This week is the first anniversary of my father’s passing.  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.  I certainly didn’t expect to blog about the experience and receive so much comfort from bloggers.  And I most definitely in a million years did not expect bloggers to help us decide what to write on my father’s stone!  Thanks.

Hey, Dad. 

Happy New Year.  Shana Tova.  

You always had a quirky sense of humor, but this takes the cake.   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.   I figured you picked up that phrase from one of those old British war movies you loved to watch.  Today, I did some research on Google, and guess what?  You got the last laugh! The phrase was popularized by… Jesus!  Of all people, this is who I’m writing about on Rosh Hashana?!  Well, at least he was Jewish.

The idea of “good cheer” is derived from the Greek word tharsei, and the meaning of “cheer” is very different from what we associated today with that word.  Tharsei meant “to dare to be bold,” “to take courage,” “to replace fear with hope.”   The word tharsei is so old, it can even be seen in Homer’s Odyssey. 

The phrase is also found in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, as when Moses is at the Red Sea: 

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, “Fear not! Stand still and see the miracle of the Lord!” (Exod 14:13).

The idea of “cheering up” now had a slightly different meaning: “Take heart!”

Repeatedly through the Old Testament, God’s people were encouraged to take heart, based on who God is and what God would do. “Fear not, O Zion . . . the Lord your God is in your midst” (Zeph 3:16-17). “Take courage . . . I am with you . . . My Spirit is abiding in your midst; Do not fear!” (Hag 2:4-5).

In the New Testament, tharsei is constantly on the lips of Jesus. 

A helpless paralytic heard Jesus say, “Take courage, My son, your sins are forgiven” (Matt 9:2). A hopeless woman was told by Jesus, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well” (Matt 9:22). Blind Bartimaeus lived in utter despair until Jesus came to Jericho and they summoned the blind man, saying, “Take heart, arise! He is calling for you” (Mark 10: 49).

This is all fascinating stuff to me because it now makes more sense why you said “Be of Good Cheer.”  I always thought it was odd that you used that 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”   You were always a conservative man and you were not the type to tell anyone to “live it up.”  You were too much of worrywart for that.  You worried a lot about everyone — mostly everyone except yourself. 

Your “Be of Good Cheer” was not about fun, but about courage.   As a practical man, you were telling people to be strong, despite the challenges they might meet.  That sounds EXACTLY like something you would say!  Be strong.  Like Penelope warding off suitors as she waits for Odysseus’ return.  Or the Israelites trusting Moses to walk into the Red Sea.  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.  You were saying something similar.  You weren’t saying “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” and putting all the responsibliity on them.  You were saying, “Don’t Worry.  If you ever need me, I’ll be there.”  

And you were always there, for so many people. 

I can certainly get courage knowing that you are looking over me and Mom.  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.