DEAR Papa: Thank you for the beautiful book you gave me for my birthday. It's right here beside me now, as I write. Thank you especially for the dedication, ``For my son, the writer. Love, Papa.'' There's something else I want to thank you for, too. It's not tangible like a book, but it's just as real, just as vital, in my life. It's the way you have always accepted me, embraced me; the way you have let me grow up to find for myself the best combination of survival and happiness possible.
You never made me feel that I would disappoint you if I didn't become something prestigious in the business world, like an executive, or a lawyer, or a CPA.
Remember Rubin, one of the fellows I palled around with in college? He became a CPA. I'll never forget how he had a pencil propped behind each ear for rapid entries into any number of ledgers he always had with him. Once, he and I stopped to look at some daisies. I winked at them because I could have sworn they winked at me first.
But Rubin, he gave them a long, careful look, as if he were weighing their credits against their debits. He must have known from the beginning that he wanted to be a CPA.
And remember Springel and Hartman? They were on the debating team. And now they're lawyers. They know how to open - and I don't mean burgle - the safes of the world.
And me, what do I do? I make a living by translating works in other languages into English. I lead words and silences from other lands, other worlds, over the mountains to safety and delight in our land, our world. I am their guide. And at night, a look of wistful purpose on my face, I do my own writing. Sometimes I wish I could write in another language and then translate it into English. In that way, if my writing failed, I could blame the translator. But I don't have the temperament to be devious.
Even when I was a child, I wrote. I kept in notebooks an account, every day, of the things I'd seen that helped the world, like trees and the sky - by lifting - and of the things that tried in vain to spoil the world, like long distances and dark stairs - by scaring.
I still have those notebooks, Papa. Most of the penciled, printed words have resisted time's invisible eraser, and I can still make out the doodles I sometimes drew in the margins, where a whimsical part of me always felt free. When I reread the old notebooks I know that remembering and discovering are one and the same.
Life for me has not been an upward thing, but a thing of ups and downs in approximately equal measure. I don't have every day something sensational to report about my progress. And often I wonder if fulfillment in life is necessarily tied to a change for the better.
A few days ago my rabbi asked me how things were going, and I answered, ``Things are going all right, but it wouldn't hurt if they went a little better.'' Raising his formidable eyebrows, he said, ``And how do you know it wouldn't hurt?''
Earlier today I was looking at some old photographs, gazing into them as into a lost world. There was one of me as a child, a wisp of a boy, standing next to a whopper of a man, my towering father. I looked like a little bush growing alongside a giant oak, secretly proud that we shared the same sunlight. You were looking down at your shy-eyed son with an expression that said, ``Every child brings his own blessing into the world. And this one, what will be his?''
Papa, I think I'll go out for a walk, and mail this letter at the trusty box on the corner. It was cold earlier, and drizzly. A drizzle like a dim snow. Soon there will be real snow. The sky's laundry, blown down from the clotheslines strung between the stars, will be hanging everywhere.
Blessed is the son who writes to his father. Blessed is the father who keeps the letters in an honored place. Blessed is love, stronger than death.