My father once interviewed a Rabbi who spent most of his days writing and writing. “What do you write all day?” my father asked him. “I write the eulogies for each member of my congregation,” he replied…
As we stand in the week of Chayei Sarah – the quintessential time of burial, eulogy and remembrance, I would like to share with you my eulogy for a close friend.
Obituary/Eulogy – Mr. M. Sable
Other details: See below
He came into my life in 1995, when he was just 6 years old. At first our relationship was kind of rocky, me getting used to his idiosyncrasies and mood swings, him getting used to my temperament and occasional impatience.
As time passed we became good friends. Loyalty built, as we learned to trust each other. We became so close that some of my old-time friends began getting jealous. As time passed, we got closer and closer and began traveling together almost everywhere. He wasn’t that handsome and becoming, but he was reliable. He had many shortcomings, but as I became more accustomed to him, I learned to overlook many of his weaknesses. After all, I wasn’t that perfect myself, and yet he remained loyal to me. Yes, my friend wasn’t that beautiful, but he was my friend.
As time passed, we became quite attached. Sometimes I would spend more time with my friend than with anyone else, even family members. We took long trips together – traveled into the mountains during the summer, driving along the windy highways taking in the breeze. At times we had to brave the rain or snow, and slowly venture through treacherous ground.
He learned to adjust to my rhythm as I adjusted to his. We learned to align ourselves to the twists and turns of life’s journeys. He would sing for me, in many voices. He saw me at my best and my worst and never judged me. He accepted me both when I was frustrated, angry, yelling at myself and others for being late, as well as when I would smile and sing to myself, or just be plain silly. I learned to see things through his lens, his windows and mirrors – and became a greater person for it.
Even when others would offend us, he would deftly help me maneuver and get around all challenges. When others around us would be caught up in their own machinations, and distracted by the ‘rush hours’ of their lives, he would often soothe me and help me cruise through the madness.
We even got into trouble with the law together. I cannot tell you how many times we had a run in with the cops, and had to face stiff penalties for our mischievous behavior. All those summonses cost me plenty.
One of the things I really miss about him, is his ability to allow me to have conversations with others, even while I was with him; he never felt ignored. As a matter of fact, as I think about it, when cell phones became all the rage, he helped energize my private conversations and allowed me to return many calls which I simply could not do sitting consumed at my desk.
Above all, my friend allowed me to use his shoulder to lean on. How often was I calmed by just taking a ride with him, going… nowhere.
So yes, you can see how close we became.
But as the years rolled on, his age began to show. He grew increasingly needy. Instead of the sporadic need for nurturing, he began to be more and more demanding, and costly. Yet, because of his friendship to me I was willing to pay the price. After all, he helped me get to places I was unable to reach on my own. Times sometimes became so challenging that our relationship became quite unbalanced: I was doing a lot more giving than receiving. As he increasingly ailed, I was becoming a caretaker, and began to fear that we would cease being equals.
Yet, we endured even that. Often I would wonder whether our relationship hadn’t turned dysfunctional. Perhaps I was willing to tolerate all his aches and pains because it allowed me to stay in my comfort zone. You know, the known evil is always better than the unknown one. I ignored these thoughts, as our relationship rolled on, on its own course.
As he continued to deteriorate with age, my close friends began to badger me that it wasn’t good for my image to continue hanging around with my friend. “This friend was becoming a liability for a person of your stature,” they argued. They tried to persuade me to give up my friend, to find new friends.
I thought to myself: “Do I give up a loyal companion, who had traveled with me through thick and thin, just because he was getting old and grouchy?”
Grouchy indeed. As his grouchiness grew, I finally decided to take my friend to a doctor to see if he can be helped. My friend didn’t like the idea. “Doctors are just lousy mechanics,” he seemed to be telling me, “they have no real sensitivity to life and no true appreciation of our relationship.”
“You need help,” I told him, “and I am going to fix you.”
He replied, “It’s you who needs fixing. You and your good friends who just want to see me canned.”
“Have I been anything but loyal to you all these years? Do you know how much time and energy I spent to keep you in shape,” I retorted.
But he wasn’t going to let me have the last word. “You helped me only because I serve your interests. I don’t really think you love me for who I am. You care for me only for what I do for you!”
Maybe he was right. So I conveniently shut my mouth.
His grouchiness grew, and I sensed that the time had come to say goodbye. I thought to myself, “this will be easy. Bidding farewell shouldn’t be that big of a thing. Hey, everybody’s time has got to come after all.” Little did I know. Getting rid of this friend was not going to be easy. You can’t just develop a relationship with someone, and then just discard him when he no longer neatly fits your plans.
I thought that I wouldn’t need many excuses. After all, my friend was coughing and belching. A day barely passed that he didn’t have some breakdown. I won’t get graphic, but he was creaking and leaking, and it didn’t seem too difficult to just take him to the hospital – or a nursing home – and allow him to finish his days in peace.
But he would have the last laugh.
The sad day finally came. My friend took, what I thought, was his last breath. He had, driven me to my weekly class in the city. And after the class, he wasn’t feeling well. He couldn’t lift himself even with a boost. I quickly rushed him to the hospital, thinking that I would be going home alone. Mind you, it wasn’t easy to shlep him to the hospital. He simply refused to go. And he was one heavy dude. I finally dragged him there, at around midnight, with a little help from my friends.
What do you know? As soon as I enter the emergency room, someone yells out to me: “Hey, Rabbi Jacobson. Don’t you remember me?” I didn’t recognize his face. He reminds me that he came to some of my lectures in Manhattan. “What are you doing here?” I ask him. He’s an electrician called in to do some emergency work. Quickly, he introduces me to the head attendant, Roni, and tells him that he should treat my patient well, being that I am an “important Rabbi.” I get the royal treatment and my friend is quickly cared for.
Quietly, I whisper to those in charge, “frankly, I am ready to say goodbye to my friend. Please just try to make his final moments as pleasant as possible.” But my plans were just not meant to be.
Before I leave for the night, I have one more thing to do. I had given my friend some of my books (Toward A Meaningful Life) to hold onto. It was now several months that he was carrying around these books, and he happened to have them with him this evening. What hashgacha protis (Divine Providence)! I took two of the books and signed them for the electrician and Roni, thanking them for helping my friend.
The next morning Roni calls me, and to my surprise he informs me that they could help save my friend. The medical bill will be so much and so much. They are confident that he will recover and be ready to go home. I told Roni, “frankly, my friend is on his last legs, and I think that he should remain there. It’s just not worth the money to try to keep him alive and bring him back home.” Roni said to me, “how much money would make it worth your while to save him?” I said “no money at all. It just isn’t worth it any longer. Let’s take him out of his misery.” Roni insisted, “Ok, if that’s the case, we’ll do it for no cost at all.” What was I going to say, “no, don’t save my loyal friend.” So I agreed. Roni and his staff successfully resuscitated him, and felt that I should come pick him up as soon as possible.
Ok, so my friend is not going away so fast. As I shared my story about how difficult I was finding it to free myself from my difficult friend, someone who had just gone through a terrible divorce, says to me sardonically: “I know how you feel. It’s much harder to rid yourself of a bad spouse than to find a new one…” (dear reader: if this is in bad taste, forgive me and please let me know).
The next week, again after my class, my friend sputtered yet again. And again, I took him to the hospital. Only to encounter yet another attendant who began telling me his life story. And again, I took another book my friend was carrying, signed it and gave it to this new attendant.
And then I realized the depth of my friend’s closeness. He was holding on to my books – books that were meant to be given away to people my friend would lead me to, including the hospital attendants. The Holy Arizal teaches us – and the Baal Shem Tov elucidates the point – that each of us is allocated a certain number of Divine sparks that we are meant to elevate in our life journey. These sparks will beckon us, even haunt us until we rise to their – our – calling. After all the sparks that my friend and I had elevated together, my friend was carrying a few final sparks for us to finish. By refusing to go his peaceful way, he was telling me that we still have unfinished business together. “Distribute all the books that I am carrying for you, and then I can go to my resting place in peace,” my friend was whispering to me in his last, final gasps.
What a friend!
I quickly proceeded to sign and give away all my books to the various attendants at the hospital. When I finished, my friend was finally ready to say his final goodbye.
So, go in peace my good friend. You have taught me much. You have traveled far and wide with me. You have seen me grow, perhaps like no one else. I will not forget you.
Farewell, my 1989 brown Mercury Sable.
Disclaimer: This obituary is only a metaphor and hopefully will be taken as such. In no way does it minimize the profound loss of a true close friend or relative. To all those that have lost someone close, please accept my condolences and prayers. May the soul of your close one empower you to find the strength to build a life inspired by his or her soul.