And when it shall return to there, enveloped in these memories, it will finally know their depth. And with them travel ever higher and higher.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory
I’m so tired. I can’t remember when I didn’t feel exhausted. I wake up exhausted. I barely have the strength to lift a spoonful of soup to my mouth. My bladder only can hold on so long anymore before I either make it to a toilet or embarrass myself. I have a hard time remembering what I did last week or even yesterday.
I am so old.
But I do remember many things before yesterday and last week.
I remember watching “Gunsmoke” when I was five, and trying to outdraw Marshall Dillon with my toy six-shooter (I never could).
My Dad was in the Air Force and we lived in Spain near Seville when I was little. Instead of Santa Claus, one of the Three Kings from the Bible (well, not a real one) would ride the streets of our neighborhood in a horse-drawn wagon. I got my picture taken with him once.
My Dad pointed up to a shiny thing in the night sky and told me it was called “Sputnik”. I didn’t find out until decades later that the satellite couldn’t be seen by the unaided eye and what we were looking at was one of its rocket boosters tumbling end-over-end in low orbit.
I remember when we had vinyl 45s and to play them on a record player, you had to put this funny disk thing in the big hole in the middle so it could fit on whatever the little stem sticking up in the middle of the turntable was called.
I remember the one-eyed, one-horned blind purple people eater.
I remember my Dad growing roses in our yard when we lived in Spain.
I remember getting sick on the airplane when we flew back to America.
I remember getting lost after my first day in first grade when we lived in Omaha. My Dad came and found me. I was so scared. I was only six.
I remember always getting picked last for sports during recess at school because I couldn’t run very fast and I was lousy at throwing and catching.
I had a crush on a girl when I was in the second grade. I got teased about it a lot.
I remember leaving my best friend when we had to move from Iowa to Nevada because Dad got stationed at the Mercury Test Site north of Las Vegas. I didn’t forget him right away, but I was so used to moving, that I always made new friends because I’d never see the old ones again. I think his name was Alan.
In the fifth grade, some girls teased me by trying to pull me into the girl’s bathroom during recess. I got away and ran.
Another girl always used to beat me up. My Mom said that’s because she liked me. That didn’t make sense to me.
When I told my Mom that some TV shows didn’t make sense the way they were written, she’d tell me that there wouldn’t be a story otherwise. Maybe there would have been a story if they wrote it better.
In junior high, I got teased because of my last name. I got teased because I wore glasses. I got teased because I was too skinny and couldn’t play basketball.
In high school, I got beat up by six guys in a race riot. One of them beat me on my back with a bicycle chain. I don’t remember how long it took before I could sit up straight again.
I was terrified of black people for a whole year after that. If it had happened today, I guess my parents would have taken me to a counselor. I was scared that if I was ever alone with a black person again, they’d beat me.
After a while, when I was around so many black people and they didn’t beat me, I started to relax. Even today, decades later, I’m not afraid of black people, but sudden noises make me jump and I don’t like people sneaking up behind me.
On July 20, 1969, just a few days before my 14th birthday, I watched the first two men land on the Moon. It was really exciting. I thought we’d have Moon Bases by now. I was promised Moon Bases.
I remember girls finally started liking me when I went to college for the first time.
I moved to California when I was 22. I always thought that once you grew up, you moved away from your parents and had an adventure. I had lots of adventures living around San Francisco.
I remember getting married when I was 27. I had no idea what I was doing, though I thought I did at the time. I think that’s why they make you take a vow, to promise to stay with your spouse, even when things you never thought would happen, happen.
I remember my wife giving birth to twin sons. Something happened and she had to deliver by emergency C-section. I saw her being stapled shut while in the crucifix position on a table. I found out newborns can’t breathe through their mouths, because one of my sons was having trouble breathing and his nose was flaring.
I found out that no matter what you do, sometimes babies cry just to cry. That’s not comforting at two in the morning.
I saw my daughter being born and it really is a miracle.
When my kids were young, I had to struggle to balance what they needed, what my wife needed, and what I needed. I don’t think I worked it out very well. As I look back it’s easier when you’re a grandpa.
I loved that my kids all knew and loved my parents. I only had one grandpa and I loved him. I’m glad they have a grandpa and grandma to love.
My kids grew up and one son got married and now I’m a grandpa, too.
It’s easier to be a grandpa at first because you’re not that old, and if you take care of your health, you can keep up with your grandkids most of the time.
It’s harder when you get older, because no matter what you do, your body wears down more as they get stronger and faster.
I spend more time listening to my grandkids lately. When they get older, they talk to you more because they think their parents don’t understand.
It’s hard on them because their parents are divorced. Dad has one way of doing things. Mom has a different way. Mom and Dad argue about it. Grandpa gets to listen. Grandpa understands. That’s why Grandpas are cool.
As my memories get closer and closer to now, it’s hard to remember them. My kids are grown. My grandkids are grown, I think.
I think they visit me once in a while, but I don’t remember when I last saw my family.
The aide helps me put on a sweater. I’m an old man and I need help getting dressed just like a little kid, just like how I used to help my kids and my grandkids when they were little.
Now I feel small like they once were.
I’m tired. I have to lie down. I’m so sleepy. Why is it so dark in here?
And then it’s bright.
“Paul, I’m so happy you could finally join us, come in, come in.”
I step through a doorway, and then it’s gone.
“I’m…I’m young again!” I feel strong, I’m decades younger. I can remember everything now.
“Hurry, hurry, the others are waiting for you.”
“Who are you? I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what’s going on. Where am I?”
“Oh, I forgot. It’ll take a few minutes for you to get caught up. Don’t worry. Once you do, everything will make sense.”
The man in front of me is about a head shorter than I am and filled with boundless energy. He can’t stay still for a second, and along with all that activity is a sense of equally boundless joy, like he is so happy he just can’t stand himself.
I let myself look around for the first time. A park, I think. Looks like the sun just came up. It should be cold out, but I feel fine. Grass, trees, birds overhead.
“Wait. I’ve been here before.”
“That’s right, Paul. This is where you started your journey, but you were completely empty back then. It’s taken over 90 years for you to fill up and we can’t wait for all that you’ve brought back to be added to the others.”
“It’s right at the edge of my mind. I can almost remember.”
“Here, follow me to the clearing. Then I bet you’ll understand.”
I walk behind the little man, then have to jog a little to keep up. A shame he wants to run because this is the perfect place to have a relaxing stroll, just to enjoy the scenery.
“It’s…a clearing in the middle of a circle of trees.”
I look up and gasp. It’s like a cloud of fire, but nothing’s burning. I see what looks like sparks shooting up into the red and yellow flames, but I can’t see where they’re coming from.
“There, you see?” The others are joining in, adding lifetimes of experience, wisdom, memories to the others, to all the others that have ever been.”
“You mean I…” I can’t finish the sentence because I don’t have a mouth. I don’t have eyes or arms or legs or a body. I’m one of the sparks. I’m shooting upward. I join with the cloud. Everything I ever saw, said, heard, or did is added to the others. Together, we are everyone and everything and I remember everything…everything, not just my everything, but everyone’s.
I started out as a small, empty vessel, a spark with no fire, a flame with no heat. I was sent to the world and then I was born.
And then I began to collect, to do, to hear, to see, to remember. Little by little, I started to fill.
I descended, and when I was full, I ascended again. I started out small, cold, and empty, and now look at me, just look at me. I’m full, hot, and huge. I’ve ascended. I’ve come home. I’m with everyone now. I’m part of everyone, I’ve become everyone. I’m complete. I’m home.
Today, I turn 62 years old. I’m not ready to ascend yet, but I thought in honor of growing another year older, and having read Rabbi Freeman’s little missive, that I’d write a something about what I, and all older folk, have to look forward to, that there may be a purpose to our lives and everything we experience beyond the surface appearance. What if Heaven waits for us to add our spark, to contribute to the ethereal heights all that we are? What if that’s why we were sent here?