Sunday, October 25, 2009

I may be slow, but I finally got it

I don't ignore the years on the calendar, nor do I hope that somehow the calendar will reset itself and I'll find myself back in my 20s again. I know exactly how old I am, and yes, I am thankful that I've come to this point. Far too many people I can think of who never made it to this age, and who would have given a whole lot to reach it.

But I've apparently been more than a little myopic in judging the significance of what my age means. With all the yom tov preparations of the past few weeks I finally had my "duh!" moment.

Maybe it's my being the European-born child of Holocaust survivors, with all the disruption that signifies to what was normal family living, but I place a premium on not just family but on tradition. I'm not looking to make each yom tov a new and different experience. I'm not on the lookout for dozens of new recipes to cook. What I want is continuity. What I want is for someone to see what is coming out to the table and say "Of course we're eating this--it's yom tov!"

There are items in my china cabinet that have "celebrated" 37 repetitions of the same yom tov. There are also items there, from my mother and my aunt and my mother in law, that have celebrated a lot more years than 37. Each item that comes out and gets placed on the table tells a story. And these are stories that never grow old to me, that get more precious with each retelling.

So yes, it finally hit me that there is one reason why I may have been given the blessing of getting to this age. I'm the next link. My parents' generation is sadly disappearing. I know just how lucky I am to still have my mother with us. It is an extra special gift from God, one that I give thanks for each and every day. But my mother didn't raise me to be a fool. She has told me time and time again that her years will have been productive ones if what she has done and said, seen and heard in her parents' and grandparents' and even great grandfather's home, will continue down through the ages. The stories she told me as I was growing up about life as she knew it? It's my job to pass those on to my own children, to my nieces and nephews, to their children. It is becoming and will become my job to serve as the link between the generations that were and the generations after mine. If there will be family history that is known in the future, it's now becoming my job to preserve that history and pass it on.

And it's not all about the "big" things but also about the little things. Like knowing why a beloved uncle who died a few years ago was known as "fahtsich." (And thereby hangs a tale) And the story of the Baba Gittel and the sheitle and the jump rope. And the story of the Mima Dobresh and the Cossacks and the Borsht.

Those of my generation are slowly but surely becoming the elder statesmen of Klal. Yup, we're now becoming those at the top of the family tree. And with that advancement comes responsibility. We are the new guardians of the flame, the keeper of the memories. Yes, every new generation makes a name for itself, finds a way to distinguish itself from the preceding generations. But making a name is not and should not be wiping out the names of the past, wiping out the history of the past, wiping out the connection to the past. Every link in a chain has beauty and usefulness, but a link without a chain is just another hunk of metal, possibly useful, possibly not.

Upset to be this age? Not me. It is only now that I have been deemed old enough to carry out the important job that older age brings with it.


frum single female said...

very true !

Ruth said...

Kind of scary for a whole group of people who swore that they would never become just like their parents, but that's just what we are becoming.

The first time one of my kids told me that I was telling stories just like her grandmother used to tell I was kind of floored. Now? It's a compliment.

Akiva said...

We took an informal poll at a shiur I attend and of 31 of us there, only two people still had a parent living. We're not becoming the oldest generation--for a lot of us we are already there. For our kids and grandkids we are the oldest people they know or interact with. Lots of responsibility there and lots of possibilities to influence our younger generations also.

G6 said...

What's even more wonderful is that as these old stories are preserved and retold to newer generations of fascinated listeners, we are creating more stories to be added to the repertoire without even realizing it.
We will be the Baba Gittels of tomorrow...... :D