Honoring the Past, Cherishing the Present
Some weeks carry greater emotional weight than others.
Monday’s moment was an appointment with the surgeon who removed a cancerous tumor three years ago. That diagnosis prompted my August 2019 column titled “A Club No One Wants to Join.”
For three years I have received “maintenance treatments,” punctuated by procedures to see how things are going. This was the first since the prescribed end of the treatments. The doctor recalled how nervous I was at the first such examination. I sweat these tests. He asks, “How are you doing?” and I reply with “You tell me.”
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When told that everything looked good, I felt relieved more than anything else. Checks every six months now become the norm. There are no guarantees, but longer nothing is found, the better the odds “it” doesn’t return.
I am grateful for the doctor’s skills. I am grateful for the nurse who administered most of my treatments. Her relentless optimism kept me from dwelling on potential setbacks. She recently took another job, so I texted her and received a celebratory emoji and an admonition to take care of myself.
Tuesday was election day, marking 50 years since I first reported election results on a high school radio station. Suffering from a nasty cold, I monitored the returns online and on television from my living room chair. I worked until 1 a.m. Wednesday, resumed at 8 a.m. and filed my story for the AJT.
I then turned my attention to the flight my wife and I were taking that night to her hometown, for the unveiling of my father-in-law’s gravestone. On the chance that my cold was COVID, I tested Tuesday night and again Wednesday; both negative.
I met my wife in a collection of cities that straddle the Illinois and Iowa sides of the Mississippi River. I was a newspaper reporter. She was organizing for a political campaign.
Before her two sisters and her brother, along with his trio of daughters, joined us on Thursday, we played tourists, particularly enjoying the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa. The day began warm and breezy, but a chill arrived as predicted and rain began at dusk.
By Friday morning at the cemetery, the temperature had plummeted 40 degrees in two days and a northwest wind was blowing. The gray skies seemed appropriate. After a brief service, we placed rocks on my father-in-law’s grave and on those of his parents and an infant son. This is why we came, to perform this Jewish ritual, linking the generations.
That afternoon the city of Rock Island, Illinois, hosted an unveiling of a different sort, a portrait of my father-in-law that will be displayed in city hall with those of other mayors. He resisted the honor in life (having served for several months following the death of his predecessor), but it was an occasion appreciated by his children.
Friday night we attended a Veterans Day Shabbat service. This Jewish community has dwindled from some 2,000 in the early 1980s to 400 or so today. The Reform congregation in Davenport and the Conservative congregation in Rock Island, where my wife grew up, found themselves with buildings that had become too large. The solution was not to merge but to share — both a building and a rabbi.
Their new home in Davenport had been a real estate office and then a steakhouse.
During renovations, painstaking efforts were taken to assure that each congregation had an equal amount of display case and wall space for memorial boards, photographs, and other memorabilia. The ark doors are adorned with elements from both congregations. The usual schedule is a Reform service Friday night and a Conservative service Shabbat morning.
The bimah was draped with red, white, and blue bunting. Blue or red kippahs were available. The U.S. national anthem was sung. Congregants called to recite prayers and offer readings, cited their family’s veterans, naming fathers and grandfathers, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, sons and daughters.
Saturday it was time to return home, my wife’s siblings to a Detroit suburb, to Coral Gables, Florida, and to the Texas hill country. As we parted, there were hugs and kisses and the Yiddish expression “for gezunt un kum gezunt” (go in health and return in health), which my wife’s family has shortened to “forgie and kimmie.”
This was a week for memories, for honoring the past and cherishing life in the present, for laughs and tears, and especially for treasuring family.