Beginning several years ago, I entered into an email correspondence with a remarkable lady, then eighty-four years old. She first contacted me after reading one of my newspaper columns. Continuing till her death earlier this week, we wrote back and forth on subjects large and small. She lived a most amazing life, some of which can be found in those emails.
Steadfastly, over all the years, she refused my entreaties to meet face to face; until, as she was dying, her daughter contacted me to say she'd like to see me and Judy, my wife. That was about a month ago. At our first visit, Doris asked me to speak at her funeral. I'm about to do so, although I'm still not sure what to say. She said she didn't want it to be about her.
I've managed to find many, but not all, of our exchanges, and have put them together here. This will be a very long post, but for those willing to slog through (especially, but in no way limited to, Jewish readers) I'd say it could be found uniquely interesting. Read it for the other stories: her travels in Iran, India, Russia...
(Toward the end of our correspondence there were pictures I included, mainly of our grandchildren, which delighted her. For some reason, they show only as blank squares in this imported file):
to its very embodiment
Hello, Dr. Schwab,
I so appreciate your commentaries, always en pointe and on such meaningful issues.
One issue I've long been aware of and feel strongly about is this: We are a shame-based culture, relentlessly manipulated and bombarded by commercial interests of every type and level.
The strategy is demeaning, speaking down to, cajoling and shaming the listeners as though they were children, in the most and worst blatant, transparent efforts to sell products. We are immersed, swimming, in this particular tactic.
Essentially, the pitch is to shame people into buying the products, e.g., cleaning products, body products, etc., at the risk of embarrassing themselves in front of others if they don't.
I believe that this strategy contributes significantly to a society in which dignity and self-respect are minimized, and I would like to have some readers be, at least, conscious and aware of this base manipulation to which they are constantly exposed even if they choose not to change their purchasing behaviors.
I don't know if this subject interests you; it is not at all as profound as the ones on which you have written which I have read.
Thank you for listening,
Thank you for your response,
Lovely and progressive: that the Dad is the doofus and the producers have proven themselves more desperate and blatant with British (or Australian) accents.
But who is noticing other than you, your wife, and I?
I believe that the lousy economy makes consumers weak and more vulnerable to becoming prey to the vultures on the wing, still flying high.
I believe that capitalism is a default system, able to relatively maintain itself because we are not evolved enough to sustain a more equitable system.
Re your commentary of yesterday, Sunday, January 30th, re climate change: May I suggest this: (I don't know why this is underlining, it is not intentional and I don't know how to stop it): You write that you don't understand the deniers. I believe that this issue is one of a strand of many in the belief system of a given individual, and it is part of an all-encompassing investment in a whole scheme of cultural and world view beliefs. It is part of an invested system from which they cannot extract one isolated strand; they are intertwined and there exists the unconscious fear that the whole system on which one's life and self-image are based would become untenable and collapse. It is this sort of fear which precludes any intellectual honesty and clarity, I believe.
I've written this clumsily but, I hope, somewhat articulated.
No, I haven't been your patient although I think it would have been a privilege.
And I tend to not affiliate. I belong only to Temple Beth Or, a Reform Jewish Temple here in Everett, not as an attendee but as a mea culpa for having run away from my Jewishness and because, ironically, I like the feeling of this belonging. Probably age-related.
In my "introductory column" a few weeks back I mentioned that my wife and I were among the ten original founding families of Temple Beth Or (I even came up with the name for its newsletter, The ORacle.) But we let it slide out of our lives after a couple of years, and before it came to be in its current location, which we visited back then, when it was still an Orthodox synagogue, with dwindling numbers.
After one or two times I didn't attend again, not because the Temple was insufficient in any way (and who was I to evaluate in the slightest way; I hadn't the least of credentials), but because my skepticism and agnosticism prevailed, and I came away feeling a genuine fraud. And I was.
I was a fraud on either side of the fence.
But I'm delighted to "belong" in at least the shadowy way that I do.
And so I thank you for being one of the founders. And have always enjoyed the clever name of the ORacle.
Now that I look at it, I realize the column in which I mentioned Beth Or wasn't my introductory one, but in one about Christmas:
I missed that one as well (I began to notice your column just recently), and am glad that you recaptured this paragraph for me. I'm so enjoying it,
having a great chuckle from the characterization of your childhood household (first sentence: East Coast Jewish humor?). Last sentence: We Jews do seem to set ourselves up for no-wins. Masochism seems to come as a birthright. That we embrace?
I do want to say this: that you might not have wanted to go to your own creation, the first Friday-night service, but what you created reached people like I, who benefited in quiet ways you could not have been aware of or anticipated.
I believe that there is the Holy Trinity of Jewish Life: Shame, Guilt, and Fear. At least, in my experience. I have known a few exceptions and have envied them, i.e., their compatibility with- and lack of self-consciousness in- their Jewishness. But I must generalize to make a point, that many have internalized and mirrored the anti-Semites' animosity, antipathy, loathing. I had no idea, until I was in at least middle-age, of how common it is that Jews run from their Jewishness. And carry on their shoulders the guilt for doing so as they run?
As pessimistic and unpleasant as my perspective might be, I believe that the hard-core anti-Semites will prevail. They are the hardy perennials who will survive us.
The Jewish sensitivity, the mindful, thoughtful sensitivity that makes beautiful music, extraordinary science, the funniest self-deprecating comedians, genuine well-meaning mitzvahs (mitzvot?), the most enlightening writers and intellectuals- that sensitivity makes us vulnerable to the indifference, intransigence, self-righteous dogmatism and lack of any introspection of the dedicated anti-Semites. There is so much strength, iron, in their unquestioned beliefs, attitudes. They stand in one place, still, unmoved and unmoving, while we dance around them struggling to convince them that we are worthy of acceptance.
I recognize that we are strongly internally and culturally motivated to achieve, but I think also of abused women as an analogy: If they are just better, nicer, more productive, more compliant- something; there must be something that will touch the others' souls- perhaps they will be accepted, loved.
And, so, I believe that only the Netanyahus can make our ultimate survival a possibility. The really tough, probably not-so-sensitive Jews.
I hope that I haven't offended you. I have lived intimately with all sorts of purposeful and not-so-purposeful anti-Semites. And the elegant ones can do as much damage as the crass ones.
Firstly, I want to say how much I appreciated, enjoyed, last Sunday's column, and felt the grainy textures of fog that you made so tangible.
When I've most wished I were a man rather than a woman has been while walking- or wanting to walk- on the beach in heavy, heavy fog, unable to see anything around me and with the foghorn from Westport blowing through it. But I was too fearful, the house was way up there, through the dunes, too far away to run to should there be a need.
Secondly, how precious- the ownership of pride in one's Jewishness. I've felt it now and then, when it was safe. So I know what you mean.
I had to look up Stephen Fry. What an eclectic man. And, depressed. That's all good proof that he's Jewish.
And the commonality with a Jewish stranger! Oh, yes! That comfort. When non-Jews say to me that Jews- or other groups- are, "cliquish" I try to encourage (coerce?) them to understand/empathize that it is because one tends toward the sameness because it is the safest, safe from rejection, safe from hurt. at least on the singular basis of religion. And, as you say, mostly it has assured commonalities and, generally, when there is disagreement there remains that elemental thread that has good value and that people are more hesitant to casually sever. Generally, as with any species it works the best, not because we necessarily love one another but because it precludes our hurting one another in that particular way.
I was moved by your experience with your fellow student's family. The ironies, the gratuitous, inflicted pain. I read once (an opinion) that it was the most religious, intransigent amongst the holocaust victims who saved and preserved Judaism, in the camps. So, perhaps that narrowly-focused single-mindedness is absolutely critical. I wonder how her non-religious father managed to survive in that situation.
I couldn't agree more re the altruism of Reform Judaism. I'm proud of that, too.
Re Netanyahu, the issues of anti-Semitism, Israel, and so forth: If it is a given that we are at least partially the products of the building blocks of our experiences I would make this observation: ( I know that there are many Israelis who have had in depth interactions, daily, on so many levels, with Palestinians/Muslims and nevertheless believe that Netanyahu is extreme, intransigent): I lived amongst them in Libya and Iran, and what I saw, particularly in Libya (in Iran the Shah was still in power so it was different for the Jews, then, loosely by law and by custom) remains with me.
In Tripoli (this was the era under King Idris) a jeweler told me very quietly, fearfully, in my ear, about "Jubareh", where he lived. It was in the low hills outside Tripoli and there were caves, with curtains over the entrances, and the narrow road went through in front of this long line of caves. As we drove through the curtains were quickly closed, and there was no one left outside. It was, to all appearances, routine for them, quick, hiding, over and over again.
In Tehran, I taught Spanish to students at the University and over time their (some of them) hatred of Americans, and especially Jews, was expressed. These were generally the poorer students, and it was seething.
Once, an Israeli soccer team came to play against the Iranians, and a man in the bleachers yelled out for the Israeli team, and he was literally beaten to death on the spot.
In Russian Georgia, Tbilisi, I inadvertently walked into the men's section of a synagogue, realized my mistake and walked out, and as I was walking away a man brushed past me and whispered, "Don't believe them; it's bad for us here".
And, re your comments concerning the Tea Party and their current and potential influence, a dear friend, in Boston, a Catholic- born and a "Christian"-now (whatever that means), raised in the grimy streets of Whitey Bolger (sp?) and since then highly- educated, desperately wanted me to really grasp, understand, the intense, underlying hatred for the Jews that he is so aware of but of which, he says, the Jews have no real understanding.
These are a few experience on which I justify my fear, my biases, my own intransigence. And I am aware that, (only) to some extent, emotion is preempting rational thought. Still, again and again, in my own mind, I had the confirmation (one looks for) for my original premise.
Also, Dr. Schwab, as a Californian I am glad and proud that you got a really pragmatic education at the religious camp in California.
What a fabulous letter! Thanks. (By the way, if we're gonna keep conversing, you call me Sid and I'll call you Doris.)
You've had an amazing life. Wow. And I don't doubt that if I'd had those experiences my perspectives would be different. I'm not pollyannish enough to think peace is really possible for Israel. But if it is, I think Bibi is making it harder. On the other hand, I really have no idea.
I travelled in the Soviet Union in the heyday of the Cold War, when I was in college. It was a language study tour (I'd had about six year of Russian language, and, at that time, was pretty much able to converse freely.) We had a surprising amount of free time to wander around and meet people. I had a conversation with a Jewish man in a cafe in Moscow, and he said sort of the same thing: it's not good here, despite what they want you to believe.
We visited a school on a collective farm and on the wall were pictures of the riots in the US South, police hosing blacks, dogs being let loose. It was current events. And yet, at least based on one encounter with a young woman, their prejudices were even more primitive: we were at a dance outside of St Petersburg, and when an African student arrived she wanted me to go talk to him. She was afraid to: he "looked like a monkey."
On a more amusing note, here's a great clip relating to Stephen Fry, whom I greatly admire (and, as you'll see, I'm not alone):
As to the California experience: I used to have a blog, Surgeonsblog, which in its prime got lots of viewing and several nice accolades: it was even mentioned in the NYT as one of the "great" medical blogs. Fox "news" online, too. It's still out there, and gets a fair amount of traffic; I respond to comments when they come in. Anyhow, as I was winding down, having run out of ideas (being retired made it sort of finite), I wrote about that experience. Since it's there for the world to see, I guess it's not offensive to clue you in:
Before all else I'd like to go back to "the guilt, the guilt".
I believe that guilt is an acquired taste. To substantiate this I'd like to pass on an interaction that strongly impacted me (there have been almost a lifetime of others, of course, and no amount of them has been successful in alleviating mine): My sister-in-law is a product of the upper echelons of the British class system. her father having been a Viceroy in India, (I claim no bragging rights; I didn't marry her, my brother did, and she's been a wonderful sister-in-law).
For this purpose I'm referring to a memorable conversation she and I had in which she told me that she never experiences guilt, has never experienced guilt, can't relate to it, nor did she believe that the others in her environment of origin have.
Their vehicle of self-regulation was shame. Shame, only. And it wasn't the sort of shame that I related to, e.g., the shame of having a lack of integrity, a lack of character. Theirs was and is a shame of not upholding the social mores of their culture. (They were all WASPS in the original.)
I think that there also often exists a sense of entitlement amongst those without guilt, and I would extrapolate to guess that guilt and a sense of entitlement do not cohabit, cannot cohabit.
And, so, I am attempting to make the point that Jews, many of us, are left with that solid block, that almost genetic entity of guilt, and if dissolved much of our connective tissue generationally and with our contemporaries would evaporate, something of our identities would evaporate. In my experience it's so integrated into the psyches of thoughtful Jews who think too much- who would we be without it?
Also, it's been my observation, a gross generalization, that those who take on guilt have done less to deserve it, while those who have done significant damage are immune to it (not a Jew, but George Bush's type effortlessly comes to mind at this moment).
I was so interested in your experiences in Russia. Comparing yours with my own, since one of the times I was there was also during the Cold War,
And envious. That you have a good knowledge of Russian. As happened so often with immigrants, my mother never spoke Russian, although I have been assured that even shtetl Jews knew the language because commerce demanded it, and my father left St. Petersburg when he was just two. But even Yiddish they kept to themselves and I feel the loss of any language they knew and might have passed on. But, honestly, I probably wouldn't have been open to it when I was young.
When I went to Tbilisi, it was in 1964, and I was arrested at the Armenian border, in Erevan. A very long story. I cannot begin to describe the cruelty, mostly psychological, at that border; I still think of them as Mongols ((or Kazakhs?)). eyes as hard as rocks (I make a distinction between the Mongolian people and the pejorative term I recall as a child). I was jailed and grilled for three nights and then put back on the train with a minder who, really, turned out to be a wimp.
How stark the Russian prejudices were that you encountered! And yet we in this country are just as susceptible. I've heard once that years ago someone (at least) in the military, before integration, had thought that Blacks had tails and, once, that someone (at least) believed that Jews did.
One of the most amazing phenomena in the realm of mass manipulation was at a gathering of the Citizens Exchange Corps, a (naive) group attempting to ease some of the tension with the Russians during the Cold War. This was in Moscow, and all from English-speaking countries, I think about six or seven hundred people in a very large auditorium, with three Russians on the stage presenting their agenda.
At some point a fellow behind me, who I later found out was a student from Ohio State, called out demanding answers about the fate of a political prisoner, Yuri Orlov, re why he was still being held a (political) prisoner with no trial. It was incredible to see, after just a few minutes, the whole auditorium, orchestrated by the lead presenter on the stage, vociferously turn on this fellow- one of their own- as a mindless mass. However skilled the Russian was, it was inconceivable that the audience couldn't see how they were being manipulated? These were relatively worldly people. The Russians were trained in a way that- had I not watched it happen- I could not have imagined it. It was chilling. The audience was putty in the Russian's hands.
I so enjoyed the Stephen Fry video. I know almost nothing about him but I do now know that he has (at least one) very talented admirers.
I think that, after a fairly rapid scan, the Surgeonsblog is going to be memorable. I've got to be able to sit with it at leisure, unhurried, able to absorb it.
Well, I've now had the time to absorb it, more worthwhile than anything else I've done in recent memory (somewhat qualified and quantified; I'm eighty-four), it is memorable and have sent it on to everyone I think would appreciate it. I hope that's everyone I know! It's a joy. And I see that it's a lead to other tantalizing reading.
I'm going to take the liberty of sending you a powerful (both figuratively and literally) video one could think is specifically aimed at the deniers of global warming. It was sent to me by Nancy Sosnove, a longtime member of the Temple. Perhaps you've known her.
I appreciated your column of the 3rd. It's unfettered, unafraid of labels. It's just straight-on.
Just now I want to respond to your fascinating, compelling question re the origins of Jewish guilt. Why I've not seen this asked before, I can't imagine. I suppose because I haven't hung around temples and cheders very much.
Accepting as a given that being old doesn't give one automatic insight or necessarily correct perceptions, I've been thinking very much about it, compulsively, together with your probings and, recognizing that I cannot think beyond what I've lived, this is what I've come to: that, firstly, Jewish guilt is a form of grandiosity.
Jews, I think particularly the Ashkenazim, live with a consciousness of their own intelligence. have an awareness of their own intelligence and feel an obligation to it.
Throughout history they have managed to do that, as scholars, scientists, healers, and in all the ways in which beautiful Jews have led the way, in
spite of the relenting, formidable obstacles. They have had, have- the intellectual power to find a way. And, so, at a dim, deep intractable level they blame themselves for not having found the capability to do more to alleviate the suffering of their own.
Historically and more currently they haven't, again and again they haven't. They haven't been able to fix the terrible ongoing suffering. Even with that massive collective intellect, with which they've otherwise accomplished so much. How can we be so good at so much, and not be able to solve this?
Secondly, there is the anger. Denied anger (does anger have a place in religion?) Anger concomitant with the helplessness that is inherent in blatant and subtle persecution that never stops, that is always extant in some form, somewhere.
What to do with the anger, how to safely, sagely express it? Turn it inward. Transform it into guilt. If it's our fault we don't have to feel it as anger. Turn it on oneself. Keep it safely contained even though it eats away at the innards of generation after generation. And by now it's generalized, so that we can attach guilt to anything, everything, however disparate and distant from any true etiology.
And, thirdly, with the anger (repressed, of course) is the element of depression. How can there not be depression if one cannot express the anger.
I don't know, but would guess that within the native-born Israelis that exact type of depression is not common, they are able to openly fight out their anger, to fight back, like anyone else. Theirs is not this diffuse, destructive, helpless guilt that gives us emotional cramps.
My observation is that the Catholic guilt is very different from the Jewish guilt. I have been around, observed and talked with- my Catholic-born-and- raised sister-in-law for sixty-nine years, and conclude that Catholic guilt has to do with doing, not being, doing, not feeling. It's black and white doing and/or not doing. With Jews there is no undoing.
So, comparing a little, ruling in, ruling out- I do think (at least at this point in time; I'm only eighty-four; I could change) that: the Ashkenazim, especially, are the intellectual purveyors of guilt. Each generation continues to pay the price because we continue to take the anti-Semites seriously, no matter how much more intelligent than they we might be, what they think of us and what they do to us and what they have always thought of us and what they have always done to us and, worst of all, not being absolutely positive that, somehow we haven't deserved it.
Our grandiosity has led us to a reasonable, confused conclusion, i.e., with our intellectual endeavors we have survived and thrived; therefore and rationally we should have been able to thwart the terrible injustices done to us, somehow. Especially if the anti-Semites are wrong.
I specified, "Ashkenazim", not to discount the Sephardim but because theirs (mine) is the culture I know to be definitively education-oriented; I have known many Sephardim in the Middle East and they were more commerce-oriented.
Once again, a profundity-packed letter.
I guess I need, in my thinking, to distinguish between some sort of Jewish “collective” or inbred guilt, and what I generally think of as an individual tendency. Maybe there’s no difference, really, if Jewish individuals all tend to carry some sort of guilt; but, as I think of it, I consider it something passed from parent to child, in a specific and individual way (you aren’t living up to your potential), rather than a communal (we Jews, as Jews, have something to feel guilty about.)
In my case, anyway, it’s an individual thing. My parents were always giving me that “not living up to your potential line,” no matter what I did, whether it was mowing the lawn or getting all A’s in school. Second in your class? You should have been first. In fifth grade my mom called a conference with me and my teacher and herself, in which they announced I’d be getting all “unsatisfactory” grades because, although I was doing better than anyone in the class, I “didn’t have to work hard” to achieve it. I remember crying; less, I think, because of the bad grades, than about feeling guilty that I was such an unworthy piece of crap. When I arrived at high school, before even setting down my books, I was called into the counselor’s office, who announced that, at my mom’s request, I’d be required to do extra work, a report on the Russian revolution, just for him. For no credit. Just because.
Have you heard of “the impostor syndrome?” The feeling, mostly in successful people, that they really don’t deserve it, that at some point they’ll be found out? That’s me, ever since.
I’d guess my experience isn’t all that unique, and that Jewish parents are more likely than many to take that approach. (Although, nowadays, from what I see of Asian immigrants, they outdo us all…)
So that’s more my view of Jewish guilt: a tendency of parents to instill it in their kids. I tried like hell not to in our kid. Funny thing is, he thinks we pressured him too much, and I think (see what I mean?) that we didn’t pressure him enough. He’s okay, though, in any case.
In the greater view, of course Jews have reasons to feel suspicion, anger, otherness. And, as I said before, an automatic sense of kinship, even with strangers who are Jewish. I can’t quite work that out as a collective sense of guilt, though, and I don’t think it necessarily relates.
I’m intrigued by your comparison with Catholic guilt, and I agree it stems from something different. What a strange game of mental ping-pong: being told constantly that you’re a sinner, about to earn eternal punishment, and then that all you need to do is roll the beads between your fingers, hop into a toll booth, and it all goes away.
Anyhow, I think it’d be fun to get together for coffee or something sometime; my wife, Judy, reads your emails, and she’d love to come along too. Up for it?
I have so wanted to get an email off to you and it's been a challenge, both from a miserable, cranky computer and because I just finished another battle, stained but not bloody. Eighty-four years old, and kicked off the Cancer Survivors' Network! The cancer isn't the issue; I mention it only in the context of- can you imagine- this utter disgrace!
I'm kidding re the disgrace, but a battle did ensue, a power struggle; I'm reinstated, and my conversation with you is about pyrrhic victories. It occurs to me that, with some exceptions, one cannot know whether- in the long run- one has won a battle. Who knows how it will ultimately turn in the near or distant future? When is it really finished?
In any case, I so often have seemed to be in a battle of some sort. I used to think that I'd have been a good sabra. I rode a horse as well as any ranch hand (I was intrigued by your grandfather's time on a ranch in Oregon, so atypical of an immigrant), and got myself out of all sorts of situations. But one time, in Israel, I talked a kibbutz hierarchy into allowing me on as a volunteer (I had to especially plead because I was a little over-age for the acceptance). He gave a qualified okay, an unqualified knowing, Israeli shrug of the shoulders, and I was outta there within twenty-four hours (or less). The Israelis really read people. And he really read me. And I found out that I wasn't so tough. At least not that kind of tough.
I am enjoying your columns, for me like reading steeped with the familiarity of the around- the-dining room-table feeling. Sid, may I ask? Has your mother at some point allowed herself to experience the pleasure of your accomplishments?
I so enjoyed reading about your and Judy's courtship and marriage. I hope to read your book and all else that you've suggested. I think that there will be time, soon.
I understand your retrospectively being glad that you served in Vietnam and the kind of understanding that came of it.
In my generation and that war and my family it was different. My brother and cousin went, but there was terrible sadness and worry, not the pride I saw in Gentile families. I particularly remember the gold stars in the windows of people who had lost a son (probably not a daughter) and as a kid I knew that that signified a distinct difference between Jews and non-Jews. Jews as I knew them would not do that. There would be no pride in this, only grief. And I could not comprehend the non-Jews.
Sid, this is short, uninteresting, but I want you to know that I value our correspondence very much. And your mensch-ness.
As far as I know I haven't died but how can I really know?
My computer seems to be erratically dying and there could easily be a symbiosis between it and me. It has such power. It's like a parent: there's such a need for it but no essential knowledge of what makes it tick.
In any case, re the Cancer Survivors' Network: I had been writing a blog, many chapters, and not the conventional blog, and probably something of a dilemma for the hierarchy used to a particular genre of blog, and they summarily disconnected my access. I had written- shed of all hypocrisy that I could recognize- leaving bare a lot of raw observations. But these were- are- my truths; I received nothing but appreciative comments from other CSN-ers, but I can also understand the discomfort of the people who oversee and are responsible for the site.
I'm know that I unsettled them with stuff I wrote but I think that, in the end, a lot of people have a lot more substance than anticipated, don't shrink away when challenged and, rather, move toward and are attracted by strength. At least, the responses have indicated this. But, primarily, the motivation is self-centered; my own challenge and determination to divest myself of pretense. Finally, Channel 5, "Get Jesse”, resolved it for me.
Sid, yes, re pyrrhic victories: good point! "losses, too".
Very impressive, your grandfather, the quarter and the saddle. I think that he must have ridden Western in order to keep that quarter on the saddle, even though he wore English-style jodhpurs. Did you know him at all, Sid?
By the way, I read in last Sunday's Herald something about, "David Schwab", in Prineville (sp?), Oregon.
I think that you didn't exaggerate at all in relating your mother's dissatisfactions while you were growing toward adulthood; that it was, in truth, just as you previously described your experiences. Your feelings have softened as she softened. It is touching that she showed you the other sweet, loving self as the Alzheimer's progressed, that she could allow herself to be with your son as she couldn't be with you, that she at some level perceived your academics as a direct reflection of who she was and was so anxious and threatened by any possibility of your not succeeding as she needed you to.
It is so sad re your brother and his- the family's- all of you- terrible loss of his daughter. A huge gaping ragged wound filled with anguish. And I don't believe what are (to me) the foolish pacifiers, "time heals", etc. I think that time doesn't heal, it covers over but it doesn't take much to uncover. To live without meaning is asking too much of most people. Was your niece, "Lori"? I tried to read the headstone on the grave pictured on your page (I don't know the proper computer terminologies) but the print was too small for me to be certain.
I think that choice is often not really a choice toward the positive but rather an avoidance of the negative, e.g., fear, guilt. And aversion that one must think of as one's own decision.
I hear your sorrow- and I also hear your pride in your wonderful, accomplished surviving niece. I can imagine the joy that Tali brings to the family. If this helps at all (and I don't think for a moment that they're really worried) re Tali not yet speaking at least five languages and doing her theses: my niece didn't speak until she was three, and then spoke spontaneously like a much older child and checked out with an IQ of 180. She was taking it all in all that time. (Caveat and Caution: She graduated from Wharton, did very well in school and afterward, worked as little as possible, then never again, and became a complete, dedicated and competent hedonist, mostly lounging in Thailand.)
You know, you might not need Israel. Your brother did, for his sorrow. I did. I needed to feel like a Jew amongst Jews, without the fear and alienation I'd always felt. I've been there five times. But I never had a sense of belonging there, either, because I didn't know how to be a Jew, here or there. But there was a good, simple, pleasant feeling. (Foolish, once in a while: A high school student, sitting next to me on a bus, asked me what I thought of Henry Kissinger, and I gushed. After all, a Jew close to the top in our government! Of course I naively gushed! He gave me one of those looks. As I politically matured I understood his look and I blushed when I thought back.) I found that, unlike the mostly Lithuanian Jews I grew up amongst, there was a diversity amongst Jews that was new to me. I was arrested one night in Haifa, hauled away to jail in a paddy wagon, in the back with a bunch of drunken Jewish men. Really, it was, for reasons too involved to explain here, satisfying to me to see this. I think, now, sitting here, writing this, primarily absent was the feeling of being judged.
The rooted Jewishness I now have, that stuck, and that I welcome and value within me, was seeded amongst Iranian Jewish peasants. Actually, as I think further, many of the wealthy Jews there, from Russia and Iraq, as well. Again, the absence of being judged and, rather, openly and warmly accepted into their lives, cultures.
But, my point of pride in Israel just now, is that my niece is dog-sitting Shimon Peres' granddog. She adores the dog and his son adores that she adores the dog so it's a good arrangement. She is married to a Moroccan Jew whose father was the "grand" (or is it, "great") rabbi under the previous king; they were good friends and Morocco was good for the Jews then. As you can imagine the grand/great rabbi was pretty religious, so fortunately he was already dead when his son married my niece, whose mother is an Irish (former) Catholic and looks like the prototype of one, so much so that she could not go to her daughter's wedding in Israel. One look at her and his family would have known immediately that there was a fox in the chicken house (not the best analogy, I know), and that my niece could not possibly pass muster with such religious Jews.
Sid, I so enjoy your columns. Pharmaceutical charlatanism was an educational mitzvah. And last Sunday's tour through the body was, truly, a privilege. It's the education, the practical application; it's the smooth learning, it's the explanations in terms that slide down the throat easily, no gulps. The heart surgery was a fantastic opportunity to go through that door that says, "Staff Only!" I haven't yet had a chance to read today's column.
Yes, I have written a memoir. I did all the writing and hired Lauren Slater, a much-published writer based in Massachusetts, Jewish-- important to me, to organize it and hang it together properly. I hadn't realized that she had a very bad reputation amongst the academics in Psychology. She didn't perform as contracted, it took four years to finally go to trial, which was set for June 6th, 2011, in Boston, and on May 20, I got the diagnosis. So everything came to a sudden halt, a tremendous amount of work on the part of my extraordinary attorney, the good judges who were scheduled, etc.
Finally, we went to trial July 15, 2012, with a newly-appointed judge and a jury of mostly young people between school terms who were there very and obviously reluctantly.
And, as it turned out, I could have kept the first trial date without it having made a difference. Also, it turned out that she purloined some of my book and it was published by Creative Non-Fiction- I can't recall the fellow's name- based in New Jersey. I didn't pursue this; my attorney was on contingency and I simply could not ask him to do any more.
Sid, if I find it on my older computer, I would like to send you a picture of my grandfather. Please, not for you to comment one way or the other, but simply because he's a connection I've come to be proud of. He was a rabbi, but quite exceptional, I think, in that he allowed my mother to adamantly argue with him about religion- so unusual in that environment, in Belarus.
Happy Passover. Yes.
I hope you'll consider meeting, out of curiosity if nothing else, before the end. But if not, I'll understand, and will always be wishing you well.
On May 26, 2013, at 11:22 PM, Doris wrote:
I want to be forthright about meeting with you- without generating sympathy. I abhor sympathy, for me it's demeaning.
My mother made it clear to me, without reservation, that anything anyone saw as being "good" or positive in me, or that anything I might have seen as being of value in myself- was fraudulent. In college and then throughout a span of the middle years I was able to run ahead of this through, primarily, distractions. But in the last few years it has caught up again, fairly powerfully.
And so at this juncture it is more comfortable to accept its strength.
I have thought that when I die- and if there is some sort of afterlife- and if my mother sees me coming- she'll run like hell! It's a comical image for me.
If these feelings change the first thing I would like to do is to meet with you!
On Jun 29, 2013, at 11:00 PM, Doris wrote:
No response anticipated.
I only want you to know how much I continue to enjoy your columns and, oh boy! the surgeonsblogs and your other writings. How special that you open up that world to others.
Sid, you are a wonderful teacher, and so I feel like a wonderful student. And at this age it's very nice.
On Sep 20, 2013, at 11:16 AM, Doris wrote:
Sid, thank you so much for the unique, so-enriching, so-meaningful journey, not to be found anywhere else, with anyone else.
An invaluable gift.
And of course the offer remains: I make house calls.
On Sep 21, 2013, at 9:41 PM, Doris wrote:
I've gone from participant in life to an ambivalent observer, mixed feelings
Hope you’re well, and, maybe sometime, well enough to meet somewhere for a cuppa.
Sid, I just read your bullet-point verses in Saturday's paper.
We ask a lot of you.
If you’re able to see videos, here my latest favorite:
Thank you, Sid. Very much. There is some satisfaction in small stuff while you lift the heavy stuff.
And there is progress. His own compulsive needs are driving him to self-destruct.
I really want to see this and so I'm forwarding it to my daughter so that I shall hopefully be able to see it on her computer later.
Sid, you make an important, courageous difference in our time, in our lives.
I am looking forward to seeing it. He exudes pure joy.