This is the time of year for reconciliation.
The time to realize that the price paid for a rift in the family is just too steep. Family is priceless. The problem, however, is that there is an enormous obstacle that lies between reconciliation and us—it’s called the telephone. We desperately want to pick up that phone and re-establish contact, but at that moment of truth, even a little cellphone feels like it weighs a ton. It’s just so desperately difficult to make that first call.
A number of years ago, before Yom Kippur, I decided I was going to surmount the 10-ton phone problem and make a number of calls. It wasn’t easy, I wasn’t fully successful, but the effort was worthwhile.
1. My Estranged Aunt
From the time that my memories begin, until I was in my early thirties, a day didn’t go by that my mother and aunt didn’t speak on the phone. I can’t begin to tell you how much my aunt loved my siblings and I, and how much we loved her. Then something happened, and the two of them stopped talking. I also stopped talking with my aunt, and my uncle, and their son.
One of the ripple effects is that my children have cousins they never met. So I did it. I actually dug up an old number and called my uncle. That began a positive momentum that still continues. As a result of that momentum, I eventually made a special trip to see my aunt in hospice just days before she passed away. And so, where once there was a void, now there is a relationship again. It’s not what it could have been had things not gone askew, but it’s infinitely better than no relationship at all.
2. My Cousin
My first cousin and I spent a big chunk of our childhood together. We weren’t best friends, and we weren’t inseparable, in fact we didn’t even have that much in common, but we were family, close family. I’ll spare you the convoluted details of our history, but suffice it to say that the first time we spoke in years was when I was asked to officiate at her mother’s funeral. Since then, we have both made efforts to reconnect, and we are very glad we did.
3. My Old Best Friend
From the age of six until fifteen, there was hardly a day that I wasn’t with my best friend, Mitchell. Even after his family moved to California, we remained best friends. Then, after I became more committed to Judaism, and he became a (Jewish) Deacon in a Texas church, we stopped talking.
Decades later, as I watched my son play with his best friend, day after day, for many years, I began aching to speak with my old friend. So after about five failed attempts; you know, I’d call, pray no one answered, and hang up after two rings, we finally spoke. Since then, we’ve spoken a couple more times. I have nothing dramatic to report, but at least we’ve spoken. I believe that counts for something.
I owe any feeble efforts I’ve made to reconcile or reconnect to Sergeant Paul Ray Smith. Sergeant Smith was killed in battle just after the US Army took Baghdad’s international airport. An unsent letter was later found on his laptop. This is what it said: “Dear mom and dad. As I sit here getting ready to head into war once again, I realize that I have left something unsaid, I LOVE YOU . . . ”
My God, I thought to myself, how many unsent letters do I have inside of me? How many unmade phone calls?
Imagine how much it meant to his parents to read that letter, even after their son was gone. Imagine how different their memories and their lives would be had their son never written those words. Imagine how different my life could be, how different my children’s could be, how different so many other lives could be—if only I could manage to lift the worlds heaviest object, a phone!
I can still hear my uncle’s voice. “I’m so glad you called. You know, I think I’m going to call your father before Yom Kippur. It’s a good time to do that kind of a thing.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Excerpted from the revised edition – the Almost 25th Anniversary Edition of the Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur Survival Guide.