The day after a young child was hit by a car and lost his life in Far Rockaway, we were talking about the seemingly constant flow of events not exactly like this one but certainly similar.
There was the story earlier this summer in Norfolk, Virginia, of a young rebbe who lost his life trying to save a camper who was pulled into unusually rough seas. Then there was the matter just a few weeks ago of a young father of seven who was boating with his family when his kids swimming nearby, with life jackets on, floated a bit too far from the boat. The father, who was not wearing a life jacket, jumped into the water, brought the children back to the pontoon boat, and then apparently suffered a cardiac event that ended his life, though the exact cause of his drowning is unclear. His body was recovered the next day.
There were at least two other drownings or water-related fatalities around the same few weeks this summer. We all were somewhat bewildered about this unusual confluence of tragic events clustered together over a brief period of time.
A visitor to my office for a completely different matter last week asked if I thought these tragedies were occurring with greater frequency or if the modern technological movement of information made it seem that these were becoming more common.
That is a good question that we might grapple with from time to time. And after contemplating the question, it seems that the answer might be that both are the facts as they exist today. These things are happening more often because of the exponential growth and the relatively great size of our population and, yes, the internet and the instantaneous awareness of the news updates increase the nature of the impact of these events on the community.
Of course, interlaced with these bitter and difficult events are the simchas and celebrations. In late August and with Rosh Hashanah occurring at the end of September, there are weddings and bar mitzvah celebrations that require our mindset to be swung around or at least adjusted to comport with the event or situation of the given day.
We had a few birthdays of grandchildren, a bar and bat mitzvah of a great- nephew and niece, and on the circle goes. This week, we have the wedding of a dear friend’s grandchild and then next week the wedding of a friend’s youngest child, as the next generation takes root and steps up to the plate, so to speak, just in time for the conclusion of baseball season.
So on some days we are sad and somber and on others we are giddy and dancing with unbridled joy. And depending on the day, we are down one hour and then a few hours later feeling the opposite.
This might be a display of our uncanny emotional abilities or an example of what the psychology industry these days likes to call neuroplasticity.
As the reader knows, our family has dealt with tragedy almost a half a year ago already. You read about how the accompanying issues are dealt with by those most affected by these types of losses, as chronicled in these pages each week by my daughter, Malkie Hirsch. Frankly, in the immediate aftermath of the death of our son-in-law, Moshe, we did not know how she and the children — or, for that matter, how the rest of both families — would deal and cope with this new reality.
It still hurts and even shakes us up when we focus on what happened. But Malkie has led with strength and fortitude. She is leading her family straight ahead with courage and determination that none of us, and that includes her, thought was something she had in her. Let me put it this way: this was a difficult loss for everyone, and especially for Malkie and the kids. But she has decided that she is not going to let this beat her down and she is pushing back beautifully.
A few weeks ago, we were in Chestnut Ridge at our kids, Dini and Eliezer, and we were aware that the Traube family, who lost their young 37-year-old husband and father, was sitting shivah less than two miles away.
We do not know them and they do not know us. But, inspired by Malkie’s example, we decided that we were going to go to their home to be menachem aveilim. After all, we were acquainted with almost identical circumstances and we calculated that perhaps just to be there, to see them, and, more importantly for them to see us standing there five months up the road, would possibly be at least a minimal source of comfort for them.
So we chatted a bit with them and described how Malkie was doing and how the kids were managing. The objective here was not to make it easier; that is not doable. The point was to show the young woman and her family that it is imperative to stay positive despite the difficulty, to plot ahead but not to move on. You do not move on from this type of personal loss, but you can move forward.
Even though it may not seem possible just a few days after a shocking death and loss in the family, with G-d’s constant help, each day will be a new day featuring the natural inclination to want to live the life that has been graciously bestowed upon us.
Sure, we desperately want to try to make sense of what happened, but that is unfortunately an exercise in futility. We cannot know these things. This is how we are wired by Hashem—with the natural need to know, but also the intellectual ability to understand that it is His intent that, as hard and as problematic as it is, we just cannot reach that level of knowing.
And then this past Sunday we visited the family that lost a three-year-old child in a tragic accident on Labor Day morning. In this case, we are friends with the grandparents, but we were also able to relate on a different plane than we would have prior to what happened in our lives six months ago.
As in the other home a few weeks ago, it is just a matter of being there, of feeling a little of their feelings, and to whatever extent possible sharing their pain.
That same night we had a surprise birthday party of a relative, and then two days later we went to a beautiful wedding for the grandchild of a friend. Over this coming Shabbos there is a bar mitzvah, and next week, please G-d, another wedding before the yom tov deadline.
In about two weeks we will be opening our jars of honey and cutting up some apples. We will sing with our young and not-so-young children about dipping the apple in the honey and having a sweet New Year. We will spend long hours in shul crowning the King of Kings and davening for a year of life, health, and so on.
Mostly, though, we need to pray for the ability to integrate the bitter and the sweet that comes into our lives, usually unexpectedly. Somewhere inside of us we know that life is a tenuous and precious gift. And though we indeed do live life, we really do not understand it. But now, perhaps more than at any other time of year, we can internalize the following: “Don’t tell G-d how big your problems are; tell your problems how big G-d is.”