Ben Stein's Diary

Amid the Drought

With death just a step behind.

By 7.16.14

Ben Stein
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Tuesday–July 15, 2014–L.A.
Again, there were the tiniest hints of rain. Again, no real rain fell. We are in big trouble here in California. Yes, we can go a while without rain. But this has been many years with no rain and it’s a disaster. I love L.A. and I would hate to see it dry up and blow away.

Why didn’t the authorities plan for this foreseeable crisis by making immense desalinization plants ? Or colossal aqueducts? They did nothing. There was no planning at all for a true disaster.

Amazing. We are being told to plan and change our ways of life for climate change fifty years from now but the powers that be cannot change the way we get our water for a catastrophe unfolding right before our eyes. Something is wrong here.

Speaking of something wrong… two days ago, as I was leaving a restaurant in West Hollywood, a man named Robert who works for me and with me, called me and in a shaky and horrified voice told me his mother had just died.

I had not even known that this dear soul, a Czechoslovakian Jewish woman who had survived the Holocaust, was ill. I did know she was old but this news came as a shock. What hell to lose our parents and loved ones. I can recall so well when my mother died suddenly and the grief into which my father was plunged (not to mention my sister’s and my grief). My Pop was desperate. Just desperate.

So, he took a few steps.

First, he was in no hurry to give her clothes to the thrift shop. Having them around reminded him or her and he liked the reminder. I still have almost all of them since I own their apartment.

I like seeing her clothes and shoes and remembering her in them. (I also have all of my father’s clothes, but he had very few clothes. He was an intellectual of the old school.)

But my father did something incomparably more brilliant than that. He wrote her letters once or twice a day on the computer. He told her what he was doing, what he was worried about, what he was happy about, his daily life. Did my mother see them in some supernatural way? Maybe yes and maybe no. Isaac Singer, when asked about the dead of the Warsaw Ghetto, said simply, “There are no dead.”

But whether Mom saw them or not, writing the letters gave my father the feeling that he was communicating with his wife of some sixty years. That was invaluable. That kept him connected.

I have maintained that policy and in my gray-haired head, I compose letters to my parents often, generally as I am falling asleep. Usually they begin with, “Well, I really screwed up this one…” but then I think of my father’s endless encouragement and I stop apologizing and just tell them how grateful I am.

I’m well aware that I have hit this before, but I will hit it again: My parents grew up in modest circumstances. They had no rich or powerful friends. My father was not a country boy politician like me. He was shy. (I am not at all shy.) He made his way to fame and modest fortune by his native genius and hard work.

By the time I was in college, my family was economically comfortable and — far more than that — slathered in great political, academic, and journalistic connections. That was a godsend at many different times. Having family connections is even more vital than having family money, or so I think.

So, when I compose my letters to my deceased parents, I thank them profusely for giving me a life of privilege beyond what my parents could have dreamed of as youths.

This expression of endless gratitude in one’s head makes an end to endings and keeps the connections alive.

I also try to keep this thought in mind, conveyed to me by one of the most intelligent human beings I have ever known, Barbara Bernstein, M.D. “When someone close to you dies, it’s as if there were a brick wall erected right outside your door. It will always be there. Always. But after a while, it is covered in ivy. And then in roses.” So it is with the memories of our mothers and fathers. The Lord places roses upon the stones and bricks if we are patient.

God bless you, Robert. You’ll see her again. I prayed for Robert as I looked at the sky above Malibu tonight and prayer works and prayer works wonders.

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.