Monday, August 23, 2010

two days after Bar Mitzvah: the rabbi has left the building

There are times when, after spending the day doing essentially nothing -- maybe a Thursday where I wrote one story and spent the other seven hours reading people's Facebook pages -- I lie in bed at night scolding myself for ignoring the adage that tells you to "live each day as if it were your last." Which, of course, just extends my already-underlived day, as it inevitably leads to wondering how much more time I have before having the heart attack my genes chose for me 45 years ago -- which leads to tossing and turning in bed, then suddenly sweating, throwing off the covers and waking up a bitter, confused Sandra Bullock.

It's impossible to live each day as if it were your last, although, considering how unpredictable our lifespans are, that's exactly what most of us end up doing. What we ultimately get is a handful of truly special days during our lifetimes. We learn to ride a bike, graduate from places and things, maybe get married, spend 46 minutes in a birthing suite as our Jawa comes bursting into the world. It's up to us to make the best of the truly special days -- many of which don't exactly announce themselves when they arrive. Some of the time, we don't even realize until it's too late which days are the ones that are special. Sometimes, special days involve nothing more than barely missing getting hit by a drunk driver while driving around aimlessly with your best friend on an otherwise featureless afternoon in 1988.

Saturday was not unexpected. It was the opposite. It carried with it a year's worth of expectations and pressures. We knew exactly when it would occur, and parts -- but not all -- of what would happen.

For sixteen months, we built to this day; and other than seeing him learn his Torah part, we have no way of knowing how the Jawa prepared. One clue: on Friday, during rehearsals, while my quavering version of the blessing before the reading of the Torah filled the main sanctuary, I caught a glimpse of the boy-to-become-a-man moonwalking across the Bimah. It'd be a lie to say this was my first indication that our Jawa was ready to seize one of his life's most special days; even so, his performance Saturday exceeded anything we could have imagined. It's funny: I'd suspected all along that the time I spent this year yelling at him to practice his chanting was a waste of time. I just got the reasons wrong.

The flipside of having a willful, "spirited" Jawa who is incapable of being a silent, easy-to-overlook non-factor is that he is no more likely to shy away from the spotlight than he is to back down from an argument. A star is born.

There was no stumbling, no stuttering, no rushing through his speech. At one point, as I stood behind him on the Bimah, sweating, I saw him lose his place in the Torah, then refind it with the pointer. He was actually reading the thing. No memorizing here.

And then, suddenly, it was over. 185 people (but not the lady with the box, who attended services in the Martin-Meyer sancturary, so said to me the as-usual neatly-dressed Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe (known as J.J. to some Emanu-El insiders), a short time after informing me that he had found the blog you are now reading and shared it with basically the entire Temple Enamu-El staff, which added an element -- for me -- of the Bar Mitzvah as that dream where you look down and suddenly find that you're wearing no pants.

But it's not about me, and never was. It was all about the Jawa, and he hit all the right notes. No less than Chaim Heller, Head of School, took me aside after the service to rave about my pinstripe-suited son.

When you arrive at a special day, all of the logical conclusions you make during the other 364 days go away. For a year, I'd been going to Bar Mitzvahs and listening to parents gush over their children, thinking, "Geez, I just had a knock--down, drag-out with the Jawa about leaving his iPod on his bedroom floor. When he's up there, am I going to be able to not think about that while delivering a gushing speech?"

As my next-door neighbor said in 1976: duh.

No matter how well he did -- and he did well, make no mistake -- the minute that kid was called up there and threw that (substitue, my parents left the real one at the hotel) Tallit over his shoulders, I suddenly couldn't remember that last time my child had argued with me.

Instead, I sat awestruck, more impressed by my child than I had been since the summer of 2002, when his four-year-old exceptionalness got him into every school we applied to, though he was several months younger than the competition.

The entire weekend, which included a total of four events, two motorized cable cars and three hours removed from the end of my life as I fretted about the weather, included only two minor glitches. The video montage ended up at the bottom of a shopping bag in room 952 of the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero, not at the Golden Gate Yacht Club and the short intros the Jawa was supposed to deliver during the candle-lighting ceremony also disappeared. They remain unfound.

Which mattered not at all, as the Jawa, who'd been told by me five minutes before candle-lighting showtime, "We lost the speeches. Here's the order; you can just say their names or try to do more," decided instead to sharpen his Toastmasters skills, cutting a striking, completely calm figure as he delivered room-enrapturing remarks for about 20 minutes. At the next opportunity, I grabbed the mic and told the room, "Fear of public speaking ends with me!"

By the time Saturday's service ended, four months' worth of fog had lifted, leaving the sunny skies I felt necessary to complete our presentation of San Francisco as fantasy wonderland, not a place where two-liter Coke bottles are illegal. Getting off the motorized cable car, several guests were overwhelmed by the view. One by one, they stopped, turned toward the Golden Gate Bridge, and took pictures. That three hours the fog took from the end of my life? Non-returnable, unfortunately.

And of course, before we knew it, we were back on the buses. Pictures exist of the Jawa and his two preschool friends, who returned to him nine years later tall, blonde, exotic and studly enough to make the Brandeis Hillel Day School girls swoon, doing the "YMCA" dance on glowing speakerboxes.

Dark horse guests danced and spoke in loud, enthusiastic voices. My parents' long-lost and newly-found cousin/Sun City West neighbor Eric responded to the call for family members and joined us in the middle circle of the Hora. Four grown men -- me included -- put the Jawa on a chair and jumped up and down until he almost flew out, which wouldn't have been good.

Yesterday morning, a 13-year-old man awoke in his own Hyatt Regency room, surrounded by his best friends and about 10,000 empty candy wrappers. "I have a candy hangover," he moaned as I peeled him out of his bed for the brunch.

"Too bad. You've got to get down to that brunch." As if he was the only hungover person there.

The Jawa grabbed his special day and held onto it for more than the full 24 hours. He comes out the other side changed but of course the same. By Sunday night -- after an hour of opening quirky, thoughtful gifts and envelopes whose contents left us staggered and with a clear view of how great and admirable the population of the world we've surrounded ourselves with truly is -- he was already giving it back to us because we wouldn't let him make popcorn at 9:45.

Because no matter how long you plan, how good of a job you do, how important a rite of passage a day is, the next day the sun goes up, you take a shower and get back to everyday living. Today, we woke up to alarms and were out of the house by nine. He's a surf camp right now, riding out the last week of summer atop Pacifica's two-to three-foot swells. Sandra Bullock, who should be taking the lion's share of credit for the flawnessless of last weekend but never will, is back at work, talking to other Genentech employees in a scientific code language I'll never crack. I'm looking at my usual weekly workload.

Which won't include this blog. In about five minutes, I'll post this and go into radio silence as I try to convert a year's worth of off-the-cuff musings into something someone might buy if they saw it at a bookstore. And yes, Temple Emanu-El officials, I will change the names of everyone (and every institution) involved. And if anyone knows anything about getting and agent, let me know.

But for now, we will charge ahead. Our meeting with Neil Biskar, Brandeis Hillel Day School guru of high school placement, is scheduled for Friday. So as the Jawa coolly said Saturday morning, when Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe suddenly darted from the Bimah, mid-Bar Mitzvah, leaving Cantor Roslyn Barak and him alone on the Bimah, "The rabbi has left the building."


Butter Goats said...

Time for all you silent lurkers to decloak and acknowledge publicly that you read these words religiously, and now have to find something else to fill 15 minutes of your day. "One Year to High School"?

Roger A Hunt said...

It's been an humorous, insightful and fun read, and most assuredly it will be missed. But as Jack said "it's time to get it published . . . just get it out there. Get it reviewed. Get it in libraries. Let the public decide."

Nice job, McRibs.

Jean said...

I've read and enjoyed every word, not only for entertainment and to re-live the joyful chaos that led up to our own event, but also as a way to wind down. Honestly, more than one person has recommended this as therapy. I'll miss it, but time to move on!

Noodles' Mom said...

I know, I know, you have to move on..but what about us????? I like the "one year to high school" idea...

Peretz Wolf-Prusan said...

Yes, I read the blog, finding it enjoyable all the way. Especially my bits. Why not? More on that in a moment. The best is the Zen story attached to John Lennon's "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." Or the Yiddish, "Want to make God laugh? Share your plans." Early on you wrote of digging up old photos of Allie for the mandated video montage and concluded that "the video montage ended up at the bottom of a shopping bag in room 952 of the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero." About perfect.

As for me and you, fellow full of heart guys that we seem to be, the entry "Word on the street is that from his convalescent bed he is fending off relentless attempts by co-workers and friends to get him to effect radical change to his diet and lifestyle," is a bit off. I am blessed with low cholesterol. Now it must be obscenely lower, but pre-heart attack, the LDL was low. Damn.

But be careful of a co-worker's diagnosis. My doctor referred me to a NYT article on "broken heart syndrome," a term actually used by some doctors. Sudden emotional stress (from grief, fear, anger or shock) - can cause heart failure. I pulled a combo. A stressed accelerated "widow maker," or a myocardial infarction of the left anterior descending coronary artery.

Truth be told, I had no problem with making a life style change, no arguments at all: since I was already leaving Emanu-El when the cardiac drama began, I simply spent my remaining time teaching without attending meetings. Walking, cleaner living, and eliminating stress. And so I continue to teach, walk, and eat and drink well and in moderation. Less stress. Trying to keep my own tzdikut, balance.

Mazzal Tov on Jawa's becoming a Bar Mitzvah. Kol HaKovod on the blog. It was full of interest and entertainments. You have a gift.

Shalom and Shana Tova,


Tali said...

Your blog kept on coming up on my google alert for Bar Mitzvah speech - I am a speech writer! Loved it! I think I laughed most at the bit about his doctor at birth and Doogie Howser!

ted_dagnese said...

LER - Congratulations on all of your terrific writing. You're better than you know. Judging from the 'viralness' of your blog, I predict you will have no problem reaching your publishing goal. Can you say 'Julie and Julia'?


The Hammer said...

Even for me, it's difficult to find the words to express my thoughts about the Jawa, his family, the joy of this blog and the sincere hope for One Year To High School. We'll be right their with you, in fact and, hopefully, on blog.

And what a wonderful comment from Rabbi Peretz. Mazel Tov to all!

Mark said...

I'll just have to find another way to stay connected to you, Sandra Bullock the Jawa and Shack. I'll miss this and find it tough to replace the part of my day dedicated to catching up on the adventures and observations in Glen Park. Thanks for all the posts!

silk tallit said...

I'd suspected all along that the time I spent this year yelling at him to practice his chanting was a waste of time. I just got the reasons wrong.