As the nation joins Malachy Rosenfeld’s family mourning his death, and as we seek to embrace them to bring them whatever comfort is possible, and to remind them they are not alone, we ourselves are afraid. We worry for our loved ones, knowing that life has surprises, and dangers. But all the more so, when we know that there are those out there who would kill our children on purpose.
As a mother who has lost a child to terror, life seems so full of danger, and you just can’t stop your imagination. Not just imagining the particular danger your child suffered, and didn’t survive, but every possible danger you can’t help imagining happening to your other children, one after the other, or all at once. The thoughts come unbidden and invasively, possibilities you didn’t realize you could think up plus everything and anything in the news. I could list them but they are at once both banal and unnecessarily macabre.
It is so consuming that you have no choice but to distance yourself from it. Otherwise you will ruin your life, and, more importantly, ruin your children’s lives. You want to teach them to be careful, but not to be afraid. Life is beautiful and good, not a cruel, cynical game in which they are pawns to be played …
The only way to do this is to listen to your inner statistician. Most of the things you can imagine are rare. You take precautions, you teach safety skills, you are sensible and teach your children to be sensible, and all the while you remind yourself that the chances of any of the things you imagine happening are so slim that the likelihood of them actually happening is negligible. You don’t need to worry your children about them. They already worry enough. Their brother died, and a ticket to adulthood is not a sure thing. So quell your fears, project confidence, and teach your children confidence!
But this time the news is different. Malachy’s loss, a loss to his family, his friends, and the nation that is so great by itself, is not by itself. His older brother, Yitchak, was killed in a flash flood in 2002. As a bystander who has lost “only” one child, when I look on a at the families who have lost more than one child, what I see is indescribable. The devastation is simply beyond. Beyond what human effort should have to face. The Rosenfeld’s second loss is not about me — who feels triggered by all acts of terror — but it broadsides my defenses. All the useful statistics of how unlikely it is that something horrible will happen get shot full of holes, and all the fears that it could visit me a second time are legitimized and come crashing through…
I was thinking earlier, it’s lucky I can’t spit fire. Because today I would. Or puke my guts out till the bile burns. There is something inside, and it will consume me from within. True, there is an Enemy, and there are statistics, and who knows what side of the statistics you will fall to before the enemy. Hopefully the big, good numbers, and hopefully not the little, unlikely, horrible numbers. But the flame inside has only one statistic, it is there, in all its force, and it will make you crazy and destroy you. You will self-destruct, have no doubt, and there is only one hope left.
Do something good. If you are within arms reach of me, start by passing me a fire-proof air-sickness bag. If you are within reach of the Rosenfelds, do something for them. There is plenty to be done for a grieving family, and what matters most is that you are reaching out. If you are not close to them, whom are you close to? Surely there is someone in your neighborhood who needs you. There is something for you to do. Kindness to a neighbor, or to a stranger. Donate blood. Give something of your profession, or hobby, or self. If you are an activist, fight for what you believe in, truth or freedom or safety for all. If, God forbid, you are suffering, and the only thing you can do is put some sort of supper on the table, know that that too is a good deed, and you did it. I wouldn’t choose this for you, but sometimes the good deed your neighbor needs to do is for you, and your humility and grace is the goodness you bring.
Most importantly, you choose, and you define it. Others don’t have to know and agree, or maybe you want them to. Do what you have chosen with the distinct knowledge that you are doing something good. That you have goodness and you generate goodness. Do it like you mean it, because you are human, and only together can we stay human. Do it for Malachy. To honor his memory. We can’t stand that he is gone, and we can’t stand that the decree is final. But we can remember him with goodness. We will honor his life and mourn his death, and we will mitigate the bilious fire and feel each other’s warmth.