“How are you, mom?”
“I’m waiting for my visa.”
“For what? To go where, mom?” I’m sure she’ll tell me she wants a visa to come to visit me (impossible for her now).
“A visa for the Messiah,” she says matter-of-factly.
“The Messiah needs a visa?”
“Everybody needs a visa,” she SAYS. “Everybody else gives up, but not him. Even with the corona, he’s coming as long as he gets the visa. I’ll let you know when he’s here.”
“What’s he going to look like, mom?”
“Oh, he’s going to be young, he’s going to be good-looking. I think he’s going to be a mensch.”
“Mom, you know what I think? I think the Messiah is going to be a woman.”
She laughs like I’ve just made the funniest joke she’s ever heard. “Shall we make a bet?” she asks brightly.
On the eve of a war in Ukraine, I ask myself a few times a day why I’m writing. Can’t I do something else that is more important? I feel some anxiety and frustration. It won’t be my family or even American soldiers involved, but on another level we’re all involved. Even if you don’t remember the Cold War and the dread of watching countries used as pawns by two super-powers (yes, we did that, too), you see how fear and paranoia can bring on death and devastation on a terrible scale.
When we simplify the world into us vs. them, everyone else becomes an object, marginal and expendable, to be used and misused again and again. The worst price, of course, will be paid by Ukrainians, but I feel a sour, personal taste of defeat. Once again, after a pandemic and in the face of climate change, all of which call for world-wide sanity and intelligent responses, our species acts worse than schoolyard bullies.
Where is kindness, I ask myself? Where are generosity and patience? Most of all, where is a new paradigm calling on us to extend understanding and compassion beyond the borders of family and nation, to an entire suffering world?
In the middle of all that, my mother is sure the Messiah will obtain a visa to finally arrive, and when he does, she’ll call me right away to hop over to Israel for a quick cappuccino with him.
I thought of Bernie. He didn’t talk despair, for him it was just the same kind of mishigas in various guises arising from the delusion of separateness again and again. He found refuge in laughter.
You might think laughter comes out of hearing a good joke, but it actually comes out of not-knowing. He liked to repeat something he’d heard: “If you can laugh at yourself, you will never run out things to find amusing.” He laughed even after his stroke.
The world is facing another stroke, and various people have something to say: Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin, the people you hear on the news. There will be asks for money, demonstrations, help for refugees, even a joining of human arms to create a bigger and bigger circle.
Me? I want to create something beautiful. Stay sane and clear, never lose my grounding—
“That’s why I take you out on walks.”
Most of all, add to the quotient of beauty in the world: food for birds, flowers, prune the apple tree and plants out front, and create beauty with words because that’s what I’ve been learning to do over lifetimes. It’s what I do because I must, even in the face of catastrophe, like Clive James’ gulls:
Do the gulls cry in triumph, or distress?
In neither, for they cry because they must,
Not knowing this is glory …
Finally, I’m reminded of an interview I read of the Soviet dissident scientist Andrei Sakharov. The interview took place when he and his wife, Elena Bonner, were exiled to Gorky, isolated, deprived, under constant surveillance by the KGB, Bonner’s health deteriorating due to lack of medical care. The journalist asked him how he felt about the fact that at the very time he and Bonner risked so much, living through threats and intimidation, far from friends and family, other people led peaceful, unimpeded, unbothered lives.
Sakharov calmly answered that some people find themselves on the front lines while other fathers need to put their children to sleep every night.