Goodbye Ron

documentary family photography-28.jpg documentary family photography-177.jpg Wednesday was tough.

I woke, for the third time in as many days, in the back of my van, with a headache, a twitchy back, and smelling ever so slightly of cow, to the incessant ringing of a non-consequential phone call.

8:43. After mixing up and drinking my morning cocktail (three heaping teaspoons of good instant coffee; two flat teaspoons of raw, hard honey; gobs of fresh raw milk), I made my way to my office (mine due to squatting laws), put on my tefilin and prayed.

Well that's what I should have done.

The first time I was honored with the "stay at home alone" badge (besides for the time my parents drove the whole family to Westminster, sans Zalmy), I was 7, maybe 8. I finished reading whatever it was that I was reading (probably the Hardy Boys, I've always wondered what Aunt Gertrude's pies really tasted like, and if they were all that), swung off the couch (blue, with the white and yellow polka dots) waved to Oscar (the big ugly fish that lorded over the lesser cichlids), and poured myself some water.

It was quiet. Too quiet. Not one to scare easily, I checked each room for some inhabitants, possibly a mom, maybe a dad, or at least a sibling. No luck. Checked the garage (where we kept our 8 1/2" black and white TV, the glorious provider of such forbidden delights, the likes of Gilligan's Island and Knight Rider), the closets. Then I freaked, my active imagination running through all possible scenarios, none of them calming.

Turns out my parents had been trying to leave the house for a while, and I just wasn't getting off the couch. No amount of threatening or pleading would even merit a glance from me. Annoyed, and out of time, they gave me one last threat of impending departure, and promptly drove off. Of course I was in the wonderful world of Fenton Hardy, his two intrepid sons, and their husky friend Chet, and was unaware of any threatening: pleading; or impending departures.

By the time I actually prayed it was closer to 12 than 11. Unfortunately, this time there were no young sleuths occupying my mind.

12:36. I washed my face, went through the motions of brushing my beard, sprayed on deodorant for the first time all week (don't judge, I don't trust that stuff) and put on the white dress shirt that happened to be crumpled in my backpack. I then carefully placed my overflowing, overused, Starbucks cup of orange juice and water in the far right cupholder, and merged on to the Ramona Expressway, cruise controlling at exactly (Speed Limit x .17) + Speed Limit - (day of the month/9) (my patented equation to the fastest possible non ticketable speed).

2:05. There was no parking, so I followed the crowd (who was obviously following the crowd in front, who had no clue where they were going), found some parking, and started walking, avoiding as much conversation as possible. Sometimes, I just like to be alone with my thoughts.

The funeral had started.

Small hellos, nods, shared sighs of disbelief, many tears. Most of us were standing outside the chapel, crowded tight to hear what none of us wanted to, yet we all needed to, hear.

I don't cry. Last time I shed some tears was by 9/11, before that, appendicitis, possibly a broken jaw. But today was different. Ron was different.

Listening to his family and friends speak about a man I knew fairly well, but not well enough. And my tears felt presumptuous. As if somehow I had a right to be sad. That in the overwhelming, unimaginable grief of family that had their brother, husband, and father ripped away so suddenly and mercilessly; as if somehow my pain was worth something.

Odd is the way of the mind and heart, understanding, yet questioning, demanding.

Ron was possibly the most perfect man I knew. And from all I heard about him in the past week, he deserved that title more than I realized. His spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, family, and professional life were all in one straight line. And he cared. Genuinely. Deeply. About Judaism, G-d, his family, his community, his patients. And that is rare.

There were things I didn't know about him. I didn't know he never lied. Ever. I never knew he played in a band. I never knew he never got angry. Ever. I didn't know that he'd go out of his way to resolve disputes. He would rather pay, and have peace, than win, and have discord.

And I'm mad at myself for not knowing these things. And I'm mad at myself for my selfish madness. I wish I would have known Ron better. I could have. But it takes a lot for me to open up, and I take the easy route of easy banter, friendly conversation, and polite salutations.

I found myself watching the family. Now please understand, I am not a rubbernecker, I most always look away from tragedy, and do not gaze curiously at the emotional. It physically hurts me to.

Yet I found myself looking at Ron's wife and young kids, watching, and in a very small measure sharing their pain. I know it doesn't work that way, but I found myself hoping that, by the sheer force of my will and tears, I could somehow, maybe, just absorb a little of the pain.

I don't think it worked, but later, as I was thinking about it (it's all I've been thinking about), I realized that it's the opposite. That by the sheer force of their will and tears, they shared some of the love, the deep, deep love, that is always there, but comes pouring out, by the end of one's life. For more than all the character traits, achievements, and humorous tendencies, Ron's life was a life of love.

God asked him, "Do you want to go to the world now? I need you to show the people what it means to love, what it means to have compassion, what it means to be a leader, what it means to have a sense of humor, what it means to be a true friend. And most importantly, I need you to teach them about Me and My Torah and how to live a meaningful life. Can you do that?" "Yes God, I can." "I will let you stay there for a specific amount of time, and then I will take you back when everyone least expects it. It will seem unjust, but I have My reasons. Will you still go?" "Yes God, I will go."

We miss you Ron, tell God the world is ready for Moshiach. And then we can all see your smile once again. Estee Berkowitz

I don't think there is any use trying to make sense of senselessness, but there is a use in trying to grow from it. To harness the "Ron'ness" inside of us.

Ron, I didn't know you nearly as well as I should have, and in honor of you I won't let that happen again. I will not limit my correspondence with people to easy banter, friendly conversation, and polite salutations. I'm going to build a bridge of this island, allow myself out, and allow, and even bring others in. I know that from how I write here, I seem open. I'm not. And that is going to change.

I went by the house the other day for a Shiva visit (it's a Jewish custom to visit the mourners for the first seven days, to talk about the deceased, and make the transition a little more bearable) and was amazed by the amount of people that loved and cherished Ron, by the strength, and unwavering faith of his family. If anyone has a right to be proud of what he accomplished down here, it's Ron.

We will miss you Ron. Dearly. Intensely.

The world is a little bit darker without you, but much, so much brighter because of you.

We love you, and always will.

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