Three of us shared the above dessert last night: brother, sister, and me. It came at the end of a terrific dinner at an Argentinian restaurant in Jerusalem, my first real meal outside the house since I came here. And this was a very special meal indeed, a dinner for my brother before he marries.
A wedding in Israel—even if it’s your second or third, and even if it’s in the middle of the corona, as they refer to the virus here—is still a big deal. You get your hair done, your face, your nails, your toenails, special make-up. True, you can’t invite hundreds of people, there will be some 60 outdoors, spread wide apart. No real dinner because restaurants are severely limited, but some nice refreshments and toasts. Still, it’s a JEWISH WEDDING.
But it won’t be as meaningful to me as the dinner last night, when it was just the three of us. Not just the three of us, three big worlds that often collided and smashed things up in the past, three strong personalities on very different paths, with concentric families and circles that at times touched and at times seemed like they were in different galaxies.
It was this way from forever, when a mother harbored one daughter and called her her own, a father harbored the other and called her his own, while both laid claim to the one boy whose arrival they’d waited and prayed for, so that he was split down the middle into two broken halves. The competition, the miscommunication, the aggression followed by years of withdrawal. How easily we could turn on each other!
But if we’re lucky, if we don’t give up hope and hard work, years later we sit down two days before a wedding and share food, laugh at each other’s preferences (You really are not much of a red meat eater! What do you mean, no wine!), dip forks into each other’s salads (Just a little bite!), and share a big chocolate dessert.
And if you’re me, you lie in bed later on and remember other evenings, other attempts at shared meals, other half-hearted reconciliations, other times when we tried and fell short, when the past seemed to laugh hideously at our tremulous efforts. I shut my eyes thinking two things: That this might be the happiest day of my family life, and appreciating how much time some things take.
“Going high does not mean putting on a smile and saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty … Going high means standing fierce against hatred while remembering that we are one nation under God, and if we want to survive, we’ve got to find a way to live together and work together across our differences.”
Those were Michelle Obama’s words. This same woman a short while ago confessed to suffering depression over the past years over what has happened to her husband’s legacy, what has happened to this nation, and especially to black people.
So, let me confess to middle-of-the-night anxiety and anger at Donald Trump. In daylight, I could rarely summon much feeling towards him. From the beginning I felt that he showed signs of mental illness. I’d lived in New York City when he flaunted his girlfriends on the front page of The New York Post even while married, giving the finger to his family and basic moral values, anything to get the spotlight.
When he became president, I couldn’t hate him any more than I did someone else with mental illness. The man simply had no idea what he was doing, I’d shake my head. It wasn’t that he put his personal interests ahead of anything else, he had no sense that something else existed. I took seriously what his election revealed about the torn fabric of our country, but when anger came out, it was aimed at other members of his party who knew better and still supported him.
And then there were the nights. When I don’t sleep, when the hours are dark and silent, I feel rage stirring up inside me towards this man. I read of his opening up the Arctic Refuge in Alaska to oil companies for drilling in the face of so many environmentalists’ decades-long work, including Peter Matthiessen’s. I read of the EPA lifting limits on methane gas. I think of immigrant families hiding from ICE. I think of his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, being in active contact with Russian intelligence. Of threats to use the post office to eliminate people’s votes. Of the wall he’s built circumventing Congress, and his sheer disdain and contempt for everyone but people like his golfing buddies, including the working-class men and women who voted for him.
The logic of day continues to whisper that he’s mentally ill. My night voices remind me of how he’s hurt and bullied, the many, many coronavirus deaths, the welfare net ripped to shreds at the very time when jobs and businesses are lost.
And on those bad nights I gnash my teeth at those who voted for him, and who may well vote for him again. White Supremacists alone can’t help him win. Fringe gun-rights groups alone can’t help him win. Sensible people can; they voted for him in 2016, and they can do this again in 2020. Will they? my night voices ask. And if they do, what then?
And I remember the dinner last night, and how broken people and families can come together. In this case they love each other, but they don’t have to. They can learn to share bread together, realize that the only way to survive is to work across differences, not ignore or seek to destroy them, that underneath it all we do talk the same language, and we can learn to listen.
I’ll show up regardless of who wins in November, including if Joe Biden wins. I learned that much from Obama’s victory in 2008, when I felt like I was walking on air for three days and forgot the hard work ahead. Forgot the people left behind on all sides, forgot the pandemic of racism that has been of much longer duration and with far more terrible results than covid. I don’t plan to forget this time.
Count me in for the long run, tough nights and all. And if it takes time, that’s fine. One family, despite the odds, came together last night and had a whale of a time. That’s one down, many more to go.