Little lessons from family

Next week on JKWD, we talk to author Dillon Barr. One of the things he writes about in his book The Happiness Gap is the little lessons we learn from people in our family.

He tells a lesson of compassion, taught by his dad. When he was a kid, he did the very little-boy thing of taking a magnifying glass to burn ants; his father pointed out they’d done nothing to deserve it.

I talked about my grandfather; we called him Zadie. His wife, my grandmother, was Bubbie.

When Bubbie died, the rabbi came to condo to learn about her for the eulogy. He asked how long the courtship was, and without skipping a beat, Zadie told him, “61 years.”

I was the one to stay with Zadie the night following the funeral, to see everything was OK. Before we retired for the night, I asked him what tomorrow looked like. He told me we just get up and go about our day; that’s what we do.

In a long-surviving couple, when the man dies, the woman gets more involved in the communities they were involved in, whether that’s the senior center or a book club or a stitch-n-bitch circle.

When the woman dies, the man usually dies fairly quickly. Men don’t often form friendships in adulthood. Zadie was a Mason and a Shriner, so at least he was definitely going to have people he could call on.

He lived another 13 months. He wouldn’t let the grandkids visit him near the end, but he took our calls every day. When it came time for him to lay down his working tools, he waited until his three children (my mom, aunt, and uncle) could be at his bedside. He told them to keep the family together.

And we are. My aunt and uncle, and some of the cousins, still live near each other and see each other. Our branch of the family — my parents, my sister, my brother — live in a different part of the country, and we still gather frequently, often at my home.

When I sit at my desk — when I’m working, or writing a blog post, or recording a podcast, for example — I’m looking straight across at a picture of Zadie from his upsherin, the traditional first haircut a three-year-old Jewish boy gets. It’s a good reminder that he’s here and keeping an eye out (yes, that’s the hair from the haircut, which would have been done in late 1926, and yes, it’s hung straight despite the angle I took the photo of the frame from).

What are lessons you learned from your family?


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