Today marks the 36th anniversary of that rainy, chaotic, joyful day when (as you told me so many times) you drove on Brooklyn's streets and sidewalks, past hurricane-felled trees, to get Mom to the hospital so that a doctor, and not a panicked father, could officiate at your only son's birth. And you loved me with a love too big for your heart that day, although I was too young to understand. Today, 36 years later, I love you just as deeply. But you can't hear or see or know my love. Death has closed the eyes with which you joyfully saw me, and for fifty-four weeks, your hands, once so warm and reassuring, have lain cold beneath Long Island's sandy soil. On this, my 36th birthday, I should be happy: but I am weeping tears I so much wish you could see.
Since that day of August last year when I heard of your stumbling fall beneath the cold club of death, when the most unwelcome guest met you at the door as you left to get your perennial newspaper—(they called it cardiac arrest)—since that day, you have been daily in my thoughts. There is so much I wish I could say to you now, so much you brushed aside with a wave of that once warm hand, so much you didn't want to be bothered with, so much I feared saying lest it cause an argument. So much that had to wait till later: and now it's too late for later.
We could not have spoken as freely of death a few years ago. Death, after all, is one of those subjects which one just doesn't bring up in conversation—especially to a loved one. But, dear and BELOVED father, if for but one hour you could return to the living I have no doubt that one thing we'd surely discuss would be death. Not because that's all there is, but because both of us know more deeply than before, that written large across the fabric of reality is that phrase: death is. And how I wish we could have discussed it before, because it's only as we face this inescapable (but sadly not unavoidable) reality that we can appreciate the message I so much wanted and feared to share with you: life is—and this life is in Jesus. There it is: that other word which, in our circles at least, is not brought up in conversation, especially with someone you love: Jesus"—how many times did you—and I—use that word in curses and in jokes? But Jesus is no joke. You never wanted to hear it before, but now when it can no longer do you any good I tell you with weeping: Jesus is Life.
Is it so strange? I think not! We poor humans have such a sad way of avoiding life's most important issues. All men die, and yet whoever discusses his own death? So very few, so very few. We avoid the subject—perhaps out of the infantile tooth fairy wish that it will go away. But, of course it doesn't.…
The truth is simple: we avoid the subject because it terrifies us—in the presence of death, we are consummately aware of our own vulnerability and impotence. We are powerless to affect our fate—we are stepping into the unknown darkness, and no amount of talk will shed one glimmer of light to illumine our way through death's dark valley. How different it would have been, if you could have walked through that valley with Jesus, who called himself the Light of the world.
Is it so strange? So strange that the God of heaven should care so much that He would make provision so that even in the midst of death we might know entrance into Life? Is it so strange that this towering giant of a Jew, Jesus, in whose presence, more than that of any other, men have seen how small they can really be, that this One should be God's way into life? After all, He did say He is the way, the truth and the life. He said: I am the Door.
Is it so strange that most men have no use for Jesus? ln your seventy-three years you certainly learned what fools men can be—what pompous, self-serving, sometimes dishonest and deceitful fools. Is it so surprising then that men should be fools about God? That even religious men should dismiss the truth rather than abandon their own status and pet theories, rather than admit the inadmissible: that they were wrong? No Dad, it's not so strange. Our prophet Isaiah was right, wasn't he, when he said: that Messiah would be "despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and we hid as it were our faces from him: he was despised and we esteemed him not." And now you know as I have been incalculably privileged to know, that Jesus is our Messiah. In a world of fools, it's no wonder that the King of Kings was crucified. It's no surprise at all. Nor is it a surprise that for 2,000 years foolish men have used His sacred name as a cloak for their wickedness.
Your death has made me appreciate an awesome paradox. Our prophet spoke of Jesus as "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief"—and yet, when he came, Messiah said more than once "these things have I spoken to you that my joy might be in you, and that your joy might be full." I've learned the paradox: that in this world, joy is seldom found unmixed with tears. Even as I've experienced the joy of loved ones making much over me on my birthday, the pain of knowing that you are forever separated from me and from joy has been with me. Oh Dad, Dad…I miss you, and how I wish you could have shared Messiah's eternal kingdom with me.
I have one solace. I don't know how, but when I see Jesus, our people's Messiah, He will help me to deal with my grief, for He has promised it: "For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes…and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away."