My first urge was to resist the chat coming from the man who sat next to me on the train yesterday. I wanted my own space to read Shai Held's book on Heschel which begins by identifying the callousness of modern man because of technology. Heschel says I am in a state of looking out for my need and missing wonder in the world, which has me missing out on appreciation, and service, then anchoring myself in history so I can know transcendence. Ok, I put the book down and gave my attention to the man who clearly wanted to talk.
He started with the movie Noah-- reviewed in the morning paper. My commentary "It is hard for me to accept Russell Crowe in the role of Noah. Noah is supposed to be a righteous man, and that actor doesn't seem quite right. On the other hand, according to the Bible, he is righteous in his age, which means he doesn't have to be so perfect, just better than the others around him."
From there he carried the conversation to his daughter's 21st birthday where some of the girls got so very drunk that they were doing things that they would be very embarrassed about. "I told my wife, don't repeat those stories." "Yes, there is a teaching that once you let the feathers go from a pillow you can't gather them up again, just like gossip, once you say it, those words can't be taken back."
Was it the Heschel or something about this man with glasses, and a nose that said he had spent a good deal of time drinking, that made me go preacher?
Lee, I learned, was planning a celebration for his 25th wedding anniversary. He had the minister and 50 guests coming as a surprise for his wife. He planned for them to enact their wedding vows. "Should I bring her wedding dress which is sealed and have her change into it there? One of my sisters says, yes, and the other says, no. What do you think?" " Really she can fit into it?" asking with amazement, because I'm not sure I could get my right arm into my own wedding dress. "Yes, the same 105 pounds as when I married her."
Lee quickly went from celebration to heartache. He had already told me he had made a lot of money in computer software, lived in a 5 bedroom house, and in the summer went to their shore house. Then: "I don't speak to my son."
"Anyone who knows me, knows I'm all about family. My son was my everything. He's my oldest. My son is handsome and athletic. I went to every game he ever played. After he graduated college he thought I'd still be his scholarship, you know what I mean, pay for everything. That was two years ago. And last year I had to do tough love. He didn't want to work, just take. I haven't spoken to him in months. He won't pick up the phone or answer my email."
Back to celebration. "My son won't be at our anniversary celebration. I know how hard that will be for my wife."
"Did you invite him?"
In great detail he described how he missed his son. His son also "blamed everything" on him. He knew he was doing the right thing, yet wasn't sure. "I heard he has two jobs now to pay his rent in San Francisco."
"Can I offer some advice?" Hey, he had already asked me about the dress. With his permission:
"Can you write him a letter? A handwritten letter that says:
I love you.
I'm sorry for the pain.
I miss you.
Mom and I are celebrating our anniversary in two weeks.
Our twenty five years together has been through difficult and good times. That's love.
It won't be the same without you.
I will send you a ticket if you can come.
And this man who had, during a short ride, given me the accounting of his life, listing fifty guests, twenty-five years of marriage, five bedrooms, three children, two houses and a lost relationship with one son, started to cry.
"You would send the letter without the expectation that your son will respond or come. Just send it so in his time of figuring this out he'll know, you love him. That's all. Every boy has to do his struggle to become a man. Eventually, forgiveness comes. That might be in a month or a year or five years. But it will come."
"I can do that. A handwritten letter."
Lee had a ticket for the Acela yesterday morning and mistakenly got on the regional rail. When he left he said it was meant to be that we had sat next to each other. He wished me many blessings. One more parting, he added,"God bless you." Is this what Heschel was talking about?