Tag Archives: aging

in the mood


A baby is born with baby fat, a little envelope of fatty tissue that protects him from accidental random bumps with the reality of the world; knocks against the crib, unexpected falls… and all through life, many of us continue to be protected by a little extra fat, plans and obligations, lust and desires, fantasies and aspirations.


We go through life chasing one thing or another; worrying about getting up early so we can be at work on time; having enough money to make ends meet; doing the right thing for our children, being fair to our mate; and getting closer to our goals. Sometimes those goals are so insignificant that we’ve forgotten whether they were gained or lost just a short while later. But in the process… in the navigation of our vehicle through the traffic, in the negotiation of a business deal, while falling in love, we manage to avoid dwelling on our existential loneliness, or about the certainty of death.


Getting old, for many, is a time of getting thinner. Not for all, but for many. There are varying degrees of exposing ourselves to the bare truth. There are those that bumble along unsure of where they are or where they’re going, just trying to stay out of harm’s way. And others, who try to savor the experience of living, taking risks, overcoming painful disappointments, all for the sake of being truly alive, and wanting to know as much as possible about the nature of this unique and infinite universe.


Chuang Tzu the father of Daoism said: “I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?” Sitting in a straight backed chair in my kibbutz home, watching fish swimming in the aquarium, I relived his experience, wondering about the limits of the consciousness of fish; were they aware of the room beyond the aquarium? Did they see me looking at them? The aquarium limiting their world to so and so many cubic centimeters of water… and at the same time a parable of that same bubble in which I lived.


We could discuss cosmetic surgery and the insertion of Botox under the skin. That is one alternative to searching for wisdom as we grow older. I love Bob Dylan and have followed him from the time he first appeared in the beginning of the 60s till he won what I thought was a well deserved Nobel prize recently. But I beg to differ with the thesis of one of his most beautiful songs: No, I don’t wish my children to be forever young, but to cherish every stage as they grow older, and to explore the possibilities of the personal and individual evolution which is the potential of every human being.


If the ‘birds and the bees’ are seen as an appropriate parable by which the child may learn of nature’s dictates to living beings, then the autumn leaves may be an example to us as we grow old, discard our fat, our skin getting thin and sensitive both to external objects in accidental encounter, and to the pressure of our bones when in the same position too long. Our faults which appeared as youthful folly once, seem exaggerated now by their continuous growth just as ears and noses are often more pronounced on the faces of the aged. And that sensitivity that spurred our curiosity as children may later lead us into melancholy moods and sadness as we contemplate our existential aloneness and our inevitable demise.


And if, at moments such as these, we ache for relief, try to remember the power of the mood, which offers us the harmonies, the undertones and the overtones of thought itself. Regardless of where our thoughts may lead us, it is so important to remember. To remember that we can influence our mood. We know those places that uplift our hearts; those scenes that let us truly relax. It may be a eucalyptus tree for one, or a mountain ridge for another; the face of a loyal old dog, or of a friend who, when you are with him or her, you just can’t help smiling. Not so long ago, I was saddened by some news I heard on the radio. I had turned on the news at 12 midnight, to know what was going on before I went to sleep. And what I heard saddened me. I thought to myself, I don’t want to go to sleep now, with these thoughts on my mind. I’ll have bad dreams. And so I turned to my computer and chose a standup comedian I’d heard before from the huge selection offered me by youtube. This comedian has a political outlook of reverse polarity to mine. But I enjoy his sense of humor… even when he laughs at what I consider holy. I watched him perform for about a quarter of an hour, and I laughed. Not just smiled, I laughed out loud, and felt a lessening of tensions, and wind under my wings; uplift.


Sigmund Freud wrote some very precious chapters on humor and suggested that it juxtaposes items in our consciousness, creating a different perspective which then allows us to reexamine attitudes that have grown stiff from constant reference within the same mental state. That is to say, that if we view something again and again with the same prejudice in mind (he used fear as an example), we will eventually be unable to see the subject without arousing that prejudice. But laughter can enable us to see the subject anew. English speakers are familiar with the famous saying, ‘laughter is the best medicine’. And it turns out that modern research supports this folk knowledge. According to biologists, laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving our resistance to disease. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.


self knowledge


I was thinking of a title for this post, and remembered a common saying in Hebrew, but couldn’t think of how to say it in English. So I went to Google Translate and wrote it in the Hebrew window, expecting to find my title in translation. But what I got was: “He who own imperfection invalidates”. Well, that wouldn’t work, so I’ll translate it myself: He who invalidates another, points to his own imperfection. It comes from a volume in the Talmud which deals with problems of government. What it means is that when we want to disqualify someone, the first flaw that we’ll notice is a flaw we have ourselves. That happens because we are most familiar with our own flaws, and we recognize them quickly when looking at others.


I had an old pair of eye glasses which were meant for working on the computer and for reading books on paper. They were bifocals, so they enabled me to see everything close, as well as little print. For instance, if I wanted to check the ingredients in a box or can of prepared food. But over the years my eyes grew weaker, and it got to the point where I had to make a real effort to read, and when it came to the little letters I’d have to use a magnifying glass. Finally, one of the handles of my glasses broke, and I went to the optometrist.


Strangely enough, standing at the counter, when asked by my amiable and smiling optometrist how he could help me, I told him that the frame of my glasses had broken, and it was time for another set. I’d be satisfied, I said, if he just copied the prescription onto a new set and put them in a frame I could wear. He looked at his records to check how long it had been since my the previous prescription, and since it had been some time, suggested a free examination. I agreed. We went to the back room and it took a little while. But it wasn’t a disagreeable experience. He’s a bright young man, and I even enjoyed a bit of conversation while reading the same line from different distances as he placed varying lenses in a frame designed for such examinations. And when he finished, he assured me I’d really enjoy the new glasses once they were ready.


And so I did. When I put on these new glasses, I was just amazed at all the details I saw. And after trying them with my desktop, my laptop, and reading a book, it seemed to me that the quality of my life had just improved greatly. I thought about all the time I had endured visual difficulties without doing anything to ease the problem. The stress of sitting in just the right position so as to be able to read from the computer screen. I know I’m a self indulgent person. But self indulgence could mean running to the optometrist as soon as I had difficulties reading, instead of avoiding the act because I don’t like stores, and don’t like the help of doctors and such.


This is just one of my idiosyncrasies. There are many things in life that I don’t care for much, and I just avoid them. This is made possible by some very dear friends who are willing to take the trouble so as to make life a bit easier for me. But there are some things I have to do myself. Like buying a hat… or a camera…or going to see a doctor. In those cases, when I have to do something that is to my own advantage, but that I don’t like to do, I put it off indefinitely. Which is in sharp contrast to my normal behavior. I’m a punctual person. When going someplace to meet someone, I’m usually there between 15 minutes and a half an hour before the designated time (with a book in my backpack, so as not to waste time). When I was in business, if I promised a job for a certain date, I was never late.

I am reminded of a comic sequence by Lenny Bruce in which he berated the police of Los Angeles for hiding in public restrooms and watching through a spy hole to catch homosexuals doing something nasty in the toilet. And then as an aside, he said, ‘I don’t know about you guys, but when I go into a public restroom the only thing I’m thinking about is how to get back out as fast as possible’. That’s the way I am when I go into a store.


But still, looking at myself critically, I just couldn’t excuse the discomfort I had imposed upon myself just because I don’t like shopping. And as I contemplated this defect of mine, it suddenly occurred to me that this was one of the things I most dislike about my country. As I have often complained to my friends, it’s exasperating to watch the way the government will let a problem grow and grow until it’s unbearable before doing anything about it. For example, Jerusalem used to be a very nice, comfortable little city. When I was a young man I used to go almost everywhere on foot. But over the years the city grew; the population grew much greater; and it seemed as if everyone got a private vehicle. The streets bore more and more traffic until they choked up with gridlock. Bicycles would speed past us as we in cars moved at a speed of two kilometers per hour, before they finally decided to improve public transport. Take another example from five years ago, when the ‘militants’ of Gaza started shooting rockets at towns and cities in the south. At first they just shot a few to see how we’d react. We condemned the rocket attacks. So they figured it was safe, and shot hundreds of them. Our citizens kept running to the shelters, and we would shoot back now and then… but still, it took more than a year till we realized it was war.


According to my favorite philosophical attitude towards initiating change, I would have to change myself before trying to change the country. I’m willing to give it a try. But I tell myself, I’m old. What’s the point? Change is so much work, and who knows how much longer I have to live anyway. Whereas the country is young. It has plenty of time to improve, and it would be such an improvement. But you know what they say about people who tell you, ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’

spring and forgotten memories

Google says this is a cherry blossom. I didn’t know that, though I’ve watched these trees for years. I can tell you that the hyraxes love the fruit. I haven’t tried them myself… yet.

When my dear old mother was in her 90s, she used to preface many a story by mentioning what a fine memory she used to have… but it was gone now. Every time she would say that, it saddened me. Why did she have to say that over and over again. I knew she had had a fine memory once. I knew that she had lost much of it. Was she trying to excuse herself for her lapses? Was she apologizing? Whatever it was, I wished she wouldn’t mention it then, because it pained me to think of the decline. After all, I was moving into old age myself. It could have been that she didn’t remember she had said that to me many times before.

wild grasses growing on a vacant lot near my home

Now it’s my turn. I have begun to lose memory… though my doctor tells me its nothing to worry about, and that the process begins at about 30, at this point I have just begun to be aware of it. I always had a catalogue of my photography, but for many years it just catalogued which photos were shot for which customers and where the negatives were. Then at some point, I started recording where certain ‘art’ photographs were. I didn’t really have to because I remembered just about every photo I had shot, and when… but since I had a catalogue anyway, I started writing down where the negative or digital file was kept. But there were so many pictures, that there was no point in writing down everything. So I just wrote down the ones that I thought I might look for later.

the redbud tree flowers at the beginning of spring

Then this morning, I was planning to write about early spring. There is one scene that typifies the very start of the season for me. It is when the very first shoots of grass push out of the dirt on the barren hills of Benjamin or in the northern Negev. It doesn’t look so much like grass from up close. It isn’t that dense. But from a distance you can clearly see the green color on the hills. I know I’ve photographed the phenomenon many times… but looking for it this morning, in albums and in my catalogue, I was unable to find an example. It’s not the first time that has happened. Sometimes I want to write about something, and look for a good illustration… and though I remember a specific photo, I am no longer able to remember where it can be found in my archives.

snap dragons growing out of the stone wall

Today, the failure of my search for that example distressed me. I started wondering, what would I do if I could no longer find the photos I needed as illustrations. Was this reason enough to stop writing? And then it occurred to me, that I could work the other way. I could look through my collection of photographs, and find a few that brought back memories… This time, I’ll  share some pictures from last week. The holiday of Passover is just a week ahead. And for me, that is springtime at its best. These are the signs of spring in my immediate environment.

I’ve also included this old picture of Nechama enjoying the wild grass that used to grow behind my old home. It’s a fond memory. Like her, I’ve always preferred wild grasses, though their season is relatively short in our country.

buried in the past

mother looking at old pictures

Very real, I suppose, like dreams can be real…
a dear old friend appeared to me last night
unraveled from my back pages by an experience yesterday
that pushed all the rules and proportions aside
for how long… I have no idea…
talking to my hundred and one year old mother
and this was real life; no dream …
realizing, as we spoke
that she was absolutely certain,
that I was her husband, my father…
dead these past years
don’t think it matters
that I look like him now, that I’ve grown old
in my youth I looked very much like her
there are these surprises along the way
that we never could have guessed
not that it makes much difference, it seems to me,
just how I look… though it could have helped convince her
the way in which we talked…
it was probably a lot like she talked to him…
and of course, she wanted to believe…
it was easiest on that hot afternoon
with her memory gone, and life very tenuous…
but then… in the night
talking to Zelig… he’s dead too… gone
there’s no bringing him back
but in the dream, he was smiling as he talked…
we were comparing the sensual experience
and the rational expectation of the experience itself
and when he smiled, I touched his hand for a minute…
just to assure myself that he was really there
because I think that even in the dream,
I feared that he was dead
he looked me in the eye… thinking that my touch
was an illustration of the sensual experience
and went on to say
that for the true experience of faith
one had to relinquish all support from the rational

many years ago, Zelig