The man releases his breath in a slow drawn-out hum.
He matches exhalation with the engine’s violent thrum.
The vibrations that tickle his lips and his throat
don’t explain why his eyes seem distant, so remote.
The blind man sinks into the soft leather seat,
to better slam the gas pedal at his trembling feet.
He’s rewarded with a sharp gust whipping his light-brown hair,
And, for the briefest of moments life, to him, seems fair.
Scars that pepper his face reshape in a long forgotten style,
They contort to meet the curves of his wide, handsome smile.
He hasn’t howled so joyfully since shrapnel stole his sight,
But this story isn’t about him: just the co-pilot on his flight.
My father practically drags me out the front door of our cozy Miami home. By the time we reach this unfortunate impasse, I’ve been whining for nearly an hour. It’s obviously important to him that I attend this event, but why? Why would a twelve-year-old want to go to a parlor meeting for a terror victim? And what the heck, I wonder, is a “parlor meeting?”
But the minute the young survivor, Eyal, starts speaking to the crowded room, and begins to describe his courageous journey, my attention is his to command – this, despite what even a dentist could have diagnosed as my galloping ADD.
“I’m riding the bus home,” Eyal shares, “and someone shouts as I’m about to step outside. I turn around and watch as the terrorist hugs a soldier right behind me. Nine people were murdered and that’s the last image I’ll ever see.”
I’m completely engrossed in Eyal’s words, stunned by the harsh reality he must face constantly. I can’t fathom how he has the courage to live each day in darkness.
“I woke up in the hospital sure that the terrorists had captured me. I couldn’t hear or see and until the staff found a way to communicate, I was under the impression they were trying to hurt me.”
From my comfortable perch in the stairwell, I step into his well-traveled shoes. Eyes closed, I try to picture myself hovering, like him, in front of many unseen faces that I’d never get to glimpse. I sense the disorientation he must feel, living at the center of a void, a black hole that can never release him from its gravitational pull. The fuzz on my neck stands electric.
I return to a world of sight. Never again do I want to experience his darkness. Looking around the whitewashed living room, I scrutinize the well-to-do audience that has come to contribute to his cause. Why do these people care enough to be here? The young survivor may be blind, but I can tell even at twelve-years-old that I’m the one who doesn’t see things clearly.
Sitting at my father’s feet when he works from home is one of my favorite activities. We get to spend time together after school while we accomplish our separate, yet equally important, objectives. “Take that Batman!” I yip, and Superman’s booted foot meets the center of the Dark Knight’s tight, black spandex.
“Of course,” my father talks into the phone. “Count me in.”
“Kapow,” I respond, sending the Batmobile on a perfect trajectory for the stairs.
“Whatever you need.” my father reassures the person on the other line, as the toy car clatters to the white-tiled ground floor. “Yes. Yes. Do you want me to mail the check to–? Okay. Sure. Come and pick it up.”
“Tatty,” I call to him once the line disconnects. “Why do you help these people? Wouldn’t we have more money for vacation if you stopped?”
“Moshe,” he lowers his gaze to meet mine. “One day you’ll understand. I promise.”
“Well, Moshe…” deep creases form on my father’s forehead. Have I said something wrong? “One day you’ll realize that money sitting in an account isn’t ours – not really.”
“What do you mean? If it’s in our bank, how can it not be ours?”
“That kind of thing can be taken away from us in an instant. But tzedaka?” My father’s eyes light up. “No one can ever take away the help you’ve given others. They can’t withdraw a mitzvah you’ve already done!”
Nodding comprehension, I force out the toothiest grin I can muster, but inside, a deep-seated fear begins to mount. I’m worried about the effects of his deeds on my family, but only in a small way. What truly scares me is the likelihood that I’ll never be able to keep up with him, that I’ll never give him nachas – or make him proud. Already, I comprehend that my father’s greatest aspiration is for his children to do better than he has – to be better. A sinking feeling digs talons into my chest. How can I ever compete?
“Moshe, let’s meet him,” my father drags me over to Eyal and, for a moment, I’m relieved he can’t see the way I’m staring at his scars. I can tell he looked normal beneath the evidence of his scrimmage with Death. We exchange short pleasantries and I can’t get away fast enough. I race back to my spot in the stairwell and listen from between the banisters.
“Sorry this happened to you.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“Are they showing you a good time while you’re here?”
“Showing? Is that a joke?”
“Huh? Oh, Darn. Sometimes I don’t think…”
“It’s okay. Just teasing you.”
“What’re your hobbies?”
“Yeah. Stuff you like to do for fun.”
“I enjoy fast cars.”
“Really! Same here.”
“I used to dream about owning something with torque.”
“Have you ever sat inside a Z8?”
“The BMW? Not yet, but I hear it’s a real beaut.”
“I’ve got an idea…Tell me, what do they have you doing tomorrow?”
This apple will always worry that the tree from which it fell is too distant. Truth is, I’m still comfortable at my father’s feet, living and learning while I ripen at the roots of his towering trunk.
My father continues to teach me, by example, that the giving never stops, that despite inevitable hurt and loss, we must contribute where we can – for once the good deed is done, it can’t be pried from our grasp – not ever.
I wasn’t present the day my father let a blind terror victim loose on the racetrack. He wouldn’t have put my life at risk even if he hadn’t staged his stunt with Eyal and the BMW on a school day. But if you’re like me, you can hear the soothing melody: a blind man’s triumphant howl, a stream of wind whipping through his hair, a violent engine revving underfoot.
That’s the legacy of the man I most respect. It’s how I will always see my father before me.