What do I want them to say at my levayah? That I tried
I don’t recall how the conversation started that Shabbos morning, but my husband said, “I hate those people who say, ‘No hespedim at my levayah.’ People want to talk, let them say nice things about you.”
Me, natural contrarian that I am, said, “I’d rather people say nothing than lie about me.”
“Lie?” my husband asked mildly.
“Yeah, they’ll say I’m a nice person. And stuff like that. Y’know how they try to inspire you by telling you to be the person you want people to talk about at your levayah? Well, they’re gonna say nice things about me no matter what I do. So that pep talk doesn’t work on me.”
My husband laughed. “Well, I want them to say nice things about me.”
“I’ll make sure they do,” I reassured him. Which of course led to the conversation of which of us will die first.
And then we took Shabbos naps and that was the end of that conversation. And I never had to answer the question — what do I want people to say about me if I don’t want them to just say I was “nice”?
Life went on. The school I teach in had a Mordechai Shapiro concert for their Chanukah chagigah. I’m a fan, so I told my kids about the upcoming concert. Their eyes got big and wide. My oldest in particular was very excited.
“Ma, I can shake his hand. You can’t.” That was true, I confirmed. But no, he couldn’t come to school with me that day.
“Tell him I say hi,” my son said.
“Sure,” I said easily, but laughed inwardly. Ha, as if that would happen.
I danced like an over caffeinated octopus at the concert, until it ended, and my students were shooed off to eat lunch. I was standing around talking to my co-teachers, when I looked up, and there was Mordechai Shapiro standing on stage talking to another teacher. If she could, why couldn’t I?
I hesitated. I’m not the stalking celebrity type. I play it way too cool for that. But my son, he’d kvell for days. I try to be a good mother; I could mortify myself for him. I grabbed my phone and ran to the door that led backstage.
With little to no finesse I barged onto the stage, gave an awkward hi, and held up my phone.
“My son’s a huge fan, can you say hi to him in a video?”
Mordechai Shapiro is very nice; he’s also asked to do this too often. Without blinking he asked me my son’s name, and we were on a roll.
It was a short clip, just seven seconds. It was all I needed to cement my legacy in the SuperMom Hall of Fame. I thanked Mordechai Shapiro and bounded down the steps.
My joy was short-lived. No, I didn’t accidentally delete the video; I remembered my second son. He’s not as big a fan, but when it comes to videos and people saying hi on screen, my second son is king. He’s always poking his head into every FaceTime call I have, or he’ll voice note my friends, saying hi, and demanding hi’s back.
And I’d forgotten about him. I didn’t get a hi for him from Mordechai Shapiro. My son would be both offended and devastated. So now my dilemma: What to do with the video?
In the car on the drive home, I called my husband.
“I botched,” I said, and told him the story.
“It’s up to you,” he said. Which sounds like he’s empowering me, but he’s really just washing his hands of my mess.
I called my sister Malky next.
“You have a few choices,” she started briskly. “Tell Shlomo you forgot about him—”
“I can’t tell him that! He’s the kid who’ll never forget that I forgot about him.”
My sister chuckled; she knows my Shlomo.
“You can show it to Elchonon on condition that he doesn’t tell Shlomo.”
“That’s not gonna work, he’ll tell him eventually when he’s mad at Shlomo and feeling vindictive.”
“And this is where parenting becomes a chess game. If you tell him and he tells Shlomo then you tell him you’ve lost trust in him, and next time, blah blah, but do you want to be playing that game?”
“Parenting is hard enough without master chess maneuvers.”
My sister paused.
“Then just delete the video.”
My heart sank, because I’d considered that at first, but it was so preposterous. My love was represented in that short clip. I went out of myself, beyond myself, for my son, and now he would never find out how I’d sacrificed my dignity for him.
“I’ll play it by ear,” I said.
I finished driving home, changed out of my chagigah dancing clothes and waited for my boys.
They came charging home, bellowing hellos followed by shedding coats and “What can I eat?” After they were settled and snacking my oldest turned to me with bright eyes.
“How was the concert?”
“Geshmak!” I showed him a few video clips and still photos I took, careful to avoid the personalized clip. My son watched the clips a few times, imitated Mordechai Shapiro’s intro vocalization to “Hakol Mishamayim” and moved on to LEGO. He didn’t even ask me if I’d tried to say hi to Mordechai Shapiro.
Ouch. That meant he never seriously thought I would do that for him. He didn’t even ask on an off chance, it was no-chance in his mind. Is that what he thought of me as a mother?
Now I needed to show him the clip. Show my son, I love you. I’ll do anything for you. I’m here for you. Even if it means going outside myself.
But I can’t hurt my second son. So, the clip is still on my phone, unseen by either of them, a symbol of my maternal efforts and love.
And that’s how I came to answer my existential question. What do I want them to say at my levayah? That I tried. More often than not I didn’t succeed, sometimes I outright failed — in parenting, middos, kibbud av, tzniyus, etc. But I sincerely cared and tried in this world.
With that, I ask: Mordechai Shapiro, when are you coming to Passaic?
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 733)
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