DOESN’T HURT ENOUGH YET

In The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer tells this story:

A friend walks up to the porch to say hello and hears an awful yelping, squealing sound coming from inside the house.

“What’s that terrifying sound?” asks the friend.

“It’s my dog,” said the farmer. “He’s sittin’ on a nail.”

“Why doesn’t he just sit up and get off it?” asks the friend.

The farmer deliberates on this and replies: “Doesn’t hurt enough yet.”

This past weekend reminded me of this story. I asked myself how much it has to hurt till we finally make the turn—not just from guns, which stares us in the face—but from other things, too.

Donald Trump holds rallies. He has badmouthed “The Squad,” consisting of four women of color democratically elected to the US Congress, including two Muslims, and has said they should go back where they came from. Showman that he is, he knows how to energize a crowd.

And what a crowd! A crowd that travels across various states and stands for hours on line to get in to see him, cheer him on, yell Send them back! Not skinheads, mind you, but mothers and grandmothers who tell reporters that Jesus will make sure that Trump is re-elected, and Pence after him. Nor are they poor. They are restaurant owners and nurses; they are people who send their kids to college.

They are people who adore him because, as one said: “He will protect our world order.” That’s when I get nervous.

I haven’t been nervous on account of Donald Trump since Election Night 2016. The very next morning I decided to look carefully at what had been invisible to my Western Massachusetts eyes, to learn as much as I could about what happens to people when coal mines and steel towns shut down, about a Main Street that is ignored not just by Wall Street or Washington but also by big universities, Silicon Valley, and major media, the places where opioids circulate instead of money.

But nervousness has returned.

It’s not Donald Trump per se. I don’t think he has a fierce ideology against people of color or immigrants; I don’t think he has any ideology per se. He’s also silly in the way that people are when they just see short run gains over long run, the partial rather than the whole. And, of course, we all pay a price for his silliness.

I am more concerned about after Donald. I am thinking of the people watching his success who are much smarter and savvier than him, and who share a particular vision: We need to protect our world order.

Talk of world order makes me uneasy. It’s too gargantuan for me; it lacks human proportions. And what world order is that? The world of white male domination? Of private ownership of assault weapons? Of unregulated capitalism that has gone wilder than a rodeo show?

I used to hear: This is their last gasp, they’re running out of time. I’m not sure anymore. Yes, they’re running out of time, but there are many— more than I thought—who’re ready to fight long and hard for this old world order, and take this country right over the edge along with them. We underestimate their strength and passion.

The question isn’t whether Trump is another Hitler, but rather what conditions here parallel some of those in pre-Hitler Germany. There is a clear emphasis on remilitarization. More money, more weapons seeking targets and deployment. There is cynicism and contempt towards governance and media institutions. I agree that these have failed many, many people, but before we take them down let’s make sure there’s something in their place; let’s not leave a vacuum. There is the blaming, scapegoating, and inciting directed at people of color and immigrants.

Finally, I watch with growing dismay a growing segment of the population be unfazed by, and even support, statements of racism and out-and-out hate I wouldn’t have thought possible anymore. A narrow slice of Americans believed this dogma, I used to think; now I know that slice is widening. And it reminds me of how a majority of well-intentioned German people watched Hitler industrialize Germany and improve the economy, win approval from major German institutions and concessions from other countries, and little by little they thought: He’s not so crazy, in fact he’s doing pretty well for us.

I was one of those people who often felt she’d had it with politics and both major parties. But anyone who thinks that there is no difference between the two parties literally should have her eyes examined. Take a look at the white males of the Republican Congress and Senate as they flee from journalists asking for comments after Send them back! Take a look at the gender, ethnic, and religious diversity of their Democrat counterparts, at the youth, the demand for reform of everything from climate to medical insurance. Whether it’s the more moderate wing or the more progressive wing, representing differences in methods, what they all seem to agree on is that a new order is coming—and it’s welcome.

I can’t remember a time when the two parties had such a contrasting vision for this country.

I don’t think Donald Trump is Hitler, but I am concerned that waiting in the wings is someone who is learning from his mistakes and ready to take on that mantle, who will protect the old order at all costs.

In the end, youth will win out. That youth already shows itself much more comfortable with diverse ethnicities, less religion but more spirituality, and passion about the fate of this earth. But for now it’s still the parents who drive the political process, and some parents, I believe, will fight long and hard. We underestimate that fight to our peril.

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SAYONARA, YASODHARA!

“Who’s on the wrong side of the fence, Aussie?”

“You are.”

“No, you are, Aussie, and you know why?”

“Why, Boss?”

“Because you’re outside the borders of the house.  You’re outside the fenced area. Therefore, you are on the wrong side of the fence. Instead of being here, where you are safe and well cared for, you go off to brave the wilds of Montague.”

“I’m leaving home just like the Buddha did. He left his wife, Yasodhara, behind. That’s you, Boss. Sayonara, Yasodhara.”

“Wait a minute, Aussie.”

“He left! He ran, just like me!”

“I don’t think he ran, Aussie, I seem to remember that he had a white horse and—“

“I don’t need no white horse, Boss, or any kind of horse.”

“What about Harry, Aussie? He always whimpers when you go through the gate, a little like the Buddha’s friend, the charioteer, who asked him not to leave.”

“I do not listen to Harry. The world calls. The truth calls, Boss.”

“What truth is that, Aussie? That life is suffering?”

“Are you out of your mind? The birds are chirping, the sun is shining, the river flows below us, there are horses to greet and deer to chase. You call that suffering?”

“But Aussie, you’ll get old!”

“I’ll get old at home, too.”

“You’ll get sick!”

“I’ll get a lot sicker if I continue to chase Harry around. If I have to do one more circle round the house chasing that canine locomotive I’ll probably drop dead.”

“So you’re going out to find out how to end suffering, Aussie?”

“Boss, I’ve already sniffed out some end-of-suffering territory.”

“What have you found, Auss?”

“Well, if you wade into the river below on a hot summer day like today and get your paws all cold and wet, your suffering will end on the spot.”

“I did that the other day, Aussie, when you and Harry were down by the pond and invited me in. I took off my sandals and went in, had a great time, splashed you–“

“A very stupid thing to do, Boss—“

“I thought it was great fun. Till Harry jumped onshore, grabbed one of my sandals in his mouth and ran off with it. Instantly my suffering returned.”

“Now that was really fun, Boss. What a run he had with the sandal between his jaws, tail twitching, and you’re yelling: Harry, you come back now! Harry, bring me back my sandal! Talk of attachments. Shame on you.”

“I’m not a dog, Aussie, I can’t walk around in the woods barefoot. Did you learn anything else about how to end suffering?”

“I learned lots of things, Boss. When you smell a deer, chase it!”

“But then the deer suffers, Aussie. It’s scared and has to run.”

“When you see a squirrel, pounce! All misery is instantly forgotten.”

“The squirrel can’t be feeling too good about that, Aussie. The Buddha wished to end suffering for all beings.”

“I’m taking it one dog at a time. When you find a horse turd, eat it.”

“Uggh. I think you’d better come home, Aussie.”

“Hey, I’m just getting started. Why aren’t you cheering me on? You’ve cheered the Buddha on for centuries, and he left his home once! I do it almost every day.”

“Please come home, Aussie. Be a householder.”

“And accept the terms of my confinement? No way, bluejay.”

“Be more like Harry. He’s such a good dog.”

“Likes his family, likes his food, and sleeps all day. Fuggedaboudit. I’m going to be like Buddha. Nobody ever called him a good dog.”

 

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ONLY IN AMERICA

“The little prince sat down on a rock and looked up into the sky.

“‘I wonder,’ he said, ‘if the stars are lit up so that each of us can find his own, someday. Look at my planet—it’s just overhead. But so far away!’

“’It’s lovely,’ the snake said. ‘What have you come to Earth for?’

“’I’m having difficulties with a flower,’ the little prince said.

“’Ah!’ said the snake.

“And they were both silent.” (St Exupery)

Imagine having difficulties with a flower. Bees and butterflies might have difficulties, hovering over a half-closed dahlia: What’s the matter? Was it the pounding rain last night? Are you discouraged by the clouds? Don’t get on with the neighboring apples?

Many years ago I said to someone I then loved: “It’s so hard for me to go through layer after layer after layer before I can get to your heart.”

Contemplating that this morning, I called my mother. “How are you doing, mom?”

“Everything is fine,” she said, which she has said every time I call over the past 4 months. “But I was remembering something that happened a long time ago.”

“What’s that?”

“When we came to America, your father worked in a synagogue.  One of the things he had to do was prepare the young boys who were turning 13 for their Bar-Mitzvah, which meant they had to chant the weekly portion of the Torah and recite the blessing on the Sabbath of their Bar-Mitzvah. None of these boys were religious; they just did this to please their parents.

There was an elderly man there who was very rich, I think his name was Morris I’m not sure. He had a grandson, the son of his son, coming up for his Bar-Mitzvah. Your father worked with the boy, the Sabbath came, the boy read as he was supposed to and said the correct blessing, and everyone was happy.

Two months later your father had to prepare Morris’s second grandson, David, the son of his daughter, for his Bar-Mitzvah. Morris was a little nervous about this grandson, so he came early on Friday, the eve of the Sabbath, to see how the boy was doing. Your father took him into the synagogue to see the boy practicing on the bimah in the synagogue.

‘David,’ Morris said, ‘I want you to do well tomorrow. I want you to make me proud. And if you do that, I’ll give you the same gift I gave your cousin two weeks ago.’

‘What did you give him?’ wondered your father.

‘I gave him one million dollars,’ Morris said.

‘I don’t want a million dollars, grandpa,’ David said. ‘I want a gun!'”

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LULLABY FOR ME

I tell you, this dog has saved my life.

Aussie, I mean.

Day after day, from sheer habit I get into my head, into those glum, narrow, gray confines of a boring old self I’ve known for some 69 years. Same old voices, same old lazy moaning and groaning. You look around and find yourself in fog, you know what’s next in the day, and what’s next after that, and after that, but you don’t really know anything.

Then Aussie brushes by your leg and looks up, and the aliveness of those eyes! The shine of those black pupils, the light inside the dark!.

For what reason? What’s the inspiration or ambition that causes them to practically glitter? Not world peace or a Nobel Prize. Maybe a reminder of breakfast, or of a walk or car ride. So ordinary, so routine, so alive!

And you know that inside that black and brown canine form, descended of wolves, nothing is lived by halves or quarters. Joy precedes every meal, Christmas every walk.

She doesn’t know about fragmentation, about being here but not really. Her eyes don’t go up towards her forehead when she talks, a sure sign she’s back up there. In fact, she doesn’t know how not to pay attention, how not to be aware.

Each time she brushes my leg or presses her head against me, whining volubly, I wonder: Is it time to feed them? Didn’t we go for a walk? And then I look down and see the brightness of those eyes: Come on! Meet me! Talk to me! Stroke me! Laugh with me!

Not with Aussie, with life.

How do you do this, I ask her. I lock you up, put you behind the fence, tell you where to go, where to sleep, what to eat, put you on leash. I bound and fetter you, so how are you so alive? Why, in so many of these moments, am I the one who is asleep?

Elizabeth Bishop wrote a poem, a lullaby, just for me:

“Lullaby.

Sleep on and on,

war’s over soon.

Drop the silly, harmless toy,

Pick up the moon.”

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NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL FAMILY!

“Where are you guys going?”

“We’re off!”

“Off to the woods. Adventure, here we come!”

“Wait a minute, where are you rushing off? You may not realize it, but the idea of walking in the woods is that you two walk with me.”

“Really?”

“I had no idea. Aussie, did you know that?”

“Silliest thing I ever heard, Harry. We go on our run, you, Boss, go on your walk. You mean, we’re supposed to stay en famille?”

“What does that mean, Aussie?”

“Stay as a family, Harry. Stay together.”

“We are a family, guys. I know you like to run when we’re in the woods, I don’t mind if you go off here and there instead of staying by my heels, but you have to keep track of me, and when I whistle or call out, you come right over. That’s what being a family means.”

“Fool me, Aussie.”

“Never heard of such a thing. We’re two different species, Boss, how could we be one family?”

“If we’re one family, Boss, how come we eat dry dog food while you eat sautéed chicken?”

“Good one, Harry.”

“If we’re one family, Boss, how come I can’t pee overnight and have to hold it in till you open the dog door in the early morning? Do I have to remind you how often you go to the bathroom every night?”

“No, Harry, you don’t have to remind me.”

“If we’re one family, Boss, how come you can leave the house whenever you want to and I can’t?”

“Except that you do, Aussie.”

“And this morning I missed breakfast. If we’re one family—“

“Enough already! Guys, one family doesn’t mean that we have the same life, that we sleep on the same beds—“

“Actually, we do—“

“Quiet, Harry! Or eat the same food or go and come in the same way. We’re different, not better or worse.”

“Tell me that next time you’re eating a hamburger and I’m eating Kibble.”

“Hey, I don’t have it as good as you think. Who worries about having money for your dog food and treats?”

“Don’t you hunt?”

“You’re a lousy hunter if all you can bring back is Kibble, Boss.”

“When the tree smashed down close to the house, who made sure to get the live wires back up and out of reach, and then got the tree sawed up and the yard cleaned out so that you two could have your games and chase each other?”

“Not us, Boss, we ran away.”

“When you ate the edible pot in the woods, who took you to the vet?”

“That was a lot of fun, Boss.”

“Who provided you with training, which hasn’t yet paid off? Who took out all those porcupine quills?”

“She has a point, Harry. We all have our jobs to do. We all have our different roles to play. Right, Boss?”

“Right, Aussie, now you’re talking. I’m proud of you.”

“The Boss’s job is to fence us in. My job is to break out.”

“The Boss’s job is to give us Kibble. My job is to steal chicken off the counter.”

“The Boss’s job is to get us dog beds. My job is to sleep on the sofa—“

“Or her bed.”

“The Boss’s job is to walk us. Our job, Harry, is to run away.”

”Now, that’s what I call a family!”

 

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CHEESEBURGERS

I used to love to sit in New York City subway cars and look at all the different faces across from me. At that time all the subway cars had long benches, one across from the other, each bench holding 10-12 people, and if you were lucky you saw 12 completely different faces, from ethnic groups all over the world.

There they are, sitting elbow to elbow, in their own respective worlds and thoughts. Maybe they’re mentally reviewing the job they’d just left or what’s ahead for them at home, thinking about children or what they’re going to make for dinner, and do they have to stop at a food market. They’re barely aware of each other, they just do their thing, some tired and shutting their eyes, others listening to music or talking on the phone, all in one subway car together, effortlessly, not realizing how amazing it all is to me, sitting across from them and looking from one face to another.

I no longer live in New York, so now I love to look at the credits that roll in the end of movies and see all the different names of editors, cinematographers, producers, animation specialists, special effects folks, the many assistants. Sometimes there are hundreds of names rolling down that screen: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, African, Jewish, Muslim (a more recent phenomenon), and straight WASP, as I think of it.

I do the same thing with the acknowledgments at the end of books, especially nonfiction informational books that list the many names of those who helped with research, editing, proofreading, inspiration, etc. It never fails to move me how people with such different names, coming from such different backgrounds, work together to create something that wasn’t there before.

I grew up in a religious Jewish household and it didn’t take long for me to realize that I had different priorities than others in my family and community, one especially. I was not interested in the question of what it meant to be Jewish. I was interested in the question of what it meant to be human.

The bus driver who took us teenagers to school and back often ate his meals while waiting for us to board. His special favorite seemed to be cheeseburgers. I would sit up front and stare and stare at him as he ate. In our house, where meat and dairy were always kept separate, we never had cheeseburgers.

One day I said to my mother, “Mom, do you ever wonder what cheeseburgers taste like?”

She turned around slowly. “Never! Not once!” She couldn’t have been more horrified if I’d asked her what a dog turd tasted like with yellow mustard on the side.

Right then and there I knew I was different. I also knew that it was dangerous to be that way. Usually, people didn’t say you were different, they said you were crazy.

I don’t usually sit on New York subways anymore. But I think about what that was like, how different we all were, sunk in our own thoughts even as the train hurtled uptown, carrying us all into the next moment, the next future, the next life. We didn’t have to do much, just pay a subway fare, and the train transported us equally uptown regardless of who we were or what station we got off.

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GETTING LOST

Waiting for Godot

“Where do you think she is, Aussie?”

“I hear her calling us in the woods. She thinks we’re lost.”

“Doesn’t she know we’re right here by the car?”

“I don’t think so, Harry. In fact, I think she’s the one that’s lost.”

“Do you suppose we should go find her, Auss?”

“I think it’s best to wait for her by the car, Harry.”

“I think we got ourselves a dumb Boss, Aussie. She takes us to the Wendell State Forest for the first time ever, and as soon as we’re all off-leash she gets lost.”

“The trouble is, Harry, she thinks we’re the ones that are lost, not her. That’s why she’s whistling and calling our names all the time.”

“Why should she think we’re lost? We ran around the lake a bit, frightened some ducks. I chased five yellow butterflies. Just being dogs.”

“But she’s being a human, Harry, and you know what that means?”

“That she loves treats?”

“That’s one. But what I refer to is that she’s always afraid of getting lost, of losing control, of what’s gonna happen.”

“Why is she so afraid, Aussie?”

“Dang if I know, Harry. It’s how many humans are.”

“So what do we do, Aussie?”

“We wait here, at the point of origin, ergo: the car. You see, Harry, the way humans are, they chase after one thing or another, they run around and call out, go here and there, and when they’ve had enough of all that foolishness they come back to the exact same place where they started.”

“That makes no sense, Aussie. Why don’t they end up somewhere else? Like me, for instance, last week. We started in one place on the Montague Plains, you and I chased a deer, and I ended up three towns north.”

“That wasn’t much fun for the Boss, Harry. She drove the car on those roads crisscrossing the Plains that are full of potholes, which gave me in the backseat a big headache, not to mention all the yelling she did: Harry! Harry! Not a smart move on your part.”

“Hey, at least I don’t travel a long distance and end back where I started. Talk about a waste of effort! Don’t you think we should go find her? I feel so bad for the Boss, being lost.”

“Leave her alone, Harry. Being lost is good for her, though she doesn’t know it. She gets frustrated, she gets upset, she starts talking to Bernie—“

“Who’s that, Auss?—“

“Before your time, Harry. She yells at him that he should never have left her alone like this, she gets out all this angst.”

“What’s angst, Aussie?”

“Not in the canine vocabulary, Harry.”

“And all this time she still thinks she’s looking for us when we’re right here? I don’t get it.”

“That’s humans, Harry. When they start looking for something they think they lost, it’s a sure sign that they’re the ones who’re lost. You just watch. She’ll get tired of yelling our names and running here and there, she’ll come back to the car, and here we’ll be.”

“And we’ll be together just like always.”

“At least till the next time the Boss gets lost.”

“Probably tomorrow.”

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INSTEAD OF BLOOD AND SOIL

You call this an office?

My brother recently posted a question on his Facebook page: Why don’t American Jews go to Israel?

To paraphrase what he wrote: For almost 2,000 years we were a small, persecuted minority not permitted its own national vision of how to live as Jews, not afforded the chance to uncover what living a fully Jewish life could mean. Living as a majority in Israel, he wrote, we can now finally do this. And indeed, he has explored these questions his entire life.

He is not condoning the present Israeli government and its policies. He is simply pointing out that Judaism and land—specifically Israel—can’t be separated, and an exploration of Judaism’s deepest values must occur on the land.

I pointed out to him that many indigenous nations tie their spirituality to their land. This past week Zen Peacemakers spent 6 days with Lakota elders going from one sacred place to another in the Black Hills, bearing witness to this intersection of land and Lakota spirituality.

I was born in Israel, brought to the United States by my parents when I was 7, and have spent almost the rest of my life here. My immediate family—mother, brother, and sister—live there, not to mention the broader family, and for this reason I’ve gone back many times.

Often I have wondered if I could ever make my way back there. I love my family and wish I was closer to them. You don’t relate to this culture, my sister good-naturedly warned me a few times, you’ll feel a stranger in a strange land. I agreed with her, so instead live among the Yankees of New England.

But today I saw the following words from the moderate Washington Post columnist, Anne Applebaum, who has written extensively about far-right parties in Europe as well as about Russia. This particular column, however, was about the United States:

“We are not, and never will be, a nation held together by ethnic blood ties. In its way, this is what gives us our strength. All nations are, at base, imagined communities, and our imagined community is based on a uniquely inspiring set of principles. Americans have proved that they can be loyal to, and will fight on behalf of, a more complex, more cerebral national ideal, one derived from ideas of democracy and justice as opposed to blood and soil.”

Voila, I thought to myself.

I find myself unable to relate to a community based on “blood and soil.” It’s what prevents me from identifying with a nation based on the question: Is your mother Jewish? and Do you see Israel as your homeland? I don’t find myself in any structure built on that foundation.

Long ago, a Filipino friend of mine said condescendingly to the group we were in: “You Americans have no national culture like others have, except for maybe Thanksgiving and hot dogs on the Fourth of July.” If she’d said that now I’d reply: And thank heavens for that. We don’t need to be like the rest of Europe and most other countries, who have their story of an original ethnic identity that plays landlord, while other groups are tenants.

At base, this is the reason I abhor Trump’s rally cry: Send Her Back! The question of whether or not he’s a racist is not the point (questions arose during the election of whether or not he was an Anti-Semite, which didn’t feel relevant then either). I feel he’s a chameleon changing his colors on his path towards only one destination, and that is getting re-elected.

What’s relevant for me is the question: How do you define America? How do you define Americans? And as Anne Applebaum pointed out, unlike many countries, including Israel, we don’t define ourselves according to blood and soil—and that’s our strength. We’re not some single ethnic scheme, we’re a collection of people from all over, most of whose ancestors arrived here as refugees in some form or other. We do have fierce loyalties to family, religion, community, and stories of our past, and some of us are ready to fight over whose stories are the right ones (in that sense, folks fighting about statues of Confederate generals in the South are fighting the same empty battles as Balkan populations reliving fights from a millennium ago).

Nevertheless, we are held together by an extraordinary vision (still unrealized) of equality and democracy. Granted, at times it feels more tenuous than blood and soil. How often I have landed in Tel-Aviv and been told by a fellow passenger: Isn’t it great to be home? Don’t you just feel it in your blood? To be honest, I shrink away from those feelings. I have a deep sense of how exclusionary they can be, how self-serving they become.

I know, it’s easy to grow cynical about how many millions of people the Declaration of Independence has failed over hundreds of years. Nevertheless, it is a fantastic challenge. It takes us out of our natural tendencies towards insularity and self- and ethnocentrism, and reminds us that the neighbor who looks and dresses differently, who speaks a different language and celebrates different holidays, is as much American as I am.

That, I believe, is this country’s basic koan.

Zen master Dainin Katagiri wrote: “When you develop your individual character in the broad perspective of non-individual karma, then your personality develops very gently, in a humble way.”

Karma has to do with all the many elements that create you as an individual. But you also have your national karma, and your karma as a human being. He encourages us to discover our individual selves only as part of a much greater whole. In that way we’re gentler, in that way we’re humbler.

In that way we know that when we send someone out of this country to go back where they came from, it’s ourselves, Americans, that go into exile.

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FAR MORE EXCITING THAN THE APOLLO LANDING

50 years have passed since Apollo 11 landed on the moon.

It was the end of the 60s, a time of rebellion and rage for some, confusion for me.  Richard Nixon was President. Technically, I lived at my parents’ home, planning and plotting how I could leave, which was not easy in a religious Jewish home where girls were not allowed to leave the house till they were married. I worked full-time, went to college full-time at nights, and within a month of the lunar landing I’d be physically gone as well.

One day I received a call from an old high school friend who was studying up at Barnard. “I have something to tell you and then ask a favor, “ says she, “but you have to swear you won’t tell anyone.”

Instantly I’m intrigued. Laurie (not her real name) was everybody’s idea of a good girl. Not for her being sent to the principal’s office (a frequent hangout of mine), not for her getting suspended and even kicked out of home. Was she flunking out of Barnard? Was she pregnant?

“I met a guy in Columbia,” she says, “and we fell in love. He’s Palestinian.”

“Palestinian?”

“He’s such a nice man.”

“You fell in love with a Palestinian?”

“They’re refugees. His family lives in Jordan.”

I was dumbstruck. I wasn’t even sure what a Palestinian was. Jordan had controlled the entire West Bank till Israel had conquered it just 2 years earlier. In 1969 there was no such thing as Palestine, and no such thing as Palestinians; that was to come later. But I knew that Palestinians were Arabs. The odds of a Jew dating a Palestinian were lower than reaching the moon. Only here was my old friend, Laurie, who never missed a homework assignment in four years of high school and never disturbed anyone’s equanimity over a span of two decades, falling in love with a Palestinian!

“He went home to Jordan and is coming back tomorrow,” she says on the phone. “I don’t have a car, but you do. If I meet you at Kennedy Airport tomorrow, would you pick him up along with me and take us both back to school?”

“Sure,” I told her. I’d have to check if I could get my mother’s car (lying through my teeth about why I needed it), but wild horses couldn’t prevent me from seeing this.

The next day was July 20. In early evening I drove to Kennedy Airport, parked the car, and found Laura in the TWA terminal that was shaped like a bird. An enormous screen hovered over the inside of the terminal and I looked at it briefly. The Eagle had landed, but Neil Armstrong hadn’t yet stepped onto the moon, not that it mattered. I mean, how could landing on the moon compare with a nice Jewish girl like Laurie falling in love with a Palestinian?

I peppered her with questions—How did you meet? When? Where?—and deduced that yes, she was definitely sleeping with him. Nobody knew except for her, and now me. We waited for the flight to arrive, leaning against the rail as she implored me to silence. We ignored Neil Armstrong taking those first steps and instead stared breathlessly at the flights monitor.

“He landed!” she finally announced. She didn’t mean the astronauts.

I hurried after her as she made her way towards the door from which he’d emerge. If Armstrong had come face to face with a green moonie, it would be nothing like my encounter with Laurie’s Palestinian lover.

He came out of customs and he and Laura embraced. She introduced me briefly, said he was tired, and suggested we go to the car. Above us the two astronauts walked on the moon; we barely gave them a glance.

My mother’s car was a red Dodge convertible, but Laura asked me to keep the roof down. New York City streets were empty that night; I remember driving up one of the avenues on the West Side and making every green light for a 2-mile stretch while Laura and her friend necked on the back seat. Did she tell him that I was born in Israel, I wondered.

I dropped them off at the Columbia campus. I barely received a thank you, but I didn’t mind. I’d seen something far out, unimaginable, and felt strangely grateful.

“Did you see the landing?” my father asked me upon my late return.

I nodded.

He shook his head. “Will wonders never cease!”

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ANOTHER WAY TO PLAY

The hand-off

This is how Harry and Aussie play:

They’ve both rushed up the slope to protect the house from terrorists, i.e. deer, gophers, and wild turkeys. They come back down, job well done, and Aussie gets that glint in her eye that tells me a message has just come in from God. She makes eye contact with Harry, goes down on her belly while keeping her rump up (rump up!), and wags her tail madly.

Harry picks up a small stuffed turtle lying on the ground that squeaks when squeezed, and runs, Aussie chasing. They make the turn around the back, then Harry heads to the garage, jumps through the dog door into the kitchen, runs into the dining room, makes a full circuit around the table, then into my office and out the door to the back, Aussie at his heels, not missing a trick.

A couple of minutes later he turns to her, drops the stuffed turtle. She goes back down on the ground, rump up, wags tail madly, jumps up, picks up the stuffed turtle, and runs ahead, Harry chasing. Same thing: whirlwind rush around the back, into garage, through dog door into kitchen, round and round the dining table, into Eve’s office, and out to the back, Harry breathing hard on her neck.

A couple of minutes later, the stuffed turtle is handed off, or mouthed off (see above), again. New leader, new chaser. The only difference is that when it’s Harry leading and Aussie chasing, he does 2-3 circuits around the dining table from sheer exuberance (not to mention that he’s younger), while she pauses, takes a breather, and when he runs into my office and out the back she’s just inches away. Often they pause to wrestle a little before the next switcheroo.

What a civilized way this is of playing together, I think. Imagine that world leaders played by similar rules.

Xi Jinping: “Hey Donald, you’ve held the stuffed turtle in your mouth for almost a century. We’ve been chasing and chasing, so how about we switch places? We get the stuffed turtle and lead, for a change, and you chase us.”

Trump: “Good idea, Xi! Since I’m a little older and you’re up and coming, I’ll let you take a couple of extra rounds, no need to exert myself too much, but otherwise I’ll be right behind you.”

Xi: “Great. And we can switch again, say in 50 years time.”

Trump: “Wait a minute. How will I know we’ll really switch? Of course, I’ll still be in the White House—you won’t be able to pull the wool over my eyes—only not as young and spry as I am right now.”

Xi: “You’ll know because I’ll go down on my belly, push up my rump, and wag my tuches! It’s a universal language.”

Trump: “Of course! OK, here. I just dropped the stuffed turtle. Off I go to Mar-A-Lago–unless there’s a hurricane, of course—but after that I’ll be right at your heels.”

Xi: “Get ready, get set, go!”

 

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