At long last, the smile of spring approaches, as an angry winter recedes into good riddance. Our spirit is ready to be re-charged. Damn the power outages, full speed ahead!
For my wife, Elyse, daughter, Elissa, and me, this otherwise exuberant time of year brings a confusion of mixed emotions. In 2003, on the opening day of spring, March 20, which happens to be my birthday, our 15-year-old son Harrison went in for his third open-heart surgery. As fate would have it, the day after my birthday was Harrison’s last day.
Such is life. Uplifting and soul-crushing in the same breath. All we could do was be grateful that Harrison blessed us for 15 years. Now, 15 years on, he continues to bless us, if not with his earthly presence, then with his heavenly spirit. It can be felt in the Yorktown ballfield named for him, and in the Harrison Apar Field of Dreams Foundation that benefits the community by raising money for the betterment of recreation and education.
March 20, 2003, was the start of “March Madness”—the NCAA college basketball tournament. Harrison rooted for his dad’s alma mater, the Orangemen of Syracuse University.
Meanwhile, there was another event of interest grabbing attention that day: The United States invaded Iraq. Facing an operation he knew was high-risk, if unavoidable, the ever-stoic and mischievous Harrison wrote in his diary, “I only hope Saddam doesn’t disguise himself as my surgeon.”
Harrison had been born with a rare form of dwarfism. As a high school student, he stood all of 38 inches and weighed an equal number of pounds. One unproven medical diagnosis held that his was the same condition as that of diminutive TV actor Herve Villechaize, who played Tattoo (“The plane! The plane!”) on “Fantasy Island.”
Harrison’s can-do attitude was “size doesn’t matter.” And he proved it. In the classroom. On the playing field. On stage. In his way with words. In his disarming and charming personality. He exemplified the notion that “nature compensates.”
I like to think that Harrison made me a better person. I know that his courage encouraged me. When I knelt to pick him up, he lifted me. When I held him in my arms, he carried me. I cannot imagine my son being anyone but Harrison.
In his diary the night before surgery, Harrison expressed his trademark confidence that a successful outcome would “give my dad a refreshing birthday gift wrapped in flesh—a son’s healthy heart.”
He did just that by giving not only me but all who knew him the gift of a lifetime: His. And, wouldn’t you know it, with Carmelo Anthony leading them, and Harrison watching over them from his new skybox, the Syracuse Orangemen went on to win their only NCAA basketball title in 2003.
It’s been 15 years since we touched Harrison, but he continues to touch us and others. I’ve anxiously anticipated for a long time the arrival of this particular anniversary. It marks a kind of cruel symmetry, with Harrison now being away from us for as many years as he was with us.
Another number with special meaning to our family this year is 18. It is that many years ago, in 2000, that Harrison, in the eyes of the Jewish faith, became a man, on the occasion of his bar mitzvah. In Jewish numerology, 18 symbolizes life, or “chai” (with a guttural “ch”). Harrison’s Hebrew name is Chaim. His father’s Hebrew name is Baruch, for blessed. Harrison always will be a blessing on our house. To life, to life, l’chaim!