Monday, September 24, 2012

FREDDIE

Fred Begun

A few blogs ago, during August, I wrote about visiting friends in Georgetown, D.C. and mentioned how I appreciated the contributions those friends had made in the music realm, the literary world, and the social service realm. I talked about Freddie Begun’s fame as a timpanist and composer with the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. and Jane Bonin’s contributions as a playwright, professor, writer, and Peace Corps director in Africa. We enjoyed a delightful get-together, and I came away feeling that I had been in the company of two wonderful, enlightened people I was fortunate to have as friends.
A few weeks later, I received word that my friends had been in a horrific wreck and were in intensive care with multiple fractures. Jane was eventually discharged from the hospital, but Freddie worsened daily, and yesterday, he died. Although my friendship with Jane is a long term relationship of forty years, my acquaintance with Freddie was short-lived, a friendship of three years.
Freddie and Jane had been inseparable for seven years, and they came to The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee for a week visit with Jane’s daughter and husband over two years ago. While they were here, we enjoyed many lunches and dinners together, and although I admired Freddie’s musical talents, the most distinctive quality he possessed that impressed me deeply was the way he showed gratitude to his hosts and hostesses. Like people in Cajun country, Freddie regarded meals as celebrations, and whoever put on a dinner or took him to lunch received the equivalent of a standing ovation for having taken care of him. Following a meal, he’d stand up and ask for quiet, then deliver a long toast, an “after blessing” that acknowledged the efforts of those who had served him, those who had prepared for him, and those whose company he shared at the table.  He was not a toast master; his thank yous were bountiful and genuine.
In an age and society where I think gratitude is not so openly acknowledged anymore, Freddie was a rare person. He was a Jew, and I think that he exemplified the conscientious Jew who had been taught the theology and practice of gratitude from childhood. It was obvious that one of the overriding ideas in Jewish thought is that of acknowledging the blessings which are a part of your life -- a good Jew takes time to recognize and celebrate the life he has been given. Taken to the extreme, one of the most moving stories I’ve read about Jews showing gratitude to God for their lives is that of Holocaust victims reciting the Shema on their way to being exterminated by the Nazis.
I have copies of the Talmud and Torah among my books, and this morning I found a note about gratitude, referenced as Berachot 58a, which highlights expressing gratitude:
“What does a good guest say? How much trouble my host has taken for me! How much meat he set before me! How much wine he set before me! How many cakes he has set before me! And all the trouble he has taken was only for my sake!” I could hear Freddie echoing those words and inviting applause for his host or hostess afterward. That reading from the Talmud must have been engraved on Freddie’s heart because he expressed simple gratitude for those celebrations each time we were together.
I’m sure many accolades and tributes will be delivered in Freddie’s honor during the next few days, but I never got a chance to tell him how much I appreciated seeing him stand up and unabashedly confess the gratitude he felt for his blessings. I think that Freddie lived a fulfilled life and might have written one of the aphorisms from the Pirke Abot: “Who is rich? Those who rejoice in their own portion!”
I rejoice in having known someone who felt so grateful for the blessings of his life, which included the many friends whose lives he touched with kindness and a grateful heart. Mazel tov, Freddie! 
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