Sometimes I kid myself and think of this is a “mussar blog”. It’s really just a personal blog with a bit of mussar that I give to myself thrown in from time to time. Like now, for example.
Just over two weeks ago was the first time I had been back in my hometown of Wichita, KS in exactly twelve years (to the Parsha). My dad a”h had been hospitalized and based on what I had heard from family members and at the suggestion of my wife I flew out to be with him.
Waiting to board the plane in Chicago, people were dressed up in costume (as it was October 31). I was even asked if I was “dressed as an Orthodox Jew”? That in and of itself made the trip worth it, as a mussar lesson. After an hour and twenty mintues I landed.
As I got off the plane and walked past the TSA check-point, I could only smile, remember the dozen water guns that I had packed for family vacations in the 70s and 80s and how all of those water guns had been confiscated. At the time, it seemed like a big deal. In retrospect, most airlines would probably welcome a water gun these days. Not much had physically changed in the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport since I had been there last. They still had coat hook right inside the restrooms (which implied that crime was still low in the city) and the chairs throughout the airport were still the same. The phrase that came to mind was, “if it isn’t broken, then don’t fix it”.
A majority of my time was spent at the hospital with my family. Driving back and forth to the hospital I looked at the streets and buildings. Some had been torn down, many businesses had closed, with others opening up in their place. Certain professions seemed to have stayed afloat over the years. Most accounting, real estate, and dentisty businesses seemed to have stayed the same. Several indepenant “fast food” places closed only to have similar businesses open in their place. Aside from having several Starbucks locations not much had really changed. I drove past my old house, the flood prevention program (really it was a creek in my neighborhood that provided my bother and I with hours of adventure), and my old schools.
I also connected with a few close family friends from when I was growing up. One of them actually gave a beautiful hesped for my father a’h. I was reminded about the importance of community, specifically a Jewish community. The community in Wichita is pretty much made up of about 1000 Jews split almost down the middle as either reform or traditional. It’s a close knit community where people connect as Jews. Not so much in terms of observance or rituals, but because they are serious about their Judaism.
All of my aunts, uncles, and cousins came in for the funeral, as well. Most of them I hadn’t seen since my own wedding almost 13 yrs ago. It was comforting to see them, even under the above mentioned situation. Family comes together when it’s important, but you have to make it important (a lesson I’m learning now).
The morning after my father a”h was niftar I stopped off to buy a copy of the local paper at Starbucks (to have a copy of the obiturary and an article that was written about him) and the young man behind the counter introduced himself to me and said that he was sorry to hear about my dad. The manager at the Starbucks was also working and introduced herself as the wife of the Reform Rabbi in town. She also expressed her deepest condolences. That’s the community were I grew up.
My family lived in Wichita for 35 years. My father a”h went to the same shul with many of the same people for 35 years. To me that was impressive. Talk about lifelong friends. Wow. I hung out with two old friends that I had lost touch with years ago. We all had good memories growing up of our families doing things together. I’m fortunate that my kids have similar memories with close friends of ours here in Chicago.
I ended up spending a just under a week in Wichita. Had it been under better circumstances, I probably would have gotten together with a few old friends from high school. Instead I simply came back to where I was from and now I’m trying to move forward.
I can’t even imagine what that experience must have been like, but it’s interesting you recognised the “dressed like an Orthodox Jew” remark. It reminds me of a story about the previous Satmar Rebbe at a wedding; the badchan asked reshus to poke fun a bit, and got said reshus. At the wedding, he gave a great performance of the Rebbe shouting and shokeling, and the Rebbe burst into tears. Everyone got angry at the badchan, and later the Rebbe got up and explained that the performance was so accurate, he felt that sometime he himself just put on “the performance”.
Sometimes you have to go back to move forward.
N, that is a good story, indeed.
“There’s no place like home”
Good post, Neil. Coming back to Wichita, and seeing the impact that your Dad had on the people around him is a good way to ground you, and remind you where you came from.
I had a similar experience when my Dad passed away…and I think that grounding is an important part of the healing process.
Very true, Joe. Thanx.