Sometimes heroes come to us in a form we least expect. Five and a-half years ago my only sibling was killed in an automobile accident. There was a surreal ordeal that my family and I went through for about a month while the doctors constantly tended to him in intensive care. At the end of the roller coaster of hopeful days followed by agonizing days, we had to make the painful decision to take him off life support and let him die. He was 39, one year younger than me. Besides my parents he was the only person I had know closely all my life. As I watched my brother’s heartbeat slow and eventually stop forever, I felt a terrible finality that I had never experienced before. A whole future with him was gone, never to be. A promise as fundamental as breathing was broken. I realized instantly and holistically that when my parents are gone, I will be the ONLY person left from our small, four person family. It will likely be like this for many years of my adult life. I walked from his bedside and touched his foot sticking out from under the blankets. I left the ICU with my father and sister-in-law all three of us sobbing and hugging each other.
It was not until the funeral was over and I was back home that the full force of grief hit me. It was emotionally and physically agonizing. Every muscle in my body hurt. My heart ached and I actually felt a void in my chest. About about a week after returning, I was walking in my neighborhood. I guess I was in a daze because I barely heard (seemingly in the distance), “Are you OK?” I looked to up to see the rabbi who lived on our street. We knew each other but our interactions never went beyond neighborly cordial, just saying hi as we passed each other. But on this day he stopped and looked at me and repeated his question. His tone was so genuine and his stare so penetrating, yet gentle, that without a thought I told him about my loss. He never took his eyes off me as I briefly described what had happened. After I started to choke up with tears he asked, “Would you like to talk more about this? I am going to a meeting right now, but I could meet you later at my office.”
And so followed a handful of meetings during which Rabbi Yosef Levin of Chabad of Greater South Bay and I spoke for a few minutes. It was informal and comfortable. He offered me books to read on grief and spirituality and he offered perspective. He shared with me his own experience of losing his father unexpectedly and being unable to say goodbye in person. He introduced me to the notion that there is a plan and we have to have faith that our place in that plan will be fulfilled. That we find our purpose, even if at times our purpose is to be lost or hurting. Most of all Rabbi Yosef offered me his time, focused ear, and kind eyes.
I was raised Roman Catholic, but this did not matter to Rabbi Yosef, who is an orthodox Hassidic Jew. He and I come from completely different worlds. But when I was with him, there was no feeling of difference. There was just one man helping another through a difficult period. This incredibly busy man gave me his time and good counsel and love even though I was not a part of his congregation or faith. He has never asked for anything in return and now when I see him on the street, he always asks me how I am doing and stops to listen and look me over with concern. He always smiles warmly and gives his time, no matter the rush he is in.
This hero helped me when I was in need. It seems so simple, but I have to acknowledge what a great man and friend he is to me. He did all this for me in the perfect way that very few people can. Thank you Rabbi Yosef!