A Flickering Light
© 2014, Gadi Bossin
P.O. Box 20
Kiryat Bialik, Israel
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author.
I dedicate “A Flickering Light” to my mother, Mae Balsky Bossin, April 22, 1918 to June 12, 1949.
A FLICKERING LIGHT
June 12, 1949
The light flickers
A Yahrzeit candle
A flickering light
What does it mean?
What does it mean?
It appears to mean
I’ve lived my life
As a motherless child
. . . Have I?
June 12, 2014
And the light
The 12th of June was our thirty-seventh wedding anniversary. Donna and I celebrated, had a lovely day together.
We went to a modest but excellent restaurant for a lunch date. I had a glorious and much needed three-hour afternoon nap.
Donna picked up our four-and-a-half-year old granddaughter Lia from preschool and spent two hours with her before her mom, our daughter Rinat, came to take her home.
I woke up in time to salvage a few minutes of playing ball with Lia in the front yard. In the evening, Donna and I attended a sing-along feel-good concert that sent us home singing and smiling.
We are together. We are healthy.
We are still in love—or maybe it’s more accurate to say always, always, again and again, falling in love—with one another, sharing a loving, caring life.
For this great fortune, I give thanks every day.
Donna knows how I feel. I don’t hide my feelings. I can’t.
It’s who I am.
It’s not in my nature not to reveal myself, especially to her.
My parents were married in Montreal on June 12, 1938.
On their eleventh wedding anniversary, on June 12, 1949, my mother, Mae Balsky Bossin, died. She was only thirty-one. A disease called myasthenia gravis claimed her.
That’s how it is that for me every year June 12th is both a day of celebration and a day of remembrance.
When Donna and I chose June 12, 1977 as our wedding date, we didn’t choose it to coincide with my parents’ wedding anniversary.
It just happened to be the date that was most convenient for us.
On the other hand, we wouldn’t have fixed the wedding date for the 12th of June if it had coincided with the Hebrew date of my mother’s Yahrzeit that year.
According to the Jewish calendar, in 1977 the 15th day of the month of Sivan fell on the 1st of June, eleven days before our wedding.
This year the 15th of Sivan fell on the 13th of June, one day after our wedding anniversary according to the Gregorian calendar.
That’s the date we celebrate our anniversary, not the Hebrew date, which is the 26th of Sivan.
But Hebrew dates change at sundown and the dates we live by in Western civilization change only at midnight, so there is an overlapping between sundown and midnight and this year the 15th day of Sivan began the evening of the 12th of June.
I’m saying all this to lead up to what I was thinking about and musing over during the early hours of June 13, 2014.
Donna was sleeping.
I was wide awake, paying the price for my delicious three-hour afternoon nap.
I decided to write an email to a good friend who lives abroad.
I wrote, “I’m sitting here at my desk, only a few feet away from a flickering Yahrzeit candle in a nearby darkened room.”
I looked away from my laptop, looked over at the memorial candle and pondered what it signified before continuing my email message.
“Is the light from a flickering candle a metaphor for the flickering light that deceased loved ones shine upon those who remember them? Does it apply even in cases like mine in which the memories are almost non-existent?”
Much of what I’ve written over the years, whether fiction or memoir, refers to or reflects upon the death of a mother.
In a fictional context, my alter ego is, as I was, less than three years old when his mother dies.
It’s not that I have no imagination. I choose not to imagine an alter ego living his life with a mother who is present.
From early childhood until now, I’ve observed cousins and friends and schoolmates and neighbors interacting with their mothers.
I’ve seen my own children grow up under the canopy of love and caring Donna has always provided them.
I could use what I’ve observed as the raw material for the fictional life I would imagine.
But it’s not for me.
I want my writing to be real.
And what I’ve always thought of as a normal life, a life with a mother present and watching over her son throughout his childhood and growing up years and maturation, cannot be real for me.
Do not misunderstand. I’m not seeking sympathy. I never did.
I never enjoyed being the object of pity for being a motherless child, no matter how well-intentioned, no matter how generously motivated.
I never wanted people to think of me that way. I didn’t want them thinking about me and this orphan status at all.
Where am I going with this?
I’m headed right back to that flickering candle, the flickering light, right back to my two-part question:
What does it mean that the light still flickers after 65 years? What does it mean?
Have I lived my life as a motherless child?
It means that the flickering candle is indeed a metaphor for the light my mother shines upon me.
But it is also much, much more.
Think about this:
Something that flickers can sputter and die out in an instant. It is fragile. It quivers. It flutters and shudders in a way that bodes its demise.
But the flickering light of the memorial candle is tenacious. It clings to life.
It continues for more than the full twenty-five hours it is meant to burn and flickers on, well into and sometimes beyond a twenty-sixth hour.
And along with the shadows it creates, it illuminates.
What am I saying here?
The flickering light my mother shines upon me in her absence has never been a once-a-year memorial day, Yahrzeit phenomenon.
For as long as I can remember, it has always been an everyday presence.
Have I lived my life as a motherless child?
Yes and no.
Yes, the fact is that my mother died and left me forever:
What would I have given for my mother’s embrace? There is no way to answer this question.
No, my mother was with me when I was an infant and toddler:
In those first two-plus years of my life she passed on to me all sorts of tendencies and intuitive understandings.
Most of all, in the mysterious way mother-love works she gave me the inner peace and the full confidence that go along with knowing I was wanted.
She held me close and lovingly and I learned I was worthy of being loved and that loving another and allowing myself to be loved by that other would be the most valuable traits I would carry with me throughout my life.
No, my mother’s spirit lives on in me:
She is always with me in all I inherited from her.
I mean not only her blue eyes, but her music which was passed down to her by her opera-singer mother, her good heart, her belief in the importance of family ties and friendship.
From the tiny apartment she shared with my father and sister and me she called and spoke to her parents and brothers and sisters and close friends at least once a day.
As I write these lines, I’m studying a photograph that sits on a shelf in my office. Every year on the 15th of Sivan, I move it and place it next to the Yahrzeit candle. It stands right there, beside the flickering light.
From an inscription on the back of the photo, I know it was taken at a cottage in the Laurentian Mountains in August 1942, four-plus years before I was born.
My mother and father and sister are there, as are one uncle, three aunts, two cousins and my grandfather and grandmother.
Everyone in the photograph is gone now, apart from my two cousins who are now eighty-three and seventy-eight.
I’m studying all of them as they stand there in that warm family grouping, but most of all I’m studying my mother’s face.
I knew all the others, some of them into my adult years.
It is only my mother that I missed out on knowing.
I look at my mother’s face.
She’s twenty-four years old.
I see the striking resemblance of my younger daughter Keren to the grandmother she never knew, a myth, a legend.
I think about my mother’s music, her natural song.
I think about her mother’s music, her career as a young opera singer.
I smile again. And I understand.
The flickering light illuminates the generations.
The flickering light gains strength.
It grows into a wide beam.
For you see, my daughter Keren is a graduate of the Jerusalem Academy of Music.
She’s a talented singer-songwriter.
And her name, Keren, well, in Hebrew, it means “a ray or a beam of light.”