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What to Tell Rose, Who Has Lost So Much

November 22, 2001|BARUCH COHON

"Nice of you to invite me," she says, "but I really don't want to celebrate Thanksgiving this year."

I hesitate, the phone heavy in my hand. What should I tell "Rose"? Should I suggest that she forget it's Thanksgiving and just join us for a super-size family dinner?

No, that's not for Rose. Well-liked and respected, mother of three grown children, she is an old friend. She knows me too well to accept any pat arguments. I invited her to a Thanksgiving dinner, and she feels she has nothing to give thanks for.

Active in her community, Rose held office in her organization until stricken with arthritis. Now, two back surgeries later, she walks with a cane and every step hurts. A couple of months ago her husband took a business trip to New York. Got incinerated in the World Trade Center. She has one son on a carrier in the Indian Ocean. The other son manages a suddenly half-empty hotel. Her daughter, son-in-law and only grandchild live in Efrat, Israel. Their e-mails reassure her that the latest terrorist attack missed them. They would love to have her come and visit, but if she doesn't ... they'll understand.

Do I understand? Maybe not. Maybe no one does completely.

So how do we deal with her?

Elie Wiesel, the unique mind that emerged from the fires of Auschwitz to become the voice of the Survivor Generation, once stated a message that went like this: Someone who is subjected to an ordeal should give thanks for three things: for the trial itself, for the strength to endure the trial and for the future that the trial has left the survivor better equipped to face.

Maybe that's what I should tell Rose. Not sympathetic enough? Maybe this answer requires more than sympathy. And maybe this Thanksgiving requires more than food.

Our country and our world must go through ordeals and trials yet unknown. We don't ask for them. We are not prepared for them. Can we somehow withstand them and gain strength from them? Yes, we can. Thank God we can.

That's what this Thanksgiving calls for. Gratitude for America and its indomitable spirit. Courage. Confidence. And the smile through tears that faces the future with defiance.

Who is Rose, after all? Do I need to tell you?

She is the neighbor who keeps her troubles to herself. She is the friend who must rise above those troubles and count the blessings that give her the backbone to go on. She is you in your grief. She is you in your pain. She is you and your country in this year of trial and terror and error and war. And we need her to celebrate Thanksgiving. Because this year we can give thanks for something vital--something we had all along and maybe we didn't realize it. We can give thanks for the teeth to grit and the will to sacrifice and the conviction that nothing less than victory will do.

We can.

We must.

I believe we will.


Baruch Cohon is a retired rabbi living in the Los Angeles area.

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