The New Year

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Su­san Estrich

To­day marks the first full day of the new year, ac­cord­ing to the Jewish cal­en­dar. It is the hol­i­day of Rosh Hashanah — lit­er­ally, “head of the year” — two days of prayer and fam­ily and ap­ples and honey. As a kid, I loved Rosh Hashanah be­cause you could eat, al­though my res­o­lu­tions in­vari­ably had to do with do­ing less of it. The prob­lem with Rosh Hashanah is that it is in­evitably fol­lowed, 10 days later, by the most de­press­ing hol­i­day of the year, Yom Kip­pur, where we re­count all our sins, and where, as I would re­cite with shiv­ers every year, it is de­cided who shall live and who shall die. Did I men­tion that you can­not eat or drink all day once you’ve turned 13 — or, if you’re a showoff like me who’s a grade ahead, 12? Only later did I re­al­ize this is not the kind of ac­tiv­ity you want to get a head start on.

Nei­ther, of course, is think­ing about mor­tal­ity, which lit­er­ally lurks at the core of the Yom Kip­pur ser­vice. That’s the Yizkor ser­vice, the ser­vice of re­mem­brance, the ser­vice at Tem­ple Is­rael in Swamp­scott in the 1960s that was only at­tended by peo­ple who had lost a par­ent or child or sib­ling. So my fa­ther and brother and sis­ter and I would cut out, leav­ing only our mother pray­ing for her mother who we had never known, and we’d pick up my grand­fa­ther, who pre­tended to fast but didn’t, and head over to Dunkin’s for cof­fee. Not a bad way to spend Yom Kip­pur. Look­ing back, it was par­adise.

Ev­ery­thing changed in the 1970s. That was true of a lot of peo­ple and things. My par­ents got di­vorced and un­hap­pily re­mar­ried. All my grand­par­ents died. My fa­ther died. My sis­ter got di­vorced, and my mother di­vorced her sec­ond hus­band. I moved away. At all the tem­ples around here, ev­ery­body goes to the me­mo­rial ser­vice. Mor­tal­ity is in­escapable. I have one friend back East tak­ing care of a very sick mother and an­other tak­ing care of a very sick brother. That’s about par for an av­er­age week. I ran into a friend who is car­ing for her 93-year-old mother, who is do­ing re­mark­ably well ex­cept that all her friends are dead. Some­times, the thought of how many (or how few) years I likely have left creeps into my head, and re­ally how few that is if you think back­ward. My mother would be 91 to­day had she not died of the usual fall, bro­ken-hip and stroke combo at 80. Now, if I live un­til 80...

It would hard to be alive in the 21st cen­tury with­out know­ing what to make of all of this. We all know what we are sup­posed to do. Breathe. How many times a day does some­one tell you, or you tell your­self, to breathe? I write emails — silly — telling friends to breathe, wait­ing for one to write back and ask me what I think she’s do­ing. We are sup­posed to med­i­tate. We are sup­posed to do what we are do­ing, not live in the past or the fu­ture. No re­grets; no ex­pec­ta­tions.

I wish I could snap my fin­gers and have my chil­dren, as chil­dren, back in my arms again. Some­times I close my eyes and can bring my­self to tears re­mem­ber­ing its sweet­ness. But that is not where they want to be. They want to be liv­ing their own lives, fol­low­ing their own dreams, find­ing loves of their own. And in or­der to do that, each gen­er­a­tion must yield the stage to the next, with grace and dig­nity, with­out hold­ing too tight, with­out let­ting them see our tears too of­ten. Happy new year. May the Lord bless you and keep you.

Su­san Estrich’s col­umn is distributed by the Cre­ators Syn­di­cate.

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