Ben turned seventy years old. His was not the gentle seventy years of a white haired gentleman with a gracefully aging wife and successful adult children. He had no grand kids to dote upon, as far as he knew anyway, and no hope of ever seeing great grand kids. When he looked in the mirror he could hardly recognize the face and body looking back. That face was hard. Its eyes were always bloodshot and tired looking, even though since retiring he got plenty of sleep. Truth be told, Ben didn't much care for that old man in the mirror himself, and he was pretty sure no one else did either. So of course he was alone on his seventieth birthday. That was a given.
“Time to feed the beast,” he said to Sean Hannity, who pretended not to hear him through the screen of his television. No, Ben wasn't senile, it was just a game he liked to play. In that game Ben had lots of friends, most of them lived at Fox News – that Bill O'Reilly was a real hound dog before they canned him for doing what's natural – Ben grinned slyly. “You're OK Hannity,” but you're no Bill O'Reilly” he said, pointing at the screen. He turned up the volume with the remote control so he could still hear in the kitchen.
As he stood up from his easy chair Ben felt light headed. Something was wrong. He was perspiring, even though he kept his thermostat at the perfect setting, 72 degrees. Beth preferred it at 69, said she liked the coolness, he reminded himself. Foolish woman. Everyone knows that 72 is the perfect temperature!
Even as beads of perspiration were on his forehead and elsewhere, he suddenly began to feel cold, especially his left arm. It was cold and throbbing. He rolled his shoulders to ease the pressure, but blankness swept through his consciousness. He staggered for a moment but it passed. He paused and considered dialing 9-11 but they charged for that service now, a lot. I'll go in tomorrow and see the doc. What ever happened to the good old White male doctors? Now they gotta send me to a woman, and not just a female doctor, an Indian, the India kind! Oi!
Walking slowly into the kitchen he felt as if someone had slammed a fist into his chest. He stood there for a moment staring at the refrigerator. He wasn't thinking, he didn't even know if was still breathing. He just stood there, staring at the fridge with a tremendous pressure in his chest. And then his legs buckled and down he went like a bag of lawn fertizer -- I tell them kids to get off my lawn, but they just laugh at me! No respect anymore.
Where is that schlocky cell phone? he inwardly demanded. I bought it in case something like this should happen. He tried to say in his dry humor, “Help I've fallen, and” – but he couldn't remember the rest of it. Dumb commercial.
What happens now? “Can anyone hear me?” Of course they can't hear you old fool, not even Sean can hear you!”
Laying there on the kitchen floor he pondered many things, including the one thing he had avoided most of his life: G-d.
Are you there?
You know, if you are there, I could use a hand here.
Hello, I think I might be, you know, dying here.
Still no response.
My Beth, now she was religious. But she left me. There was no call for her doing that! I'm making my blood pressure go up just thinking about her. Let's change the subject, OK?
But G-d neither agreed nor disagreed.
Beth used to tell me about You. I figured they were just fairy stories, like she read to boys when they were little. He chuckled slightly. “She never knew it, but often times I'd be in the hall, leaning on the wall, listening to her stories.”
G-d said nothing.
“You ask why I didn't believe in You the way she did? Why I didn't go to shul with her and such? Well you know, I had to work all the time, and besides, my buddies would not have understood that. Not at all. You know how they talked about that Chassid fellow down the street. I sure didn't want people talking about me like that, with his little hat and strings and that haircut! No thanks, not for me.”
G-d did not reply, but Ben felt ashamed of himself.
Its not that I didn't think about You. I'd have done those things if You had told me to. But You didn't. I didn't have the time to study and pray and all that. You know how hard I worked and how ungrateful my wife and kids were.
Suddenly a great spasm hit him and Ben drew his legs to his chest in pain. He wasn't sure if it was audible or not, but he cried out, “Help me G-d!” He decided he really did believe in G-d after all.
The kitchen was almost dark despite the window and the late afternoon light. It was like the darkness one might feel when alone in a dense forest surrounded by exotic sights and sounds. Like in one of Beth's stories. “You there HaShem?” he whispered, turning his head toward the living room. Someone was approaching. Thank G-d! He thought he'd lay there for ever.
Coming towards him was a man. He wore a long gray tunic and had a turban on his head of the same color.
“Who are you?” Ben asked, his voice breaking. “You look like one those Muslims!”
“Think again Ben. Ask yourself who I am.”
Ben didn't reply for a moment, but then whispered, “Elijah?”
The man neither confirmed nor denied it. “You are dying,” Elijah said matter-of-factly.
Ben nodded. “I know.”
“Are you ready?”
Ben thought for a moment about his life. It had been a hard one. With some good times, but there had been so much pain and rejection. Maybe it was good he was leaving it behind. He started to say yes, but stopped himself. “No. What happens now, and why didn't G-d hear my prayers?”
Elijah moved closer and sat down on the floor beside him effortlessly. “He always heard you.”
“He didn't answer me.”
“He always answered you. But you didn't like His answers”
“Then why did Beth leave me? I really prayed hard that she would stay.”
“Why did you treat her so bad? Why did you call her 'stupid' and put her down so often? Did you give here any reasons to stay?”
“My kids, why didn't they respect me?”
“Would you respect someone who treated your mother as you treated theirs? You seldom paid them attention, except when they got into trouble.”
“But I worked all the time to make money to feed, house and clothe them.”
“Did you have no time you could have invested in them?”
“Anyway, but G-d, all my life I heard about G-d. How He loves us and cares for us. Where was He?”
“He was there with you. Why didn't you read the letter He sent you? His Tanach, and Talmud. Why didn't you seek out those He has anointed to help you? The Rabbis and other sages?
“Well, you know, who had the time?”
“Is it really that you did not have the time, or that you did not make the time for these things?”
“I blew it.” Ben admitted. “Didn't I?”
“You learned many things.”
“Yes but now I'm out of time to take advantage of what I have learned.”
“What is time? Time is a concept that binds those who accept it. In truth, there is only HaShem. Some lives are harder than others, but all lives are fleeting. As we dance our way across eternity we draw closer and closer to the center of it all. Life is wonderful and it never ends. You may return for another lifetime in the Olam Hezeh or you may rest until the Olam Haba. This is in HaShem's Hands. Just keep moving forward.
“I think I understand.” Ben replied.
And with that, Elijah and Ben were gone.
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Rabbi Shlomo Nachman