Crumbling Bodies and Grandchildren

man and child walking near bushes during daytime
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The parts, you know, are starting to crumble like an old stale cookie.

Just the other day I went to urgent care to find out what was wrong with my left thumb. It stuck at the joint and increased in stuckness. When I bent it, it clicked loud enough that you could hear it. I was told I had something called “trigger finger.” When the PA first announced this to me, I thought she was kidding. Who ever heard of a trigger finger not associated with a Western movie? But it’s a thing, I learned, this trigger finger. I had it, and it could likely be addressed with a shot of cortisone..

I have a permanent floater in my right eye—until I see the ophthalmologist next week who will take care of it. Hopefully. At least I expect I’ll find out what eye malady has afflicted me and what needs to be done to address it.

Then there’s my arthritic right knee. So much so that the last time I consulted with an orthopedist, she told me something to the effect that my knee will let me know when it’s time to be replaced.

You know, stuff like that, that, alas, may well be the harbinger of more dire things to come as seventy turns into seventy-one and so on yea unto eighty, and, one hopes, beyond.

Then there’s that passel of friends and colleagues who have all retired. Each of them does retirement differently. One immigrated to Israel. Another plays tennis in the morning and writes history articles in the afternoon. And so forth. No one plays golf.

Me, retire? Not ready.

Because I can do my job well, which, by the way, is taking care of congregants in synagogues–a year at a time.  And I like it.

This bit of my career, about to stretch into its sixth year, has taken me from Indiana to Missouri to Pennsylvania to California. It surely is an unusual way to be a rabbi, interim for a year or two here and there. But, not to be too repetitive (and risking the accusation of a certain softening of the mind) I like it. I get to participate in the lives of different congregations and their members.. Every synagogue is different from every other synagogue. Hence each place with its differences brings out different elements in me. This is both interesting and useful for the future.

For, you see, when I do retire in Greensboro, NC, I intend to reinvent the rabbi-as-detective mystery genre, best remembered through Harry Kemelman’s series, the most famous of which is Friday the Rabbi Slept Late.

For this task, because of this late career vocation, I have acquired dozens, nay, hundreds, of stories to salt and pepper into the world of Rabbi Auslander (my fictional hero’s name) as he negotiates his way through the decades and solves mysteries.

I am blessed with a granddaughter named Ava. I mention her in part because it’s every grandparent’s prerogative to without obvious reason bring their grandchildren into the conversation. Also, because having one (or more) of these beings forms one of those unmistakable markers in one’s life: I have lived long enough to have made it to grandfather-hood. And everyone knows grandfather-hood’s not a young man’s game. 

For two years she hated me. Truly. Trust me, I did nothing to deserve this little girl’s wrath. Not wholly satisfied with my strategy, I nonetheless resolved to wait it out, assuming it was a phase of growing up. It worked. On a recent visit, as we were about to cross a street, Ava automatically took my hand to cross that street. And that was it. We were friends.

I amplified my status with her by investing in an impressive box of magic tricks, not quite professional, but not kiddie, either. I’ve made coins disappear, cards reappear. I made the kit’s magic wand float in the air, and become rubbery when waved up and down. Because of this latter, Ava learned the phrase “optical illusion.” Through this new skill, my daughter tells me, Ava thinks I’m a magician. Well, since these tricks are for an audience of one, and this one is still possessed of that child’s capacity for wonder, to this person I AM a magician. All it takes is one. As we live a distance from her, we meet on Zoom where I perform another trick or two—to her delight, and mine.

Writing this brief meditation about Ava has brought me to a new understanding, the obverse of the grandparents’ huge, natural love of their grandchildren: The kid returns the favor. I knew that in theory, but not in practice. Until that moment crossing the street when I was released from grandfather purgatory, that reciprocity had not been as obvious as it is now. We’re both extraordinarily lucky people.

I have dwelt on Ava and me because having grandchildren represents, absolutely, a configuration of relationships unique to those of us old enough to have children who are themselves old enough to have children. Achieving the status of grandparent seeps inexorably into one’s bones and constitutes a critical part of the framework of my current aging life.

But of course, there are other relationships in this configuration.  Beyond the granddaughter I’ve been blessed with two daughters, and a wife with whom I’ve been married since August 1977.

I’ll let my reader do the math to ascertain the exact number of years, but even if one, you know, makes but a rough estimate, it’ll be clear that years Betsy and I have been married adds up to a goodly sum. This fact, too, loudly announces I’ve been around a bit more than a bit.

The parts are showing their age. So, too, does that delightful fact I’m a grandfather, as does my decades-long marriage. I could offer other elements to demonstrate I’m no longer thirty.

But I’ve made my point. Besides which I’ve got to go practice a new magic trick or two for my call in an hour.


  1. Your floaters aren’t very fixable. They are a plague and majorly cut back my reading. A hint – I was reading and my iPhone went to night mode. The white letters on black back ground decreased the annoying little black dots flitting thru. I read in night mode when I can.

  2. You’ve come a long way since your “conversion” to religious Judaism after visiting the Wailing Wall. I connect with secular Yiddishkeit by taking courses in Yiddish for the last two years. At 85+ it’s not easy learning a new language.

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