I’ve been thinking about my father, Leon Kanegis, a lot recently. His birthday is coming up at the end of the month. At 81 he left us before I was ready for him to go. I wanted and needed more time with him. Through the years and through some tough father/son times we managed to keep the lines of communication open and explore some deep questions, with some long standing and oft repeated jokes and quips.
“Robby…I had a real scare today. I was reading an article in Scientific American. It said that the sun will burn out and become a red giant in 8 million years. Oh my God I thought, that’s not much time. Then I went back and reread the passage. It actually says 8 billion years. I’m so relieved!”
That and trips to the Hayden Planetarium got me thinking about the universe, time and duration. Perfect subjects for an eight year old inquiring mind.
“How long is eternity Dad?” That was one of the many questions I asked, fully expecting my scientist father to have answers at the ready.
“Well, I can’t say for sure but I do know that time is all relative.”
That was right about the period , he was sculpting a life-size clay bust of AlbertEinstein, one of his heroes. One of my early heroes too, along with Albert Schweitzer, Davy Crockett and Maynard G. Krebs.
Many years later, I called home with an answer of sorts to that long ago question.
“I’ve got a story for you Dad. It’s part of a Grimm’s tale.”
“How many seconds are there in eternity?”,
“In Lower Pomerania there is a Diamond Mountain, which is two miles high, two miles wide, and two miles deep; every inch from top to bottom tis pure diamond. Every thousand years a bird comes and sharpen its beak on it. When Diamond Mountain is worn away, when there is nothing left but a flat plain that will be the first second of eternity.”
Naturally that long ago kid also had questions about God and heaven.
My father’s Judaism was mostly of a cultural, culinary, political and ethical bent, certainly not a biblical one. As a scientist he wouldn’t hazard a definitive answer without evidence and proof.
“Dad? Does God answer our prayers?”
Again, I had to wait years for guidance from the right story. Stories actually. A pair of them. These unfortunately came too late to share with him.
In Jerusalem, a reporter who was on assignment heard about an old Jew who had been going to the Wailing Wall to pray, twice a day, every day, for as long as anyone could remember. So she went to check it out. She goes to the Wailing Wall and there he was! She watches him pray and after about 45 minutes, then turn to leave.
Interesting she thinks. This must be the man. I wonder if he’ll be back tomorrow? The next day, at the same hour, he’s back. The reporter returns every day for a week. She wants to get her facts straight. Everyday, the old Jew is there, fervently praying.
At the end of the week she approaches him.
“Sir, how long have you been coming to the Wailing Wall and praying?”
“For about 50 years. Every day… I’ve never missed a day. Not one!”
“50 years without missing a day? That’s absolutely incredible. It’s inspirational. May I ask you what do you pray for?”
“What do I pray for? What kind of question is that? I pray for peace between the Jews and the Arabs of course. I pray for all of our children to grow up in safety and friendship.I pray for an end to hunger. I pray for peace on earth.”
“Can you tell me…How do you feel after doing this for all these 50 years?
“How do I feel? How do I feel you ask? I feel like I’m talking to a f’n wall!”
So much for the power of prayer. But is it? Consider the case of the Chicken Hawk and the Vulture.
Not long ago I was walking past a neighbor’s house and stumbled upon a scene right out of Wild Kingdom. A Cooper’s Hawk (commonly known as a Chicken Hawk)swooped from the sky, right into the middle of a cholla cactus where a thrasher had a nest. The hawk grabbed a fledgling, while both parents, perched nearby put up awful shrieks and cries of alarm. I watched the hawk fly off with its trophy. It was a sad day for the thrashers but a good day for the chicken hawk.
But it doesn’t always go so well. Here’s a story I first heard from a marvelous young storyteller name J.J Renaux who shone brightly, beautifully but all too briefly.
One day, Chicken Hawk spotted Vulture sitting on a fence looking as forlorn as a vulture can be. Sunken cheeks, drooping eyes, shoulders hunched and head shrouded like it was already mourning its own death. You look lower than a centipede with fallen arches my friend. What ails you?” Asked the Hawk.
“My stomach feels like my throat’s been cut,” replied the Vulture. “I haven’t had a thing to eat in a week.” Well, then, what are you doing sitting on that post? Get up and fly brother. It’s time for you to hunt up some dinner. Go get yourself a meal my petrified, putrified friend.”
Buzzard barely had enough breath to wheeze out his response.
“Not going to do that. I don’t wast my time hunting. I’ll just wait here for something to die. The Lord has always provided and I’m counting on the Lord to provide for me now.” Chicken Hawk shook his head, ruffled up his feathers and suggested in none to diplomatic language that he thought Buzzard was a fool, and would soon be the carcass of a fool.
“You can pray and starve to death if you insist. I’m hungry myself. Let me show you how to answer your own prayers. Just watch me and try and learn something.”
Chicken Hawk shot up into the sky. Up he flew, soaring over the field below. It wasn’t long before he saw just what he was looking for, a plump long eared rabbit, frozen in place. It had seen the shadow of the hawk now hovering above it, just a few feet from where Buzzard was perched.
“Buzzard’s going to have a front row seat,” thought Chicken Hawk. He folded his wings and shot out of the sky like a guided missile towards the motionless rabbit below. But just at the very last possible moment… the bunny zigged and the bunny zagged out of harms way. Chicken Hawk’s speed was his undoing. Too late to pull up, his head hit the hard ground where the rabbit had just been doing about 90mph. A second later the rabbit was chewing on some sweet green grass, and there was a feather puddle surrounding the freshly provided carcass of Chicken Hawk.
Buzzard took a long look down at the waiting meal, then slowly raised his head skyward
“Thank you Lord! Thank you for this food that I’m about to eat.”
I see that I’m almost out of my self allotted 1500 words. Maybe one last story though while there’s still time! One more story about the mystery of God and nature.
There was once an old man who packed a little bag, closed the door to his house and started down the path that led to and from his village.
He was just crossing the bridge that spanned a frog pond at the edge of town when he saw a friend passing from the other direction.
“Where are you going?” asked the one who was homeward bound.
“I am going to Connemara,” the old man replied.
“You mean, you’re going to Connemara – God willing, don’t you?”
“NO! “I mean I am going to Connemara!”
God happened to be in the vicinity, overheard this exchange and decided to teach the l man a lesson. He turned him into a frog, put him in the frog pond and there he left him for the next 7 years. But God is just and merciful. He restored the frog to his original self and let him proceed a he wished.
What do you think that man did?
He picked up his little bag that was still by the side of the bridge and took off in the direction he’d been walking all those years back.
As fate would have it, at that moment, that same friend came walking homeward again.
‘Where are you going?” he asked.
“I am going to Connemara,” the freshly reminted man replied.
“Don’t you mean to say you’re going to Connemara – God willing?”
“NO I mean, I am going to Connemara. Either that or back to the old frog pond.”
In the time that you are allotted I leave these questions up to you. How long will we be here? How much time do we have to get it together, to get it right? A second? A lifetime? An eternity? Is there a God watching over us and answering our prayers? Maybe, lacking definitive answers we should hedge our bets.
102 years since your birth Dad. Wish I could pick up the phone and ask you a few questions. Maybe tell you a story. But at the moment, I need to hunt up some dinner.
Very nice article Bob- enjoyed all of it- think of my recently departed father often-they are in our DNA-regardsDave
Brilliant. Timely. Thank you.