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All the things that we remember, the ones that become etched into memory, are extreme. Extremes of joy or loss. Extremes of pleasure or pain. Some say that the recollection of pain takes the least effort of all. I know this to be true. Along with my most joyful memories, there are painful ones that haunt me each day. They float through my mind when I least expect them. They come in waves so powerful that they resist having their meaning unearthed. They are snippets of dreams, the final chords of a symphony fading into silence.

Not long ago, while in prayer, I looked out the window at a fig tree. It lay just beyond the decrepit fence that rings the southern wall of the synagogue. Its leaves were so verdant, so full that I could hardly see its branches. The last time I’d seen the fig tree it was gray and naked. I thought it had died. I thought about the tree again this morning. Having seen the fig tree again, now so lush, made me think of my sister Susie – both the graceful way she lived, and the awful way she died.


I’d been in Israel when we received the terrible news. Our children had been waiting for my wife and me to return with breakfast, the four of them excited to return to Los Angeles after being away from home for so long. As my wife and I closed the last of our suitcases, I saw that there were several messages on my cell phone. The first three were from my brother-in-law Russell. The last message was from El Al airlines: “Call home now. There has been an accident.” It was my sister Nina who told me that our sister had died in a car accident on a road in rural Wisconsin. That precise interval of time, of hearing – but not quite comprehending Nina’s words – is what I thought of when I saw the fig tree.

To make a connection between seemingly disparate things is to enter, if only briefly, a world beyond rationality. And in our quest to return as soon as possible to what is rational, we often become dismissive of making those connections. We toss them aside, just as we would a nonsensical dream. After all, we have better things to do with our time, more relevant and important things to accomplish than to think about how a fig tree, once bare, but now luxuriant and green, could have any connection to a beloved sibling, now dead and gone. I do indeed have things to accomplish. A whole stack of them. I need to contact our insurance broker, fill the gas tank, make flight arrangements, and drive east through rush hour traffic.

But now, as I sit here and write, I realize that I’ve been presented with a choice – perhaps it’s best to describe it as a dilemma: Do I take even a moment to reflect on these odd and perhaps beautifully meaning-laden thoughts that I’ve been presented with, or do I dismiss them in favor of more practical considerations? The answer becomes readily apparent. I understand now that there’s no need for over-long contemplation. I need only avoid my inclination to not see.

So, what is it I see when I think of the fig tree?

I see that my sister Susie’s death at the age of 40 has left me – a man who is otherwise quite fulfilled – bereft.

I see that her loss is a hole in my life, a grave into which I peer each day.

I see that I long to communicate with her, to listen to what she has to say, to listen more closely than I ever did during her lifetime.

I see that whether I like it or not, I am – that we all are – in the process of becoming, of being reborn.

We human beings are not alone in our nascence, in our daily acts of becoming. The fig tree is a participant in that process as well. It will soon bear fruit. Its figs are of course, a thing, a food. That is their external feature. Given their sweetness and their live-giving properties, could it also be that a fig’s essential feature is hope – an essential feature of us all? When the figs have finally ripened, I will climb the synagogue fence, pick one fig, and taste hope, savor hope. Feel hope on my tongue. Know hope.

Susie had her special way of filling me with hope–of prodding me toward a greater cognizance of my own aliveness. Wordlessly, she would embolden me to become more of myself, to become more willing to stop and see things that I too often take for granted, to become more willing to glean a deeper meaning from everything I experience. And to recognize that G-d, the Constant Creator of time and space, of earth and sky, of insects and oceans, of galaxies – and of figs – continues at every moment, to create a world, not of randomness and disorder, but of purpose and love. Within these thoughts, within this sudden reawakening, I have become full again, optimistic that the memory of this moment will not fade, that it will take its place among my most joyful memories.

Love, it now feels to me, is ineradicable, everlasting, eternal, just as my love for my sister Susie is.

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Peter Himmelman, a Grammy- and Emmy-nominated rock and roll performer, songwriter, and film composer, is releasing his new book, Suspended by No String (Regalo Press, distributed by Simon & Schuster) on August 13 and available for pre-order now on Amazon.