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Life and Death, Joy and Sorrow, Side by Side in the West Valley

April 29, 2001|ELIJAH J. SCHOCHET | Elijah J. Schochet is rabbi emeritus of Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills

It was a depressing convalescent hospital visit, as most of them are. My friend stared out at me through hopeless eyes, gasping words of even darker and deeper hopelessness: "I am sure that I will die here. I'll never leave this place alive." Nor did he seek any encouraging or uplifting words from me, not that I could offer any that would be adequate. The room in which he lay seemed as dark as the interior of a funeral casket, and his facial pallor prematurely seemed to have taken on the hue of death.

Shortly thereafter driving north on Reseda Boulevard, I pulled over to the curb near a park. The sky was bright blue, the sunshine was blinding in its intensity, and as for the park . . . it was the site of a veritable orgy, both literally and figuratively.

An orgy was indeed transpiring before my eyes. It was a mid-March day and Mother Nature was unleashing the full power of her mating instincts into a variety of creatures . . . squirrels, pigeons, duck and geese.

To the accompaniment of squeaks, squawks and quacks, mating calls all of them, the grass had become a playground for a game of uninhibited libido. Everyone seemed to be chasing everyone else (at times, seemingly without much respect for the integrity of the individual species), with one object in mind--sex, copulation, propagation of the species, call it what you wish.

Preening and primping without a trace of modesty, three mallard drakes vied for the attention of the duck-object of their desire, and an apparently sexually philanthropic goose had a bevy of enthusiastic gander suitors honking after her.

That was the scene in Reseda Park--an orgy of life begetting life beneath the noonday sun. What a contrast to the sterility of the convalescent hospital that I had just exited where people lay in the darkness of their beds awaiting the angel of death.


For a brief moment, I actually found myself resenting the joyful, uninhibited park scene unfolding before my eyes. I could understand how the poet, Bialik, thundered against the audacity of the Ukrainian sun's shining on the day following the massacre and maiming of hundreds of Jews in the 1903 Kishinev pogrom; however, his was a poetic flourish borne in agony not rationality, as was my own momentary reaction.

The sun should shine of course, regardless of the burials taking place beneath it, and the world of nature should happily propagate itself on the outside grass, regardless of the imminent deaths inside adjacent nursing facilities. Otherwise, life could not exist.

Such is the reality of the inevitable "circle of life," long before Disney's Lion King philosophically ruminated upon it, and such remains the case daily not only in central Africa, but in our own west San Fernando Valley.

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