholy and joy”. He too was proclaiming that people are people. In his quest to understand mourning and to apply logic to the processes of the heart, he said, “since man is destined to die, and deserves to lie down in the shadow of death, why should we weep for the dead, after all, the living know that they will die. It is puzzling that those who know what will come to pass should then mourn, and call others to lamentation”.

We grieve anyway. Death is not about logic, it is, and as I suspect Nahmanides knew, about loss, the loss of a husband, a father, a grandfather, a loved one.

My father, Emanuel (Minasha), came into this world just as his parents entered the new world. Ephriam Stein, his uncle, documented that journey to the new world and described that his “brother-in-law (Nathan – my father’s father), was still a young man married only two years. His wife (Ruth) was then in her last stages of pregnancy expecting the birth of the tiny soul any minute. What would we do, he asks, if the “karapuzikl” (the chubby little fellow) would decide to step out with a shriek here on the ship, to appear in this great wide world? All the “fir kashes” – four questions – would be answered at once.” My father was a man who found joy in watching his plants grow, he was a patient man, he waited.

How does a man, any man who exists for such a brief moment in time create an imprint on this world?  Emanuel was one of three sons that Nathan and Ruth were to raise in Providence and Brooklyn, and while growing up in and affected by the great depression and he was of the “Greatest Generation”. It was Emanuel, who was not given a middle name at birth, took the middle name of Benjamin, his grandfather, when Benjamin passed away out of respect and love. It was Emanuel and people like him who saved the world from a terrible tyranny in WWII, giving years of his life to serve in the military in Europe. It was Emanuel who upon his return from war married Lucy, herself a recent immigrant, and used his military benefits to help his parents buy their first house. It was Emanuel who ensured that his younger brother returned to the seminary to complete his studies. It was Emanuel who fathered and raised together with Lucy six children, skimping on their own needs in order to provide for their children. It was Emanuel and Lucy together who moved their family out of NYC in the early 1960’s searching for a better life for them all. Emanuel wanted nothing more than to see that his children would be ok in this world in which we live.

Emanuel, the pharmacist, enjoyed taking care of his customers, his patients and did so not only with care but with a sense of warmth that extended well out into the community. He loved nothing better than to spend time talking to his customers and they reciprocated. His sense of commitment to his profession kept him working well into his 70s.

Desiring to live independently and do for himself, up until last year – his 85th year – he cut his own lawn and during the summer of his 85th year he optimistically bought himself a new chainsaw, ladder and leaf blower. When I asked him what he was going to do with the items he indicated that there were a few trees in the backyard that needed to be cut down. Where I saw limitation he saw tasks that needed to get done. He saw potential.  

It has been said that the character of the father, which I will expand to grandfather, can not determine the fate of his children, his sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters. But the actions of the children and grandchildren determine how the father and grandfather should be perceived. When the children with their good deeds cause the world to admire the father and grandfather and to say “happy is he who sired such children, it is as though the father is not dead.” But the reality is that he is dead, only his memory and the consequences of his action remain.

When we look into the night sky we can see billions of stars. When you look at the light of those stars you are not simply seeing a speck, a point of light, you are seeing the journey that the light has taken to get to your eye, journeys that can last hundreds of thousands of years. The actions of my father were not events of single points in time, but rather they were actions that set off and will continue to set off chains of events, events on a journey through time, events that will have lasting impact.   

The individuals who make up the Greatest Generation are fading, their numbers dwindle, but the memories of their accomplishments, and their impact on this world in their fleeting moment, their instant, was tremendous – tremendously positive. The memory of Emanuel and his impact will not fade.  His children, his grandchildren and the world owe him and the millions like him an incalculable debt.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 8, 2009 at 11:19 am

Posted in Human Behavior

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