At 60, I could do the same things I could do at 30, if I could only remember what those things are. ~ Billy Crystal
Today I spent four hours writing prose poems. After ten hours of Yom Kippur services surrounded by hungry, praying folks, this little introvert needed to refuel.
I pulled out a small French notebook
covered with a red and white map of Paris, part of my souvenir stash from our trip in 2012. I tested my red Pelikano Junior fountain pen filled with a red ink cartridge and started to write.
With only a short pause for breakfast, I hummed along in my own mind, sweeping away all the pain that a holiday season of somber reflection can leave behind. The senior rabbi at my synagogue, who I love to listen to, so insightful you wonder how he can put it all together week after week, give a sermon that made me alternately want to throw up or break into tears. With all due respect, I’m still stiff from how tightly I held myself in check, overwhelmed as his words pounded me.
First he told all the kids to leave because it was going to be a grownup speech and they should run out into the hall and try to get into a little trouble, your typical rabbi-type joke. Then he spoke about Yom Kippur being the only Jewish holiday about death. Oh no, I thought. Here it comes. He said it was imperative that you talk with your family about how you want to die, how important it was to let them know your wishes so they don’t prolong your pain or have regrets and family squabbles after you’re gone.
Sure, this was something that needs discussion, he had a captive audience and he did his usual masterly job. I get it. We had to decide about my dad's fate as he lay in a hospital bed hooked up to
machines, brain dead. My mom is in assisted living with brain damage caused by a car accident and deepening dementia. Truly, I get it.
But when the rabbi was done speaking, I left the sanctuary. The next part of the services were the ancestral memorial prayers, important, emotional and depressing. I told my husband, enough was enough, and sat in the lobby finishing Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, also not a thigh slapper.
When Yom Kippur services ended, I raced home to cram dinner into myself after 8 hours of not eating, my version of the requisite holiday fast. We watched Billy Crystal’s Daily Show interview from Thursday night on the computer. He’d turned 65 and decided to write a memoir. Such a comic treasure, but it was just more death and dying. Like I really needed that.
One evening when I was in my mid-twenties and stoned, I was watching some cop drama and all of a sudden I knew that someday I too would die. When you are stoned, mindfulness is not a problem. It is easy to stay in the moment, and I couldn’t shake the thought all night. Needless to say I didn’t get stoned too often after that. Nor did I forget that moment. Ever.
Now I’m closer to Billy Crystal in age than I am to my old hippie wannabe self. Tonight I’m celebrating a friend’s 60th birthday. No drugs, just wine, laughter and lots of good friends. The best way to detox from discussions of death is to toast a hearty l’chaim to life.
But please Rabbi, a few chuckles next Shabbat. I think we’ve earned it.