Some years ago, in a social setting, a philosophical question was put to me. It came, appropriately enough, from a clergyman. He asked me how I felt about evil. I felt I was put on the spot, and took the easy way out. I quickly replied with what I thought was the somewhat obvious answer: without evil, how would we know what is good?
The man of faith responded as I gave him the right answer. As if there is a right answer. As if there are any answers. There only are questions, it would seem.
You can apply to other life experiences the same yin-and-yang standard I used to answer his question.
It is only through sadness that we can appreciate and covet its opposite of happiness.
Without a sense of loss, there is no sense of life.
Upon learning last week of the passing of my wife Elyse’s 94-year-old father, Dr. Leonard “Buddy” Middleman, a sudden realization washed over me. It left me flush, humbled, and endowed with a familial authority that only the passage of time and the passing of life can bestow.
With my parents long gone, in the moment that my father-in-law took his last breath, my life was redefined. Just like that, in the transitional moment of loss, I was transmuted into Bruce the Elder, the paterfamilias.
As he and others of the World War II generation take their final bow, awash in our gratitude for their courage and sacrifices, the Baby Boomer generation is next in line to dispense the wisdom of our advancing age, while hopefully tamping down the impulsive foolishness of our false sense of superiority towards younger generations.
We may never have been called Millennials in our youth, but who’s kidding who? Our coming of age in the ’50s and ’60s was no less fraught with the naivete and angst that attends every next generation of parents and workers.
We’re arguably not better than anybody younger; what we are, inarguably, is older. Quickness by seniors to criticize our juniors—through hoary generational generalizations—has more to do with envy than it does with studious analysis of their behavior. Age is supposed to bring wisdom, but it also can bring grumpiness that makes the wisdom unwelcome.
I instinctively harbor utmost regard for those of my father-in-law and my father George’s generation. They all entered this world on the cusp of, or in the midst of, The Great Depression; they fought their way abroad and at home through the Great War; they financed homes and built careers during post-war prosperity, they birthed Baby Boomers. Their collective history is the story of the 20th century. Millennials, Gen Z’ers, and their descendants will author whatever tale this century will tell.
It’s woven into the fabric of human existence that children outlive their parents. If that can be called a blessing for the parents, neither my dad nor my wife’s dad were particularly blessed in that way.
My father lost his eldest son, my brother, Stephen, a full quarter-century before he himself passed away. My father-in-law who just passed had lost his son, my wife’s brother Marc, eight years ago, and had lost his grandson, our son Harrison, 16 years ago. I remember Buddy muttering mournfully, almost incredulously, “a grandparent isn’t supposed to outlive his grandson.”
Without loss, there can be no life. When the loss is cruelly untimely, and totally counter-intuitive, as it is when parents bury children, it throws the natural progression of generations into dizzying disarray.
I tacitly accepted a while ago that the mantle of family patriarch one day would fall on my shoulders. Now that it has come to pass, I accept it and can live with it. Saying goodbye to a parent is an anticipated milestone on the pathway of life.
Saying goodbye to a child is neither an anticipated nor acceptable part of the natural order of things. It violates the sacred circle of life that connects parent to child and generation to generation.
In summoning the fortitude to carry on the legacy of those from who we came, and who, as pre-ordained, have left us, it’s ennobling to remember that we also embody and draw strength from those who came from us, but left before us, and whose spirit will remain before us, to inspire generations yet to be born.
Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events and people through public relations agency APAR PR. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-275-6887.