The Meaning of Life and Other Hilarities ©
By Annette Keen *
Had the French philosopher Voltaire been less of a sour puss, he might have discerned some nourishing Jewish humor in his somber pronouncement that, “God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.”
God as a prankster is among the most endearing qualities that we can attribute to the Almighty. It allows us to see comic aspects in the absurdities that drive society and distract individuals.
It invites us to face squarely, decry gently and laugh deeply at life. So I tell myself as I try to make sense out of the multitude of years I have lived, which, as I read in Job, should have taught me wisdom.
Reflecting on my life, one overriding truth slaps me in the face. It’s been a total crap shoot, over which I can see clearly now that I had little lasting influence. That I ever believed I did is myth number 1, which society spins to keep the generations propagating.
The next whammy hit me just as the last of my little birds, belatedly, reluctantly and with permanent access to my credit cards, left the nest, and I finally had time to read a magazine. Better that I hadn’t!
In cahoots with myth number 1, comes myth number 2, the worship of youth as the only worthwhile stage of life. This, fueled by myth number 3, the notion that rubbing in expensive rejuvenating lotions, plumping up hollowed cheeks and/or cutting away acres of sagging skin will obliterate the ravishes inflicted by myths number 1 and number 2.
Worshipping youth is silly! What could possibly have been sillier than the antics most of us pulled during our smart-ass years? I blush to recall those visits home from college, when, having redefined myself each time I mastered a new author, I railed against the shortness, shabbiness and general un-coolness of life.
However did they put up with me?
To my meaning-of-life rants, I got only chuckles, which in my callow youth I misinterpreted as, “Isn’t she wise beyond her years.” More likely they were thinking, “You’ll see.” And so I did.
About a heart beat past my 60th birthday I asked a 20-something waitress why she had charged me a fraction of the regular cost of a cup of coffee. "Because,” she chirped from behind the counter, “It’s our senior citizen price."
Nearly unhinged by the full-frontal assault on my so far safely submerged aging issue, I studied the reflection in the gilded mirror facing me. Two stunned eyes stared back at me.
Didn’t I last see them on a deer caught in my headlights? Yikes! What happened to my former fabulous face? Sob-muffled chuckles bubbled out of me, rolling into a full-throated, tear-gushing giggle fit, just this side of hysteria.
“The joke is on you,” I choked out, pointing to the fading beauty laughing at herself in the mirror. For moments such as these the shrug was invented. I gave into my inner miser and gleefully pocketed 75 cents in change for the $1 cup of coffee.
The time had arrived for a reshuffling of the deck of life. Inasmuch as sciatica had put the kibosh on palates, and reflux had banished vodka, I waxed philosophical. Coming full circle, I asked myself that impetuous question I had hurled at my elders way back when. “What has it all been about?”
Well, much as I’d love to break it all down into chapters of growing enlightenment and succeeding joys, the truth is, it’s all a blur! Life came at me in great noisy waves. A crying baby drowned out Bach, while a leaking washing machine nearly drowned the dog, who had “eaten” the heir-apparent’s homework, which demanded my presence first thing next morning in the vice principal’s office, screaming baby in arms, which I would tell my husband about, just as his face disappeared behind the day’s mountain of bills, only to resurface with really big news: his company was moving us to Puerto Rico, and could we audit the Spanish Class the heir-apparent was flunking out of anyway. “Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya.”
The years sped by laden with challenges kept secret by those who had been there and knew damn well that keeping them secret was not only the best revenge, but entirely necessary to keep the blood line moving forward. Those darling little toothless mouths, whose pouting broke your heart, and which you kissed a million times, soon developed a full set of pearly whites in need of the perfect symmetry. This thrice repeated feat of orthodontic sculpturing was merely the opening chapter of adolescence.
The myth-making-machine was in full gear now, bull-dozing any feeble parental attempt to fight back, short of selling out and moving to a commune. We soon subscribed to the full litany of absolute necessities, without which a well-adjusted child could not be raised. The list was succinct: at the least everything their friends had, and for that extra thrust to insure high self-esteem, a bar mitzvah party that rivaled a royal coronation.
Despite the suburban sanctuary that grueling, 80-hour work weeks provided, top schools, backyard pools, book-lined dens and stereo systems pumping out nonstop Mozart, the babies who dazzled you by reading at three, correcting your kashrut indiscretions at eight, and your davening errors before they were 12, morphed into barely literate strangers.
They insisted on wearing the teenage couture-du-jour, ripped and thread bare blue jeans, inexplicably expensive, that the poor would reject. They spoke a shorthand jargon devoid of principal parts of speech and littered with all encompassing “like,” which all things considered, was an improvement over a variety of other four-letter words.
And then, when hubby and I least expected it, when we were certain that the kids could never have issued from us, that obviously I had been kidnapped and impregnated by aliens, they surprised us and grew up. And not one of them an ax murderer! Upstanding citizens each, they followed their own ideas and inclinations, resembling their parents about as little as we resembled ours.
The nest has been empty for a long time now. Uncluttered and unhurried, life has simplified and quieted down for me and my husband of nearly a half a century. The planet spins more slowly for us. The days no longer race by; they inch on gently. And I make a remarkable discovery, worthy of the Great Prankster. The most mythologized of notions – love – has emerged as the simplest truth, and the greatest wisdom.
Love, which has endured, matured, and now it sustains. It disregards wrinkles and sagging skin, it delights in love-making, it consoles in calamities, and it dances in joy that we have survived another day, together. Amen.
* Annette Keen is a freelance writer in Niskayuna, New York.
from the August 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine