Why do you always learn stuff you never knew before?
You grow up in the same house, stay in touch via phone and iMessage, and then you get together…
And they drop a bomb.
You’ve got the whole world organized in your mind, the past is clear, it’s the future you’re concerned with, and then you hear a story and…
I spoke with my father the night he died. He had his hearing aids out, he could barely hear, he was scared, and then he passed. Or at least I thought so. Tonight my older sister said my mother’s best friend Selma called her in the middle of the night to ask if it was all right to pull the plug. Huh? Turns out his heart had stopped and he was brain dead. Now, of course, if his heart had truly stopped he’d already be gone, but when the stories are decades old you can never get down to the nitty-gritty. But my mother confirmed the story, it was true.
My mother is 91. She’s still here. But she’s pissed. She’s handicapped and feels like a burden to her friends. I asked how she’d feel if she went to sleep and didn’t wake up. She was fine with it. Which spooked me. Especially since I have so much left I want to do, to live for. But the weird thing about getting older is you go through changes and you no longer care. The people my age are either running the company or retired. And I can’t imagine the latter, but you get to the point where the game no longer interests you, you’ve seen too much, and you want to remove yourself.
So my whole family is in town for the Seder. Four generations. Jews and non-Jews alike. And my brother-in-law is leading the Seder and it occurs to me…
I’d do it a different way. I’d read every page, I want to hit the high points, not only the plagues and Dayenu, but the explanations. It seemed interminable growing up, but now it roots me. Hell, we’ve even finished the Seder a few times recently, which never happened way back when.
And he didn’t believe in passing the baton, having each attendee read a section, so I’m sitting there at the table thinking…
How when the Seder happened in Connecticut the weather had turned, baseball season had begun, this was when we not only watched, but played, I lived for Little League.
And in a good season there was still some skiing left. Although you had to drive to Vermont to do it.
But it was definitely spring. Which means so much on the east coast. It’s a rebirth, a beginning, you congratulate yourself you made it through the winter.
But I missed the winter, with my pemphigus, I want to hold back the change of seasons, it’s been in the seventies in L.A. all week, it’s positively scary, soon it will be festival season, where does the time go?
We used to look forward to drinking the Manischewitz, getting high from the wine in our paper cups. Now I abstain from all alcohol.
I still don’t eat the jello mold, I don’t get that whatsoever.
But the chicken soup! I doubled-down on that, no gefilte fish for me.
And you sit there as the people banter and you realize who you are. What made you you. And you don’t exactly like it.
I mean it’s hard to believe I spent so many years growing up with these people, in the same damn abode. Being pushed around and misunderstood. The shrink asks why I don’t ask twice, it’s because in my family no meant no, and you didn’t want to bug someone for fear of reprisals.
And you think about being a prisoner without options. All the things you wanted to do, but couldn’t. You didn’t have wheels, you had to convince your parents.
Whereas now you can come and go as you please. But to a great degree you don’t. And as the cacophony rises you wonder what’s best. To be right alone or be a member of the group, albeit one with sharp elbows.
Some people never change. Their foibles get in their way forevermore, they cannot see another path.
You learn bits and pieces that fill in the holes, that make the stories all make sense.
You make sure to talk to everybody because you never know if they’ll be there next year.
And you think about not only your Seders past, but those of generations before you. When intermarriage was a no-no and Jews were abused but surviving. Now a cushy life and intermarriage has Judaism in jeopardy, but that does not mean the gentiles still don’t hate us.
And you try to explain to people how it works. The self-denigration, the low expectations, the belief that you’re lucky, privileged to be here. The insults, the stepping over each other in conversation. Hell, one thing Jews do is talk, that’s what was unfathomable at Middlebury, so many people had nothing to say, or thought about it before they did. Jews speak and think later.
And this is all going through my head as I hear about the foibles and missteps and choices of family members I was blissfully unaware of previously. I lay in bed last night unable to fall asleep, trying to put the pieces together again.
Once upon a time I had answers.
Now I only have questions.