As you’re reading this, my younger son, Leo, has just turned 13. In just a few days, I turn 50. One-third of my life is over just like that. And this weekend was supposed to be Leo’s bar mitzvah.
I don’t expect 50 to be that different than any other birthday. This one just has an imposing number. And AARP membership cards have started arriving in the mailbox. And I probably need “readers.” Maybe a stronger retinol to keep the not-so-fine lines at bay.
I have really big plans for this next trip around the sun, including not coloring my gray hair to see if I look more like Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly or Glenn Close’s Cruella de Vil. I also want to read a lot of the classic literature one was supposed to read in school, when one who has written this article might have been class-clowning instead. Fanfare is not needed, because I’ve done this 49 times before. Plus we’re all a little sick of singing Happy Birthday at this point.
Because of coronavirus, people are sick, some gravely ill, in isolation, self-quarantine, social distancing, and singing Happy Birthday to themselves over and over as they wash their hands, as if they’ve never washed their hands before. Leo’s grandparents, great aunts and great uncles, and older family friends are in the highest risk age group. Keeping everyone safe is the key focus. For these reasons, Leo barely batted an eye when we told him we had no choice but to postpone his bar mitzvah. Was he disappointed? Probably. Did he complain? Not once.
Leo has practiced and perfected reading of his Torah portion. He was ready to do one of his least favorite things: stand in front of a crowd and speak. But he was prepared and confident, ready to lead the congregation in prayer, eager to show how proud he is of this incredible accomplishment. He was looking forward to a festive and fun Kiddush luncheon and an outstanding party with his friends and family.
Now, from his young perspective, he knows that putting it on hold is a minor inconvenience compared to what is happening in the world, in our country and in St. Louis. He is learning the difference between an inconvenience and a real problem.
Being uncomfortable and being in danger are two very different things. I learned this years ago from a lovely woman who took my co-pay to listen to me sort out some issues for 50 minutes once a week for a few months. It was the best lesson I’ve taken with me.
Teaching it to my kids is so important. Because curveballs fly at us from out of nowhere. We’ve got to roll with the punches, go with the flow and a few other clichés we could use right now. Can we take the discomfort of pushing off our plans to celebrate for a while? Of course we can. Because people around us are in danger. Our inconvenience is hopefully going to help others who are experiencing a real problem.
Several months from now, Leo will get to read the Torah portion he has worked so hard to learn, lead a congregation filled with family and friends and prove why he is the definition of the word mensch. Coronavirus will be still be painfully fresh in our minds. Hopefully, we will be able to remember and put into play the lessons we are learning right now dealing with this unprecedented global health crisis.
If you’re at all like Leo, kindness and compassion will top your list.
Amy Fenster Brown is married to Jeff and has two teenage sons, Davis and Leo. She volunteers for several Jewish not-for-profit groups. Fenster Brown is an Emmy Award-winning TV news writer and counts time with family and friends, talking and eating peanut butter among her hobbies. Email Amy Amy@thejewishlight.com