By Larry Gordon
It was a pretty, though still rather austere and sanitary, hospital room. As I sat there and looked around, I told myself that this was a private, introspective moment and not necessarily something to write about this week or anytime soon.
But then one of my daughter-in-law’s friends in the hospital room in Manhasset, Long Island, had the presence of mind to take the newborn baby boy and bring him over to me, placing him gently in my arms. I’ve held a baby many times in the past, so this was not exactly a new experience. I’ve even bathed a newborn once upon a time when that was the thing to do in the moments following their mysterious emergence from the only home they previously knew, in the womb.
Outside, evening was descending and it was brutally cold. We could hear the wind whipping at the building exterior and the whistling sound that is produced when the wind finds a microscopic sliver of a crack in a windowpane.
It was Day One for this very young man–actually you cannot be younger–as he lay there, calm and snug, resting from his ordeal of earlier that day when his little world literally turned upside down, resulting in his landing in our arms and our lives.
It is a special week for this little boy as his parents contemplate what his name should be. For now, for these first seven days, he is nameless. It occurs that this is an odd circumstance to be in. Who doesn’t have a name?
Our sages tell us that a name is a special facet of a person, exclusive to him, even though many people can indeed share the same exact name. A name assigned to an individual becomes intertwined with that person, forming a unique bond and identity, and says precisely who they are and remains attached to them through their life and into eternity.
So as long as I’m sitting there with this six-pound child gently in my arms, I take a few moments to analyze his makeup and composition. I hear the buzz amongst the four women in the room discussing whom he looks like. His nose is like this one and his eyes resemble that one when he or she was born. Then the discussion shifts to whose family he most resembles.
All the while, the only thing I see is a most peaceful, angelic little child making his debut into a complicated and troubled world. He doesn’t know anything about things like that and will not have to concern himself with these issues for a long time to come. I look at him, and he is even still a while away from being able to look back at me. I see a surreal peacefulness that will not be disturbed until the events of the eighth day. But as far as he and we are concerned, even that is, at the moment, in the distant future.
So, like the others, I examine his little undisturbed sleeping face. We know that his tiny little body has inexplicably and miraculously been imbued with a Gâ€‘dly soul that represents and, in a sense, is attached to those in his family that preceded him.
And as I sit there, I see myself as a bridge between generations. I am not just holding him because he is a newborn and someone has to hold him, but rather trying to ease his way between worlds in some kind of abstract sense of reality.
Baruch Hashem, we have a few grandchildren, and I have come to appreciate that this unthinking acceptance of new life in a very matter-of-fact way leaves a great deal to be desired. I look at this little face and I marvel at the various facial features of this child who is just a few hours old. He looks like a composition of more than a few of those who preceded him.
Someone in the room says that he might resemble me, but I don’t see it, not yet anyway. I look at him and I see the past generations, all concentrated in that little face that says everything about the future. I think back to the time when my mother’s father, Aaron Berger, o.b.m., held my brother’s daughter in his arms with some 90 years between them. It was at a family event, probably a Chanukah party, and I watched the scene and the photograph being taken that was something obviously special on a number of levels.
First of all, it was in the mid-1970s when it was not that common to come across four generations of families, but by the grace of Gâ€‘d we were able to put it together, witness and observe it, and now, all these years later, we are able to vividly recall that which was.
I cannot help but look at these precious newborn babies as a form of Divine communication, a signal from the heavens, or a heavenly fax, that sends us a message in a most warm and loving way. It says in a manner beyond our comprehension that, yes, everything is all right. The way it turns out, most of what is going on in this vast universe of ours is obscured from us and we do not have the proper faculties to understand what the plan is or what is actually going on around us.
Sitting there listening to the conversations about the shape of the nose, the eyes, and the toes of this young man, my mind wandered off to his history and all that so many had endured to get him to this point. Sure, it’s been four generations, but at the same time not all that long ago that the arrival of a day like this was a serious doubt. There was murder and mayhem, fear and exile. On one side, there was a hurried exodus from an increasingly oppressive communist Russian regime and on the other, escape from certain death, concentration camps, and crematoriums along with the assorted horrors of our not-too-distant past.
I know that’s an awful and difficult juxtaposition, but it is also a dimension of our reality and who we are today. This young man in my arms, his siblings, and his cousins have no clue about any of this. Maybe someday they will study or ask about the history and they will then know. For now, sitting here in this hospital room–my coat and cap on because we can still feel the winter trying to burst in through the windows–I am struck that I might be the repository for all this history and information they will one day seek.
I suppose that I am feeling like a bridge or a crossroads of sorts–and also a very pleased and fulfilled Zaide. In a few days there will iy’H be a b’ris and he will enter the covenant of the people of Israel and his family. That there is pain associated with that momentous event is neither coincidental nor surprising. That is who we are, a people that has endured pain on a multitude of levels to get to where we are today.
On the other side of that pain, however, is a great reward that begins with a newborn baby and a moment like this. v
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