The Lies We Tell Ourselvesby Andrea Simantov August 27, 2015
All of the reflection this month has me thinking: Most of us have probably told a white lie or two in our lifetimes. However, when the lines between truth and fiction become blurred and patently false personal narratives are proffered as fact, trouble follows. My favorite advertising campaign for a pharmaceutical product features a white-jacketed soap opera star who peers deeply into the lens and states, “I’m not a real doctor but I play one on tv.” The ability to access school and police records via the Internet has made it nearly impossible to fudge academic credentials that were not earned. So why do people continue to stretch the truth?
I know a woman who shows her 30-year-old wedding album to every guest who crosses the threshold. She loves to describe finding that perfect gown and Jackie-Kennedy veiled pillbox hat. Giggling like a young girl, she admits that she was half the size she is today. Her friends clear their throats and offer half-commiserating murmurs which fill the deadly silence, attempting to stifle the awkward facts: her husband ran off with another woman four years after the wedding and never looked back. Still, she shares the album like a southern belle reliving the grand balls and fox hunts of her youth. Shades of Miss Havisham.
Another acquaintance had a cameo role in a 1980 young-hoods-in-Brooklyn type film. His closest brush with fame was followed by a few more years of auditions and waitering jobs that ultimately resulted in teaching high school English and working weekends in a garage. Still, he keeps his living room walls plastered with resume shots and posters from “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas” and “The Pope of Greenwich Village.” Conversations often veer toward his once-close friendships with Paddy Chayefsky and Billie Friedkin.
Maybe there’s something deeper happening beneath these white lies and inflated memories. In keeping with the theme of introspection, I began exploring my own skeletons in the metaphorical closet. But then I opened my actual closet and saw jigsaw puzzles, wooden blocks and Lego sets, vintage Barbie dolls, water paint, modeling clay and boxes of colored chalk and crayons. A plastic crate filled with such classics as “Corduroy,” “Good Night Moon,” “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “Ira Sleeps Over” sits atop a wicker basket filled with old wigs, ball-gowns, costume jewelry, Easter bonnets and stiletto heels; dress-up items suited for every imagination. It is the closet of a hands-on Grandma.
Except that my grandchildren aren’t near enough for lazy afternoons of baking or make-believe. So am I fooling myself with all of this memorabilia, just like the lady with her wedding album and the man with his acting memories?
When lucky, I see my grandkids once a year on their turf in South Africa. The rare times they visit Israel are when my ex brings them for a family simcha on his side. And because the relationship between us is strained, I typically only manage to squeeze in an hour or two in the local mall with my beloved babies.
They came again this summer and I remained “on call” for an awkward ice-cream parlor outing or quick rendezvous in the neighborhood playground but, instead, my son-in-law called to tell me they were coming for Shabbos. Was I dreaming? Cooking, baking, laying out mattresses and reading books aloud to toddlers; my heart was so filled with excitement that I feared it might burst.
It occurs to me that I hold onto these things, even if they suggest a certain air of falsity, to keep connected to the truth that I am, in fact, a grandma, and no amount of geography can really change that.
Awash with thankfulness from their ever-so-brief visit, after Havdalah I kissed the children goodbye and joyfully picked up blocks, washed dishes, stripped beds. Only a little weepy, I marveled at how G-d slips perfect moments between the messy folds of life. The noise and disorder that is part of the package called “family” is a reward to be cherished and embraced with humility, resulting in appreciation for all we have.