My Yiddush speaking ancestors said it best: “Mit ine tuchas, ken men nit tantzen oyf tzvai chasones!” (“With one tuchas, you can’t dance at two weddings!”) Still, the women in my family historically suffer from a documented disorder called FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. We want to attend all weddings, graduations, bar mitzvahs, funerals and ribbon cutting ceremonies. “All You Can Eat Buffet Breakfast”? We’re there, even if we’ve already eaten.
One autumn afternoon in 1962, the secretary of Rockwood Park Jewish Center Hebrew School popped her head into the classroom and announced that the President’s motorcade would traverse the local highway in only a half hour; our bearded rebbe led us up the embankment of the Belt Parkway where, for a glorious two minutes, we waved mini-American flags as President Kennedy’s limousine scooted past. In 1976, I stood with strangers to watch the Tall Ships Parade pass through Boston Harbor because a barista in the coffee shop on Charles Street said it was history in the making. What does a New York Jew know from Tall Ships? Never you mind. They sail, I’m there. And next month I roasted under a hot, July 4th sun to hear the late maestro Arthur Fiedler direct the Boston Pops’ Bicentennial Concert on the famed Esplanade, simply because I was 20 years old that summer and was dorming nearby.
Building upon the aforementioned reasoning, I had the great merit to see the world’s most renowned mime, Marcel Marceau, in his last stage performance at the Jerusalem Theater, circa 1995. My girls were way too young to understand why the urgent schlepping but I had my reasons: Good FOMO training starts early.
Last month I flew to the States, landing in Dulles, Washington D.C. Hopping into my rental car, I immediately drove to Mom’s independent/assisted residence in Rockville Maryland. I knew she was in her room because the roar of CNN was deafening, even as I exited the elevator on floor three. The door was unlocked and after the moment it took for her to recognize me, she gasped and shouted, “It’s you!”
My mother is the crowned Queen of FOMO herself. At the age of 93, she is still anxious to attend all family events, even those that are not yet scheduled. She can no longer walk for more than a few steps without employing a wheeled ambulator and relies on hearing aids and frequent medications. Aides assist her at various scheduled times throughout the day with all of her needs. “Pshaw, pshaw”, she says. “Trifling. A mere bagatelle” is her take on her diminishing condition. Something that can be addressed with less coffee cake and, perhaps, some herbal tea.
For more than two weeks, Mom and I were roommates. Six or seven of those days were religious holidays and we slept at my brother’s home. With assistance, she must have walked the steep inside steps approximately 50 times between meals, bathroom breaks and bed. Both Passover seders lasted well into the early hours of the morning and Mom stayed awake for both of them. I took afternoon naps in order to last but not Mom. Guests arrived throughout the days and Irma didn’t miss a conversation, snack-time, or story session with resident great-grandchildren. Did she follow every conversation or grasp the nuance of various discussions? No. But she was extremely ‘present.’
Once freed from holiday restrictions and despite her pain and poor mobility, she insisted on hitting the pharmacy, a clothing store for that critically important cotton blouse (on sale) and the kosher steak-house for a sumptuous dinner. Indeed, any opportunity to hop into the rental car made her ecstatic and I became a pro at flipping the Rollator open-and-closed on demand.
Before I departed for the arduous return to Israel, Mom left me with one message: When one of my sons becomes engaged, she will fly eleven hours to the Holy Land, if only to drink a l’chaim and dance the Hora. No pressure intended, of course.
History is not necessarily identifiable as it unfolds. Still, by glomming onto moments that are subtle and precious, we can sneak a glimpse into those precious life events that ultimately mesh into something called ‘legacy.’ The trick is to be, like Mom, present.
(Reprinted with permission of San Diego Jewish Journal, May, 2023)