A figure of speech is just a figure of speech until you live it.
I must have heard the phrase, “hole in my heart,” a hundred times before tragedies bore them into me, one deeper than the next.
Hole #1: My friend Tim
An innocent ninth grade boy lost his life, when the teenager driving the car he was in ran a red light. When he sailed through the windshield, he didn’t need to turn into an angel, for had been born one. I wondered so many times, how could someone so funny, so honest, so shy, so pure…be killed at such a young age. I saw him fly above us in the church as his siblings gave moving eulogies about the child that bridged a blended family. I thought of him at high school graduation and when I packed for college, thinking of his goal to be a dentist one day (a goal I told him was weird). When my first child was born, I said a silent thank you for being able to have lived long enough to have children. Tim made me realize how lucky I am to be “getting old” making every birthday’s blessing overshadow the cellulite, wrinkles, veins, and gray hairs. Tim led me to have a faith that religion had never taught me, a faith that there must be a bigger plan, for how else could such an incredible boy die so young.
Hole #2: My Grandfather
My grandfather was a funny man. He told jokes like most of us breathe. They flowed from him to the point where my grandmother would interrupt and say, “Alright Milty that’s enough.” But for me, it never was enough. I loved his corny jokes, and to this day I smile when my 7th grade students say my jokes are corny. Being corny is like part of my heritage, I cherish it like I do the few Yiddish words I picked up during our endless card games. My grandfather fell in our house, on the same steps I grew up running up and down my entire life. Unable to grasp the very railing where we hung our Christmas stockings, on our way upstairs to light the menorah. My grandfather sat me down on the couch and told me how he judged my father based on his race, and that it was a mistake that he would always be ashamed of. He said he was sorry for ever thinking of my father as anything but his son. He told me I was special, because of my mixed race. He said I was born to change the world. Then he told me to call the ambulance. (He never did make it out of the hospital.)
Hole #3: My Grandmother
My grandmother…what can I say. She was a tough cookie. She told it like it was and had no patience to hear the extras. She woke up before the roosters and was never to be seen without a full face of makeup. I thought she looked like classic Hollywood movie star. Her house became known as the “Fat House” for there was always something (many things) to nosh on. As kids we would hide under the kitchen table while the adults played cards and wait for her to schmear cream cheese over the hole of her bagel. When the time was right, she would beckon us to poke our finger through the hole and giggle with glee. I wear her engagement ring on my finger and I can still remember how it looked sparkling on her hand. I remember her twirling it as she studied her hand of cards that held another gin rummy. I remember how it felt when she would hold my hand and aimlessly stroke the nails on my fingers. I will never forget the summer I spent in the nursing home, watching her slip away.
Hole #4: My Daddy
This hole feels like a canyon, alive with echoes of the past that sound real enough to be the present. This hole stops me mid run and breaks me down into the kind of sobs that hurt for hours after your cheeks have dried. This hole still smells like a freshly dug grave, I am too deep to see the flowers up above. When I go home to visit my mom and brother, my mind plays tricks on me. I think he will walk in the door any second, light up the room with his laughter…turn the game on. I know the sound of his footsteps on the stairs, the rustle of the Newsday on the table, even the cadence of the way he called, “Paula” when he needed my mom for something.
This hole is as alive as my father is dead.
It gets a bit deeper when I see his face in photos all over the house. I want to scream at him to talk to me. Tell those photos to give me those moments back, because I need them. I need him. I miss him. I wouldn’t want him to suffer like he was, only to go back and have all of our efforts work. He was supposed to get better.
Instead, I have to settle for watching my mom get better. She is growing stronger. He would be proud.
And I guess that’s why we have these holes. They live within us, making us who we are. I have more holes. My other grandparents, uncles, my aunts, my prom date, and probably my former students (statistically speaking). But these holes in out hearts are only as empty as we allow them to be. I try to replace a little bit of what was taken every day. Every time I push myself to be better, to do more, to help others.
Starting soon I will be launching a new blog and it will be based on one simple principle…you can be better. Take what the past has given you and take the present as an opportunity to make a better future. Each time life makes a hole, I am determined that it will be in a richer, fuller heart.