To My Son, On the Day of Your Bar Mitzvah – Kveller
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To My Son, On the Day of Your Bar Mitzvah

More than proud of you, I am happy for you.

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There just was a little bit of time when I wasn’t really sure that you would get to this day. It’s no secret that you are wicked smart, but for a while there, you showed up to prepare for your bar mitzvah because we (I) told you to. You went through the motions, did what you had to do and then quickly got on with the things that mattered more to you: eating fast, reading fast, skiing fast, shouting incomprehensibly at the computer. 

My first glimmer of hope was when you designed your own event logo a few months back, but that hope quickly receded. But in the weeks leading up to the big day, something shifted. You went all in. You slowed down. You didn’t ask why or if you had to do this anymore. You stopped whimpering as much when it was time to get to practice. You began seriously preparing.

Each morning you’d come into the kitchen, greet me with your groggy ”good morning”and a hug, and state how many days until your bar mitzvah, followed with, as you tried to crawl onto my lap, “I’m getting so old.” Let me pause and say that while you have many good years still ahead of you, you’re right, you are getting so old. And too big for me to hold you, sadly. Though, truthfully, you have always been Old. We used to describe you as an elderly person stuck in the body of a little boy, and most people who met you did not disagree. So while you may think you are getting older, I think you are actually finally catching up to yourself.
But back to the kitchen. When you began counting down until your bar mitzvah, I know you were not thinking about the party. Out of all of us here, you still are the most skeptical about a good party (which incidentally is another indication of being old). You understood the significance of the milestone beyond yourself. It clicked: Your bar mitzvah isn’t just about you preparing to read a foreign language with NO VOWELS from an ancient scroll in front of everyone you know, as you so astutely described to your baseball coach when he couldn’t understand why you kept having to miss practice on Tuesdays. Your bar mitzvah is about something much more. After all, technically this is not your bar mitzvah, it’s the day in which you become a bar mitzvah.

I think about coming into your room as you lounged on your bed the other day. You were reading one of the four books you were in the middle of for that day — this one, worth noting, called “Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry.” We were getting ready for family to come over; it was your brother’s birthday, your aunt’s birthday and Mother’s Day. It wasn’t about you really even a little. You thought you’d just stay reading most of the day. “I’m going to take the day off,” I think you said. We talked about expanding your perspective beyond yourself, to be open to everything else that was going on even though it had nothing to do with your books or your video games, but about you as part of our family. 

You looked at me for longer than usual and then said, “That’s weird, Mom.” And then you said in your book, the paragraph you’d just finished reading was about expanding perspective. And the very next day, as we once again were practicing for your bar mitzvah, we discovered that the part of the Torah you’ve been studying this whole year is about expanding perspective. When life shows you that kind of synchronicity, well, you must pay attention. We might consider that getting older is all about seeing beyond your singular self, slowing down, opening yourself, your mind, your heart, to what is beyond just you. Expanding, if you will, your perspective.

I think about that moment we found ourselves at the ridge of peak 6 in Breckenridge, happening upon a blanket of untouched fresh powder. All four of us stopped, our breath taken away, not because we couldn’t breathe for altitude (which was also true), but because we couldn’t help but open ourselves up to the awe in front of us. We looked around at the bright white snow, the blue sky and green trees, we listened to the quiet of the mountains, felt the cold air on the tips of our noses. We filled up from the inside because of the expansiveness around us. We knew this moment was about so much more than our individual selves on that ski trail. We were part of something so much bigger, and we slowed down to lock it in. 

We are fortunate to have many opportunities come to us, that when we pause to lock them in, we learn this lesson of being a part of the something bigger. I think about those late afternoons on the beach in Delaware when we searched the horizon for dolphins and watched the waves, ate Surf’s Up subs for dinner and felt how time can stretch. When we rested under the blue whale in the Museum of Natural History, looked around us, noticed the people, the sounds, ate cookies and locked ourselves into an iconic New York City experience. 

But not all moments are as obvious as these lucky ones.

Your bar mitzvah teaches you that while yes, you go through the motions of learning a foreign language with no vowels and read it from an ancient scroll in front of everyone you know, it’s also about taking your place beyond yourself. Taking your place not just among your fellow Hebrew school friends that have stood here this past year, or the members of our family that did this when they were kids, but among all the Jewish kids that had the privilege of becoming part of this long-held tradition for thousands of years before us, and if this world can get it together, for many thousands more to come, reading from this same foreign language with no vowels from their own identical ancient scrolls hopefully with everyone they know and love there in the room.

I know I’m supposed to tell you that I’m proud of you for doing your part in this. And yes, of course, I am proud of you and all of your hard work, but truly I had no doubt that you could do it (you are wicked smart, after all). More than proud of you, I am happy for you. To watch you come into yourself, open your eyes, your heart and your mind to this life of yours, to see you have fun at a party, laughing with a friend, spending time with your brother, doing good in your community. Witnessing you living with kindness, with love, with incredibly generous hugs, with curiosity and enthusiasm, well that is what I’ll be locking into today.

You have been a part of me since before you were you. You were a hope in my heart from before I could even know what that meant. Each morning that you stumble into the kitchen, wiping sleep from your eyes, a little bigger in the doorframe every time I look up, I remember holding you in the crook of my elbow, swaying you around while I figured out how to cook food and hold a baby at the same time. I stand here today expanding my perspective, letting you out into the world beyond the grasp of my arms to experience your life for yourself, to become a part of what is bigger than me, bigger than you, bigger than all of us.

My prayer for you is that you continue to live with openness and curiosity, getting to see beyond yourself, to lock in those moments obvious and worked for, that you are filled with the love and support of the people who you care about at all times. May the blessings of your life fuel you in the way that you, a true absolute blessing, have done for me and all those who know you. And may you know that I will, for the foreseeable future, be waiting for you in the kitchen in the morning, ready to greet your day with a hug.

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