Befriending the Past

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MOM, AGE 87, was coming to visit me in Israel and her physical challenges were daunting. No longer able to stand for long periods or walk more than short distances (bedroom to kitchen, curbside to supermarket entrance), I acquired from the holy folks at Yad Sarah a wheelchair, walker and shower stool.

Although I’d checked the arrival time before falling into a restless sleep, the plane arrived 90 minutes early.  I found her sitting on a plastic chair in the arrivals terminal, looking smaller than I’d remembered. The best part of her journey had been sharing seating space with a haredi Talmud-student named Yossi who wasn’t hungry and gave her all of his food. My mother lives for the minutiae in the lives of others and Yossi was a talker. Four meals later, Irma was ecstatic.  She wanted to visit him in yeshiva but I said,”‘No”

The first few days were rough as we repeated historical dance-steps that mothers and daughters have performed since the beginning of time. She made non-helpful suggestions making my teeth scrape and I was uncontrollably mocking, critical, and arrogantly silent.  Within 48 hours we both sensed that this forced visit had been a huge mistake. My personal sense of despair weighed heavily as I cursed a long line of self-help writers who had fooled me into thinking that closure and peace-making were available to the non-Oprahs among us. They’d lied.

Leaving her home to run a few errands, I pulled to the side of the road with a bag of potato chips and tried to emotionally access the lofty Torah lessons I’d spent decades absorbing:  honoring one’s parents, benefit of the doubt, welcoming guests, withholding judgement, creation in G-d’s image, practicing unconditional love and more. All this chesbon nefesh (personal reflection) succeeded in doing was to reinforce my core belief that I was a miserable person.

And then she fell. She’d gotten up too rapidly from a seemingly-closed recliner when the bottom sprang-out and knocked her down. I came running and found her on the bare floor, legs splayed and eyes filled with terror. She hadn’t injured anything but the soles of her sneakers could not gain traction on the marble.  I knew I could maneuver her to a better position where she could pull herself up to the bed, but she would have none of it. The skinny soon-to-be-soldier living upstairs helped me pull mom up and sit her on the bed. The entire operation took 2.3 seconds and she was effusive in her thanks. I hid in the bathroom to cry, surprised and confused by the unexpected spate of emotions.

And although our respective histories remained in place, those twisted exercises called Resentment and Blame had lost their appeal. Mom and I became friends. Armed with a bucket-list of places to see, I happily shlepped this 87-year-old geezer to Maale Adumim, Psagot, Bet El, Tel Aviv, Palmachim, Yad Binyamim and Gush Etzion. Staying up late we giggled, ate things we shouldn’t, shared secrets, stories and revealing agonies that we’d kept hidden from one another.

On the day of her departure she gleefully announced, “When I come back next year, I think I’ll visit the grandchildren in South Africa first and then come to Israel for the end of the summer.”

G-d had given us time and we hadn’t squandered the gift. Wishing her long and vibrant years ahead, I felt humbled that the legacy she will leave behind after 120 years will be rich with laughter, kindness and caring about others.

 

New York native Andrea Simantov has lived in Jerusalem since 1995. She is a contributing write to Jlife magazine.

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