I’ve been doing an exercise that is part of the Aleph Sage-ing® Program[i]. It’s designed to provide new meaning to the events of one’s life. As part of the exercise I‘ve listed significant moments in my life and people who have guided and influenced me. The most recent of such experiences was the reading of my father’s archive of sermons[ii]. Since the obvious influence in this case was my father himself, I listed his name, Rabbi Sidney Ballon, and according to Jewish custom followed his name with the Hebrew letters ז״ל (z"l). This is an abbreviation of the Hebrew expression zichro livracha (זיכרו לברכה) which may be translated "his memory for a blessing".
Okay, that done, I realized I had neglected to add the same abbreviation after my brother’s name, Rabbi Jeffrey Ballon, listed right above my dad’s, Jeff’s death and Jeff’s name being the next most recent significant events and influences. It was simple to hit Ctrl+V and paste ז״ל again.
That prompted me to scan further up the list to make sure I had appropriately given honor to the memory of other influencers who no longer walk the earth. Fortunately, I was able to skip a few names of recent teachers who are still among us, but it didn’t take long before coming upon a dear, departed colleague from my most recent corporate job. Larry Hill and I didn’t work together long, and he had left the firm for a few years before his untimely passing, but he was such a beautiful soul that he made a deep impact. His support paved the way for the richest decade of my corporate life. Ctrl+V ז״ל.
I have already written and spoken about one of my greatest mentors, John Kahl[iii]. Ctrl+V ז״ל.
Then I came upon the great Post-Modernist architect, my first teacher in architecture school, Charles Moore[iv]. Ctrl+V ז״ל.
And then, a professor of education, Dr. Harold Wise, who not only gave me my first lessons on that subject, but believed in me, supported me, and loved me—despite the somewhat tarnished academic record I had when we met. His faith in me and his wisdom were invaluable contributions to my education. Ctrl+V ז״ל.
Then there was Paul Darden, classmate in art school, very much the big brother to me when I was not so close—physically and perhaps emotionally as well— to my biological big brother. Ctrl+V ז״ל.
Marietta Warner Siegel, my closest high school art teacher, gave me the first one-man art show at the West Hempstead High School, and so much more. Ctrl+V ז״ל.
There were other special teachers along the way such as Dr. Ralph Marcellino, my Latin teacher, and Philip Turner, my sixth grade teacher, both of whom who I know have died, as well as others who I can only surmise are gone. Ctrl+V ז״ל.
Topping the list, and undisputedly the first great influence in my life of course, is my mom. Ctrl+V ז״ל.
I hadn’t set out to create a list of the departed, just a list of influences. It became too readily apparent that so many of the great people in my life are gone, even as their place in my heart lives on. Over one third of the names I listed are of people I know to be deceased. About one third, fortunately, I know to be alive, and the remaining are people whose fate is unknown to me. The graphic impact of seeing the letters ז״ל pasted after so many names truly causes me to pause and reflect. How short is the journey. How great may be our influence on our fellow travelers regardless of how long we walk the path together. And how precious is our time with those who do not have those letters yet written after their names.
[i] The ALEPH Sage-ing™ Project is a multidisciplinary and multi-generational project based on the book "From Age-ing to Sage-ing" by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, offering a new paradigm for the aging process as well as powerful contemplative tools.
[iii] See posting of my eulogy of John M. Kahl, Sr.: http://yesh-indeed.blogspot.com/2012/05/john-m-kahl-sr-remembered.html
[iv] Charles Willard Moore (October 31, 1925 – December 16, 1993) was an American architect, educator, writer, Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, and winner of the AIA Gold Medal in 1991.