Lincoln’s Second Inaugural and Luke’s Bar Mitzvah

Claudia - Bend, Oregon
Entered on May 8, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: love, parenthood
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It’s too late to change when he gets in the car. He is wearing his Bar Mitzvah shirt for his recitation of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.

“Luke,” I say. “What are you doing? That’s your Bar Mitzvah shirt.”

“I know. It’s a nice shirt.”

“Yeah, it’s a nice shirt. It’s your Bar Mitzvah shirt and if you wear it today, then I have to wash and iron it before Saturday.”

“I’m sorry,” he says. As I sail through a roundabout, I look at my boy. “You do look really handsome.”

I don’t know when he’s had time to memorize the Lincoln speech. Last night, for two hours we met with the Rabbi who challenged Luke to consider the difference between actions and deeds and then asked, “So, what’s all this mean to you?” My son’s eyes glaze over just a little and I want to explain that he was up late last night at a track meet followed by hours of geometry. But Luke just asks, “Can I think about that?”

In the school gym, Luke begins the Lincoln speech. He points to the battleground below, gestures with a closed fist and paces as he negotiates the microphone wires snaking between his feet. And then, twenty words from the end, he pauses, a nice dramatic touch, I think, his brows knitting in that lovely way when he is deep, deep inside his thoughts. “Prompt” he whispers to the student following the speech on paper. “To do..” the student whispers back and Luke picks right up and finishes the Address.

In his Bar Mitzvah speech, Luke will speak about his Torah portion, Kedoshim. He will speak about the laws of holiness and our charge to be holy because G-d is holy. As Jews, we pray, “Sim shalom, tovah uv’rachah.… grant us peace and goodness, blessing and grace, kindness and mercy.” And here’s what I believe: Luke, you teach me these things. Every day you teach me and not just Luke, all our sons and daughters. They instruct us how to listen, not just listen, but to hear and in hearing, bear witness in that small space after a question is asked. “And how are you feeling now?” I hear Luke ask his teammate over the phone after that late and tough track meet. And in the quiet, I listen to Luke listening and to the love and grace and goodness of his attention.

When I get home, I hang Luke’s Bar Mitzvah shirt back in his closet, right over the clunky, black dress shoes. Luke will wear them once for his Bar Mitzvah and then I will stack them on the heap for Goodwill. But this morning, I look at them in his dark closet and cry, just a little, something I have been doing a lot lately, and I say a prayer over those silly shoes. May you carry a man and carry him well. Amen.