Farther Off Than Heaven

The son-in-law, who I’d met twice, had sent me a ticket after delicately explaining that three years was too long for my daughter and I not to see one another in the flesh. And, he said, “to put it frankly”, she needed her mommy. 
    They were expecting another baby soon and he’d drawn a loving but clear picture of emotional frailty due to the unimaginable length of time and physical distance that separated us.
    Did he know that I, too, was walking into walls and holding myself together with spit and glue? 
    They have a 2-year old son who I still haven’t held in my arms. For Daniel, “Gramma” is a curly-haired, loud and animated illusion that occasionally appears on a small screen, sputtering and stopping at will, relying on South Africa’s most-unreliable electric grid. 
    How was I handling my own sense of disconnect? By sending my daughter funny memes, swapping recipes, sharing nothing deeper than a humorous anecdote. I kept things meaningless and shallow because I feared getting permanently sucked into an inescapable abyss of sadness.
    I had told myself that it didn’t matter so much, that all of the government-mandated cancellations and flight-stoppages were difficult for everyone and no one wants to hear my weeping over a mere distance of 5,659 miles.
    Three years. 
    In a world that boasts rapid transit, low-cost airfares and split-second cyber-connections, we’d suddenly become immobilized. My now-93 year old mother became too far-away to hug because of America’s interminable “red country” status for much of last year.
    Ethiopian Air was ruled out because Addis Ababa was dealing with civil war; Emirates Air was fairly priced but, unimpressed with Pretoria’s Covid fight, was flying into Johannesburg but not out. 
    If I wanted to leave on the same carrier, I’d have to hoof it to Capetown first. Thus, I flewTurkish Air. Was I concerned that relations between Tel Aviv and Istanbul were still strained? 
    I was more concerned that I might not receive a kosher meal on one or both legs of the flight. (Spoiler: No kosher food was ordered. Surprisingly, Istanbul Airport does not boast a kosher deli.)
    I arrived on a Sunday morning to an eerily quiet OR Tambo airport and found my very-pregnant daughter holding a massive bouquet of flowers; we fell into one-another’s arms with sobs and kisses.
    She cleverly did not bring the baby because she thought he might be frightened from the unrestrained emotions of this reunion. She had planned correctly.
    For 14 days I was  Mommy. In my little corner of a restaurant sized kitchen, I set up a hot plate and separate pots, cooking foods that reminded my baby of home. 
    Three eggplant salads. Apple sauce. Gedempte chicken. Persian rice. My extremely charming, generous, handsome and non-Jewish son-in-law went to a law-school reunion while our little group enjoyed Shabbat.
    On Friday night, my daughter and I made a grape juice kiddush, ate challah, sang songs, giggled and reminisced. I’d left a small light on in my room and climbed the stairs, curling into bed with my grandson to read the books I’d schlepped from Jerusalem. From this day forward I will associate “Goodnight, Moon,” “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “Are You My Mother?” with the glow of Sabbath candles and a smell of cholent.
    Are there any universal lessons to be gleaned from the past two years of plague? One might be that life has a way of disregarding even the best intentions.
    I am neither a prophet nor seer. Still, I can confidently state that by acting kindly and developing a loving eye, I’ll get it right more often than not. The rest, I’ll leave to Heaven.

New York native Andrea Simantov has lived in Jerusalem since 1995. She writes for several publications, appears regularly on Israel National Radio and owns an image consulting firm for women.



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