I watch the news about the Coronavirus and its arrival in Israel, and I grow increasingly anxious. I download a list of hand sanitizers and buy some paper masks. I call a doctor friend and get some advice. Should Gidon and I not go to the movies for a few weeks? Should we cancel that weekend plan? I get really worked up.
I go to the living room where Gidon is "potchkeying" (Yiddish for "messing around") with Facebook. He likes to argue with people about various topics, post pictures of his grandchildren, and watch the latest funny video.
I tell him that I'm super worried about this virus, I mean, super worried. Gidon looks up from his smartphone, listens to me patiently, and then tells me everything is going to be okay. He returns to some funny video. What? How can he not be as freaked out as I am?!
I just can't figure out what it is about Gidon that makes him so resolutely cheerful and unworried. Is it the potatoes and gravy diet? Is it that he takes a nap every day? Is it the experiences he has had in life that have led him to lift up his chin and keep going no matter what? Maybe it's the porridge he makes himself every morning.
I have read and studied for years about how to worry less, be happier, more content, and more peaceful. I have many books on my shelves to that end: Pema Chödrön, Jack Kornfield, Eckhardt Tolle - you name the self-help writer, and I've read his or her book. For a long time, I was an adherent of "The Secret" by Rhonda Byrnes, and I made many a vision board and said many an affirmation. But nothing has ever really stuck. Each day it is a challenge to maintain my equilibrium, especially in the last few years, with what seems like an increasing diet of stress on the news. Right-wing nationalism rising up again, antiSemitism in the news, climate change, profiteering, authoritarianism, and endless wars everywhere. And now we have what looks like a pandemic - the Coronavirus. It really feels like the end times.
I am 29 years younger than Gidon, and of a totally different generation - the "me generation," some might say. I was born in 1964 in sunny California, and the blue sky was the limit. My parents were both college-educated and came from middle-class families. Though it was never said overtly, the feeling that I and many of my generation had was that life was on a continual upswing - bigger, better, faster, more. Bigger houses, more income, more safety and security, less illness, less poverty, less struggle. I had, in other words, expectations of how life was supposed to be.
But as we know, life rolls out many unexpected twists and turns. It's anything but predictable. "Nothing is 100%" is something Gidon is fond of saying. I mean, really, he says this a lot. It drives me nuts sometimes. But when I think more deeply about it, I begin to see a lesson in Gidon's words and in his attitude. Gidon does not have expectations that things will be easy, or always fun or enjoyable, or better than they were before. He doesn't wonder or worry about what "happy" means or is, or whether he's entitled to it. He really doesn't worry about things all that much at all. Let me hasten to add that Gidon is human, so of course, things bother him from time to time, I don't want to exaggerate, but it strikes me, having written so closely about Gidon's life that he never really had the luxury that I have had, in my own life, to ponder existentially about the whys of life. He just lives.
I seem to continually ask myself questions: Why me? Why not me? Where shall I live? What should I be doing? Am I good enough? Can I try harder? What is the meaning and purpose of my life, or more broadly, of life itself? Why are humans so self-destructive? What will happen next week, next year, or even tomorrow? Am I prepared? What about this virus?!
Maybe being part of a generation born in a nation of plenty and in a time in which war did not affect me personally, with access to education, medical care, technology, and culture has a downside - a built-in sense of immunity to the travails of life, a feeling that we are entitled not to suffer. And along with that, a deep well of existential doubt and anxiety about what it all means in this brave new world. If we can't succeed in being wealthy, we should, at least, succeed in being happy. Or being seen to be happy.
"Choose gratitude, choose love, be present, meditate, exercise, don't worry, be happy." All of those cliches run through my head. One day a meme on social media cracked me up:
"Give up, you'll live longer."
I don't think this means "give up" in a negative sense, but rather, stop trying so hard and just flow with life. For me, this means not lowering my expectations, but honestly, dropping them altogether.
"You don't get the life that you want," Gidon said, as we were writing the book, "you get the life that you get." This is not to say that Gidon has not pushed, pulled, worked, succeeded, failed, and risked over and over again. He is not and has never been a passive observer. It's just that he sees what is in front of him, whatever set of circumstances, as a challenge that he tries to overcome, or a pleasure that he enjoys. Period. He doesn't overthink things the way that I do. Gidon has cheated death so many times in his life already that just being alive at all is a win.
How I long to adopt Gidon's attitude in my own life. Think less, do more. Accept what comes along. Worry less, be happy, simply, to be alive at all. What a miracle it is that we are, as Carl Sagan said, "made of star-stuff" and that we exist on this Goldilocks planet in the first place, even with the contradictions of life - because of the contradictions of life that ask us, each day, to start anew.
If I could bottle whatever it is that Gidon has, I would call it Vitamin G. He thinks this is very funny and silly, by the way. Even he doesn't know what it is about him that makes him so extraordinary. Gidon doesn't see himself as someone to admire. I beg to differ with him on that point, but perhaps part of his secret lies within that attitude. Gidon sees himself as a regular guy who has stuff to get done today, who has many great and many sad memories of the past, and who is looking forward to a soccer game, a weekend visit, and to chicken dinner tonight. Gidon keeps it simple.
I'm sitting at my computer doing some editing, and Gidon is getting ready to head out to do some errands. "How do you put this thing on?" he asks from the other room. "What thing?" I call back. He shuffles into my office with one of the paper masks that I bought. I show him how to put it on. "This is the new fashion," he says with a laugh.