|Toby with one of his little buddies at Pastures.|
Weeks before Toby's Bar Mitzvah, I began to ponder what I would say to him during the "parents' speech" moment in the service. You see, after the prayers and blessings and passing of the Torah through the generations, after the sermon and the Torah reading and the blessing from the rabbi, there comes a moment when everyone pulls out a hankie and the parents of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah march up to the podium to speak about their beloved child. I have rarely heard a parent not say something eloquent. I am almost always moved by their tender reminiscences, their insights into their child, and their quavering voices. It's a momentous occasion and calls for an exceptional speech. I wanted to do Toby proud.
Mark and I are good editors for each other. We've always weighed in on each others' writing. We also have a tendency to say the same thing when we are working, separately, on a speech for a particular occasion. It happened when we both wrote eulogies for Mark's father's funeral. It's happened other times as well. So, when I asked him, "Have you thought about what you're going to say on Toby's Bar Mitzvah?" I shouldn't have been surprised when he suggested we write a speech together.
"We're just going to end up saying the same thing anyways. Let's just start off together," he said. And that seemed like an excellent idea.
Writing it was fun. We quickly got into a groove. I wrote a big chunk. He went in, edited and wrote some more. I went back in, edited and added more. He edited. We polished together. We practiced. We honed. We're a good team.
We kept it a secret. We knew all of our kids would be surprised by the theme. What we didn't expect was the response we would get from Toby, his brothers, our niece, and many, many friends and relatives. Toby said, "Wow." From Harry, "Why didn't you give that speech to me for my Bar Mitzvah?!" My niece, apparently, turned to her father and said, "Top that." (Her Bat Mitzvah is in April!) Over all, the reaction was: What a wonderful way to honor Toby.
That was our intent. It's a very satisfying thing to be able to say out loud, in front of hundreds, what you know about your child. It's also very satisfying to tell it to your child, in such a moment...standing on the threshold of young adulthood...time stops and you grab his attention.
This is what we said:
Toby, we are both so proud of you and what you have accomplished today. This year, preparing for this day has been an incredible journey. You worked incredibly hard, you never complained, you felt the weight of your responsibilities. You came at it with your typical sunny attitude. And you’ve shown us what perseverance, hard work, and practice, practice, perfect practice can accomplish. You’ve given us insights into the Torah and leadership. And you’ve led us in a beautiful Shabbat service. All major accomplishments. We’re so proud.
As much as this might be a moment, when you stand before us and we have your attention, to teach you something important that we know, to share with you some little life secrets that parents are the keepers of, before we send you on your way into adulthood, Toby, we have to say that what we want to tell you right now is that you have everything you need to know right there inside you. You were born knowing what to do to lead a full and rich and joyful life.
We were thinking we could talk right now about your leadership qualities, since that was your focus for your sermon. But, really, you already did a great job with that. However, being the third of three brothers, we think it’s really important for you to know how you stand out in the crowd. What makes you special, what makes you YOU. And, indeed, what qualities you have that will carry with you into your adult life. We believe you have some other strengths that we ALL can learn from.
But, we’ve decided to think of them as superpowers, because we both know how important superpowers are to you, and to your brothers, and to your friends. And really, we want to talk about your superpowers because we think you should know what they are.
Susie:1. The superpower of Golden-heartedness: Toby, I have always called you “my golden-hearted boy.” This, I think, is your greatest power. With it, you live in the world with almost-nonstop positivity. The words from the Torah that you put on your tallit, “Gimilut chasadim,” acts of loving kindness, is how you choose to live your life. You are cheerful and optimistic on the darkest days, the hardest moments. I can recall so many times your smile lit the room and made things easier for us and those around you. That is a gift, a superpower, to be certain. With your golden heart you see the best in people, you believe in them, you befriend them, and you enjoy them. You are tender with small children and loving with your elders. Toby, with your golden-hearted superpower you bring boundless amounts of good into the world. As far as we know, there’s no limit for this power. So, go out into the world and spread it around. The world really needs you.
Mark:2. The superpower of Voice: Several years ago we took you to the doctor to get your hearing checked. Why? Not because you didn’t respond when we talked to you, no, but because you talked so LOUD all the TIME! We thought, maybe you had a hearing deficit. Well, you were checked and the doctor said, “Nope…he’s just the littlest brother trying to be heard above the din!” Well, today we’re here to tell you: It’s another of your SUPERPOWERS. With your voice you speak up for yourself when needed, to share your ideas or when you aren’t being heard…which is too often when you live in a family of talkers and jokers and opinionated speakers. You also speak up for yourself in situations that might not be so easy, like when you feel you are being wronged, or someone you care about is. With this superpower you look out for yourself and your friends, you get your needs met. A really good example of this is that since you were a young boy (a young superboy) you have never been shy to speak up and ask for what you need in any situation, at a restaurant, or a store, at home, or at a friend’s home. You might have been shorter than the counter at the store, but that didn’t stop you from going forward and asking for help. There are people in this world, Toby, who don’t feel they have a voice, or a right to speak up for what they need. You can use your superpower to help them, to heal the world, and to make a difference. This is an amazing superpower of yours.
3. The superpower of Forgiveness: You forgive faster than anyone we know. Maybe it’s being the baby of the family. Maybe it’s just your nature. Or your superpower. But, your capacity for forgiveness means this: you don’t hang on to the bad stuff for long. You move on. You get over it. And in general have a very sunny view of the world. Forgiveness as a superpower puts you in league with Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s what they preached. It’s what they lived by. That’s not to say, the hurts and harms don’t sometimes get you down, but you don’t stay down for long. You have already taught us what these two men did to make a difference on the planet, what will you do with this superpower?
Before we close, we want to point out something else that comes with being a superhero, though we’re not sure if it is a superpower, per se. And this is, Always Wear A Costume! Superheroes know this. They’re all about their costumes. And you have always been all about your costume too. Hats, snuggies, ties, trenchcoats, you have quite an arsenal. Since preschool, at your beloved Pastures, you have had definite ideas about what you wore, and chose outfits that were always uniquely you. We think it’s a definite sign…of superheroness. But as you go on in life remember: no capes.
What we really want to tell you is this: Take your superpowers out into the world with you. Bring your golden heart, your forgiving heart, and your voice wherever you go. Our family is oh so lucky to have you in it, the third beloved brother, the youngest son. The world is oh so lucky to have you in it. The world is a better place because you are in it. And we look forward to seeing you share your gifts with the world.
We love you. Always have, always will.