Thursday, March 22, 2012

Life is a Journey

Yesterday evening, my natural father passed away.

Two nights ago I had a troubling, premonitory dream:

I was at a funeral and there was a strange burial ritual.  The pall bearers lifted the coffin.  Then they did something odd.  They turned the coffin onto its side, then turned it again to an upside down position, then once again turned the coffin onto its other side, and finally, back to the coffin's proper, upright position.

Today I got it.

The burial ritual represented the difficult journey of my father's life:  My father first got sideways with life when his own father died.  My father was just a young boy, and life became difficult for him after that, with many disappointments and lost opportunities.  I probably don't know the half of it.  By my childhood memories of him, he already held so much anger.

My father turned his life completely upside down during his years of  marriage to my mother, when he did unspeakable things and then paid unspeakable consequences.  During his later years, my father struggled toward a better path, helping my brother's family and working to help children like my nephew, Ryan, who has a Jewish genetic disorder.  In this way he partially righted his life in God's and my family's eyes.

For me, in my father's death there is finally safety.  I may now untether myself from my deep-seated childhood fear of him, and see my father instead as a man who wrestled with many internal demons through the course of his life, and did not always win.  The dream shows me the way to keep the commandment, "honor thy father."  Releasing the fear, I am finally free to forgive him, something the rest of my family has managed, but I never was fully able to do while he lived, despite his desperate wish that I would.

In forgiving him, in a sense, both his and my own teshuvah (turn) may complete, and he can return to God an upright man.


Birth is a beginning
And death a destination
But life is a journey,
A going — a growing
From stage to stage.
From Childhood to maturity
And youth to age.
From innocence to awareness
And ignorance to knowing;
From foolishness to discretion
And then perhaps to wisdom.
From weakness to strength
Or strength to weakness–
And, often back again.
From health to sickness
And back we pray, to health again.
From offense to forgiveness,
From loneliness to love,
From joy to gratitude,
From pain to compassion,
And grief to understanding—
From fear to faith.
From defeat to defeat to defeat—
Until, looking backward or ahead,
We see that victory lies
Not at some high place along the way,
But in having made the journey,
stage by stage
A sacred pilgrimage.
Birth is a beginning
And death a destination
But life is a journey,
A sacred pilgrimage
Made stage by stage—
From birth to death
To life Everlasting.

                         ~ Rabbi Alvin Fine