“A Letter of Recommendation” by Yehuda Amichai

Jillian, my Jilly-Bean, is applying to college and she asked me for a letter of recommendation, something I will happily do tomorrow when I have my school computer that has a digital version of the school’s letterhead.

I love writing letters of recommendation (so long as the student has actually earned it).  I love being able to show a student the goodness within him or her and show the student how wonderful he/she is.  I love writing about a person’s accomplishments and sharing those achievements with the world.  Actually, what I really love doing is giving the student a copy of the letter of recommendation.  I love giving the student written documentation of love.

So as I was skimming my mind for something on which to write, I remembered one of my favorite poem’s (I have tons of “favorites” so please don’t ask me for a list), Yehudi Amichai’s “A Letter of Recommendation,” seen in the link hidden within the title.

As a writer and a reader, I frequently see where people (myself included) will bash parental figures as a means of achieving..attention, a theme, a motif, a conflict.  In my own novel, my main character is at odds with her father.

However, this poem feels like a stunning contrast against Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” (another link within that title) in which Roethke describes dancing with his father while his father is drunk and, in my opinion, a bit abusive.

It’s easy to vilify parents.  I know this because I am frequently accused of being “embarrassing,” even if it is merely my silent presence as I slip into the kitchen while my son has friends visit.  Now, I am not trying to vilify my children.  I am merely stating that I see how, regardless of my best intentions and most careful actions, I am going to do something wrong that will forever cast me into the role of the “evil mother.”

Sometimes, that role is an easily donned costume complete with sparkly accessories and high, 1980’s style collars that surround my head like a collapsed halo.  I enjoy being the wicked mother who reigns on high and casts her children into the “pits of despair” to quote Anne Shirley.

But, most often, I really just want to make my kids happy, but I also do this with the knowledge that I am also raising future citizens of the world who must be globally aware and conscious of the humanity that surrounds them.  This means that I can’t always give in to every request, wish, or demand.

No is hard to say.  I even had to practice it four times with various members of my school’s lacrosse team who  tried to sell me some kind of entertainment book.  Four rounds of no.  Four rounds of partially crest-fallen faces of students I love and never want to disappoint.

As I skip from digital window to digital window, re-reading “A Letter of Recommendation,” I yearn for the ability to go to Jerusalem and walk the paths of history.  I am drawn to all the images I have seen, whether in books, in movies, or in the voices of people who have been there and dream of returning.  I love the description of how the speaker wears the words of the Ten Commandments on his lips, as though they were a sacred patina tattooed upon his face.

And then comes the third stanza, when the woman is called upon to touch him, to lay her hands upon his chest and feel the ridges of the letter of recommendation.  Every time I read the poem and move from sleeping naked on the roof to walking through Jerusalem while chanting the Torah to the invocation to the woman, I wonder about her.

I can almost see her as she lays her fingers upon the young man’s chest, her hand conforming to the folded note hidden beneath the clothing.  In some respects, this is so much more intimate than even the most passionate words that have been branded upon a page.

“All the same, he’s a good boy, and full of love.”

I would that these were words my parents inscribed upon me….just with a different gender.  For me, this is forgiveness for all the mistakes I have made, all the sadness I have thrust upon them like an unwelcome gift.  I love them so much; I love the world so much.  But I always seem to come up a little short and forget that my words and actions can be as destructive as the most nuclear of bombs.

Move into the last two stanzas, the point at which we see this loving father who runs his gnarled hand across the smooth ridge of his son’s forehead.  Yes, I am inserting my interpretation and imagination here.  Deal with it (please).  But this is love.

This morning, the Girl was still in bed just as I was getting ready to leave.  Usually, she is awake and downstairs and eating her breakfast as I am heading out the door.  Unwilling to chance that she might sleep in (which throws her into a huge panic), I went to her bedroom, opened the door, and quietly entered.  From the corner of her bed, nestled under a blanket covered in carousel horses, my beautiful not-so-little girl stared at me, her bright blue eyes slightly wary as she suspected that I was going to come in and pounce on her.

Unwilling to disturb or break the solemnity of this moment, I merely approached her bed, smiled, leaned over, and kissed her forehead.  She was awake.  All was good.

I hate it when the Boy sleeps in because I can’t always be gentle with him when I awaken him.  Multiple times, I have stroked his hair, kissed his forehead, gently nudged him.  He snores, rolls over, and keeps on sleeping.  To awaken him, I have to turn on the light and sometimes prod him; this is not a gentle process or a welcome method of awakening to another day.

But, in the end, I love him as much as I love her.  And I want only for them to be happy and for their days to start with love, whether in a gentle caress or caring words or the simple crescent of my smile.

And when I am gone, I hope their memories of me are good…so good that they will write me a letter of recommendation to God….”“All the same, [she’s] a good [mom], and full of love.”

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