I hear voices calling to me. My children are shouting “Abba, stay”. My grandchildren are shouting “Saba, stay”. From the grave, my wife calls “Come, my dearest”. My mother and father in unison call out “Come, dear son. We have missed you for so many years”. And the loud voice of my very beloved zaideh cries out to me “Come tataleh. I have waited 79 years to see you again, to hug you, to kiss you, to sing Yiddish lullabies to you”.
I am betwixt and between. Stay! Come! Perhaps a little more of STAY. COME will have to wait its turn.
This year, on the day after Purim, I observe another birthday (maybe my last one). I say “observe” rather than celebrate. For me it is only another day on the calendar. Another end to another year. A new beginning of another year of life.
The voices of my wonderful children and grandchildren bring me much pleasure to know that an old man is still loved and wanted. (I don’t really know if needed.)
The voices of my parents and grandparents fade. I am left only with fond memories. But it is the voice, the soft and beautiful voice of the woman I loved for 56 years which haunts me. I hear it every day whispering “I love you but I want to wait a few more years to see you again.”
If I make it to four more years, which I strongly doubt, I will be 90 years old. No one in my family lived more than 86 years and I honestly do not hope to reach 90. I want to go prior to infirmity of body and confusion of mind.
Contrary to the 13 Principles of Faith written by Maimonides, I am at great odds with the one which proclaims “techiat ha-maitim”, the resurrection of the dead.
For me, if a person is happy while on earth, it is heaven. And if a person is miserable while on earth, it is hell. There is no life beyond the grave. While memories live forever, the dead do not.
When children are born they are often given the Hebrew name of a deceased loved one in order that the soul can find rest while the cherished memories continue to live on within the living.
That is what I believe is the nefesh, the neshama, the soul of a human being. And while the memories remain alive, so too will our departed loved ones.
What truly is the soul? How can it be defined ? When we go to a doctor he can examine our heart. He can feel it beating. But he cannot examine the soul. He would not know where to find it. He cannot understand that our soul is the very breath we breathe. We inhale, we exhale and we continue to live.
When the breathing stops the soul has departed from our physical body and ascends upwards toward its Creator.
Of course, no reasonable nor lucid person would claim to hear voices. We would consider such a person ill and in need of psychiatric treatment.
Yet, most of the voices I hear calling me are not actual voices heard in my ears. Rather, they are voices felt in my heart. But the voices of treasured children and cherished grandchildren I hear clearly. They speak to me frequently. And they do so because they love me with an ever-lasting love, the same love I give to them.
On the date of my wife’s birthday, always on the eve of Pesach, I hurry to the cemetery to sing the “Happy Birthday” tune and to tell her that I have not forgotten her and never will.
In a few more days I will hear the sweet voices of my three children and my three grandchildren singing to me.
These are the voices I will hear calling out to me. Yom huledet samayach. Happy birthday to me.