Mort Laitner

‘If’—A Writer’s Tale

“Moshe, how are you feeling this morning?”

Even before I asked, I knew Moshe would complain about his back pain. He’d say, “It hurts when I get out of bed or it’s too tight in the morning.”

Yes, I’ve heard his complaints for years and why should this morning be any different. This was our morning ritual, our dialogue between two old friends.

But to my surprise, Moshe neglected to mention his back.

“Mordechai, good to see you this morning. A blessing on your head for having given me that gift, that wonderful poem. The one printed on that sheet of parchment.”

“Moshe, you mean, ‘If—‘ by Rudyard Kipling. It’s also one of my favorites. My dad gave it to me as a graduation gift. Yup, the one that ends with those immortal lines:

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

 ‘And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!’

“Well, that poem kept me up for much of the night.”

“Kipling’s poem kept you up?”

“Yup, it planted a seed in my brain. And that seed blossomed into a dream. And that dream made me toss and turn all night long. And while I tossed and turned, I heard a conversation between a father, who was an author, and his son who wanted to follow in his footsteps.”

Now as if I were Sigmund Freud, I stroked my chin with my thumb and index finger, rubbing my imaginary beard and then I spoke in my best Viennese accent. “Vell, Moshe, please tell me bissel about it. Let me interpret your dream. Maybe your dream vas a nightmare in disguise.”

Moshe laughed and said, “No Sigmund, not a nightmare but a new version of  that poem, “If.” I jotted down a line or two each time the dream woke me up. Ya know, I keep a pencil and a pad on my night stand right next to my bed for just such occasions. Later, I polished my notes to make my thoughts into a poem.”

My curiosity peaked, as Moshe started reading the prose he had scrawled across a sheet of legal size paper.

“If you can tell members of the cult where the Kool-Aid is hidden and maintain the power to not take a sip.

If you can keep writing after your loved ones tell you, “Those stories are going to get you beat up. Yes, punched in the stomach, the mouth and in your groin.” But you keep publishing with reckless abandon and without fear.

If you can accept praise and criticism with the same dignity even with the knowlege that words carry weapons of self-destruction.

If you can accept being compared to immortals and not let the accolades find a home in your head.

If you can listen to the insults hurled at your works by your foes or your so-called friends and realize that they just don’t understand.

If you can understand that these jealous knaves cast fisherman’s nets into your sea of doubts hoping to catch your harpooned ego.

If you can write stories that cause your friends to abandon you.

Yet you understand that your words have done you a favor.

If you can repress your fears of rejection in exchange for a risk-taker merit badge.

If you can bear to see the truth you’ve written on yellow sheets of paper,

against those who destroy our blue planet with hate, envy and prejudice.

Yet awake having dreamed of tikkun olam.

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

‘And—which is more—you’ll be a Writer, my son!’ “

“Mordechai, a blessing on your head for having caught those inspiring thoughts from your dream.

“Moshe, if only I could help you interpret your dream.

Again, I my thumb and index finger touched my chin, stroking my imaginary beard.

And again I spoke in my Viennese accent.

Vell, I very sorry my friend but I’m no Freud.

If only I vere.”

About the Author
Florida's Jewish short-story writer, speaker, film producer and retired attorney. He has authored, "A Hebraic Obsession", "The Hanukkah Bunny" and "The Greatest Gift." He produced an award-winning short film entitled, "The Stairs". Movie can be viewed on my TOI blog. ChatGPT says, Mort is known for his works that often explore themes of love, loss, and the human connection. Laitner has published several books , including “A Hebraic Obsession.” His writing style is characterized by its emotional depth and introspection. Laitner’s works have garnered praise for their heartfelt expression and keen insight into the human experience.
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