I remember a mishap years ago while in first grade and happily swinging on the playground swing during recess. I had just put the finishing touches on a sand castle in the sandbox and, proud of my achievement, I jumped on the swing in celebration.
As I joyfully swung back and forth, I noticed some fellow students had come upon my work of art and had set about stomping on it.
I was so outraged that I leaped off the swing to stop them. The only problem was that I was still up in the air when deciding to jump, and I went flying through the air – headfirst. My next memory was of opening my eyes and seeing a sea of adult faces hovering over me, worry and concern etched on each one of them.
When it appeared that I was going to be okay and the teachers could start breathing again, they asked what in the world made me do such a dangerous thing like jumping off the swing in midair. I explained that the castle I had worked so hard to create was being destroyed, and I had to stop the perpetrators. I guess even then I didn’t think “land for peace” would work.
But that isn’t the point of this story. What is the point was my resultant fear of getting back on the swing. I had a nasty lump on my head, and it hurt and throbbed. Any little shake of my head made me feel nauseous. But long after the pain had left, I feared going on the swing – even though it was something I had always enjoyed. I guess on a subconscious level I was afraid of history repeating itself – that if it could happen once, it could happen again. And I was terrified of putting myself into yet another situation where I could be hurt like that.
However, a very wise teacher seeing me standing near the swings everyday, watching the other kids enjoying themselves, encouraged me to get back on. I was reluctant, and initially refused to get back on. But eventually her heartening words and reassurances that I would be fine convinced me to try again, and not let fear stop me from doing what I truly wanted to do.
This long-ago memory surfaced as I thought about my father, Chaim ben Aron Yosef HaCohen, a Holocaust survivor – and by association, those of his generation who survived the churban of the Shoah. He had been on my mind due to his approaching yahrzeit on Rosh Chodesh Kislev.
As I have mentioned previously when writing about him, the overwhelming perception I had of him was of a very quiet, even timid man, a “shrinking violet” who seemed to want to avoid detection. He almost seemed invisible even when in the room.
However, as I grow older and have more insight into the human condition, I am in awe of what I now realize was his incredible heroism and bitachon (faith) – his, my mother’s and that of every survivor of extreme trauma and immeasurable loss.
I feel this way because they did not let their understandable fear and raw emotional pain, along with the possibility of it “happening again,” stop them from trying life again.
They got back “on the swing.”
Most had torn away from them – in horrific, brutal and atrocious ways that decent human beings cannot fathom – the beloved mothers and fathers and siblings and spouses and babies who were their emotional oxygen. With the ones they loved and cherished with every fiber of their being ripped away from them – never again to be seen, held or embraced – how is it that they kept on breathing?
How is it that they, with broken bodies and shattered hearts, had the mental stamina and spiritual faith to go “back on the swing” and start life anew – making themselves vulnerable again to possible loss and pain? How could they again dare to live and love?
I ask myself if I had been in the survivors’ shoes and experienced the ultimate evil possible, and knowing that if it happened once it could happen again, would I have gotten married (again) and had children (again).
Would I have ever said “Baruch Hashem” or made a brachah (again) like they did?
I would like to think that I would have, that I would have had the superhuman determination to live, rather than merely exist.
But I truly don’t know for sure.
But what I do know is that in his own way, my quiet, humble, meek father – who suffered such unimaginable loss that he could not bear to ever speak of it – was truly a superman.
Not only did he grab the ropes of the swing, but he also swung away from the past and soared into the future.