Mixed Feelings

When you’ve exhausted all other medical possibilities, that strange feeling may just be happiness.

On Wednesday afternoon I suddenly felt something strange and unfamiliar. I felt as though waves were rising in the area of the key to my heart. I asked myself whether I was hungry, but surprisingly I was unable even to think about food − I, who am capable in every given situation of thinking with great precision about what I would eat. Then I started thinking about all the real and imaginary illnesses familiar to me from my friends and family. Among other things, I ruled out diabetes, hypertension and other coronary diseases, in light of the tests I did a short time ago. My body didn’t hurt at all, so I also ruled out fibromyalgia and I rejected yuppie disease in light of my financial situation. However, because of the unease I was experiencing − which caused me to accidentally spill the glass of water I was holding onto the woman sitting at the next table − I briefly considered the possibility of early signs of multiple sclerosis.

For several hours I was unable to relax and so, in spite of the terrible humidity, I went out for a long walk. Tel Aviv was especially beautiful, and I tried to recall the words to the song “Rav ha’or vehatkhelet vekhuli bahem tovelet” ‏(There is so much light and blue, and I am entirely immersed in them‏) but I was immersed mainly in perspiration, although even that didn’t stop me. I walked up and down staircases, I went out for a vigorous walk with Shoshana, and only an hour later − when I had stopped dragging her to the heights of the fifth floor where Amalia lives − did I calm down somewhat, seclude myself in the bathroom and burst into tears, far from the eyes of my girlfriend.

Illustration by Avi  Ofer
Illustration by Avi Ofer

We sat and ate cold watermelon and frozen dates, we watched “Kochav Nolad” ‏(the Israeli version of “American Idol”‏) and, to my amazement, I discovered there’s a Mizrahi singer whom I particularly like by the name of Liron Ramati, because he chooses excellent songs with beautiful lyrics, and has the charm of a Latin singer.

I tried to think with Amalia about my driving song. “But you don’t drive,” she said. So I asked her, in the spirit of Grandpa Yair Nitzani, what her childhood song is. Amalia said “Layla layla mistakelet hayareah” ‏(Every night the moon watches‏), and I said that I have two: “Shavua tov, shavua tov, shavua tov, shavua tov” ‏(Have a good week‏), which began the cantorial selections that my father used to listen to at full volume, and “Al na tomar li shalom” ‏(Don’t say goodbye to me‏), which my mother used to sing to me with great emotion. And after they ousted contestant Lidor Sultan, I said to Amalia, “I think that I understand what I’m feeling. I think it’s called happiness. And the problem is that I have no idea how to handle it.”

My grandmother, Tzipora Kalfon − before passing away at the age of almost 100 “from too much disappointment and sorrow,” as one of my aunts noted with sensitivity − would always quote to me what, according to her, poet Shaul Tchernichovsky ‏(who she claimed was also in love with her!‏) said about life: “Years of suffering and moments of pleasure.”

And she raised her daughters in the spirit of the things that he did or didn’t say, and they, in turn, bequeathed the tradition of disappointment and sorrow to their daughters as well.

And in fact, there is nobody like the Kalfon women − whom my father accurately and humorously dubbed “the daughters of Zelophehad” − for dealing with situations of crisis and mourning: After all, it’s part of “honor” ‏(a pretense of dignity‏) never to display weakness or strong emotion in public. In my personal branch of the family, my mother invented an additional guideline: Not to cry in public, in order not to give men the satisfaction!

What can I say − even Jacqueline Kennedy at her husband’s funeral could have learned something about a dignified and restrained appearance before the coffin of the deceased.

The “daughters of Zelophehad,” as opposed to her, were born to the Jewish nation and their childhood was spent in a city that was mainly Arab and under British occupation, they fought in the Hagana [pre-State military force], waited for their beloved to return from exile in Kenya, built Kibbutz Beit Ha’arava, and lost friends who fell in battle.

In addition, the best of them, my mother − who, contrary to the family tradition, died young as a result of emphysema − became famous for the soldiers’ Memorial Day and Holocaust Day ceremonies that she used to organize with great emotion. And thus she found herself from an early age being prepared and preparing others for the role of the bereaved mother who secretly wipes away a tear from the corner of her eye, a role that she fortunately never got to play, and she was totally unaware of the role of the widow when it fell to her lot for exactly five hours and 15 minutes until she too died, because she herself was on a respirator and clinically dead.

“Stop, it’s not dignified,” said one of my aunts, poking an elbow into my ribs, when a moan of sorrow erupted from my throat when I saw both my parents thrown into adjacent graves − and I really did stop. I postponed my bitter weeping to the moment when I discovered that, along with my mother’s clothing, my colleagues at WIZO had mistakenly given away the beautiful black skirt that I had worn at her funeral and that caused one of my distant relatives to express amazement, before the burial, at my slender figure. “How did you get so thin, Nerinka?” she asked, enthusiastically. “Death makes you thin, and besides, I’m wearing black,” I replied. “You’re beautiful, a real Jacqueline Kennedy,” summed up the retard.

I know very well how to deal with mourning, depression, despondency, anxiety and sorrow.

When it comes to despondency, I eat until I fall asleep; sorrow and mourning cause me to stop eating and sleeping entirely. When I’m anxious or depressed, I sink into a deep sleep.

But where will I go with this happiness?

“You can learn to deal with happiness,” said Amalia. “First of all, you have to allow yourself to feel happy and to believe that good things can happen to you,” said my beloved psychologist Yoram Hazan many years ago; he passed away before I managed to acquire the skill.

Maybe it’s the letdown after the elation that scares me, because, after all, even a moment of happiness eventually comes to an end. But that is actually what should calm me.

Eventually it will pass, all this happiness. Happiness is fickle, but you can always count on depression.