Saturday, June 26, 2004

even from thousands of miles away my friends nourish and sustain me. they keep me floating a few inches above the ground at all times. i can think of fewer better ways to end this birthday than receiving the emails that just arrived and crying in front of my computer.
my weekend with family was marvellous--restful, oscillating mildly between brooding, contemplative, and playful.
I got to spend more time with my grandmother that at any point since I can remember. I was first frustrated, caught in the tension between wanting so much to connect with her and being almost completely incapable of communicating with her. Language barriers played a big role in this--although she understands Hebrew, she will only speak and respond in Arabic or French or some combination, and it is often difficult to anticipate which she will pick at any given moment. Compound that with a quiet, reserved personality and diagnosed schizophrenia, a lifetime of virtually no mutual contact, and a boy with the most inept stumbling French one could possibly imagine, and you are sitting on the string of my frustrations. But my French returned to a surprising extent, and I grew to enjoy immensely just being in her presence and sharing shabbat with her. She exudes a sort of quiet, meditative wonder that is counterbalanced by occasional moments of sharp directness cutting into the details of this world. Our conversations mainly concerned food--she was very concerned that I was skinny, and curious about my eating habits and whether I thought my mom was a good cook. Sharing her presence this shabbat proved an enormous gift.

Some sage (I think it was Zach, but I'm not sure) once taught me that everyone has a mitzva that is theirs, their gift to the world, their life's focal work. The mitzva of my mother's family is no doubt Hachnasat Orchim, the welcoming of guests. To give you an uncle Teddy would not let us leave the house until we were carrying in our arms a package of every kind of food we had expressed even a passing enjoyment of over the course of the weekend. As we exited the door, he was stuffing a bottle of sweet-and-sour-sauce into one of these bags, to accompany several bottles of wine, fresh olive oil from a neighboring village, several boxes of desserts, and many more of such delicacies. And, while we weren't looking, he managed to wash my cousin's car. This is my family. What a doogma.


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