This week is the first anniversary of my father’s passing.Â When I started writing this blog, I didn’t expect my usual nonsense and sex jokes to be interrupted by a phone call asking Sophia and I to fly home to New York.Â I certainly didn’t expect to blog about the experience and receive so much comfort from bloggers.Â And I most definitely in a million years did not expect bloggers to help us decide what toÂ write on my father’s stone!Â Thanks.
Happy New Year.Â Shana Tova.Â Â
You always had a quirky sense of humor, but this takes the cake.Â Â When we all agreed, including my blogging friends, that “Be of Good Cheer” was ideal for the stone in the cemetery it was because that was your “tagline” whenever you said goodbye to someone on the phone.Â Â I figured you picked up that phrase from one of those old British war movies youÂ loved to watch.Â Today, I did some research on Google, and guess what?Â You got the last laugh! The phrase was popularized by… Jesus!Â Of all people, this is who I’m writing about on Rosh Hashana?!Â Well, at least he was Jewish.
The idea of “good cheer”Â is derived from the Greek word tharsei, and the meaning of “cheer” is very different from whatÂ we associated today with that word.Â Tharsei meant â€œto dare to be bold,â€ â€œto take courage,â€ â€œto replace fear with hope.â€Â Â The word tharsei is so old, it can even be seen in Homer’s Odyssey.Â
The phrase isÂ also foundÂ in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, asÂ when Moses is at theÂ Red Sea:Â
Two million people were trapped between the sea and the approaching Egyptian army. Escape was humanly impossible. In that moment of supreme crisis, Moses cried out to the people, â€œFear not! Stand still and see the miracle of the Lord!â€ (Exod 14:13).
The idea of “cheering up” now had a slightly different meaning: â€œTake heart!â€
Repeatedly through the Old Testament, Godâ€™s people were encouraged to take heart, based on who God is and what God would do. â€œFear not, O Zion . . . the Lord your God is in your midstâ€ (Zeph 3:16-17). â€œTake courage . . . I am with you . . . My Spirit is abiding in your midst; Do not fear!â€ (Hag 2:4-5).
In the New Testament, tharsei is constantly on the lips of Jesus.Â
A helpless paralytic heard Jesus say, â€œTake courage, My son, your sins are forgivenâ€ (Matt 9:2). A hopeless woman was told by Jesus, â€œDaughter, take courage; your faith has made you wellâ€ (Matt 9:22). Blind Bartimaeus lived in utter despair until Jesus came to Jericho and they summoned the blind man, saying, â€œTake heart, arise! He is calling for youâ€ (Mark 10: 49).
This is all fascinating stuff to me because it now makes more sense why you said “Be of Good Cheer.” Â I always thoughtÂ it was odd that you used thatÂ phrase, mostly because I interpreted “good cheer” as meaning “go have a good time” or “live it up by drinking a lot of eggnog at the Christmas office party”Â Â You were always a conservative man and you were not the type to tell anyone to “live it up.”Â You were too much of worrywart for that.Â You worried a lot about everyone — mostly everyone except yourself.Â
Your “Be of Good Cheer” wasÂ not about fun, but about courage.Â Â As a practical man, you were telling people to be strong, despiteÂ the challenges they might meet.Â That sounds EXACTLY like something you would say!Â Be strong.Â Like Penelope warding off suitors as she waits for Odysseus’ return.Â Or the Israelites trusting Moses to walk into the Red Sea.Â Or a sick beggar trusting that Jesus will make him healthy.
In all these examples, those in need got “cheer” — “courage” — by knowing that something bigger than them was on their side, looking over their shoulder.Â You were saying something similar.Â You weren’t saying “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” and putting all the responsibliity on them.Â You were saying, “Don’t Worry.Â If you ever need me, I’ll be there.”Â Â
And you were always there, for so many people.Â
I can certainly get courage knowing that you are looking over me and Mom.Â I will certainly have “good cheer” knowing you will always be around.
Even so, we miss you.
You can read all posts about my father here.