Feb 14, 2017 (your 27th birthday)

Feb 14, 2017 (your 27th birthday)


Dear Jonah,

Special Investigator Jethro Gibbs brings a full complement of law enforcement skills to his job heading up a crew of officers at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. NCIS. Yep, one of my favorite TV shows. One of America’s favorite TV shows. I enjoy it because of the storylines that are frequently accompanied by a humor (okay, often corny humor) that makes me smile. I’m not sure if you’re responsible for this, Jonah, but between losing you and the ugliness in the world today, I have absolutely no desire to see unabating corruption and violence on television. Unless it’s about the good guys winning.

That’s why I like NCIS. But what keeps me coming back is that I also care about the characters. I can’t watch current hits like Game of Thrones or House of Cards because so many on the roster are just mean. I don’t root for any of them. I want to root for my TV heroes. NCIS is a nice way to pass a little down time without getting depressed about it.

Every now and then, NCIS introduces a story line that takes the viewer a bit further into the personal life of one of its characters. Recently, watching an episode called “Requiem” (S5:E7), it got personal for Gibbs. And there was an unexpected development.

You watched it with me.

The plot centered on a young woman who was being stalked by an old boyfriend who it turns out was smuggling money into America from Iraq. As Gibbs swooped in to save the day, he learned that the woman had been his daughter’s best friend when they were little. The photograph she shared of the two girls playing in the backyard had been taken shortly before Gibbs’ daughter had died.

Enter Jonah.

What was so powerful and moving for me was watching Gibbs process meeting this young woman, vividly remembering the two girls playing together as children and, while observing this young woman, catching a glimpse of what his daughter might have been like, looked like, lived like, had she lived. Gibbs is a pretty stoic character, so he didn’t cry. But if there’d been one more camera, you would have seen me cry.

I don’t shed tears very often for you anymore, JoJo. ‘Tho I’ve definitely shed my share. These days, when the tears do come: 1) they’re pretty powerful moments for me; and, 2) I welcome them. It pleases me to witness my heart still bearing the wound of losing you.

As in that NCIS episode, I find myself, from time to time, wondering what would have become of you. You’d be 27 years old today. You died while a freshman in college. You’d declared a major (engineering) before you got there, and a short while later announced you were changing to philosophy. No surprise there. You had loved the idea of engineering but not so much the reality of the work involved. A few weeks later, after sharing with me that you liked the idea of becoming a much-revered and sought-after college professor, you were gone.

I can’t help but wonder where you might be today. Would you have stayed with philosophy? Would you have even finished college? Or would you have looked elsewhere for your passion? Would you have gone on to graduate studies? Would you be settling into your first job? Or would you still be trying to figure things out?

Your Jewish soul was a strong one, and I quietly observed as it continued to draw you ever inward toward the heart of your people. I wonder if you’d have moved to Israel.

2006. He ain’t heavy … but he wasn’t small either.

I also wonder what you’d look like now. I have thousands of photographs of you. As far as I know, you hadn’t yet settled on the look you’d keep. During your freshman year, I saw you with long hair, with short hair, with a beard, and clean-shaven. Which would have stayed with you?

And then there’s clothing. I can’t imagine you wearing a jacket and tie to work each day, and I smile even thinking about it.

And what of your music? You loved playing guitar, ukulele, mandolin, and you were getting pretty good at them. Would you have gotten serious about music? Would it have become a career path? Or would you still see it as something simpler — a joyful hobby to be shared with your friends?

How about theatre? Would you have found your way back there? You’d loved it so much during high school. In your senior year, you’d imagined yourself being involved in community productions. I would have loved watching you from Row G.

Then there was social justice. You cared about people, Jonah. A lot. And you’d begun exploring the meaning of acting on a community level. Shortly before you died, you did some door-to-door canvassing to help elect Barack Obama and a local representative. You were so excited to watch President Obama’s inauguration, asking me to save the issue of the New York Times that had borne the headline, “Obama – Racial Barrier Falls In Decisive Victory.” Strangely sentimental, I’ve saved the Trump inaugural headline in some perverse homage to your memory.

And what of love? Who would have become the object of your affections? How good would you be at the relationship thing? Would someone think of you as a treasured partner?

I actually don’t spend a lot of time wondering about your unlived life. It’s not that I don’t think about it either. I just don’t get to choose. I never know when I’m going to bump into my memories of you, and when my heart is going to tell my brain to stop for a bit and visit my middle child. I welcome these side-journeys simply because I miss spending time with you.

It’s a bit of a dance, though. I alternate between the sadness of still missing you, and the joy of remembering how much I loved you, and reveling in the beauty that swirled around you. It isn’t the dance I would have chosen, Jonah, but it’s the one I’ve been invited to.

And I never say no.

Happy birthday, my beautiful boy. You are forever missed. And forever loved.


BillyFeb 14, 2017 (your 27th birthday)


Join the conversation
  • Shari Suss - February 14, 2017 reply

    As always, your words deeply move and inspire me…
    I truly believe that Jonah would be so very pleased with the beautiful way you continually honor him and speak of him… he surely knew, as we all did watching you, watching him, ….how very loved and proud of him you were. May his memory continue to be a blessing, on his birthday and every day of your life.

  • Andrew Pegalis - February 14, 2017 reply

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Phyllis O - February 14, 2017 reply

    The beauty and depth of your meanderings in your memories and speculations leave me speechless. I am so sorry that you had to experience this.

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