Posts Tagged ‘Heschel’

‘A Song Every Day’

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

I love this column, from Judith Warner. It ran as a short “op-extra” in Sunday’s Times. It’s a sort of reflective moment, from perhaps the Queen Bee of neurotic democrats.

Here’s the nut:

Aversion to joyful anticipation is a feeling I know very well, and not just in relation to politics. Anticipating the worst – from birthdays, other holidays, vacations – is kind of my modus vivendi.

It is a habit of mind so natural and ingrained – and seemingly self-protective – that I’ve never thought to change it. Until this week, when a friend pointed out that, if one were to think like a realist instead of a knee-jerk pessimist, enjoying the moments in life when good things might be about to happen makes sense.

“You may as well enjoy the anticipation,” she said, “Because it may be all that you’ll get.”

I would never describe myself as a “pessimist.” I don’t always think that the worst is going to happen. I just know that it can, so I think that it might. And, so, when I allow myself to go there — wherever “there” might be: the election, my kids’ health, my ability to ever again write another decent short story — I sometimes get this sort of niggling feeling. It might be in my stomach. More likely, it’s a tightness in my chest. That’s the feeling that puts the “neurotic” in the Democrat.

I’ve always thought of it as a Jewish thing. If ever there was a people conditioned to know that things might go wrong, it’s us.

Fortunately, the neurotic-ness always goes away. Only once or twice have I ever actually had to breathe into a paper bag.

Here’s the thing. If you ask me whether I am hopeful for the future — the future of my kids and my family; the future of my country; even the future of Israel and the Jewish people — the fact is that I am. We live at a time when we are less threatened by disease than ever in human history (sure, that might change); there’s no military draft (not yet, at least); fascist, imperialist governments are not on the march across the globe (threats of a second cold war, notwithstanding).

We live at a time when there is a Jewish state.

We stand perhaps (perhaps) 33 hours from electing a black man president of the United States.

And me? What do I have, personally, to be so hopeful about?

For starters, I married my best friend, greatest advocate, and perfect life partner, and I’m more in love with her today than the day we stood under the chuppah. I’ve got two kids who I love in a way that is almost heartbreaking. I close my eyes and see Heshel, his sweet face, the way he sometimes — for no apparent reason — widens his eyes and raises his eyebrows, as if to say: Did you see that? and Hark! Who goes there? and I’m something else, aren’t I!, all at the same time. I think of Meyer who, the other day, when I was reading his Star Wars book to him, stopped me to ask: “Daddy, what does ‘dispatched’ mean?” I replied: “It means ‘to send out.'” He paused for a moment, reformulating the sentence I’d just read, and then said: “So, the clone trooper sent the rest of the spider droids out?”

Yeah, kid. You got it. Exactly that.

I have the greatest family, and extended family, in Ohio, New Jersey, and beyond. I love, adore, and respect my two kid sisters. I have the most amazing, supportive friends in the world, all over this country — from Washington, DC, to San Francisco, to New York and back. In a few weeks, I’m going back to Highland Park, NJ, for my 20th high school reunion, where I will see two guys I’ve been friends with my whole life — one now lives in Chicago, one in Charlotte, NC — and I still call them my best friends.

I get up every morning and write fiction, and work on nonprofit boards for causes that I think will make this a better world. I’ve put on a few pounds since this election started — I’ve been eating pretty badly — and I’m tired as hell. My knees sometimes bother me. But I’m otherwise healthy. Thank God, my family is, too.

We have a great house in Akron with plenty of room for the kids, and my office window looks out on a maple tree that is just now so brimming with red leaves, it almost hurts to see.

“This is one of the rewards of being human,” Abraham Joshua Heschel writes. “Quiet exaltation, capability for celebration. It is expressed in a phrase which Rabbi Akiba offered to his disciples: A song every day, A song every day.”

Which is to say — the point I’m trying to make here — is that I’m blessed.

I’m not just saying this because Obama’s up a few points in the polls.

No matter what happens on Election Day — I know I’m truly, truly lucky.

Sometimes, amidst all the poll watching, it’s easy to forget that.

Sometimes I think, like Judith Warner, that all this “anticipation of the worst” is self-protection. As if thinking the worst might happen cushions the blow when it does.

It doesn’t, of course. If Obama loses tomorrow, I’ll be devastated, along with just about everyone I know. After all I’ve invested, physically and emotionally, it will be one of the most bitter defeats of my life.

But Warner’s friend makes an excellent point. If you think like a realist, instead of a knee-jerk pessimist, you at least get to enjoy the anticipation.

If I think like a realist, I think Obama is going to win. I’ve looked at the polls up and down, and I’m fairly well convinced of it. I’ve been to his rallies, and felt a spirit unlike anything I’ve felt in politics before. In fact, thinking like a realist, there’s a decent chance he could have a convincing margin in the popular vote, along with an electoral landslide. Sue me. That’s just what I think.

It’s taken, what? Nearly a year? Remember when we were all obsessing about how Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were surely destroying each other in the primary?

Here is my promise to myself: For the next 33 hours, I’m going to think like a realist.

We have thirty-three hours to savor this thing. Thirty-three hours to imagine waking up Wednesday morning with a new day, dawned.

And why not?

Yesterday, at a brunch with friends, Meyer spotted me across the room, and just started running. I caught him on a flat-out fly, lifted him up over my head, and started spinning him, like rotor blades, until both of us were dizzy — and the Meyercopter was born. The Heshelcopter was not far behind.

This will be my 98th blog post since my first one, “The End is Near,” on August 19th. I began that post, 78 days before Election Day: “I have been feeling a certain dread about Barack Obama’s political prospects …”

Which is to say, I’ve wasted too much time already. We have thirty-three hours to think: Yes, actually, we can

If you’ll excuse me, I need to get started.

This Moment

Friday, October 31st, 2008

The world is filled with Neurotic Democrats.

I just saw on the AP daily tracking poll of all the polls that McCain was down .1 percent, and Obama was up .2 percent, and my heart leapt with joy.

My friend Amalie went to the polling place in Akron this morning, but the line was over an hour, so she left. My wife and I were going to vote this afternoon, but we don’t have an hour and a half. We’ll go Monday.

In a couple hours, it’s Trick-or-Treat. Our three-year-old is Jango Fett this year, from Star Wars. He has a gun, with foam suction-tipped darts, and he’s asked me to carry his light sabre. We have a furry bear costume for our one-and-a-half year old, but I doubt if we’ll entice him to wear it.

Hey. I’ve been writing my kids’ ages as three-and-half and one-and-a-half since I started this blog, back in August. The kids will be 4 and 2 in January.

We’ve all been at this a long time.

I’m looking forward to the onset of Shabbat tonight, more than most. On Shabbat, as my readers know, I don’t blog. What you may not know is I also don’t check the polls. I don’t log on to the tracking sites. I just have dinner with the family; roll around on the rug with the kids.

Writing about Shabbat, Abraham Joshua Heschel notes: “We must not forget that it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment; it is the moment that lends significance to things.”

Enjoy this moment.

Shabbat shalom.