When I was a boy of six, I had a friend named Yossi. He was a kind child, always smiling, and readily sharing his toys during our play-dates. Within a year of us becoming friends, his hair was suddenly gone. “Yossi,” I was told, “has a certain illness.” They had to shave his hair, “but,” they assured me, “he will be fine.”
We continued to play, though he wasn’t always as available and energetic. In school, the class bullies picked on him, his bald head, the hat he was wearing to cover his shame. He tried to ignore them and so did I. We were best friends.
And then, one day, Yossi was no more.
Mind you, this was a long time ago, long before there was internet and websites that explain it all, long before there was open education, or the idea that explaining what cancer is to kids my age was even remotely acceptable. Israel at the time, barely had one TV channel; black and white. Our parents were the generation of holocaust survivors. Public show of emotions was not viewed upon favorably. But all this didn’t matter. My friend was gone. I didn’t quite understand how and why, but I knew he was dead.
In school, all the bullies suddenly spoke respectfully about Yossi; how much they liked him, how they were his friends. I was angry; such a hypocrisy, but I said nothing. It didn’t matter. Yossi was gone.
Occasionally I remember Yossi, his smiling face, his bald head, his generosity, and even at that tender age, his optimistic view of life that now seems to me wise beyond his years. And I also remember the bullies that made his life a little more difficult than it needed to be, and their two-facedness when he was gone.
I remember, and then I forgive them.
Learned from: an old photo from First Grade.