my next door neighbors have been observing shivah for the death of their wife/mother this week, so i’ve been spending more time over there than i have in decades. we all go back to the very beginning of our families living here. we kids played together in our yards (people used to do that), and now i’m playing with their little kids. if it weren’t a funeral, it would seem almost festive. it seems to be one of the few times in human culture that we all take the time to get back together and hang out, anymore.
so it got me thinking about the differences in our two families, and how that eventually played out in each case. when that family first moved in, their older parents lived with them. their whole extended family appears to live in the general NY vicinity. to this day, their house is modest, neat, and functional. they actually use every room, including the living room! it’s clean but looks lived in. the kitchen is tiny and not recently redone. little grandkids are allowed to play wherever the elders are visiting. nothing is fancy, pretentious, or museum-like.
likewise, the whole family is casual, laid-back, and unpretentious. they’ve always been very practical and down-to-earth. they all seem emotionally stable, and get along. they’ve consistently reached out to others, and never put on airs or façades. predictably, the grown kids stayed nearby or dropped in frequently. even now, in their major loss, with hundreds of loyal relatives and friends coming and going and camped out, they continue to take it in stride and be at ease.
yesterday was typical: one daughter was sitting under a tree breastfeeding her baby, with a crowd of well-wishers gathered around talking, her little son playing with his truck, people coming and going, no one particularly concerned with appearances or rigid behavior. only the size of the crowd and the kipot gave a hint that it was a solemn religious occasion.
at this point, i’m not going to launch into a diatribe about all the contrasts in style, upbringing, and results between our two families. anyone who knows me, or has followed this blog, knows all too well what i think about that subject. you can pretty much predict the two different outcomes for yourself, using inductive reasoning. two contrasting sets of circumstances, two very different results. exhibit A, exhibit B. there seems to be a direct correlation.
it boils down to priorities. a pristine façade and rigid expectations can never make up for a healthy, realistic, mutually-respectful approach to human relations. i’m not sure the two can exist comfortably together. the first is artificial and leaves you in the end with nothing but an empty museum. the second puts people and their needs first, material things and judgement in perspective.
there is a third option, in which total chaos rules, but that may not be as opposite to the first as it appears. in both cases, human needs are overlooked in the shuffle of mixed-up priorities. they are both unhealthy, unbalanced conditions.
so anyway. yes, this is yet another death-related post! but only incidentally. i suppose it’s another negative point of view, but it’s where i’m from. i can’t go back and change my upbringing or the bad decisions resulting from it, but i can try to understand where humans go wrong and lose sight of what really matters. life is too short to sacrifice what is precious to what is impermanent, egotistic, and hollow. i should know–on many levels.