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Happy Birthday Joshua

Today is Joshua’s birthday. In past years we have had celebratory balloon releases or gone out to eat as a family to celebrate his birthday as we would have had he’d been with us. This year I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. But, as it turns out God had something very fitting and just what I needed in mind. I would be the one receiving a gift on Joshua’s birthday.

The day started off pretty normal, wake up and go through the morning rituals of getting ready, feeding Angel, and sitting down to read a bit, what I call my time of reflection and conversation with God. What I am reading at present is a short book entitled, “have a little faith” by Mitch Albom. ( the acclaimed author of Tuesdays with Morrie”) which I received from Mark’s mom for Christmas.

This book is a result of conversations between Albom and his childhood Rabbi, Albert Lewis, whom he and his friends referred to as ‘Reb’ as teenagers, seeing him as some sort of super hero in long flowing attire or suits and ties. It was only after Mitch had grown up quite active in the church but then left it ‘mostly’ behind to pursue bigger and better things that Rabbi Lewis at the age of eighty two asked Mitch if he would give his eulogy when he died. After the shock had worn off with some reservations Mitch agreed, but only on the condition that he could spend some time talking with him to get to know him on a more ‘personal’ basis. He knew he needed to get beyond his boyhood spiritual super hero image. Of course the Reb agreed. And hence the eulogy and the book came into being.

The chapter that was on the docket for today began with a quote by Gandhi. The conversation that was sparked between Mitch and the Reb was an open newspaper on Rabbi Lewis’ desk centering around nothing other than the Iraq War. ( He had my full attention to say the least) Questions about that war and then war in general went back and forth until Mitch asked, “Why ‘does’ man kill man?’ Not given to easy or trite answers, the Reb pushed his chair back towards his wall of books and pulled out an old and tattered children’s schoolbook written in Arabic nearly forty years ago. He handed it to Mitch and said, “Look through it.” When Mitch asked him why he had kept it so long he answered, “Because I want to remember what happened in that town during the war of 1967 in those old abandoned buildings and in that home (in Northern Israel, where he had found it). The people were gone so I felt I had to save something

Knowing that Rabbi Lewis had lived through many wars from WWI to the present and that he taught love, forgiveness, and non-violence, Mitch asked him if his views towards war had changed over the years. The Reb answered “No”. This was in light of the fact that he had many congregants that were veterans and even Holocaust survivors, some with numbers still tattooed on their wrists.

“But so many people wage wars in God’s name, Mitch said.

“Mitch”,the Reb replied, “God doesn’t want such killing to go on.”

“Then why hasn’t it stopped?”

“Because man does.”

In his commentary Mitch went on to say, “He was right, of course. You can sense man’s drumbeat to war. Vengeance rises. Tolerance is mocked. Over the years, I was taught why our side was right. And in another country someone my age was taught the opposite.”

(At this point I could hear Joshua’s own voice. I had heard him say almost the very same words that Mitch and the Reb uttered many times. In fact you can read almost those exact words in his book, Letters from Abu Ghraib)

The Reb then went on to say to Mitch, “There’s a reason I gave that old schoolbook to you. Open it.”

Tucked inside the book were three pictures, one of an older dark-haired woman, Arabic and matronly looking, one of a man in a suit and tie, and the last of two children side by side, presumably brother and sister.

The Reb told Mitch that over the years he kept seeing the children, their mother and had even hoped that someday someone would recognize them from the pictures as still being alive, that it was his way of keeping them alive. After some thought and silence Mitch asked one last question.

“But wait, I don’t understand. Religiously these people were your enemy.”

The Reb’s voice grew angry and he retorted, “Enemy, schmenemy,”. This was a family!”

Can it be said any more simply or clearly what it takes for man to “see”… to have good reason to choose not to kill each other?

I didn’t do a lot of reflecting today, mostly reminiscing. I closed the book feeling like I’d just had a conversation with Joshua.


Introducing Artem Yatsunov: Director of Returns: Letters From Abu Ghraib
Joshua Cateel Quote: a fallen world

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