Without really preparing for it last week – you’d think that I would have known better, being in this line of work and all – I came upon a significant marker in the road, and an unsettling realization. My childhood is over. It’s a strange realization to come to now, given that I have four children, and a grandchild to boot. But it took a moment of reflection during our morning synagogue service for me to get there.
I am a few months into the year-long recitation of kaddish for my mother, who died in May. And just two days ago, I marked the sixth yarhzeit of my father’s death. I stood up to say kaddish, and realized that I was, in essence, saying kaddish for both of my parents at the same time.
“Gerry,” I said to myself, “you’re not in Kansas anymore.”
For a moment or two, I allowed myself to go there- to appreciate the import of the moment. I thought of my wife, my children and grandchild, and felt far, far away from the memories of my childhood that the kaddish had kindled. Like I said- my childhood is over.
Wistful though the realization made me feel, there is nothing at all unnatural about it. It is, as Maimonides might have said, derech hatevah; the way of nature. When the death of a parent or loved comes tragically or prematurely, adulthood can be thrust upon a person in a brutal way. That was hardly my experience. My parents both lived a good measure of years, and I am well into my fifties.
And yet, just as parents eventually realize that they never stop being parents and role models even when their children are grown and on their own, so, too, do children always feel that a piece of their childhood remains as long as there’s someone around to call Mom or Dad.
The old truism remains true. As long as you have a living parent, you’re still someone’s child. I never realized how young that made me feel until I stood up to say kaddish two days ago.
As a religious Jew (the rabbi piece of my identity notwithstanding), I was particularly grateful the other morning for Psalm 27, which is added to the morning and evening services at this penitential time of year. My father and mother will abandon me, but God will gather me in. It was enormously comforting to know that the psalmist (David, according to tradition) had faced the same feelings thousands of years ago, and found solace in his faith. As I confront my adulthood, I do as well.