April 19th, 2019


Letter from limbo

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published Feb. 3, 2017

Letter from limbo

Greetings, Dear Brother,

We who were never born send you a hearty Shalom aleichem, Peace unto you and yours.

Yes, I know, you were never allowed to say Kaddish for your oldest sister, since I was stillborn. Why is that? To spare the family's feelings lest the memory of losing me prove too painful to recall? I am your big sister only in age, for I never reached the size you did. But that is a mere physical detail, and we millions here in limbo don't set much store by the physical. We understand how quickly it fades in G0D's timeless eternity. Even if I tried to explain what it's like here, it's doubtful I would succeed, for those who have never been here, thank G0D, would find the place unbelievable.

How lightly you who are fated to be born, live and die toss around the word "unbelievable" -- as in "What an unbelievable return Pancho Gonzales just made to Jack Kramer's serve!"

What's unbelievable is the river of time and eternity that carries us all along. For there's no turning back this eternal clock whose hands move in only one direction: clockwise, of course.

Yes, I know, the theoretical physicists play games with alternate universes and some of our own sages speak of worlds that existed before this one and that the Lord G0D, blessed be His name, created.

A kindly doctor told our mother and father, doubtless meaning to soften the blow but only making it harder. What fools these mortals be, as the great poet-playwright of your earthly language, English, put it.

Lope de Vega, whose earthly medium was Spanish, warned us that La vida es un sueno, life is a dream. But be assured, dear brother, it is worth all the deaths in your world put together. For there is nothing like it, however fleeting. Seize it with both hands and live as long and fully as you can.

How I envy you, and how I pity you at the same time. For the lightness of being is incomparably better, for all its burdens and distractions, than what we here can only imagine. We don't even have names, and our shrouds long ago became as immaterial as we now are. I understand Pa was buried in his Masonic garb, which would be just like him. A true American, he was always a hail fellow, well met even if he was on intimate terms with the angel of death, for he served on the Chevra Kadisha, the minyan that saw to the burial of the dead for half a century in Shreveport, La., Western Hemisphere, Planet Earth, Alpha Centauri Cluster.

What speculation on top of speculation goes on in your little world. We here in limbo have plenty of time, an endless supply of it, to dwell on timelessness. But you don't, having things to do, people to see, assignments holy and maybe unholy to carry out. Never mind. All that can wait -- and will.

For you mortals don't have forever in your brief space between life and death. Which is just what makes that passing moment so valuable. You won't come this way again. Do what good you can and steer clear of the evil that tempts you all around. He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy G0D? Which may sound simple, but is anything but.

Words don't have an easy time catching up with deeds even here in what might pass among the unknowing as heaven.

We seldom dream here, but when we do, it may be of those like you whom we had to leave behind after only the briefest time, and yet that time shines like a jewel that illumines our entire nonexistence.

Yes, we are permitted to pray here. Indeed, our one claim to an identity is prayer, for there is only one bridge between past and present, between thee and me, dear brother, and that bridge is called love, and to hold fast to it is the surest way to see one another again.

In the flesh? Maybe, maybe not. Let us leave such recondite matters to those interested in them. What you and I know and will always know is that we're part of the same family. And what a grand family reunion it will be when we all meet again on that far shore, and welcome the generations yet to be.



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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.