I love whisky from a purely aesthetic perspective, among other perspectives. There is a part of me that just savors the nose and palate of fine whiskies. I marvel at the unbelievable range of scotch whiskies; at the shades of sweet flavors in bourbons; at the subtleties of Irish whiskies; at the experimental nature of some drams; at the textures that can be pulled from some casks; and on and on.
There is so much to think about while enjoying the unique characteristics of a particular whisky. And yet, sometimes the act of enjoying a dram allows your mind to wander off the highway of life to examine the thoughts ambling about on the side streets and tertiary routes of your brain. And that, too, is part of what makes the whisky experience so neat for me. Dram time is a time to relax. Reflect. And to Remember.
This week an unspeakable tragedy occurred very close to home. Joshua and I live in neighboring towns in Connecticut. This past Friday we received news of the horrific mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Geographically, Newtown is barely past a half hour away from our cloistered part of the shoreline. Josh was raised in a town less than 15 miles from Newtown, a community that has just attained notoriety among the pantheon of bullet-riddled towns where innocents have fallen victim to our most awful American cultural flaw: senseless mass murders involving guns.
This latest tragedy was not only geographically close to home for me. A father of three daughters, the youngest only seven years old, herself, I was sickened to think of the loss of so many six and seven year-old children at the unfeeling hands of this deranged shooter. Moreover, as a school board member in my community, I marvel at the courage yet mourn the tragic loss of such brave school leaders who made the ultimate sacrifice in a vain effort to save the 20 young lambs in their care (then again, how many lives they may have saved by stalling the gunman will never be known). As a board member and father, I can only empathize with the challenges faced by that community, while secretly thanking G-D that it was not my district that was hit; not my kids whose lives were imperiled.
While dramming away the stress of this tragedy over the weekend past, I reflected meditatively on it. I was sitting on my couch by the hearth, a special malt in one hand and my seven-year-old daughter clinging to my other arm as we watched a family movie. We had just finished lighting the menorahs and opening the presents for the seventh night of Chanukah. My littlest one had heard about the shooting and had many questions, which then also led to her being extra-clingy for a few days. But the act of soothing her while we took in a movie served in return to soothe me. In this symbiotic state I can’t even recall half of the silly movie we watched. I just basked in how lucky I was to have my daughter with me, looking to me for protection.
Although I dutifully assuaged her concerns by pointing out that these things are extremely rare; that it would be extremely unlikely to happen to her or her sisters; that all the grown-ups are looking out for all the schoolchildren very caringly, I knew all along that I can’t make that promise. I can’t protect my daughters from a similar fate, G-D forbid. The sun rises. I go to work. My kids go to school. I come home and they are there. The sun goes down. Predictably it goes, day after day. But what if it didn’t happen that way one day?
Then on Sunday, December 16, as I watched our President read the names of the innocent children in a melancholy voice during the memorial service, my mind went to the lives that these fallen angels will not get to lead. They will not reach their First Communions or Bar Mitzvahs. They will never graduate from High School, or experience prom or college, or have children of their own. They will never know the purely aesthetic experience of savoring a fine whisky; a simple act that I take for granted. These thoughts are thoroughly morose. It occurs to me that mass shootings spark a communal tinge of survivor’s guilt that echoes all across the world, just like after a terrorist attack or a natural disaster, and reminds us all of our ephemeral, fragile existences on this tiny planet in the vast universe.
On the other hand, these young souls will never know hatred. They will never feel the awkward angst of adolescence or the pressure of not having enough money to make all their bills. Although we would all prefer life for the deceased children, we can take solace in the fact that these beautiful, perfect children all knew how to smile, how to laugh, and how to love unconditionally. That they got to smile, to laugh and to love will have to be consolation enough.
The Jewish way to mourn is to gather as a community and recite a prayer. The prayer to honor the deceased is called The Mourner’s Kaddish. This prayer is interesting in that it does not mention death or loss even once. Instead, it glorifies and sanctifies the Lord. I pray we all avoid these bracing heartbreaks in the future. I pray for an end to such random acts of senseless violence. Until then, and in the spirit of the Kaddish, I thank G-D for the respite that whisky provides. Like manna from heaven, whisky holds the power to sustain and soothe us during times that raise countless questions and provide no answers.
L’chaim (to life).