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Smack! On My Cheek

By Tamar Yonah
9/12/2010, 12:00 AM

It was Rosh HaShana, the New Year.

I was sitting outside in a plastic chair, with an old man.

I was doing a mitzvah, watching him so he didn’t wander off. 

So he wouldn’t fall. 

He wasn’t all there, you know.

He was talking.  Talking not about anything that interested me, but I smiled.  I wanted things to be pleasant for him.  He was kind of lost, had no where to go, and we took him in.

Long story.

That’s not the story I want to tell though.

The story I want to tell, is that while he was talking, I watched the bougainvillea leaves from our garden that had dried and fallen from its branches onto the dirt.  They scattered around low, in circles, with the wind.  A mini tornado developed, lifting the leaves.  Lifting.   Lifting.


They were so pretty.  A dried pink color.  Light and crispy. They almost looked like pink little butterflies flitting around.  He was still talking, and we were sitting in the shade, and it was so lovely, even though I wasn’t really listening to him.  He was bemoaning the fact that he was not where he was supposed to be for the holiday.  He had come to visit his daughter, but arrived in Israel much too late, after the chag (holiday).  She, on the other hand,  had already left with her family to another place for the holiday.  He was going to surprise her.  But she was gone.  No one was home.  The taxi showed up at my door.  I live right next to her, so in he came.  What a mitzvah!

He kept apologizing for intruding on us. I kept answering him that it wasn’t a problem  and that we were so glad that he was with us.  That it was actually perfect timing as all the food had been cooked and I had other guests and was set up for having people.  But he still bemoaned, and he scraped his mind for tales of the past to tell.  His past was more pleasant to dwell in than the present.  He is 90, and he is hunched over now.  His skin looks like dark smooth plastic, like no blood flows there anymore.  He is not his virile young self.  I wonder what he must have been like when he was young and held the world by it’s tail.

His mind doesn’t always know where he is anymore.  When he arrived here and  got out of the taxi his daughter’s house was dark and empty.  He had nowhere to go, we told him to come and stay with us until she got back in a few days.  He said he didn’t want to be a bother, and that he has an apartment he can go to, right next door, and when I asked him where ‘next door’ was, a New York address ran off his lips.  He even took out his house key from NY to show me he could go there now.  (sigh)  It was sad.  It was scary too.  The old man didn’t know where he was, and he integrated NY with Israel, like it made sense, like it would make perfect sense in a dream.  But we weren’t dreaming.   

We all wondered how he had gotten himself from America to Israel all alone, with no one to accompany him on the flight.  He had stopped over in Turkey.  He said how they had hassled him there, took his things, searched, ….and then sent him on another later flight to Israel.    He arrived here with no money. 

How does an airline in America let a man his age, all hunched over, not with all his mind intact, fly internationally with stop-overs?  

He had medicines.  Lots of pills.  All with directions.  Some with doctor’s or pharmacist’s handwriting that was hard to read.  Was it 6 pills to take, or ½ a pill?  We didn’t want to kill him.  We gave him half a pill.  We saw some pills in the case were already cut in half.  But it sure looked like they wrote ‘6’.  Doctors need to go to calligraphy classes.

We are still sitting in the garden, and the wind is toying around.  The leaves, the bougainvillea leaves were still dancing. Other various leaves and dried up Morning Glory flowers as well were mixing in.  And all of a sudden, while he was talking to me about this and that from his past - that he had already told me thrice over, a big mischievous breeze picked up several leaves and playfully brought them towards me.  They were teasing me, flying in all directions, but coming towards me none the less.  I reached up while he was talking, trying to catch one.  It out maneuvered me.  I started to giggle.  I had to reach and grasp fast.  I missed.  I missed again, and the bougainvillea leaves, all diverting from my attempts to catch them, all landed on the dirt again.  I giggled.  It was funny.  The old man was still talking.  And I thought about the new year, and the holiday, and the significance of me trying to catch the leaves that I couldn’t catch.  But, I thought, - it was fun trying anyway.  

And then, while contemplating the symbolism, a dried out Morning Glory flower coming out of nowhere and flying on the wind, unexpectedly hit me in my face.  Smack, on my cheek.  I got startled.  And I giggled again.  I thought, “Look how life can play with you, and then smack you in the face.  But it was a light smack.  And it tickled.  It grazed my cheek, and fell, and it was ok. I rubbed the lingering sensation from the side of my face.

G-d controls all.  That’s what I needed to remember.  G-d controls all, and I can giggle.  I can also try to catch the leaves in the wind.  I SHOULD try to catch the leaves in the wind, but if I don’t, that’s ok too.  Because I only make ‘the efforts’ in life.  G-d controls ‘the results’, the outcome.  And I smiled.  And the old man kept talking.  And all was good in the world.