Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

The Best Time of Our Lives

Shefer family; photo by anat

The topic for discussion at the meeting last week was ‘Which time of your life would you like to go back to?’ During the pandemic the group of people who meet every two weeks to engage in German conversation held Zoom meetings instead of physical ones, and this still persists. Most of the participants are men and women in their seventies or eightees who have retired from employed work, and so it seems safer to remain at home for these meetings.

I was one of the first to reply, and I declared that here and now is the best time of my life. In my teenage years I suffered from social isolation, heartache and physical discomfort. Once I moved to Israel my situation changed, but those years of having to cope with three young children, trying to work as a freelance translator and also enduring bouts of illness that obliged me to undergo surgery and kept me in hospital for weeks at a time were not easy. Add to that the financial constraints that affect most young families, and I sometimes wonder, looking back, how I managed to remain sane at the time. At least, I hope I did.

But now my children (and even my grandchildren) are grown, and my husband and I are free to attend concerts or films without having to feel guilty or take a babysitter, our financial situation has improved, and my health situation is under control. The world around me has its problems, but for the moment they are not on my immediate doorstep. My home is warm and dry, we have plenty to eat, can see friends and family from time to time, and our children and grandchildren come for Friday-night dinner every two weeks. So now is definitely the best time of my life.

As the discussion continued other people expressed similar views. One of them stressed that being free from the constraints of work he has time to read, watch films and TV, and of course I agree with that. Another participant talked about pursuing his hobbies of painting and writing, in which he is able to engage even more actively now than before. That is the case for me too, as I’ve managed to write eight books since retiring from work. Some people talked about their travels or their voluntary work, and others about being involved in researching and writing their family history. Almost everybody agreed that, physical limitations apart, this is the best time of their life.

That triggered a general discussion about the importance of writing about our life for the benefit of our offspring, of keeping a record of who the previous generations had been, what they had done and how they had lived. Many of those involved had documents, correspondence and diaries of previous generations, and acknowledged that  they were probably the last individuals in their family with knowledge of the German language and hence able to access those records. Suddenly, we were all confronted with the heavy responsibility that lay on our shoulders of making the lives of our parents and grandparents accessible to our children and grandchildren, and all the future generations. I hope to be able to do something about it at some point in the future.

And nobody wanted to go back in time.

About the Author
I was born and brought up in England. I am a graduate of the LSE and the Hebrew University. I have lived in Israel since 1964. I am an experienced translator, editor and writer.