Hinting at Eternity

by Rabbi Lee Friedlander

Dear Friends,

I picked my seven-year-old granddaughter up from school in the City a few weeks ago.  As we approached my car parked on the corner of 91st and Columbus, she queried, “Papa, why does your car always have bird poop on it?”  “Well, honey, I have a neighbor who feeds the birds all winter long and gives them water to drink and to bathe in, too.  And you’ve seen my beautiful Dogwood tree where the birds like to hang out.  To thank us for giving them food, water, and a nice place to rest, the birds sing us awake every morning.  So, you know that birds poop just like we do.  Some of the branches of my beautiful tree overhang my driveway where I park my car.  But I think some poop on my car is worth the music that they make every morning.”  “They sing to you every morning?” my granddaughter pressed.  “Every morning there’s a symphony.”  “Well you know, you don’t get that in the City,” she informed me.

Yes, living in Roslyn Heights, I am blessed by birds of all kinds, by squirrels, and by feral cats, too.  My Bichon, of blessed memory, who weighed in at twelve pounds at her heartiest, ran to greet every raccoon as though it was a long-lost cousin on our evening walks puzzled as to why I grabbed to pick her up at her sighting.  Lucy was more reticent about the occasional fox, and terrified by the once-viewed coyote.  At the beginning of my daily 5:00 A.M. constitutional one day last July, I spotted a small doe prancing up Warner Avenue headed toward Mineola Boulevard.  Seeing me, she high-tailed up Edwards Street just missing a car making a right-hand turn on the corner.

This fauna has been part of the four-decade-long passing parade in my life in Roslyn Heights.  The structure, which housed my family and still houses me, predates my residency by just under sixty years.  I know a lot about the house – about the carpenter who built it on spec on the weekends, and about its previous three ‘owners.’  Two years from now, I will celebrate the house’s hundredth anniversary.  As such, the house has been designated ‘historic’ by the Town of North Hempstead.  But the undaunted presence of the animals who are unimpressed by fences and unaware of property lines prove that ‘historic’ is an invented and relative term recently invented by humans.  Long Island was uninhabited ten-thousand years ago.  Only after the ice layers that blanketed the Northeast for millennia thawed did the first people settle.  By the time Giovanni da Verrazzano sailed into New York Harbor in 1564, more than thirteen groups (and probably many more) were settled on Long Island.  But they are all gone now with little evidence of their having been here as will be the case with me.

Such is life.  At age 75, I am aware that I have less future and much more past ahead of me.  But I do find great comfort in the growing perception of my place in the universe and understanding what will remain of what I have experienced after my demise.  There are but three houses on my block that are at least as old as mine.  But then houses come and go as do their residents. Whole tribes are displaced and disappear, but the birds, squirrels, cats, raccoons, foxes, and coyotes pay them no mind.  And then there are inquisitive grandchildren who are here to remember cars blessed by bird poop and the music it summoned in a doting Papa.  For me, that hints at life after death.

I wish you a mindful summer’s end. Warmly,