Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Own Kaddish

This piece is mostly true but it contains some extrapolations relating to other members of the family.

The tiny infant lying in his crib, common and ordinary as a specie of human being but paradoxically awesome in the commixture of helplessness and future potential, looks up uncomprehendingly at a face he would later understand is that of his father. Father is smiling lovingly, yet hesitantly, for his mixed emotions have left him unanchored in his new fatherhood. A few months later, held in his father’s arms, son reaches out to touch father’s beard. Lowered to the floor, he tugs at father’s pants leg to pull himself up. At ten months, supported by his father’s arms, he takes his first steps. On his second birthday he and father build a replica of their house out of a pile of blocks; father reads him the story “The.Little EngineThat Could,” then they go in the backyard and father teaches him how to dig for worms. Before long they will go fishing in Redds Pond. At age four he tries to catch a ball thrown by father. Father teaches him to ride a bicycle. In kindergarten he makes valentines for mother and father. He tries to steal a candy bar in a neighborhood store, is caught, reported to father who takes him back to apologize and pay for the candy out of his own allowance. He brings his first report card home to father and mother. From his allowance buys two golf balls as a Father’s Day present. For his sixth birthday father buys him a half size violin and hires a teacher. In wood working class he makes a tie rack for father. Father takes him to see the Phillies play and Sandy Koufax pitches a no-hit game for the other team. Father and mother take him with them to the Yiddish Theater on Lower Second Avenue. Afterward they have steaks at the famous Sammy’s Romanian Restaurant. The next year father says this year for our vacation we are going to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Teton Mountains. In his Bar Mitzvah speech, he thanks mother and father for all they did to bring him to this day. As one of his presents father takes him on a weekend fishing trip to a lake upstate. He writes his first letter to mother and father from overnight camp; mother and father come to hear his first concert as concertmaster of his high school orchestra. Father teaches him to drive an automobile; and allows him use of the car to take a girl on a date. Through a friend, father secures son a part time job in the stock room of a department store. At a Thanksgiving dinner with many relatives, father tells story of his escape from Russia in l910, leaving home, ostensibly to report for military duty, but instead traveling by train to a frontier village, where he was met by an ”agent” who smuggled him across the Polish border, then making his way to Germany for an America bound ship. Son plans with mother and father on choice of a college. Father hugs him good-bye when he leaves for school and gives him a check for spending money. Ho brings his girl friend home to meet mother and father. At graduation, diploma in hand he embraces mother, father and girl friend. He and girl friend spend a year trekking around the world. He knows mother and father worry about him, so, he writes home every week. On his return he discusses job offers with mother and father. At his wedding, after his bride dances with her father, he watches. He telephones mother and father from the hospital -- it’s twins! -- two boys. In alternate years he, wife and the children spend Thanksgiving with his mother and father and her parents; telephones mother and father from his mid-west city every Sunday morning. Writes to mother and father that with the children older, he now has time to join the violin section of a community symphony orchestra. Attends the retirement party for father and makes a speech. Gives the present of a Mediterranean cruise to mother and father on their 50th wedding anniversary. Makes a flying trip home when father breaks a hip in a fall. Takes a week off to be with father when mother dies. Goes home again when father has open-heart surgery, Every December l escorts father by plane to a retirement condominium in Florida. Every April l returns father from Florida. A few years later takes a week off to get father settled in an assisted living facility. Returns home once more to assist father in entering a nursing home. With father failing, comes with wife and children for a last visit. He recites the mourner’s Kaddish at father’s graveside. Kaddish is a Jewish prayer in praise of the dead. I recite Kaddish in praise of my father.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Two Women

Karyn and Mary are the two most courageous and admirable people I have ever known. They are both wheel chair bound, yet they are the two most cheerful and outgoing people in our condominium of about 200 residents. Karyn is able to walk for a very short time with the aid of a walker, but the only occasions upon which I have seen her doing so are a few times when she has come to my apartment two floors below, in our elevatored building, to have dinner, or to bring cookies she baked, or a Belgian dessert sauce she made. Occasionally we go to lunch in a restaurant.

Karyn has a window of two hours a day when, on her good days, she is able to get out of bed or her wheelchair. Karyn, in her early fifties, looks much younger than her years. She says that one effect of her illness is to reduce the appearance of aging. I think she is the most beautiful woman in our condo. She has clear blue eyes, long blond hair and a glowing complexion. Karyn made partner in a Boston law firm at an early age. When a member of her extended family has a problem, Karyn is the person they turn to. She accompanies them to the relevant community resources and applies her considerable skills to the desired ends.

Karyn wears a crucifix on a necklace chain at all times. Her Catholic religion is what gives her the faith and grit that is so remarkable. But as the hard-headed realist she is, I think she would also say, “What else should I do? Become a lifelong shut-in?”

Mary, a strong, sturdy personality, is older than Karyn. When I am with her, my own energy level rises because of her openness and enthusiasm. She has two children and four grandchildren. Mary, too, is a college graduate and by occupation was an automotive consultant. Her job took Mary all over New England. She was active in political campaigns and played tennis avidly, often competing in tournaments. She says it is “sheer desire” that sustains her in who she is and what she is accomplishing

Most women experience stress if they can’t find the right party dress or if the washing machine breaks down, delaying the laundry for a day or two. Psychologists tell us that the way people behave on the surface is often a defense against forces that threaten self-esteem. Do not make the mistake of confusing “defense” with weakness. An effective defense is a sign of a strong, tough character. Becoming a life-long shut-in is also a form of defense, but what a difference! One is the key to living at the maximum of personal potential; the other is surrender to undermining forces. Therapists probe deeply into a person’s defenses, for the defenses tell us how a person is handling problems.

Whatever it is that fortifies people to cope, Karyn and Mary have it in abundance. An aggressive denial of incapacitation, such as they have, helps. The student voted as “most likely to succeed” might glide through life as though it was a bowl of jello. But for the Karyns and Marys, daily living is a combat with hostile forces. Karyn and Mary help the rest of us to see our lives in a healthy and rewarding perspective. Think of that when you pass a man or woman on the street in a wheel chair. In particular, give Karyn and Mary a secret salute.

Photo courtesy of schipulites photostream: Ms Wheelchair Texas at