The day of his 100th birthday was like no other for Shmulik.
It began like any other day. Shmulik arose just before the sun came up, put on his black suit, placed a large skullcap over what was left of his hair, and hung his white prayer shawl over his stooped shoulders. Before he left his small apartment in the Jewish quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem, he leaned down and kissed his wife, Pearl, on the cheek. She smiled and then turned over, continuing to sleep.
He shuffled, rather than walked, for two long blocks, because his knees, ankles and hips could no longer move faster than a shuffle, but he was grateful to shuffle because he still possessed the means, after inhabiting a body for a century, to propel himself without assistance.
When he arrived at the Kotel, the Western Wall, he took his tfillin from his coat pocket. He rolled up his sleeve and wrapped one around his left arm, and then placed the other on his head. He said the blessings, then took his battered and torn prayer book from his other coat pocket and walked up to his regular spot next to the stones that were thousands of years old. He looked up and smiled at the little sparrow that was making a nest in a crevice twenty feet above him, adding a small piece of branch and a few leaves to its shelter. Shmulik closed his eyes and began praying.
"Good morning God," he whispered in Hebrew. "It's me, Shmulik. How are you this morning?"
Shmulik waited for an answer, as he always did. He had been praying three times each day for more than 90 years, and each time, Shmulik thought, this is the day when God will answer.
There was never an answer, but Shmulik always waited for one, should God decide that today was the day that -"
"Not good, Shmulik."
Shmulik opened his eyes wide and looked around. There were only two men close enough to have spoken to him, a young Hasid ten feet to his left, and a middle-aged beggar, perhaps seven feet to his right. They both had their eyes closed and were rocking back and forth.
"What did you say?" Shmulik called out to the young Hasid.
The Hasid ignored him, deep in meditation. He turned to the beggar.
"Did you say something to me?" Shmulik asked.
The beggar opened one eye, looked at Shmulik, shook his head, as if to say, please do not bother me while I'm praying, closed his eye, turned away, and resumed praying.
Shmulik shrugged, closed his eyes and continued his prayers.
"First of all, I love you, God, and I want-"
"And I love you, Shmulik."
Shmulik opened his eyes wide again and the young Hasid and the beggar were both still praying with their eyes closed and rocking back and forth. Shmulik's heart was beating wildly now. He closed his eyes again and whispered:
"Could you give me some sign that it is really You and I'm not going meshugah on my 100th birthday?"
Shmulik felt something drop on his head. He opened his eyes and looked up. The sparrow was sticking its tuchus out from the crevice. Shmulik removed his skullcap and there was a gooey mess laying on it.
"Do you think, God, maybe you could have picked a better sign?"
"It matched the way I am feeling, Shmulik … but if it makes you happy …"
The mess disappeared.
Shmulik once again closed his eyes. He felt something land on his prayer book. When he opened his eyes, it was the sparrow.
"Please keep your eyes open, Shmulik." the sparrow said.
"You're talking to me from a bird?!"
"And why not a bird? They are some of my best creations. Do you think it was easy to make an animal that could fly?"
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© Copyright 2012 by Zalman Velvel Inc.
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