Starting Over

Two weeks ago my uncle's wife died. She was exceptionally smart, had an excellent sense of humor and was very modest.

Two weeks ago my uncle's wife died. She was exceptionally smart, had an excellent sense of humor and was very modest. She was also an outstanding mother and grandmother. Her funeral took place in the evening, in the lovely cemetery of the kibbutz she founded with her husband, my uncle. The cemetery overlooks a wonderfully modest landscape of valley and mountain. A pleasant breeze stirred the treetops and the sadness was felt even more strongly just because of the sense of restraint.

Very few eyes remained dry when my uncle addressed his late wife with the words "Rest in peace in the soil of the place you loved so much." They lived together for 60 years - 60 years of genuine friendship that only became stronger in light of national, kibbutz and personal crises.

In the kibbutz social hall, which still remains the same as it was in the days when the kibbutz was a kibbutz, I approached my beloved uncle to console him. I know very few people as strong as he. Veteran members of the Palmach (the pre-state elite commandos), from Haim Gouri to Yoram Kaniuk, always give me special treatment because I'm his niece. I remember how, on the day I learned of the death of both my parents, he was waiting for me in Haifa at their house, and as soon as I entered he immediately grabbed me in a strong embrace after which he placed a hand on my shoulder and said to me: "Are you talking to me about bereavement?" (A rhetorical question, of course, as I hadn't said a word), and he immediately gave me a list of his acquaintances and members of our family who fell in Israel's wars.

But private mourning is always more difficult than national mourning, and therefore I approached him now, caressed his shoulder and murmured something about the fact that at least he had had 60 wonderful years with his wife. "You have to decide," said my uncle, who read between the lines what was not even written there, "how you choose to conclude your life, alone and lonely, or whether to give happiness another chance and get married again." I told him that when he puts things like that, it seems as though there isn't any dilemma, "because really, what's better, to be lonely or happy?" Incidentally, I reminded him that the word "lonely" is somewhat exaggerated when you're talking about a mother of three, who here and there also has some girlfriends as well as experiences in couple relationships. My uncle snickered, shook my hand and informed me that he relied on me to do what had to be done.

Later I thought that my uncle had turned to me of all people, rather than to my single female cousins, because I already have a history of being marriageable. And still, I'm not rushing anywhere, because there are things I won't manage to do in my present life: celebrate a golden or silver anniversary (unless I go crazy, begin tomorrow morning, and live to a ripe old age); get through the crises of the thirties and the forties with another person; survive great boredom and learn to call it a quiet love; turn into a family instead of a couple once again; be the responsible adult in some group; believe that everything will be all right because love will help overcome everything; and think that what counts is only what's between the two of us, and that nobody else, aside from the two of us, has any influence on the relationship.

If I could begin my life over again, I would wish myself a relationship like that of my uncle and aunt, which started with the belief that they came together in order to stay together. It's impossible to begin a couple relationship from such a starting point at the age of 50, nor even at the age of 40. Naivete unfortunately disappears with the years and with every relationship that ends. And still, two days after the funeral I found myself excitedly watching an Oprah Winfrey program dedicated to the subject "Age: Is it necessarily bad to grow older?"

As usual, I wanted to switch channels, but then they mentioned the names of the guests on the program and among them the person I most admire, Nora Ephron (writer of the masterpiece "Heartburn," as well as the scripts for "Heartburn," "When Harry Met Sally," and "Sleepless in Seattle," and a book I recently purchased, "I Feel Bad About My Neck" about the horrors of aging).

"I now live alone and I have no intention of stopping living alone," said Diahann Carroll, a four-time divorcee who is 71 and looks 50. "At my age," she explained, "I no longer have patience for old people." The beautiful Geena Davis, a member of Mensa, twice divorced, 50-something, declared in reply to Winfrey's question about the advantages of maturity, that "for my 50th birthday I got a mustache as a gift." Winfrey, who is the same age, burst out laughing in identification and added "hot flashes." "But sex," asked Winfrey, "they say that sex after 60 is better than ever." Norah Ephron, 64, married for the third time, informed her that "the only way to make that sentence true is never to have sex before the age of 60, so that sex after 60 is the best you've ever had."

Had I been among the participants on the panel, I would have revealed to Winfrey that the same is also true of age 50, at least when it comes to the masculine side, because no man really improves with age, and on the other hand, our ability to deceive ourselves actually declines. Because the question is not what's preferable, to be alone or together, but how it's possible to reach your 60th anniversary, or even your 20th, without going along the bumpy road that leads to it. Or, alternatively, is it possible to marry Nora Ephron, on condition that there won't be any sex involved (after all, she's over 60).