“HA-va Nagila, HA-va Nagila, HA-va Nagila Ve-nis mech-A!”
The musician was singing with energy and joy, and people were getting up to dance.
“What is he singing?” my mom asked.
“Hava Nagila,” I said.
“What does that mean?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said.
I started clapping. She smiled and followed along.
We were at the Rosh Hashanah concert at the Hebrew Home. The singer wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t good, either, and his phrasing was terrible.
“We’re going to do Neil Diamond’s most popular song,” he announced, his booming voice reaching every corner of the room, urging us all to sing along. And yet, after he sang the words, “Sweet Caroline,” he mumbled the rest of the chorus. I couldn’t figure out what words to sing or how to sing them.
But it didn’t matter. I was having a great time, and so were a lot of other people. So, I think, was my mom.
She was raised Lutheran and used to worry about the fate of people who didn’t believe Jesus Christ was their savior. But that day, she was Jewish. No, she was nothing, or maybe she was everything. In any case, she was there.
And so was I.
Practically every week, I take my mom to the Hebrew Home concert. I try to be present. But too often, I’m only half there.
I may be holding my mom’s hand, and clapping and even singing, but a part of me is worrying about how she’s doing or how I’m doing or what the weather is doing or what I will be doing at my job the next day.
But not on this Jewish New Year. I was clapping and moving as if there were no other place I could possibly be.
When I had arrived earlier that day, my mom was curled up on her bed.
“What are you doing in bed, you lazy bum?” I asked, and leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.
She looked up and smiled, and tried to formulate a sentence. She couldn’t. I’m not sure she knew who I was. That lasted a minute or so.
I’m seeing the disease progress.
Soon she was back with me, though. She knew me and within a few more minutes could speak more coherently.
On November 1, my mom will turn 89. Given my schedule and the demands of life, I could probably count how many times I will likely see her again, and how few times she will be mentally present. Some days it seems like we’re reaching the end of the countdown.
But then I concentrate on the moment, and it feels as if there is no end in sight. Only new things are on the horizon.
Old resentments I felt over how she treated me in my childhood drop away as we spend more time together. Regrets and guilt she may have had over my life struggles appear never to have existed. Ours is a relationship constantly re-forming, and the opportunities are endless.
It feels like a New Year every second, when anything can happen.