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Friday, August 24, 2012

Okay, Kiddo

Yesterday Saba, my grandfather, passed away. He went quietly after a long illness. His children and wife were with him.

I am sad.

All day, that's really all I've been able to say. I am sad. Three small words, a simple sentiment, not truly describing, but hinting at the shape of it. I am sad. Saba is gone now and I am sad.

I am sad.

friendBrian, though, replied in perhaps the best way imaginable:
"I'm sorry. Tell me some of the awesome stuff he did."
And I started to list them. And I'm still sad. But Saba was a truly wonderful person. Here is some of the awesome stuff he did.



He was the first full professor of psychology in Israel.

When I was little, he told me stories about a family of detectives, and I imagined the youngest daughter, Princess Minihaha, was based on me.

When he and my grandmother were still college students, they wanted to travel to Israel together. Their families said, "Well, we think you shouldn't do that sort of thing before you're married." They said, "Okay," and got married. The families said, "...that's not what we meant." They were married for 61 years, two halves of the same person.

They lived in the States while their children were growing up, but moved to Israel later, as did their son. Even then, they found excuses to take sabbaticals and teach at universities near where my mother lived, so they would know their grandchildren in the US as well as they knew their grandchildren in Israel. So they lived in Virginia when I was a baby, in Las Vegas when I was five, in Tennessee when I was ten.

My mother said, "He always paid attention. He was the world's best listener - which is fortunate, because there are a lot of world-class talkers."

Saba called me "good people," a phrase I was convinced he had invented until I saw a play by that title last year. The phrase always seemed to encompass more to me than merely calling someone a good person. To be good people is to be conscientiously good, to be aware, to participate. Saba was good people.

He had a quiet voice with a gentle rumble to it, a friendly whispering giant of a voice, and the barest hints of the Boston accent he'd all but eradicated.

When the university in Israel at which my grandparents taught forced them to retire at the age of sixty-five, they shrugged, and went to teach at a different university. Two weeks ago, Saba was still working on an article, with the help of my mom, and advising his successor as Dean.

Saba always said, "we're very lucky," lucky to be who we are, in the family we have, in the life we live. Lucky to be intelligent enough to recognize our own good luck.

If I wanted to do something (or as the case may be, didn't want to do something) contrary to my parents' wishes but couldn't explain why I wanted this, Saba talked to me, asked me questions, until I was able to articulate a rational reason for my desire.

When he was diagnosed two years ago, he said he was at peace and ready to go. The rest of us weren't ready for that. He stuck around as long as he could, smiling serenely.

Saba talked to me about stories he liked, books, or plays, and why he liked them.

And he would use the word "fuck," never as an expletive, but rather to make a point about language and the casual use of it. He spoke more and more candidly with me and my siblings and cousins the older we got, but he never treated us as ignorant children. He approached everyone he met with the respect of addressing a rational, intelligent human being. Taxi drivers thanked him for listening as they dropped him off.

Saba would end our conversations by clapping his hands to his thighs, rising, and saying, "Okay, Kiddo."

I am sad. A great light in the world has gone out, and things are a little bit darker. I am sad, but I am grateful.
"My father was unique and irreplaceable. I am afraid that he is also inimicable, but we can try. May my father's goodness - and greatness - be an eternal memory, and may we think of him when our courage falters." - Shoshana Milgram, 2012 
"Some people say that death always wins, but that is not true. The sorrow we feel bears testimony to the magnitude of what we have lost, of what we will never forget - so what wins is not death, but love." - Noach Milgram, 2000 
Noach & Roberta Milgram



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