“Write it down”, I am commanded regularly by my four year old son, “so that we don’t forget.” List making has become routine. I try to obey and indulge him promptly. I recognize the urgency in his voice and am familiar with the poignant tears that well in his eyes when he feels that something risks being lost. At age four, things are very important. The enthusiasm and the beaming smile that inflect his voice as he recites these vital lists are heartening.
Many lists are sugary sweet: chocolate, m & m’s, gummy bears, skittles. Some are playful: a parrot in a hot air balloon, a horse in an airplane, a rabbit in a tractor. Still others are rather pensive. The other day, Sebastian asked me to write down a list of his favorite Hebrew poets: H.N. Bialik, Leah Goldberg, Fanya Bergstein, Miriam Yallan Shtekelis, Ayin Hillel, Leah Naor, Naomi Shemer, Yehonatan Geffen. They are all important: all of these things.
There is a song by Hebrew poet Naomi Shemer that speaks of “all these things – of the honey and of the sting, of the bitter and the sweet, of the burning fires and the pure waters, of the baby daughter and of the man who returns home from a great distance”.
על כל אלה על כל אלה
שמור נא לי אלי הטוב
על הדבש ועל העקץ
על המר והמתוק
Naomi Shemer entreats the good Lord to watch over and safeguard all of these things: the honey and the sting, the bitter and the sweet.
It’s “all of these things” that get to me. Here, it seems, the emotional spectrum is expansive, and the sensations along the spectrum, mercurial. I have, for a long time now, been in awe of the speed with which young children can shift from an emotional intensity to another – from tears to laughter and vice versa. As if the emotion and its attendant symptoms simply washes over them, and away, smoothly, effortlessly. I remember sitting cross-legged in “seated meditation” at a yoga class and contemplating the value of this phenomenon: not holding on to the emotion, not allowing it to hold onto you. As an actor, I marvel at the potential for the emotional range and truthfulness that this childlike phenomenon might yield if it were gleaned.
And here I am. A few months into our stint in this crazy place. Reduced to a childlike experience.
One moment I am riding my bicycle, along the sun drenched café-lined avenues, kid in tow, on top of the world, and the next moment I am laboring to lock the bike and stepping in dog-shit.
One moment Lance is beaming with the discovery that all the women who work at the music library speak Russian, and the next he is straining to be understood by the Ethiopian cashier at the supermarket.
One moment I am hopeful and excited over a promising phone call, and the next I am sitting dejected in front of the computer, disheartened with my stagnant search for information.
One moment Lance is grinning, returning home from the butcher with his black pepper crusted salami and chicken filets in hand, and the next he curses through hunger pangs at the realization that it’s Shabbat, meaning all the delis are closed.
One moment I am exchanging niceties with the juice guy who tells me he’s very fond of me and my cutie son, and the next I am reorganizing the weight of the grocery bags as I struggle to carry them home.
All these things, all of them, the bitter and the sweet, make up our daily experience here, during these initial laden months. And the swing from one extreme to the other is swift, robust and glaring.
The other day Sebastian told me that he wants to die next to Aba (his dad) and the early 20th century poet Bialik. He asked, to be sure, whether we are able to choose where we want to die, or whether אלוהים “Elohim” (God) decides.
I thought to myself, and didn’t say it to him, that we can’t choose when we die. And I went to hug him, in an effort to cling to “all of these” – כל אלה –– all these things that are a part of life, the bitter and the sweet.