Home July 2013 Raising the Bar

Raising the Bar

My husband and I are sharing an exciting “15 minutes of fame” as current cast members of Israel’s “Amazing Race.”  It is an internationally franchised show, and we were selected to be one of eleven couples, chosen from an interview pool of approximately 11,000 couples.  Never having been “reality TV” aficionados ourselves, Ronney and I could never have envisioned the impact that this wholesome program makes on the viewing public.  It isn’t to say that we hadn’t given it any thought, but we envisioned “geezers” – assorted alte-kakers who might stand in line for autographs or ask others to snap a photo with us as they nattily posed in their orthopedic shoes and retractable canes.
Au contraire, mon frere.  Youngsters swarm around us wherever we go.  Justin Bieber “Beliebers” and “Menudo” lookalikes call out from the back of the bus, “Hey, Andrea!  How’s Ronney’s leg???”  Ronney stands in line in a falafel joint only to have a 19-year-old shwarma chef shout at him, “Where’s your wife?”
(Do people really think that we go everywhere together?  That I accompany him on his work rounds and he sits alongside me as I type out witticism after witticism?  Perhaps they do, because, in all honesty, I never pictured Eydie Gorme shopping by herself for houseplants and laxatives while Steve Lawrence sat at home clipping his toenails or building a treehouse for the kids.  And in my own backyard I witnessed deep familial love: Who ever saw Uncle Murray and Aunt Adele untethered except for the few moments it took one of them to stagger to another room in search of a fresh bottle of whiskey for the evening’s highballs?)
When measuring adulation, it is critical not to rely on Google-Translate.  While it is possible to get the gist of a message, idiomatic Hebrew gets destroyed.  “Ani met alai” in the vernacular means “I’m crazy about you” or “I’m in love with you.”  But “met” means death and I read fan mail that stated (to me), “You make me dead.”  “We are sick over you” is a Hebrew vote of confidence but translates into the English, “You make us sick.”  The Hebrew phrase, “chaval al ha’zman” literally translates to “a waste of time” but in describing an experience, it is the greatest compliment!  To Israelis it means, “Beyond words.  Don’t even go there.”  The word “dear” has several translations, and we were particularly touched by a 15-year-old who wanted to “speak” with us in our native-tongue, opening his Facebook communique with, “Andrea and Ronney Expensive. . . . .”
I suppose I should be flattered when a pert and peppy salesclerk says to me, “Oh, you’re much prettier in person!  And half the size!  My grandmother sits around all day, but you’re so lively!”
A popular theory that says that the camera adds ten pounds is problematic because, if true, there were clearly four cameras on us at every moment.  This would explain why I appear to be forty pounds heavier.  I’m using this logic wherever I go and will not acknowledge the stubborn, hard-to-hide blubber that remains even where there are no cameramen present.
The experience changed me, and I could not be more grateful.  Because even on days that I’m feeling irritated or miffed about something, I look at Ronney and recognize that he deserves the same kindness, consideration and benefit of the doubt that I always want for myself.  Once I come to that easy conclusion, I can approach him and talk about the things that are eating at me without pointing fingers or personalizing my distress.  It is easier to talk to someone who feels valued than to talk with someone who is made to feel defensive.     Because Ronney is “male,” he likes to keep things simple; his “secret” for dependable romance is to always bring home flowers for the Sabbath.  He may be right; it is a painless way to symbolize love and commitment each week.
I feel incredibly blessed to have been given a “second chance” at love.  When Moses came down from Sinai and viewed the sin of the Golden Calf, he was so infuriated that he smashed the first tablets.  I don’t know anyone who has not felt similar fury at one time or another.  Thus, when he came down with the second set of tablets, he was particularly cautious, because it was now understood that one angry move can destroy something precious.  Perhaps that is why I tell people to be extra, extra careful with the gift of a “second chance.”  Precious things are often “fragile.”  This is the lesson we carry in our back-pockets and take with us as we face some of the kookie challenges.
With one or two exceptional moments during the race, we always felt upbeat and excited.  Our spirits remained good, and we felt psychologically strong.  But we just didn’t have the speed of the youngsters, and this was sometimes distressing.  For people of our age, keeping up with kids of 25 years old for fifteen hours of rigorous activity – when we’ve only had two or three hours of sleep – was hard.  We are strong and healthy, but one has to be realistic about things.  And yet, the Amazing Race gave us an opportunity to discover new-found confidence and build other skills that don’t rely on physical strength.  Thankfully, our spirits kept us smiling.
As a matter of record, one of the greatest challenges came when, running down the steps of the decrepit coliseum in Caesaria, we had to make a snap decision: Should we go for “speed” or hold up our falling pants?  What would the people of Israel prefer?  A display of our determination and grit (and to see our saggy bottoms) or be treated with the respect inherent in keeping ourselves covered?  We honored the nation by taking it slowly and holding onto the straps of our overalls.
In 1968 in Stockholm, Andy Warhol uttered his frequently corrupted statement about everyone having 15 minutes of fame in the future.  Like others, I’ve given it thought from time to time, especially when appearing so vulnerable and accessible.  I’m discovering that the things that I wished to share about myself at the age of 27 are quite different than at 57.  While I once wanted the world to know I was brilliant, compassionate and fit to lead, today I want people to recycle their plastics, pick up after their dogs and let others off of the elevator before squeezing in.  Have I lowered the bar?  Exactly the opposite.  I’ve raised it high enough for others to climb under and stand alongside me.

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