I thought that nothing could be worse than that moment two years ago when doctors informed me that my son, Ithan, had a brain tumor. As a parent, nothing on earth is more important to me than my children and we were completely blindsided by the news. It was utterly devastating but in hindsight this accidental find was a blessing versus the alternative which I can’t even bring myself to type. After hearing this sudden and extreme news about my son, the year following was a terrifying time, one that we hoped was behind us when his surgeons said the operation to remove the tumor had been a success.
But then, almost 18 months later, Ithan suffered a seizure in my apartment at 3:18 on a Thursday afternoon just this May. For the next 5 ½ minutes — the longest and most painful 5 ½ minutes of my life — he lay unconscious. We had no idea if he was even breathing, how to handle this unexpected and unbelievably frightening challenge and worse would he wake up from this traumatic event that was unfolding. 5 ½ minutes later Ithan was speaking again, it took some time for him to come back to himself but the worst thoughts running through my mind had passed and now it was time to fight our way forward!
Time pretty much stopped for the next few days as he underwent a battery of tests and scans. I don’t think I breathed at all until the doctor told me they were releasing him the following Saturday without the need for medication. Since then, Ithan has been home recuperating and returning to life as a loving, kind, and amazing New York City high school student.
Ithan is my role model on how to live. He wakes up every morning with excitement about being alive. He throws himself into his schoolwork. (As I type this, he’s in the other room in the middle of a Zoom class.) He cheers on his favorite teams (Go Knicks!) and even sees the glass half full when they lose. And unlike a lot of teenagers, he has a very genuine love for his family — even his sister, although he sometimes pretends not to.
Ithan is always full of smiles, even though so many of the things that bring him joy have been put on hold over the past year as we’ve endured the Covid-19 pandemic. He’s managed to stay pretty optimistic by looking forward to life getting back to normal, and I wish I could say the same for myself. The isolation has taken its toll on me and a lot of those around me. I see it in friends and family members. I sense it in many of my nearly 200 colleagues here at JBC, even when they are trying to put a positive spin on things.
Even just typing Ithan’s name brings to mind my father, Ira. (Ithan is pronounced Ethan, but is spelled with an “I” in honor of his grandfather.) Two decades ago this year I was on a ferry headed across the Hudson River toward Weehawken, New Jersey. The clear, crisp beauty of the morning was shattered by an airliner directly over our heads. It was flying too low, too fast. I was tortured to watch helplessly as it collided with the North Tower of the World Trade Center. That was, I realized, the tower where my father worked and the moment where I felt him go.
That was another moment in my life when time seemed to stop. I hoped, I prayed, I walked around the city like a zombie in search of some sign that he had survived, but in my heart I knew that he was gone which was unfortunately my truth. Because of his habit of always getting to work early and seeking out his favorite muffin from the cafeteria on the building’s 40th floor, he was the only employee that Lehman Brothers lost that day.
I learned that day, and in the many months that followed, that I had a choice. I could allow myself to sink into despair, or I could live the life that my father had envisioned for me. I had the power to learn from what had happened and use it to propel myself forward. As I wrote several years ago, “You can live in the past, or you can live in the present.” Even more so today I recognize why it is called the present — because each day you get the luxury of unwrapping it.
Since my father died, the Latin phrase Carpe diem — usually translated as “Seize the day” — has been my mantra. It seems more appropriate now than ever as we struggle to find our footing after more than a year of a pandemic. We’ve been cut off from people who are important to us. We’ve felt isolated from our colleagues. No wonder we’re feeling ridden with anxiety and are forgetting to take care of ourselves.
It turns out that Carpe diem isn’t the complete quote. It goes on to add Quam minimum credula postero, meaning “Trust as little as possible in the future.” I’m not sure about that last part. Can we really focus on today without thinking at all about the future? I think this is where I often go wrong, and I suspect that many of you do, too.
My son Ithan is named after my father, but he is his own unique young man (almost 17 this August). Ithan has conquered too many challenges in his life and through all of them is able to maintain such a positive outlook because he believes so strongly in seizing the day and so strongly in the future ahead. Ithan wakes up every day with a zest for life. He is my role model on how to live. He is full of smiles and has an unwavering commitment to seeing a bright future ahead. I’m going to continue to seize the day as if I have that passion sewn into the fabric of my being, but I’m going to take a little inspiration from my powerhouse of a son by also seizing the future. You should too!