My Family’s Red Spring

Last night was the first night of Passover. Tomorrow is Easter. In honor of both holidays, and in memory of my father, I’m going to share one of my favorites of my dad’s stories. Here it is:

Once, when I was about six or seven, I asked Mama, my grandmother, about Passover. So. Mama’s Passover story: there were Jews in Egypt. Their working conditions as brickmakers were terrible, so they sent the union strike committee to see Pharaoh, the Egyptian boss. One of their organizers, Moishe, ein groise starker [a big toughguy], made an enormous tsimel [a noise] and said “If the brickmakers get a fair deal, you’ll get seven prizes. If not, you’ll have a ganz’ tsoris [big trouble]: seven strikes.” To which Papa, my grandfather, added sotto voce to me (but loudly enough for Mama to hear), “Moishe zug’ tzu die Mitzracher, ‘Shtup es in toches!‘” [Moses said to the Egyptian, ‘Up yours!’] At which point Mama (in front of whom nobody used such language) yelled at him, he winked at me, and my Passover education was complete. At school, and from my Swedish friend Leonart, I heard about “The Tomb at Easter.” At first I thought it must be Moses in the tomb. Then I figured out that at Easter it wasn’t Moses but Lenin who was in The Tomb. When I was eight, I learned it wasn’t Lenin, either. Leonart explained that it was the guy nailed on the cross which was hanging on the wall over our friend Fredo’s bed. Our family holiday was May Day: Workers’ Easter, Workers’ Passover.

Living in Hope

My father had major surgery on Wednesday. There were some concerns with this. My father has COPD, and surgeons really don’t like to put COPD patients under with general anesthesia. My father needed to have this surgery done, and his heart was strong enough to clear him for the surgery, but there was still a distinct possibility he wouldn’t come out of the anesthesia on his own and have to be on a machine for the rest of his life. My brother and I were at the hospital for at least 12 hours, waiting to find out how the surgery was going and how our dad was doing.

Well, he came through the surgery just fine. The lead surgeon was very positive and spoke highly of our dad’s constitution. It took quite a while for the doctors to get him from post-op to the ICU, but he was finally moved to the ICU, albeit on a respirator. This morning, he was taken off the respirator. He’s breathing on his own. It looks like he’s not just going to be OK, he’s actually going to be better, thanks to the surgery.

I received a lot of messages of support from close friends, family members, and people I know only vaguely through the internet leading up to the surgery, the whole day I sat at the hospital, and afterwards. At my dad’s request, I sent out an email letting his friends and family know how he’s doing, and many of those people have written me back to thank me for the update and to offer their emotional support. It’s been a strong reminder of just how lucky I am–how lucky we all are–to live in a world with so many thoughtful, caring, strong people.

Today is Veterans Day in the US. It would be easy for me to throw out a quick, simple “Thanks, veterans!” message. But I don’t want to do that. My feelings about soldiers are complicated, tied up with my feelings on wars and military build-ups. What I’m doing for this day is to take a moment to think of all the people in the world who have served in militaries, who have fought for their nations and for their people, and to hope that we will all continue to work towards better solutions than warfare. Veterans Day came out of celebrating the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. Let’s honor our veterans by continuing to work towards ending war. We live in a magical world, a world full of human beings who are kind, caring, supportive, imaginative and constructive. It’s easy for us to rally around our friends and family when they’re in pain–even those people we don’t know all that well. Let’s extend that support around the world, to every human being. I know war won’t go extinct any time soon, but I’ve seen how well we can all support each other, and I know we’re just as capable of being kind to each other as we are capable of being cruel. I continue to live in hope that we keep getting better at supporting each other and finding better solutions than war.

Happy Hallowe’en!

Today is one of my favorite holidays, the time when the walls between what-we-know and what-we-dream are particularly thin, a time of masks and costumes and candy, a celebration of the spooky, the mysterious, the surreal.

Sadly, I’ve been far too distracted and disorganized this year to come up with a costume. I don’t even have any of my fallback costumes entirely unpacked. I’m not happy about it, but I’m not going to let it ruin the day for me.

Happy Hallowe’en, everybody!

In Remembrance of the Dead

Today is Memorial Day in the U.S. I would like to take a moment to remember our fallen soldiers.

When I say “our” fallen soldiers, I don’t just mean U.S. soldiers, I mean all of our fallen soldiers, on all sides of past conflicts around the world. Memorial Day began to honor and mourn both Union and Confederate dead after the Civil War, and in that spirit, I think we should honor and mourn all who have fallen in war, regardless of what side they fought on.

And if a war doesn’t push us to work harder for peaceful, diplomatic solutions to conflicts and differences, what a horrible and pointless waste of life that is.

It’s a Wonderfully Foolish Life

“Nothing in this book is true.”

–Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

I love April Fool’s Day.

Well, let me clarify. I like jokes and pranks that are inclusive, that knowingly wink to people and say, “This is clearly not true, but wouldn’t it be wonderful and funny if it were?” To me, the best pranks are ones that help remind people how absurd and goofy and wondrous the world is. On the other hand, I can’t stand jokes and pranks that make people feel stupid or foolish, where the whole point is to laugh at someone for believing the lie. That’s just mean, and I’m not a fan of being mean.

But let’s get over the fact that you can’t believe everything you hear and read on April Fool’s Day, because you can’t believe everything you hear and read any day. That doesn’t mean you’re stupid or that other people are untrustworthy. It just means that “truth” is oftentimes a slippery concept and some lies aren’t so bad. A lot of the “truths” that we cling to aren’t truths, but they make us happy anyway. As Kurt Vonnegut says in Cat’s Cradle, “Live by the foma [harmless untruths] that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.”

April Fool’s Day, at its best, celebrates this mad, silly, absurd aspect of life. On this day, we make up lies, stories, tall tales and jokes to entertain each other, to remind each other to not take life too seriously and to pay attention to the strangeness and wackiness of life.

Laugh with me today! It’s a funny old world we live in. Never take that for granted.

‘Tis the Season

As excited as I get for autumn, Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving, I get just as excited for the winter holidays. Sure, sure, winter is cold, windy and frequently snowy and icy beyond all reason (at least in the part of the world where I live). Sure, it gets dark excessively early in the day. Sure, the holiday season can be a time of stress, loneliness and melancholy.

But it’s also a time of lights, a time of huddling together for warmth, a time of gift-giving, a time of sharing. We’ve got Chanukkah, a festival of lights, with candles and latkes and gelt! We’ve got the Solstice, when the night is the longest, but when daylight starts making a comeback. (Solstice is also when my daughter and I exchange presents.) We’ve got Christmas and New Year’s. And most importantly, we’ve got my birthday–or as I like to call it, Joshmas.

There’s so much about this time that I love, so many things that remind me of the good times of my youth. Christmas lights, decorated Christmas trees, the scent of pine and cinnamon and nutmeg, A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, A Christmas Story, Christmas cookies, candy canes, the pop culture images of Santa Claus, toys, wrapping paper, classic Christmas and winter songs–it all makes me feel like a kid again, excited about the world and the people around me. This is a time of dark nights and bright magic, a time of candy-colored dreams, and I love it!

You can keep your annoyance of over-commercialized holidays, your hatred of snow and cold, your Scrooginess and Grinchiness. Me? I’ll be decking the halls and racing through the winter with a smile on my face, lighting candles against the darkness and bouncing in excitement over the magic of winter.

Solstice 2008

Happy Solstice, everyone!

We had a very nice Solstice this year. Because of our finances (which I’ll blame on the lousy economy), we had a smaller Solstice this year than in previous years. But we all got some great presents and spent the day slacking around the house, playing with our new toys. Then I made a delicious Solstice dinner (roast chicken, orange-mustard gravy, mashed potatoes, and carrots and peas).

As usual, we have some photographic evidence. Now, we enjoy the days growing longer!