Finding myself in the Middle East

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Opening Night

Princess' morah, who has been teaching first grade for 25 years, called three times to make sure that I was coming. First, I decided not to come because of the music, but when she called, alarm in her voice, I asked my rav and was told that I could go.

The second time she called to tell me that if I couldn't come, she would make a section of the party without music for me. Touched, I guiltily told her that I could come, and I'm sorry for not telling you earlier.

The third time she called was because Princess had told her that I would be leaving early since a play that I was directing had opening night that very same night. She called to make sure that I would not be doing that. My heart sank--this was going to be tricky--but I promised I would stay.

After all, the siddur party started at 4:00 and the play was at 8. How long could the siddur party possibly be?

As the siddur party sang its way into the third hour, I experienced a not entirely unpleasant out-of-body experience. I floated above the 40 singing girls in their costumes of ruffly blue, and the music teacher who was blasting prerecorded music so that the singing girls were only faintly heard, and the morah, who was gesturing to the singing girls to clutch their siddurim tight and close their eyes in a mimicry of devotion.

Part of the floating me was a little hysterical at the time. Did I mention it was already three hours long with no end in sight? And that I was directing a play, and opening night was in, like, now?

And that it was an hour past Princess' bedtime, and she was yawning onstage and her cheeks were bright pink. She was halfway to her second wind, I could tell, but for now,she looked like she wanted to burst into tears.

Another part of the floating me was kvelling. My little girl, all grown up. I can't believe it. I had just spent four hours pushing, getting her out into this world, yesterday.

The rest of the floating me was eyeing the food set up all around us many, many, many (many) hours ago. I was starving. Did I mention I was directing a play? I hadn't eaten since breakfast. Yesterday.

I came back down and into my own body with a thunk. Hunger can do that, I think.

This is crazy! I looked at the professional videographer that a parent had hired, and all of the grandmothers (Tova's mother and mother-in-law flew in from America for this, my seatmate had whispered to me). Everyone seemed to be smiling.

What is wrong with me that this entire spectacle seems like one long overdone Israeli tzedaka campaign? The overly dramatic songs. The long winded speeches. The slideshow with pictures of the Bais Hamikdash in flames.

Another hour past and the girls filed offstage to accept their due hugs, praise, and candy, not in that order. I waited in line to thank the morah for all her hard work. My coat was on. I had to dash to the play the second we finished talking.

The morah was dancing with the girls as they wound their way offstage. I met her eyes. Her eyes were filled with tears.

"I'm so glad you could make it!"

"I had to ask my rav," I told her in my best Hebrew, "but he said that I could--"

"Yes! Because it is very important!" A tear wound its way down her cheek. "It is very important."

I pressed her hand and flew to the door. And was startled to a standstill at a few thoughts.

It's a different culture. Just because I don't understand it doesn't make it wrong.


Princess has a siddur now! She is so big!


The morah was crying. Because I came, and it is so important that I was able to come. I put a hand to my cheek. Inexplicably, I was crying.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mother, may I?

There is a huge decision that we have to make. A really big one. One that makes me want to be 16 years old again, and I HATED 16. Being a grownup is so overrated. Just when you can finally do whatever you want, you find out there is a catch; it's not RESPONSIBLE to do whatever you want.

So I did what any responsible grownup would do.

I called my mother.

"So what should I do?" I said, after I explained it all.

She paused, thinking, and then said, "Jump in the water and a net will appear."

I totally got shivers. Wow. "Wow," I said. "What is that? Zen? Kabbalah?"

"Monk," she said.

"What monk?"

"No, Monk. Adrian Monk."

Great. I am now being inspired by a TV show.

"That's all you got for me?" I said, a trifle ungratefully.

"No, because it was really funny, and then later in the episode he was actually in the water,like drowning, and he's like, 'a net will appear, my--'"

"Yeah. Thanks. I got it."

"Really. It's a leap, you're right, but what else can you do? The second option is not much better."

"Rock and a hard place, Ima. And no, Monk did not say that."

We laughed and hung up and now I have a massive headache.

What is the fine line between foolhardiness and faith? Does your intentions have anything do to with it? When do you leap, and when do you stay on the ground that may not be the best place for you but at least it is solid?

How do you know that when you leap there will be a net waiting to catch you?

Because I know people who have leaped, and drowned.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Half a Mind

"So she was put in this big room with a few other patients, and like a nurse always in the room."

Yeah, I thought. I know that room. "Uh huh," I said.

"And I guess because there is no night or day or whatever, people go a little crazy. So she went crazy, my mother-in-law! She called in the middle of the night and said into the phone, 'this is it. I am calling to give my last will and testement.' She thought she was dying!"

My friend was smiling. Like, isn't that the funniest thing ever? I pushed my plate away.

"So we all rushed to the hospital! It was like 2 in the morning, and we ran down the hallway and--"

"I need the bathroom," I said. And I was only halfway out the door before the Ugly tears came.

She didn't mean it. No one means it. It's me, not you, and I know that. And sometimes it's fine, you can talk to me about the shiva call you paid or your grandfather who is doing poorly. And sometimes all you have to mention is the dead cat you found in your yard and I see it all again. I see the line on the moniter going flat. I see his skin turning yellow, so quickly, I didn't know it happens so quickly. How they left the respirator on for what felt like forever and so his chest was still going up and down even though he was gone. And my mother rushed in and started talking to him, quickly, desperately, and then her phone rang and it was my brother, and she said, "No, run, you can still make it, he is still here--"

And I blurted out--"No,Ima, no! Didn't they tell you? He's gone!"

And she looked at me, her eyes went round and her face went slack and she crumpled and I grabbed for her.

And misaskim called and I left my mother with my sister and went out because I couldn't hear them and I had to tell them what we needed, chairs and cloths for the mirrors, and where we lived, and my brother came barelling down the hallway and I had to tell him too, no, no, he's gone.

He's gone. But nothing else changed. Cats also die and mothers-in-law can also go to the hospital and I can cook shabbas and laugh on the phone with a friend. I still get overwhelmed with weeks like this one, when I bit off a little more than I can chew, and the kids stay up too late.

Nothing changed and everything changed all at once, and sometimes I can lay out clothing for the kids and then sometimes my mind goes, he died right before my eyes. And I can write and say inspiring things about him, and I can be so grateful for the time I had with him, and still--sometimes--all I can think is having to be the one to tell my mother. Of my brother, his cheeks red, running down the hallway and meeting me coming out the door while I was on the phone with misaskim. "Did I miss it? Is he still here?" he said.

He's gone, I said.

Oh G-d. Oh G-d. My father is gone.


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