In my own write: Gone, but not forgotten

Lost possessions are one thing; lost people another.

judy montagu 88 (photo credit: )
judy montagu 88
(photo credit: )
Loss. It's part of life, isn't it? Keys, pens, hats, umbrellas, eyeglasses, books, jackets, gloves - all vanished without a trace, to who knows where. Some items get found; a friend of mine discovered a long-missed sweater in her freezer, frozen solid in a black plastic bag. And London's Times reported last week on a research team led by psychologist Richard Wiseman, who found that a lost wallet has an excellent (88 percent) chance of being returned to its owner if it contains a baby picture. Second and third best guarantors of recovery are a photo of a puppy (53%) and of a family (48%). "'The baby kicked off a caring feeling in people, which is not surprising from an evolutionary perspective,' Wiseman said." But many things stay lost for good. As a child, I was very affected by the story of a boy whose lost possessions returned at night to haunt and taunt him. They would dance around his bed as he slept, chanting things like: "I kept you warm in winter - why didn't you take better care of me?" "I helped you write your homework - why didn't you put me away more carefully?" The wretched boy was shocked into better custodianship of his belongings - and so was I, fearful of waking up to find a mislaid jacket flapping its arms at me malevolently, or a lost umbrella poking me in the stomach. DURING a lecture on aging I attended many years ago, part of a course at the Adler Institute in Tel Aviv, we were shown an entertaining and very well-made film about elderly people who constantly mislaid things and, as a result, were convinced they were "going senile." Aside from advising, very sensibly, that regularly used items such as keys and eyeglasses be allotted a fixed "home" - a particular shelf, for instance - the psychologist-narrator pointed out that young people frequently lose things, too. The main difference between them and seniors, he noted, was that youngsters don't make such a big deal out of it. They take it in their stride, as they take so much else, and never worry that they're losing their minds. It's something to remember as the years roll on. LOST possessions are one thing; lost people another. The issue of personal loss was recently revived for me while visiting some friends. Their daughter, in her early 20s, had just heard that the father of a very close friend of hers had died of a terminal illness. "Oh, Daddy," she cried, turning to her father, "I don't know what I'd do if I lost you!" This spontaneous expression of feeling echoed a fear of my own at that age, and older: How would I survive once my parents were gone? This fear was unconnected to material support or, indeed, to actual physical survival; it was more a conviction that my essential substance and secure existence in the world rested on those solid twin pillars of unconditional love and support. The thought of my parents' passing engendered a dismal hollowness that was quickly papered over. In the event, my mother died when I was in my thirties, not long after I myself became a mother - which seemed like a particularly cruel blow; my father 11 years after that. And I did survive, because most people do, and because after a tragedy such as a parent's death, you carry on. What other choice do you have? IT WAS what my father had done, after all, when he looked around after WWII to find that his father, together with a brother and sister, had been consumed by the Nazi death machine - and this after an achingly brief encounter. A moving chapter entitled "Found and Lost" in his autobiographical In and Out of Harmony: Tales of a Cantor in the Hitler Era tells how, in November 1938, after escaping the perilous aftermath of Kristallnacht in Munich, where he was working, and arriving in Budapest, he decided to attend the Friday evening service at a neighborhood synagogue. "As I walked in," he wrote, "I could hardly believe my eyes. There stood my father! I rubbed my eyes to convince myself that I wasn't dreaming... I rushed over to embrace him... and together we listened to the Sabbath Eve service before excitedly leaving to swap stories." It turned out that his father, my grandfather, had been at home in Slovakia the previous Friday night, about to recite the Kiddush, when a local policeman accompanied by a German plainclothes officer walked in and extinguished the Sabbath candles. The entire family - my grandfather and grandmother and my father's seven brothers and sisters - were summarily rounded up, along with other Hungarian nationals, deported to the Hungarian border, and dumped there. "My mother and one of my sisters were now staying in a tiny room in the Jewish quarter, my father told me; the other children had been farmed out to relatives and friends in other parts of Hungary. "I listened in awed silence to my father's tale, realizing that Hitler's madness was spreading beyond Germany's borders. But I was overjoyed at our unexpected reunion, little knowing how brief it was to be." The terse style that characterizes my dad's memoir is never more evident than in what follows: "My father was later deported to a labor camp at Szent Endre in Hungary, and I never saw him again." I don't think I have ever before wondered how this loss and the others - my dad's first wife and an infant son he never saw died in Auschwitz - affected him and his relationship to his second family. Had I asked, I don't think he could have told me. ISRAELIS don't need to be taught about loss or, indeed, about carrying on afterwards. They've had a great deal of practice. Every Memorial Day they mourn and remember, vividly and in great detail, via television documentaries, radio programs, interviews, lectures, films and plays, the many thousands felled in Israel's wars and in terror attacks. The day is crammed with personal stories and reminiscences; as nearly as is possible over the 24-hour period, the dear dead are personalized by friends and family members, brought to life again in all their humanity and individuality. The same happens on Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day, observed a week earlier. The losses are real and enduring; so is the mourning and the sorrow. And yet Israelis are noted for the way they pick themselves up and carry on after tragedy. Many Jewish survivors of Nazism, some barely out of the camps, made their way here, fought in Israel's War of Independence and helped build the fledgling state. When suicide bombers struck Israeli cities again and again in the mid-2000s, blowing up cafes, restaurants and shopping malls, the debris would be cleared, the shattered windows replaced and the establishments opened again for business almost quicker than anyone could believe possible. Some said it was too quick, that it was like wiping out the enormity of what had been perpetrated; but the prevailing sense was that it was right and necessary to show our enemies and the world - and perhaps ourselves, too - that we couldn't be beaten down, that no one could for long disrupt the fabric of our daily lives, that we would go on regardless. THOSE who have been seared by severe personal loss will never fully heal. How could they? But they press on, most of them, with a dogged fortitude that seems distilled from the combined experience of Jewish tragedy throughout the ages. They live their lives as best they can, despite their loss. What choice do they have? The only alternative is to lie down, to opt out, to give in and give up. They must feel the temptation, over and over again, to throw in the towel; but most of them don't. They square their shoulders and carry on with their lives. It's what Israelis do.