Out There: Comfort Patterns

Just as there are patterns in nature, there are also patterns in relationships.

Painting by Pepe Fainberg (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Painting by Pepe Fainberg
(photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Patterns are everywhere. They are in the clouds, in the leaves, in the waves. They are in the masts of ships, in the rooftops, in the tiles over the sink. At one and the same time, they uplift and they frustrate.
They uplift because there is so much beauty in the symmetry of patterns, and the patterns are everywhere.
They frustrate for the same reason: There is so much beauty in symmetry of patterns, and the patterns are everywhere – and you know you simply can’t appreciate them all; they just pass you by. Or, more accurately, you pass them by without paying adequate attention.
The Wife, the same one who is a yoga enthusiast, is also a fan of mindfulness. The New York Times Magazine last month had a piece on mindfulness, and quoted the following definition: “The awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and non-judgmentally." Paying attention on purpose to the present moment, not being imprisoned by the past, or over-worried about the future; living in the now, savoring the present.
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When you’re with all your grown, or fairly grown, kids, that means just enjoying them in the moment. Not worrying about the army, or their prospective soul-mates, or job prospects, or the brief amount of time at hand with them. It means being fully in the now. Or, as my father says with greater frequency as he climbs up in years, “Appreciate the moment, appreciate everything now, because time passes so quickly.”
But that obvious truth is sometimes difficult to digest, because even as you strive to savor the now, time still passes quickly. Trying to appreciate the moment does not slow it down.
Which is where The Wife comes in, chirping about mindfulness. She frequently enjoins me to stop for a minute before swallowing that second hamburger, to regard it for a minute, relish it for a second.
Whereas she can eat one piece of popcorn at a time, I’ll fill my hand and just shove it all in a once – the anti-mindful way of eating.
And when we walk, The Wife – often mindful of being mindful – will point out the abundant patterns: in the flowers, in the verandas, in the chirping of the birds. I’ll want to complain about the kids, the shul, the government, and she’ll wax about how the soft, late-afternoon Shabbat light plays with the Judean Hills and softens them. It’s all about being aware, she’ll say; all about being in the moment.
It can also, if overdone, be incredibly annoying. Ever take 10 minutes to eat a bunch of grapes? Looking intently at each one, noticing the texture, appreciating the patterns in the seeds. That much mindfulness can drive you out of your mind.
And just as there are patterns in nature, there are also patterns in relationships: between husbands and wives, between friends, between employees and employers, between children and parents.
Patterns are routine, it’s when they change that things become a bit dicey.
I got a good taste of those patterns on a recent trip to the US with my family, the first time we have all flown to America together in almost a decade. When the kids were small, even infants, we’d ply that route more often.
The visits to the States, to the grandparents, were swell, but the flight over was a nightmare. I remember walking onto airplanes with four small kids in tow: the baby would squeal, the toddler squirm, and the two other children – both under eight – would quarrel.
We’d walk down the aisle to our seats feeling tension in the nervous passengers we passed, who seemed to be reciting the following silent prayer: “Please don’t sit near us, please don’t sit near us.” Back then it was cheaper for us to fly together, so we’d do it more frequently. But we hadn’t done it for a while.
So when we flew to the US as a family recently for Hol Hamoed Passover, my reflex was to fall back on our traveling patterns of the past. That’s what I knew.
“I can carry my own passport,” The Lad, my oldest, said when I asked for his passports. “I’ve traveled halfway around the world on my own. I think I can carry my own passports.”
Indeed he has, and he can. But still, he was my son. And the pattern has always been that when we travel, I carry all the documents, lest they get lost and we get stuck. It’s the fatherly thing to do. It’s the pattern, but one he objected to, because it made him feel like a child.
The beauty of relationship patterns, at least from a kid’s point of view, is that you can reject the ones that annoy you, but grasp with gusto those that bring you benefit. The same kid who doesn’t want me to carry his passport still expects me to buy his socks.
Which bespeaks an interesting point: Kids want and yearn for their independence, even though huge gaps often emerge between them saying they want to be treated as adults and their behavior; especially behavior with siblings, where old patterns are so easy to slip back into.
Some patterns never change: like the oldest – in his mid-20s – teasing the youngest, and the 19-year-old youngest knowing exactly, but exactly, which buttons to push with the oldest, and doing it incessantly, especially when traveling together. Just like when they were younger.
Relationship patterns also cross generational lines. The patterns exist not only between parents and children, but also between parents who are children to their own parents.
I’m well into midlife, with four kids of my own, a responsible job, mortgage payments... the works. Yet when I visit my father, as I did recently, I’m his kid who needs to be told what time it is wise to go to bed, to change out of a nice shirt before eating and not to snack between meals.
On the one hand, it’s annoying. “Dad, I’m old enough to decide whether to eat potato chips before dinner.” But on the other, it can sometimes be comforting falling into old patterns, a fond remembrance of times past.
So entrenched are parental patterns that my father-in-law, afflicted with Alzheimer’s and unable to remember our kids’ names, heard that his daughter was coming to visit, and reflexively asked if we needed help to pay for the ticket.
My father-in-law can’t remember what year it is or even who is president, but that parental pattern is so deeply ingrained in his mind that it poked through even a disabling disease.
More proof in the beauty of patterns, or – more importantly – in the warmth and comfort that can be found in recognizing them. 
A collection of the writer’s ‘Out There’ columns, French Fries in Pita, is available at www.herbkeinon.com and www.amazon.com.