A Story My Grandfather wrote
I had written and published this story in the Canadian Jewish News in the mid nineties; the title of the article was: Young People Should Recognize Wisdom of Elders. This is a combination of a story that my grandfather, Stephen E. Berger, had written with some of my own commentary before and after it. Stephen E. Berger was well known in the Jewish Community for his philanthropic work. In the mid seventies, he was awarded The Man of the Quarter Century and honoured with a banquet dinner at Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto.
As the pace of life gains momentum on an almost daily basis, I see a rift that grows between young people and their grandparents and elders. Losing touch with these people we leave behind an important part of our cultural history. Re-establishing those bonds with our elders helps us in understanding ourselves and the world we live in.
It will be 3 years from this December 1993 that my grandfather, Stephen E. Berger passed away at the age of 90. Most people knew Stephen for his contribution to the Jewish and General community in Canada and Israel, being honorary president of the UJA and Man of the quarter Century to name a few of his achievements. Many knew Stephen from their interaction with him in a board room or at a social gathering. Today I want to focus on the side of Stephen that perhaps will reveal where he found peace.
For a number of years before his death, he had been confined to a bed physically as well as mentally. His brilliant mind became trapped within him, his world closed in. The only way to glimpse into this darkness was through his sparkling eyes and the occasional smiles. Perhaps this was an outward expression of a distant memory. As he lay in his hospital bed, his mind was free to transcend time and touch down on distant memories: Warm summer days spent tending his colourful garden, the beautiful sounds he created with his violin during his youth, the joy from his family and his love for the natural world.
I can imagine that some of the times when he smiled, he was thinking about a special dog, and their relationship that grew and developed over 12 years of almost daily walks through blizzards, falling leaves, warm spring days and quiet misty mornings while the city still slept. One of these walks would be ingrained in his mind for eternity and handed down to others. The following story that my grandfather wrote takes place on a fall day in Toronto. It symbolizes the last stages of life for both my grandfather and his beloved dog.
Taking slowly leave from Timmy, our Irish Terrier,
Stephen E. Berger
So, old boy, come on, we are going for a walk. Nothing new, mind you, we did this more or less since 12 long years twice a day.
But today is nonetheless a special day.
I start, you see, to take leave from you. The doctor said, that your kidneys are a rapidly vanishing part of your cheerful life.
How nice, that I haven't the problem, whether I should tell you or not of your impending doom.
It is late in September, the sun is shining, if God had a concept of a peaceful world, when he created it, such is the day, he must have had in mind.
So, Timmy come, we go for a walk. This matter with your kidneys, you see is just statistics. Good old Veterinarians saw so many similar cases, so they judge your future by the knowledge of their statistics. But what is our whole science, than laws drawn from what we see consistent by happening. Let's not revolt against statistics, the odds are against us. For 12 years, we spent alone on walks 2000 odd hours together. We started in 48, we both were spry and the world was new. The history of 12 years! You love people (other dogs are brought up to hate). You caused as much pain as joy. Puppies will play and it will not be you, old men will go for walks and it won't be I.
From what I can deduce, this story was written in September of 1959. For me it is one of the few pieces of written material that I have read by my grandfather. In a sense it has enabled me to understand my grandfather in a different light. This story reveals how he saw the world around him. It has given me a deeper understanding of an aspect of my grandfather that perhaps would explain his calmness and joy for life. The written word transcends time; it is eternal and although he has been gone now for close to three years we can still learn and we should not forget.
For those who may have only known Stephen Berger in the board room, in a suit and tie, perhaps this story will enable us to see a new side of his character. For young people, I hope you seize the day and spend time with our most important fountains of knowledge and wisdom, our elders.