A season of resigned frustration

Going into every election, we always hope beyond hope that this time things will be different.

September 26, 2019 17:21
A season of resigned frustration

A good part of my time in eateries here is spent looking for napkins or sugar packets to slip under what I suspect to be the offending table leg. (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)

Many years ago, The Wife and I moved into the first apartment we ever owned.

It was in Ma’aleh Adumim. Through the windows of the living room we overlooked a main road and the Judean Desert, and through our bedroom we looked out at a vacant lot and some other apartment buildings.

The vacant lot was just that – vacant. Nothing there. Dirt, rocks, some weeds.

But one morning we woke up, looked out the window and, to our amazement, saw ancient Byzantine pillars and other antiquated stone artifacts strewn magically about.

It turns out this vacant lot once housed an old monastery called the Monastery of Martyrius – one of many monasteries that dotted the Judean Desert during the Byzantine era – that was now being restored into an archaeological site right there under where we snored each night.

At least that’s what we were told. I, however, was always a bit skeptical. Really, I thought, monks lived right underneath my window 1,500 years ago? Yeah, right.

More likely, I thought, some city planner thought this lot in the center of town would be a great place for a tourist site, and went to a huge nearby storeroom holding ancient Byzantine relics – pillars and tiles for mosaic floors – took out a few and spread them over our lot.

It just seemed too strange. One day nothing, the next day an ancient monastery.

THOSE MEMORIES – and the notion that there are huge Amazon-sized storerooms in this land doling out various objects – came to mind this week when The Wife and I went to a local café for breakfast.

We sat down, perused the menu, put our arms on the table, and felt it again: the tilting table. Put your elbow on the right, and it tilted right; put your elbow on the left, and it tilted left.

“Unbelievable,” I mumbled.

It seems as though at every restaurant I go to in this country – from nice ones in five-star hotels to middling outdoor cafes – every table, whether sitting on a marble floor or a cracked sidewalk, tilts. I’m convinced it’s because next to that huge storeroom with all those Byzantine ruins is another one with tilting tables that are supplied to restaurants throughout the land.

A good part of my time in eateries here is spent looking for napkins, or sugar packets to slip under what I suspect to be the offending table leg – the one shorter than all the rest that must be causing the imbalance.

And most of the time it never works. Most of the time, after surreptitiously stuffing the sugar packets under each table leg, the table still moves.

One of the beauties of dining in Israel is that no one ever rushes you out. You may sit in a café or popular steak house with a waiting line winding around the corner, but in most cases the waiters and waitresses will not – as they do in America – drop subtle hints that it’s time to go.

Nope, here you usually have to ask for the bill and for the plates to be cleared. No one rushes you. That is, if you can tolerate the roller-coaster table.

THE WIFE, always in tune to emotions, saw my reaction to our  tilting table, witnessed my desperate search for items to stabilize it, and asked a question that has always made our lives together so interesting: “What emotions are you feeling?”

“Huh,” I replied, just wanting to fix the table, not peer inward and be all introspective.
“What emotions are you feeling right now?”

“Amused,” I replied, both at the question and the fact that this table thing happens so often it has become mildly amusing.

That’s not an emotion,” she corrected. “Something else.”

“Resigned,” I replied. “And frustrated. How about this: resigned frustration.”

YES, RESIGNED frustration. And that emotion sums up this period of the calendar as well: the just concluded election followed by the upcoming High Holy Days.

Going into every election, we always hope beyond hope that this time things will be different, that this time clarity will emerge from the voting booths, and the nation will know the next day who our leader will be.

 But it never happens.

As a result, there is resigned frustration. Frustration that this happens so often, and that we now must wait weeks and possibly months before the picture becomes clear, and resignation that this is – well – just the way it is.

The same emotion is prevalent waiting in the long pre-holiday lines at the supermarket. It never fails that I’ll set out for a supermarket in the days before Rosh Hashanah, thinking that this time I’ll get lucky; this time I will figure a way to beat the crowds. Who goes shopping on Wednesday afternoon? I think, until I get to the supermarket and realize everybody does, because everyone is thinking: Who goes shopping on Wednesday afternoon?

In the past, I would wait in the long line – inevitably behind a woman whose cart was full to the brim – and just feel my life oozing through my fingers. But now I approach it differently: with resigned frustration.

Which is the same feeling I get toward the end of the Rosh Hashanah prayers themselves, as the leader of the services in shul sings yet another song, and I’m tired and all sung out and just want to go home already.

That impatience could easily turn into anger and nasty thoughts toward the cantor, which would ruin the spirit of all my hours of prayers that came before. But I don’t let it, because I’ve been doing this long enough to know what’s in store. Anticipation of what will be allows me to overcome feelings of annoyance and anger, and replace them with a more benign emotion: resigned frustration.

Which is also what connects me to those monks who lived all those years ago underneath the bedroom window of my first apartment. Since they led an ascetic life in the middle of nowhere under the unrelenting heat of a Judean Desert sun, I’m sure resigned frustration was an emotion they also experienced more than once.

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