It is the day before the first Seder night, 15 days before my 90th birthday. Even as I am luckily still living my life to the fullest, I am aware of its shrinking future and seem to have catapulted more than usual (and “usual” has not been without frequency) into deeper and deeper introspective considerations of the Gestalt of life and of existential rumblings.
I started the day, in my kitchen, with ambivalence, (typical of most of my day-starts) – latching on to memories of past Passover celebrations, and of people with whom I celebrated, – and thinking of the tribal essence of that holiday in our family —- FOOD. Of course, those people are mostly all gone — most, below the surface of the earth – and some nowhere near my location on earth.
And so — on the night of the First Seder, I will have dinner alone, with my single, unencumbered, agnostic son, who resides 20 minutes down the road from me. “No religious (by which he means traditional Jewish) stuff,” he intones, despite his erstwhile expertise as the family matzo ball king during his pre-adolescence. “Religion is the cause of wars and hatreds,” his mantra since escaping the draft during the Viet Nam war, surely a debatable and frequently debated subject in our household – during which belief systems were not even scratched. “Ok. Ok. Just your usual Monday night delicious fish dinner,” I agreed.
But here I am, propelled by unknown forces – about to plop matzo balls into a vigorously boiling pot of chicken soup, with already peeled apples and walnuts waiting in anticipation of being transformed into sweet charosis. It’s my memory muscles performing these tiny acts without any will on my part, executing the required steps, even as I would execute my daily bedtime rituals.
And, as I “perform” in my kitchen, musing about the meaning of life and my memories of family tradition, my attention is laser-beamed to my boom box as I listen to the audio tape of “WHEN BREATHE BECOMES AIR,” a memoir by the late Paul Kalanithi , a 36 year old neuro-surgeon who chronicled his life with cancer and his determination to live and die on his own terms. What’s it like, he questioned, to know the approximate timeline of your remaining life? For him – at age 36—and me, at age 90—hardly a comparison, of course, but nonetheless, a scintilla enough of sameness to examine the question. What’s it like – he, with a heads-up regarding the cause of his potential demise and me, with no actual hint other than the probability of experiencing the wearing out of my body parts. He, having to seriously make family and life activity plans – me, with no family responsibility other than to make sure that my kids know where the money (such as it is ) is.
And yes—for us both — it’s the “meaning” – the need to feel that our presence on earth for however long, had the most infinitesimally positive effect on the lives or life – of even one other person — for him many persons – for me, I’m not counting ‘cause I’m not done living yet.