Dad died peacefully in his bed, with his children around him.
The last of our greatest generation. The last of the generation who grew up in poverty, fought in the wars that American won, worked hard and, with the help of the GI bill and public education, lived the American Dream.
And, most of all, Dad was a good, kind and loving man. And, as the rabbi said, he was an extraordinary, ordinary person, who felt so fortunate in life and was always ready to share with others less fortunate.
The Shiva candle burned for a week. That final day, I watched as the flame flickered and weakened. I was scared that I would lose Dad as soon as that candle went out. As the day wore on and the candle was finally extinguished, I knew that I needed to make sure that the best of Dad lived on in me.
And he was a whole lot nicer than I am.
Today, I was on the subway heading to work, and torturing myself with reading my siblings’ beautiful eulogies and listening to Ode to Joy (Himno de la Alegría), which I played for Dad in his last days. Ok, not Jewish, but I wanted Dad to leave this world with stirring music. (I also played Psalms as is our tradition).
I got off at my stop (Penn Station) and walked quickly to the staircase.
There was a man blocking the staircase. Everyone, including me, was exasperated that he was slowing us down.
But, I felt Dad put his now immortal hand on my shoulder, and I looked more closely at the man. He had a cane and looked far too enfeebled for his age. He looked like the many of the people in Penn Station — a little shabby and a lot down on their luck.
And I could tell he could not figure out how to manage his suitcase while negotiating the stairs with a cane.
“Sir, please let me be of assistance,” I said more as a statement than a request.
He looked at me, somewhat suspiciously and then somewhat relieved.
“Let me carry your suitcase down the stairs right behind you.” He nodded.
We descended the stairs at his pace. Many people behind us were sighing loudly in frustration. I didn’t care. Even though a few minutes earlier, I was one of them.
We reached the landing and he looked unsure how to get out of the subway labyrinth and into Penn Station.
I pointed him in the right direction, but realized that there were more stairs, so I took the suitcase and deposited at the top of the stairs, so when he finished climbing them, the suitcase would be waiting for him.
At that point, I think he was getting uncomfortable with my help. And I also knew that there were no more stairs until he had to board his commuter train. So, I directed him and shook his hand and wished him a safe trip.
I dedicate these moments of kindness to my Dad because while the candle’s flame went out, the example of his life is not extinguished.
I love you forever, Dad.