About five weeks ago, my older brother called me to tell me our father was dying. I immediately jumped on the internet and looked at flights back home to Atlanta for that night. I didn’t see the right flight with the right price at the right time, and I had too much to take care of that night, so I booked the 5 AM flight out the next morning.
When I landed at the Atlanta airport, my brother was waiting for me in the car. The first thing he said to me when I got in was, “I have some bad news.”
My heart sank. It came as no surprise when he followed that statement with, “Dad died this morning while you were in the air”.
So began the flood of “what if”s and “if only”s. If only I had booked that flight last night, I could have seen him one last time. If only I had called him even more, visited him even more, made him laugh even more. What if I never moved away to DC? What if I settled down sooner so he got to go to my wedding? I was mortified that these “what if”s will haunt me for the rest of my life.
The next thing my brother and I did in Atlanta was go see the rabbi to arrange for the funeral and the shiva. The three of us had a long talk about death and Judaism and family and mourning. The rabbi said to me, in that articulate and learned way that rabbis speak, that everyone has “what if”s when a family member dies, even the greatest son of all time. The past can‘t be changed, but that’s why we say the mourner’s kadesh. Kadesh allows us to speak to G-d and ask him to help us move on from tragedy and bury our “what if”s with our loved one.
I’ve been saying kadesh for five weeks now each time those questions resurface. But I never felt better.
On Friday night, we spent Shabbat at the Kotel, the Western Wall. As the sun began to sink, I snuck quietly away from my group to go reflect at the wall by myself. I squeezed my way in between two Haredi men and put my left hand up on that cold, ancient stone. I bowed my head and closed my eyes and began the rhythmic uttering of that timeless prayer.
Yitgadal V’yitkadash Shme Rabbah.
I don’t know if it was that sudden gust of wind at that exact moment. I don’t know if it was the man that started waling next to me at that exact moment. I don’t know if it was the Hebrew songs from all around me reaching a crescendo all in unison together at that exact moment. But at that exact moment, I was lifted to another place, in another time, in another world. And I felt G-d.
And I cried like a baby – for five straight minutes. But I finally felt at peace.
Those five minutes are my own proof that G-d exists and they will now always be a part of me. I will put them in a special place in my soul and pull them out whenever I need to. I’ll pull them out whenever those “what if”s come back. I’ll pull them out whenever I miss my father. I’ll pull them out whenever I’m feeling sad or alone and I’ll pull them out if I ever come to a point in my life where things are so bad I find myself questioning G-d. I’ll pull out those five minutes from my moment at the wall and remember that I’m not alone and that I’m never alone and that my father and my G-d are always with me. I will always know that I have those five minutes for every next minute for the rest of my life. And that brings me so much peace.