A note to those who have kindly read my blog this year: if you were expecting some political commentary, I'm saving that for the new year. Today, my thoughts are with those we lost in 2016, some far too young, some unexpectedly, some after a long and successful life. I am told that while this year's number of celebrity deaths seems unusually large, it's really not, and other years have had more. But it feels like almost every day, someone famous or beloved left us. As a former disc jockey, I was especially sorry that we lost David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Prince, Paul Kantner, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Maurice White, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, and George Michael. As a former journalist, I will miss Morley Safer, John McLaughlin, and Gwen Ifill. This was also the year we lost Gene Wilder, Fyvush Finkel, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Muhammad Ali, Gordie Howe, Shimon Peres, and Elie Wisel. There were so many others... political figures, celebrities, authors, movie and TV directors ... I could fill a page with all of the names. My point is that there are no guarantees in life, and you never know how long you have before your number gets called.
Maybe that's why I've been thinking about my maternal grandmother the past few days. She certainly wasn't famous, but she was definitely beloved. Her name was Dora, and I never met her-- she died many years before I was born, as did my paternal grandmother. But according to family lore, Grandma Dora was a truly saintly human being, compassionate and patient even in the face of major problems-- it's no exaggeration that she dealt with some difficult times, including living through the Great Depression and enduring ongoing and severe illnesses. I am told she handled even the most challenging situations with dignity and grace. I wish I had met her; and every year, just before Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), I visit her grave and pay my respects. I often wonder how different my life might have been if my grandmothers were a part of it: I hear so many stories about grandmothers as nurturing and supportive figures in their grandchildren's lives, but I have no experience of that, so I can't say if it's true or not. Anyway, when I recently had my two-year anniversary check up (I had surgery for uterine cancer in mid-December 2014) and I got the good news that there has been no recurrence, I thought of my Grandma Dora, who died too young of the very same cancer that I had-- in my case, I was treated successfully for it, while in her case, no successful treatments had been developed yet.
I wonder what my grandmother would think about the world we live in today. Hers was a simpler time (no internet, no social media, not even television), a time when authority was respected and good manners were considered essential. People joined volunteer organizations, kids played outside, and most people knew their neighbors. Of course, it was not an idyllic era-- America was still segregated, anti-Jewish and anti-black sentiments were publicly expressed, and millions were struggling through the Depression years and then getting ready to go off to war. But compared to our often-chaotic, contentious, intense, and rude culture, I somehow think my grandmother would prefer her own, even with its problems. Of course, none of us have a time machine and we can't go back to some idealized era. And if we did go back, we might be disappointed, since our memory years later may not be an accurate reflection of how things were when we lived them. Still, if I could bring back something from the past, it might be courtesy or politeness.
But that said, 2016 was a strange year, and for many of us, a sad one. Some of us lost colleagues or friends or relatives. And if I may make one political comment, a lot of us are feeling a deep sense of sadness about the recent election. My right-wing friends may be rejoicing, but not everyone shares their view. Conservatives were outraged when Michelle Obama, during an interview with Oprah Winfrey, said she understood what it felt like to have no hope, but I totally understood what she meant. For her, and for me, and for many of my friends from the progressive side, seeing Hillary lose the election was bitterly disappointing, and it filled us with a sense of not just hopelessness, but also fear over what this new president might to do erase the gains women and minorities had made during this past eight years. Having lived to see a black president, many of us were eager to have a woman president; and now, that dream is once again on hold for who knows how long. So yes, for many of us, 2016 was a sad year. But more thoughts about politics will surely follow in 2017.
For now, whether it was a happy year for you, or a sad one, or a little of both, 2016 is about to come to a close. In February, I will be 70-- which is amazing to think about, given that my grandmother died at age 44. And if I have any advice, it would be to live each day with a sense of purpose; even if you temporarily feel hopeless or discouraged, those feelings don't have to last. So, do a mitzvah (a good deed, a positive action) whenever you can; and don't waste the opportunities you have been given. After all, there's no guarantee of tomorrow. But we can still make a difference, even in some small way, with the time we have today. Happy 2017: may the new year bring you many reasons to be grateful, and many occasions to celebrate.