The following story is based upon a true account. In truth, it is a story that has happened countless times throughout history to countless people.
The names have been changed to maintain anonymity.
We had been friends for decades, ever since we were children. I remembered playing in his backyard as children, when life was so simple. The greatest pain we suffered was being left behind by a group of friends one day on the way to the ball game. Now, many years later, Sam sat across from me in a different state altogether.
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What could I tell him? Should I tell him anything at all? All my years of learning, and all my years of counseling people seemed useless now, and I felt so frustrated. What do you tell a person when his daughter, a child they waited to have for years, is taken away. A tragedy! Oh, such helplessness. I was so helpless. My friend was in such bad pain, and what could I do?
Twenty minutes passed and still nothing, just crying, like a young boy. It was painful to watch a grown man cry like that, reduced to a crying child. With every new burst my heart ripped open. Now I was crying too.
I was crying for Sam, I was crying over the loss of his child, and I guess I was crying for all those who suffered. After thirty minutes, Sam finally stopped crying. But he did not look up from the floor. I didnít know where he was, and I was afraid to speak to him and start him up again. All I could do was wait.
Forty-five minutes passed, and Sam began to murmur something. At first it was a faint whisper, but he kept repeating it over and over again, until finally I could make out the words. It was not what I expected to hear, not from Sam.
Sam was a decent soul, who never hurt anyone his entire life. He devoted himself to his family, and beyond his family, to anyone else he came into contact with. Last on his list was himself, ever since he was a child.
He was the kind of person that you pray for, the kind of person that you hope will never suffer. In his own simple way, he was righteous, at least as far as I was concerned. Perhaps he didnít know as much as others, or wasnít a genius like some people, but he was real with being good ... He was real with the idea of God. Today, as he sat there in my office I found out just how real he was.
"Saralah did not die."
Oh no, I though to myself. Heís denying it. His mind wonít accept what happened. Now what do I do? Do I listen ... Do I correct him? What do I do?
"Pardon?" I said softly, stalling for time until I could think of a better response.
"Saralah did not die." he repeated.
I looked away. It was awkward. He was my friend. Iím going with him wherever he has to go. I stayed silent. Then for the first time in the entire hour, Sam looked at me straight in the eyes, and with complete resolve, again stated, "Saralah did not die. She lives."
And before I could look away in helplessness, he added, "Maybe not in this world, but she lives."
Finally I had an opening to pursue a therapeutic dialogue.
"Of course you know we believe in the World-to-Come. I knew Saralah very well. At the age of 15 years she had already grown to spiritual levels that people all their lives never reach. I know she has a special seat right next to Godís holy throne."
"I know, I know," he said to me. "But thatís not what I mean," he said. "I mean even in this world she lives. I loved her so deeply. Rachel loved her so deeply. The children loved her so much. David will never be the same without his older sister. None of us will ever be the same without her. None of us would have been the same without her. She gave to us aspects of life we could never have had otherwise. She is gone, but what she did for us lives on within us in all that we do."
I was profoundly touched. I was impressed. I wasnít sure at all that I could have made the same statement, with the same conviction as my friend. But then again, Sam has always been special, always willing to learn.
And then he turned to me again and said, "My friend, you have been with me throughout my life. You have helped me so many times before. I am coming to you for help once again."
He wanted my help? Here was a man obviously larger than life itself. Here was a man who knew less than me, yet who understood so much more. He wanted my help?
"Of course. I am here for you, my friend. Tell me what I can do for you. Please, tell me."
"I want to understand."
"I want to understand why."
"I donít know if I can tell you why, at least not specifically. There are principles we believe in and accept, but ultimately, Godís ways are beyond human understanding."
"I know that. But the Talmud must discuss the issue. Didnít Moses question Godís ways and still accept the Torah afterward? Job withstood the loss of his family and still held fast to his acceptance of a benevolent God. A voice inside me wants to deny or at least be angry with God. But I donít want to be. Saralah would never have let me. I need to have an understanding that will let me put the pieces together. We all do."
"My friend," I said with tears in my eyes, "you are one in a million. And you are right - to ask a question is meaningless if it is not to know the answer, or at least an answer. There are ideas that must be examined before one can begin to understand the source of suffering and the meaning behind it. If I can help you to know those ideas, then it is not only something I do as a friend, but it is an obligation I must fulfill.
In the end, it will not change the reality of what has happened. But it can do the only thing left to do: surface the meaning, and the opportunity that lies hidden within the pain and the tragedy, for there is no greater suffering than that which appears to be without meaning. And this is not something we do simply to help us cope with the suffering, but it is our belief that there is a reason, a Divine reason, for all suffering and all loss, no matter who is touched and no matter how deeply.
We will begin at the beginning, but in the end, you will know, understand, and feel that the loss of your Saralah was not without tremendous meaning."
"This is all I can ask for; it is all I can want."