My mother, who grew up the daughter and granddaughter of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, is fluent only in English. But her Cleveland-accented speech features a smattering of another tongue, Yiddish. The influence of our ancestors is sprinkled into her intonation, and the way she expresses herself in the world. Though Mom was—and still is—a ‘glass half-empty’ type of gal, she will occasionally note a stroke of good luck, a sweet surprise like a warm, sunny day in November, and exclaim, “What’s not to like?”
In other words, how could you not appreciate this bit of good fortune, which could be, (and usually was in my mother’s opinion) snatched away at any second. Like my Mom, I tend to be superstitious and somewhat pessimistic, always prepared for the weather to turn, the skies to darken, the rain to fall at a moment’s notice, like the lake effect storms where I grew up. Maybe it’s the people I come from—Jews who lived in an uneasy truce with their Polish and Slovak neighbors back in the old country—or my lifelong affiliation with the Cleveland (football) Browns and (baseball) Indians, two franchises that turned losing into an art form. For whatever reason, it’s hard for me to relax into happiness and trust that, as Carole King sang back in the ‘70s, “things are gonna work out fine.”
Over the past six weeks, my life has shifted into another gear, like cruise control. I met a handsome Canadian man with whom I frequently talk and text via my new iPhone. My Mom, who took a nasty fall in early June, staged a strong recovery and is almost back to her pre-accident self. I’m working out, toning up my middle-aged body, and even Father Time seems to be giving me a break. Like the glorious weather we’ve had over the past few weeks, I’ve been on a roll.
A few weeks ago, I went down to Washington, DC to visit an old friend. On the way home, I lost my hearing aid, the one I paid $2500 for several years ago, the one my health insurance provider did not cover. Fortunately, I’d bought supplemental insurance once the warranty ran out. After a quick call to my audiologist and a phone call to the insurance company, I was approved for a new aid, one more powerful than the original. In short, even when I screw up, it seems I’m surrounded by a cosmic safety net that keeps me bopping along.
Last Monday I took the day off to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It was another beautiful day, sunny with a cool breeze, a whisper of fall. Traditionally Jews eat apples dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanah, for the promise of a sweet year. The night before, I’d gone to Temple Beth Zion, a warm, gay-positive community where I used to be an active member, but lately (through no fault of their own) I’ve drifted into showing up only on special occasions.
There was something comforting about the familiar tunes and the few familiar faces to go with all the people I didn’t know. Looking around the sanctuary I felt a mix of feelings—connection and pride at being part of this ancient tradition, and a sense that I didn’t fully fit in, due to my skepticism that God (if he/she exists) was really listening on the other end of the telephone line.
After a while, I let go of the archaic language and the prayers and thought of how my life is going right now—hearing my mother’s “What’s not to like?” in my head, along with the knowledge that things will not go along so smoothly; life is not and will not be all apples and honey.
My Mom is 84, frail, and has short-term memory issues. My cat is 15 and has kidney disease. The new man in my life lives in Canada. I am hard of hearing and need a hearing aid. Certain things, like my mother’s health problems, will not end well. Somehow I need to balance these two realities—the sweetness of the present and the uncertainty of the future —my knowledge that in life, the glass is neither full nor empty, but usually somewhere in between.
Judah Leblang is a writer and teacher in Boston, and the author of Finding My Place: One Man´s Journey from Cleveland to Boston and Beyond, available at lakeeffectpress.com