Traverse City Record-Eagle


August 7, 2010

Perspectives: It is what it is and you travel at your own speed

Somewhere, in the geography of the mind, just between stark reality and denial, is a place called "It is what it is."

This land is most often occupied by mourners and people who have received shocking news; those who are trying to cope, to regain their footing and return to the ordinariness of life.

The roads in "It is what it is" have sudden heights and depths and feel as though they were planned by a roller coaster designer rather than by a civil engineer. Some roads that appear straight and fairly level become quite circular and go round and round in no particular direction. And then, when least expected, they either level out or just stop.

Along the way are kind people who have traveled these roads before and they offer encouragement and tell us: "Some days the roads feel very steep and horribly narrow, and at other times they are almost too wide and endlessly flat. Eventually though, you get back to the main highways and old familiar paths. You will continue the journey you started, but your life will have changed."

I have been on a journey through "It is what it is" ever since we received news that my father, Henry B. Lewis, had died.

While the entire family had been anticipating dad's death — not because of illness but more because of age and tiredness (93), anticipation and its prepatory stages of grief is far different than the confirmation call: "Dad passed away 10 minutes ago."

At the time of the call Shirley and I were sitting with an understanding friend who knew how important it was for Shirley to rush to Detroit to have her own time to say goodbye (well before the funeral) to the man who considered her his third daughter. It was equally important to me to be able to close my father's eyes. In Judaism and Islam it is considered an honor to close the eyes and mouth of the deceased.

We left Grand Rapids within an hour and while travelling on familiar roads truly entered the land of "It is what it is." Conversations and issues of importance as recently as an hour ago were moved into emotional containers labeled, "mundane," "in a few days" and "important, but not right now."

As I drove, Shirley made calls to friends who would begin to organize ways to support us and to share in our grief. We knew we needed others to surround us, mourn with us and even feed us. That outpouring of support and love continues to be overwhelming and so incredibly comforting.

At the funeral home the director arranged for us to have time alone with Dad. We began by speaking softly to him about our love and gratitude for all that he was and had given. And then we closed his eyes. I placed my thumb and forefinger over his eyes. Shirley placed her hand on mine and we gently closed his eyes. We blessed him with the biblical priestly blessing, whispered a few more words and kissed him goodbye.

We selected a simple sculpted poplar casket and planned to return in two days for the funeral. On the ride back to Grand Rapids we shared stories of Dad, of his one-word answers and of Shirley's success in having him visit us in the home we built in recent years. Two days later we would bury dad next to my mother, and each of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would help to fill in his grave.

Surrounded by friends we would go to my sister's home for a meal of condolence. In a day or so we would leave and travel through "It is what it is" on our way back home.

Even now there are steep and winding roads … but an increasing amount of familiar paths.

My dad is at rest, but our own restlessness in the land of "It is what it is" continues; though the steepest roads are becoming less so and Shirley and I are traveling them together.

Albert Micah Lewis is rabbi of Congregation Beth El in Traverse City. His latest book is "Soul Sounds, Reflections on Life."

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