Thursday, April 12, 2012

Change is a good thing

Or so I keep telling myself.

There have been a lot of changes lately.

First, I went to New York for Bubbe Yid's funeral. After almost four years of basking in self-righteous indignation over my uncles' misheggos, I decided that I was just going to act as if nothing had happened. As counter-intuitive as that seemed, it actually wound up working: I was civil to them (in fact I was even a little extra-nice, letting them know that at the end of the day, they had both stepped up to the plate in different ways, and that we all appreciated it), and, much to my surprise, they were civil back. It was a bizarre contrast that even while feeling sad (or at least feeling like I should be feeling sad), there was more family connection happening than had been going on in years-- and for the most part, it was overwhelmingly positive.

Bubbe Yid died on a Friday, and the funeral was planned for the following Friday. Being in aninut (pre-mourning) that long was a little strange, but I liked that it gave me time to make preparations at work. It was an interesting sociological process; I had heard about all these aspects of Jewish mourning but had never experienced them first-hand. Given that we were not going to sitting shiva, I decided that I wanted to experience as much of the funeral practices as I could first-hand.

The burial was surreal; there was an emotional intensity that kept coming and going, as if in waves. One minute I would be thinking of my grandmother down there, in a box, in the ground, and the next minute I would be focusing on the physical sensations of the moment. The weather was cold, gray and wet, which my family didn't like but I found appropriate. The funeral was near the airport and planes kept flying overhead during the rabbi's eulogy, making him have to stop and wait until they had passed, which I found both sad and kind of funny. The most intense part was actually burying the casket. As a resident cranky-pants, I find my generations' lack of engagement with the real world often embarrassing. I feel like we've gotten way too removed from the physical and emotional realities of life, as well as death.

Here, however was something entirely real and entirely physical. There was nothing virtual here. It was incredibly, almost painfully, simple and direct. Bubbe had died, and it was her family's responsibility to bury her. Unlike her end of life care, unlike the eulogy, this was not something that could be passed off to someone else, to some professional. This was our job, and I for one was happy that there was something uncomfortable, something intense, something hard, that we had to do, something to get us out of our comfort zones. Death shouldn't be too easy. Bubbe's four children went up onto the mound of dirt and each shoveled in a few scoops of earth along with the rabbi, standing precariously near the open grave.

After my father and aunt had a turn, my two uncles started shoveling as fast as they could, as if desperate to finally be done with it and get it over. After a while Abbot Yid and I took over from them. It was important to do that with him. I was there for me, I was there for Bubbe, but I was also there for him. I remember the heft of the heavy shovel, and the jarring thud of the dirt falling on the casket. As hard as it was, I was glad to be there, and I was glad to be a part of this. I was the only grandchild that helped bury, the only grandchild who asked for a ribbon to perform keriyah. I wasn't looking to punish myself, but I felt that it was important to fully participate, for my own sake as well as Bubbe's.

Afterwards, we went to a restaurant and spent hours talking and telling stories about the family. I thought how sad it was that it took their mother dying for Abbot Yid and his siblings to come together, and that after all the bad blood that had passed during the past year it seemed unlikely they would be spending much time together after this. Still, I had and continue to hold out some hope.

Another ongoing change has been our attitude towards Beth Elderly. Mrs. Yid and I have gone back to the shul again, and people have continued to be very nice to us. The services definitely aren't on par with what we like at Evil Minion, but everybody is always happy to see us afterwards, and that's a huge plus. Who knows, maybe with enough turnout we can wind up voting with our feet and have a Carlebach night once or twice a month. At least the old folks seem open to new ideas. I said Kaddish for the first time, and that was kind of heavy. I still haven't cried since I heard about Bubbe's death, and I'm not sure that I will, but when I said Kaddish and added her name to the shul yarzeit list, I came close.

Still another big change is on the job front. I had a long talk with my new principal after getting my contract letting him know that though I like the school and the kids, I couldn't rationalize being an assistant for a fifth year. Surprisingly enough, he wound up agreeing with me. Even better, he gave me some inside information about why I had been passed up for jobs in the past. Though I didn't agree with the criticism, it was nice to finally get the feedback (I told him that I thought it was pretty unfair that no one had had the guts to tell me any of this previously, though). The good news was that he said that past complaints about me from individual colleagues didn't match up with anything he had observed from me this year, and that as far as he was concerned, I was absolutely a viable candidate for a job they have opening up.

I've gone on a few other interviews at other schools as well. I haven't been super satisfied with my school over the last few years so if something else pops, I'd be happy with that. That said, I'd rather have a teaching job, even half-time, than no teaching job. Oh, and I got into the grad school program I applied for, so that's sitting on the back-burner as a backup as well. One way or another, next year I will be doing something different. As a way of nudging myself further towards this decision, I wrote a letter of resignation for the following year for the head of school-- and during our seder this year, burned my contract after Havdalah. No turning back now!

So here's to change and progress. This year we are slaves, next year let us be free.

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