As many of you know, I am currently contending with Bell’s Palsy, an idiopathic form of facial paralysis and associated symptoms. Although its causes remain largely unknown, multiple generations of my family have succumbed to a bout with it. Apparently, this is now my turn.
It was during a family vacation to some long-forgotten destination—could have been the Poconos. Maybe I was five. There was a kid’s pool and a much larger pool for the grown ups, where my older siblings were swimming. I must have looked bored or lonely when an eight year old girl with a toy submarine befriended me. It was yellow painted metal with geared wheels, so when you pushed it, the four-sided periscope on top rotated.
Recently, the night air has been thick with the screams, yips and growls of coyotes. The howl of a coyote is a frightful, layered thing, ranging from plaintive to threatening; it contains both complaint and assertion. Lying in the dark, my sleep already disturbed, I endeavored to unravel the complex score of this canine symphony. Doing so reminded me of Karl Haas.
There’s a powerful line of connection between loneliness and solitude, with one major difference. Solitude tends to be an intentional act by which we allow ourselves space to befriend ourselves, while loneliness is the emotional state that arises when our solitude feels uncomfortable. Yet we need both to teach us.
This past week, a dear friend of mine who is Muslim reminded me that this Shabbat coincides with the Islamic holiday of Ashura. For Sunni Muslims, Ashura commemorates the day that Musa (Moses) parted the Red Sea for the Israelites, using a staff that Allah (God) provided him, allowing the Israelites to escape their bondage to Pharaoh. Many Jews are probably unaware of when and how narratives from the Torah appear in the Koran, yet there are many such instances.
The Talmud has a phrase, “anshei imrei…: People say.” It is one of the ways our Sages brought then-contemporary wisdom or folk sayings into their higher-level discussions. Borrowing from their approach, there’s something fascinating about juxtaposing our culture’s paradoxical statements. For example, in our milieu, the older statement, “God is in the details,” morphed more recently into, “the devil is in the details.”
Two days ago, the Czech novelist, Milan Kundera, died at the age of 94. I was in college when some of his most important books were going to print, not least of which was The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The work made a deep impression on me at the time, and I probably reread it three times in the following few years. At a certain point, however, I made a vow not to read it again, in the same manner that I have made commitments not to revisit certain television shows that meant the world to me when I was a boy, such as Underdog.