Polly: A Life
Caveat: There is no blame or guilt here. This is not about feeling sorry for ourselves. It’s about an honest confrontation with that Holy Neshama we called “Polly.”
Today, Polly’s first Yartzeit, is Erev Shabbat and Erev Rosh Chodesh Elul. The Parsha is “Re’ay”. Sefer Devarim is three months of Moshe Rabbeinu reminding us of everything that came before, everything we’ve seen and all HaShem has taught us. It’s almost like the first time. Why? We weren’t there? We didn’t hear the teachings? We didn’t see all that occurred?
All too often, indeed for most of the time, we don’t hear and we don’t see and we do need to be told. So, the attribute of seeing is coming into the world this Shabbat and it is travelling through the attribute of Elul. What is Elul? “Ani L’Dodi, v’Dodi Li” and “Hamelech b’Sadeh;” HaShem is coming to us as a Lover, the first says and the second says that we don’t have to work to ‘see’ HaShem’ as the rest of the year. HaShem is coming to us for us to see. An elucidation says that when reciting the “Shma” we should be focused on the Cheshbon HaNefesh we need to do. But we shouldn’t delve too deeply because it is a precarious job. We could fall into despair or depression when being so focused on our failings. But Elul is safe because of the closer Magen HaShem sends down to us. In Elul we are able to see what otherwise is too painful and perplexing because of this Divine, protective force field.
So, what do we know? What questions did we ask ourselves about Polly, as kids growing up? What did we notice? I can only answer for myself. I was the unappointed guardian of Polly at school. It was clear that she was different and in a place she didn’t belong. Except that she did. We try to look at the unasked questions, trying to utilize age and maturity and the wisdom time on this planet has afforded us, to try and understand what we couldn’t then. We use what we have and what we have acquired and it is all filtered through our personal systems of interest. What we have studied and the way we look at life in general give shape and color to our evaluations.
Asking questions that cannot be answered in the clear absolute is an encounter with the esoteric. The word comes from the Greek, meaning “within.” It’s strange but true: To see beyond the limitations of the physical, we need to look inside. “Shma Yisrael, HaShem Elokeynu HaShem Echad.” There is a teaching that says that “Shma” is Rashei Teivot for “Se’u YiDeichem Marom” – Lift Your Eyes to the Beyond on High.” It means that one has to look to the beyond to see deep within, the significance and meaning of what we hear.
When we were sent to school, we were sent, consciously or otherwise, to be socialized, amenable to being controlled, memorize facts and information, be able to pass tests and accept the permissible reality as if it was the only one. Yeshiva Dov Revel was populated by a collection of supremely intelligent kids who excelled at the critical survival contest known as competition. As we were not taught the important things: how to love, how to be, how to find the purpose of our particular creation, how to be compassionate, wise, generous and understanding., we cut each other down mercilessly. After the war, when people such as Abba were tasked to recreate the Jewish People, there was no thought about these things. They were so far removed, they weren’t even thought of. It happened to me. And it happened to Polly. And she had fewer survival and competitive skills then I did.
And so I had the same questions about Polly and the same lack of wisdom and understanding. But as I was her protector in school and her substitute friend to take her to the movies and the ball games, to concerts and to travel, I was forced to confront these questions all the time, if for no other reason than because I couldn’t say no. And as Sharon and Deena grew up and left home, it fell even more upon me to be her companion during those years, so I question. And I investigated. I haven’t stopped. Here’s what I’ve come up with.
In an earlier paragraph that Polly was supposed to be in Dov Revel. How can I say that? Because she was there. She had no Bechirat Chafshi not be there. We are all where we’re supposed to be. Whether we like that place or not. For we have two essential jobs in this lifetime: Complete our personal Go’ral and Tikun and contextualize our lives and struggles and work within the larger Tikun Olam b’Malchut Sha’kai. The places we find ourselves as well as their circumstances, are the playing fields of our lives. One field might have better groundskeepers so the balls sent our way bounce true and are easy to field and dispose of. Others have fields with lumps and bumps and a ball coming straight to us hits one and bounces out of comfortable reach. It can hit us in the head or it can bounce awkwardly out of our hands. It’s part of the game.
Whatever Polly’s personal Tikun, she was meant to be there. For her, they were almost all rocky fields. How she survived AT ALL boggles how she survived AT ALL boggles my mind. How did she accomplish ANYTHING? How did she endure it all?
I noticed three things about Polly. 1- She simply could not negotiate the emotions engendered as the result of the way she was and there were no seemingly rational words that could alter this. 2- She was brilliant, flowing with astonishingly prescient observations. 3- She had a profound sense of humor. In her devotion to MASH, I understood that she appreciated the higher, more important moral ground that Hawkeye stood on as compared to Frank. She appreciated the absurdity of systems, policy and expressions of power that emerge in Mankind’s folly.
Later, before her job at Squadron, I listened daily to her cries and felt her tears, just for wanting a chance. She wanted a chance to talk to a customer, make the plane reservations and write the ticket. Forget the reasons why she couldn’t. She just wanted a chance and we human beings didn’t know how to hear her, to see beyond, deep into her words and therefore how to respond.
I thank Abba for arranging the job with Howard. And if Howard has any place in Olam Ha’ba’a, it is not because of his meetings with Carter and Arafat and certainly not for enabling Murdoch. But for Polly. All that he worked for is dust in the wind. No one remembers him. AJC is less than history. The firm has no one to even care to remember it. He himself remains unknown today. But he did for Polly. It is enough for this that he was Created.
In Polly’s ambition for a chance, is revealed so much. She was aware of her ‘difference’. Maybe she only understood that she was different. If she asked herself, ‘why’ I have no knowledge. If she would have been content to stay home and watch TV, she would probably have been compassionately allowed. But she didn’t want that. She wanted to be useful and have purpose, both for her as well as to be an active partner in the going’s on the family, her city and her world. It shows that observed her life and thought about it.
It is the human condition to think animals are less, lacking in the capacity to understand us. “Come Fido! Dumb dog.” But it us who are less, because we don’t understand them. We don’t want to think of ourselves as less than a dog. So we decide they’re the dumb ones. We do it to people. We did it to Polly. But we were less for not only not understanding her, but for the limited ways we might have tried. And the truth is, we didn’t try so hard. We put her into a convenient box that collapsed when she passed and left us with all these thoughts and questions.
So where is there any comfort? Where is the Menucha? Where is the Chochma, Bina and Da’at that makes hard, painful reality, liveable?
The answers to these questions lie in her final journey; the cancer, how she responded to it and her passing. While hell for us, how could she be, finally, so joyous? How did she never complain of pain or the unfairness of this final affliction upon a lifetime of afflictions? How was she so at peace?
She knew. Somewhere, somehow, the real Esther Pai’ah, the eternal Esther Pai’ah, the always and forever Esther Pai’ah, came alive. She somehow, someway knew from whence she came and where to she was going. Why was Polly ‘frum?’ What did she care about God, or religion or Yiddishkeit? Did she ever talk about them? Did she ever challenge HaShem? Did we ever hear cry, “Woe is me! Ayecha?”
Because she knew. In the way she was different from us, she knew what we didn’t. She didn’t question HaShem nor challenge HaShem. But she questioned us and she challenged us. Abba has said it well in regards to the Shoah: “Where was God? The answer to that is, “Where was man.” This was Polly’s question.
Knowing the days of suffering were coming to an end, she was relieved. She was never too connected to her body. Like her inner makeup, her body was also ‘out of reality.’ When the time came, she was able to spiritually disconnect from identifying with her body. Having let go of worrying about her place in this world, knowing that she was soon to be freed of her unforgiving body, she could move into that ‘Polly’ we couldn’t know and understand. We all have an inner reality and inner voice. And these are different one from the other. So to for Polly. She could go to places we don’t even know exists. Here she could find safety and comfort.
As she entered further the passageway to the Eternal, she exhibited greater love, care and compassion for the rest of us. It was as if she already had left her body and was showering protective, Shechina-like, compassion, from on High.
And this is my Menucha. At the end, she understood her Tikun and her Goral, accepted that she accomplished it, that she truly did her best and was now free from her life sentence. And so, finally, at the end, she was no longer thinking of herself first. She was thinking of those she loved so much. AND SHE DID LOVE US, ONE AND ALL!
And how she loved! How she loved her nieces and nephews. The pleasure she got from them! There are no words. How she loved Sharon’s grandchildren. There are no words.
But in the end, that’s what left. Not her pain and suffering. Not the hurts and the rejections. And not the traumas. Just the love. The love she had for us, for her family.
Finally, as I write these last words, the tears finally come. I say farewell, Esther Pai’ah. I say, may your Neshama soar without end. I say, may I always and only see your rapturous laughter with its intelligence and wisdom and understanding. May I always feel and know your love. I know you already forgave any of my trespasses against you. Please look in from time to time upon your family here and be a force sweet goodness, compassion and grace, in these Acharit HaYamim.
I know it to be true, so I’ll end simply with, see you again real soon, B’Ezrat HaShem.
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov.