I can’t quite recall what I expected of middle age, but it didn’t involve endless worry: The precarious health of beloved relatives; the anxiety of maintaining our financial well being; the challenge of bringing shalom bayit to our nuclear family.
“Death is the culmination of weeks of puking and dribbling or starving or whining in pain,” Lisa Miller wrote in New York Magazine last week. Or, as Dorothy (Rothschild) Parker mordantly put it: “[I]n all history, which has held billions and billions of human beings, not a single one ever had a happy ending.”
When I ask my family to consider how we can improve ourselves in preparation for the Jewish New Year, my daughter Talia, who is 12, grins and shifts her gaze to Joel. Oh yes! She has an idea or two for her 9-year-old brother. “Maybe it would be a good goal for you to stop putting your foot on this,” she says, indicating the wooden table leg they squabble over on a nightly basis.
Here in New York City, it can be difficult to wrap one’s mind around the reports we get from Israel — the vicious deaths of four teenagers followed by more death and destruction; parents singing Hebrew lullabies in the bomb shelter of a Jerusalem bookstore; elephants sheltering their young in the Ramat Gan zoo as sirens scream and also the continuity of ordinary life, a mood that one Facebook friend describes as “tense normal.”
In my dreams, I sometimes find a hidden door in my Manhattan apartment that opens to a room I never knew existed.
I awaken with a start — and a sigh. Oh, how we could use that extra space, what with two growing children of the opposite sexes whose dynamics I once described on this page as “Enemies: A Love Story.” But to move? In Manhattan? This involves a nightmare of brokers and board applications, money and mortgages, all in an exorbitant market with limited inventory. I should know. After a decade of dreams, we are currently suffering through this headache.
“I am so sad,” my son Joel, who is 9, sighs, his restless energy making us all more miserable. All of us wished this day wouldn’t come, this day that marks the last stages of goodbye, not for a person but for a place. And although I’ve known the sadness of funerals before, and I realize the grief shouldn’t be compared, I’m doing it anyway. My in-laws have sold their beach house, the center for family gatherings for 15 years, and bought a smaller house nearby. It is a pretty home near town. Still, our hearts ache with the loss.
On my bat mitzvah morning, a September Sunday some 30 years ago, I recall feeling an intense need to suppress a fit of giggles. Not only were my ordinarily garrulous relatives gazing up at me in respectful silence; a few men seemed to be outfitted as aliens for a costume party rather than attired for a bat mitzvah ceremony.
‘What about an Israeli pen pal?” my daughter Talia asks. She waits expectantly, smiling a wary smile, hoping that this time I won’t wince. In a quest to fulfill a bat mitzvah requirement, she’s floated idea after idea in recent weeks — from eliminating illegal smoking in Central Park to purchasing projectors for underfunded schools — and I’ve torpedoed them all. Later, I suggest minor adjustments to her proposals, but she’s no longer interested. Not even a bit.