Reflections: My writing life

I wanted to be up there with the stars, stringing beautiful words together, like a necklace of jewels that glittered and enchanted

May 8, 2019 07:53
4 minute read.
A woman writes.

hand writing 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

It all started when I was seven. I wrote a silly little poem, which of course my mother thought wonderful, and she sent it in to the children’s page of our newspaper. I can still remember it:

Little Miss Olden Days
Those were the golden days –
A vision of you
In your sunbonnet blue,
My little Miss Olden Days.
You rode in gigs
Daintily eating figs –
The days were all sunshine
The skies were all blue;
And time went too quickly
When I was with you.
Little Miss Olden Days
Little Miss Wandering Star –
The brightest in all the heavens
Wherever you are.

This masterpiece won me a prize of a green certificate, which I could redeem for two shillings and sixpence (about NIS 2.50). To a child whose pocket money was a penny a week, this was a fortune, so I decided that’s where my future would be and I’d be fabulously rich.

I was born Dorothy Lorraine Opas in Australia in 1931 – a year of worldwide depression – fifth child in a family struggling to feed the other four. We had no luxuries, barely the necessities, but we always had books. I escaped into that magic world where I was the equal of everyone, even princesses – not just a lonely Jewish girl in a gentile, faintly hostile environment.

Marriage changed my surname to Waysman. Four children later, we moved to Jerusalem, where I Hebraized my name to Dvora Leah. And I really was the same as everyone else. Their holidays were my holidays. The image of the wistful girl vainly waiting for a visit from Santa Claus was replaced by the joyful Hanukkah lights that greeted my children every December.

What I had taken to my new life was a quotation my sister once read to me: “Writing is dreaming, head in the skies. Reading is sharing another man’s eyes.” I wanted to be up there with the stars, stringing beautiful words together, like a necklace of jewels that glittered and enchanted. I wanted my readers to share my visions and see what I saw. So I became a writer – 14 novels, thousands of articles, short stories and poems. They thrived and multiplied like my 18 grandchildren and now 20 great-grandchildren.

“All creatures pass over a frail bridge, connecting life and death: life is its entrance, death its exit,” wrote Bahya ibn Paquda, the 11th-century Spanish rabbi. I am almost to the other side of the bridge – a time to remember, reflect and try to derive some meaning from my long life.

It’s funny the things your memory highlights. Like the spring of 1942 when I was 11, living in Melbourne’s seaside suburb of St. Kilda. Our house was old and rather shabby. A wisteria vine crawled all over the front of it, but had never bloomed. Suddenly, that spring it did, and our old house was transformed into a palace, bedecked with fragrant lilac-colored blossoms – a place of enchantment and beauty. It happened only once. I always believed it was because my brother was killed in the air force in World War II, and that it was too sad ever to make the effort again. Too many tears were shed.

They were shed again in Jerusalem in 1974 when I was caught in a terrorist attack. A beautiful little girl in a scarlet pantsuit lay dead at my feet, together with her young parents. I will take that burdensome memory with me, too, to the other side of the bridge.
But I will also take the happy memories. I’ve been lucky enough to travel and see so much of this lovely world. I found God in my trek across the bridge. He accompanied me along the way and carried me when the journey became too difficult. My understanding of Him changed as I drew nearer the other side. I stopped pleading and demanding, content merely to serve. He became more tolerant of me as I became less judgmental of others.

The Bible allows us three score years and 10 as the measure of man’s days. I have lived much longer. Let me hold on to the sweet memory of love and laughter; of the feel of cuddling a newborn infant; the purity and innocence of children; the pleasure of affinity with a dear friend. Like the words of an old English poem, “Let me grow lovely growing old.” I want to hear the music of the universe all the way to the other side of the bridge. I hope that Paradise will look like Jerusalem and, when I reach it, I will find all the ones I’ve loved and lost on the journey through life.

And those who remain behind, who have loved me, let them remember me with forgiveness and charity for my shortcomings – and that I lived!

The writer is the author of 14 books, including The Pomegranate Pendant, which was made into the movie The Golden Pomegranate. Her latest novel is Searching for Sarah.

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