Snapshots: Information Overload and West Point Ring Cycle

Not my mother-in-law's car, but it could have been.  Did you know there are several websites with photos of automobile crashes?  You can search by make. What a comment that makes, online ambulance chasing.

1. My mother-in-law calls us from her cell phone.  Her voice is a little harried, she's working on control.  She tells us she’s been in a car accident, that she’s fine, but can we meet her in Skokie? She’s been shopping at Old Orchard, and on the return seems to have collided with a Model T.

“I was too complacent,” she tells us. “Things were going too well. I was too complacent.”  As if you can always be in control.

Days later she’s decided she will not drive anymore. This is her wake-up call.
She is in her mid-eighties and can dance circles around anyone at a wedding. We see her as the new poster child for knowing when enough is enough, for letting people help her, having trust that it will be okay.

2.  That's Robert's Fish Store below.  Robert is on the left, Arturo on his right.

 I call her on a Friday morning. “I’m going to the fish store on Devon. Do you want to join me?”
Devon is a famous avenue in Chicago, known for the ethnic stamp of the markets, the bakeries, places of worship..  

“Sure,” she says.

We do a little independent shopping and meet at the fish store. Waiting at the counter is a Jewish woman with two lovely little kids, a boy and a girl.

I pay Arturo and turn to leave, but Mom can't stand it.  She has to approach the little girl.

“How old are you?” she asks exuberantly.

“Five,” the child asserts with pride.

Quietly I pipe in, “Have I got a boy for you!” thinking of my five-year old grandson.

The adults all laugh but as we walk to the car I think, How heterocentric was that? Even if I think I’m minority sensitive, I’m obviously not sensitive enough.  No, nobody else gave it a second thought, but that really is the point..

3. On Saturday morning I meet my young adult son at a senior retirement home for religious services. My kid has an important part in the service, and when he is guest reader, I like to hear him do his thing. I also like the way they run the service, how one resident calls out the pages, and the others giggle until they all agree. Being in their company feels right, being with people who have experienced life in full, great things, maybe, and much sorrow.

I take a seat near the end of the aisle so I can get up to look down from our level to the front entrance, the common room. The whole building is very beautiful and the high ceilings temper my usual institutional claustrophobia. The chapel doubles as a movie theater. Not many people under seventy here, only those who assist or bustle to get lunch on.

Three-quarters of the way through the service, a woman in her eighties in a perkie summer suit and straw hat asks if she can take the seat next to me. I'm in the row designed for walkers, and now I worry that I hogged a seat meant for someone else.

"No, please," I whisper, "Sit down."

First she apologizes that she doesn't use a prayer book. "I can't see, so there's no point. But I listen, and I enjoy the feel, the spirituality, just being here."

"You can be the ears of half the people here, and they can be your eyes."

"Exactly," she nods.

I tell her my mother is probably going to be moving here in a few months, and ask if she likes it. In Yiddish she answers, If you can't be at home, it's the next best thing. But she misses her home.

It turns out she has still not sold her suburban condo, like my mother hasn't sold her house. I don't ask if she's just lost her husband, or why she's here. To me it's fairly obvious that this "solution" is highly functional for people in her age group. It beats falling at home, and people check on you if you're not at dinner.

She asks me my mother's name and I tell her. She gets that look of recognition people get, but it's noncommittal. Maybe she knows my family and doesn't like them, I worry. I've learned to worry first, ask later. It's the Jewish neurosis.

"Seems to ring a bell for you," I observe.

"That's your father's last name, right?"


"Did they live on the West Side?"

Sure did. Everyone did. Most of the Jewish Chicago immigrants moved to the west side of the city when they immigrated in the thirties, preceding the Holocaust.

"I think I lived in their building," she continues. "My family occupied three of the six units.  That would be your grandparents.  Are they still alive?"

"No, they've passed on.  But that's so coincidental, isn't it?" I exclaim in a whisper.  "You knew them.  What do you remember?"

She's embarrassed. I'm not sure if what she remembers is good or bad, or she just can't remember.

"I didn't see them as our landlords, they were just people. We were all just people." Before the services break, she tells me the name of the street.  She is spot on.

I tell the story to my son as we walk home and he laughs, says, "How random is that?"

It's not random at all if you have a critical mass of Jews. Happens everywhere in Israel, no matter who you talk to, and apparently, if you move into a retirement center, it will happen there, too.  I'm sure it happens wherever there are concentrations of the same tribe.

4. Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal writes about how our lives are controlled by technology, as an electronically informed culture, we're guided by what we read.  And this is something philosophers have noted hundreds of years ago, as well.. (Information Overload is Nothing New).

Ms. Noonan mourns our obsession with our electronic gadgets to the degree that we don't make eye contact anymore, we're busy with our virtual communication. A patient has just complained to me that it used to be, when you went away on vacation, you got away. No more. We commiserated about the constant barrage of communication, how our lives have to be stressed as a consequence, despite the tickling of the pleasure centers in the brain, the social connectivity.

Worse than the disturbance is the volunteered slavery, the phenomena that we are led by the nose by what is new.  We're no longer free thinkers. No longer is research under the purview of the PhD's.  Everyone has new information to post.  So we're always checking, checking, checking to see what others are saying before we make a move.

I read it and worry that I have guided people, not so well sometimes, here on the blog.

But then again, it wasn't long ago that I told you to throw your cell phones in the back seat when you drive, before Oprah did her show on it.  And haven't ranted about it for a long time because frankly, it feels that this is the wave of the future. Nobody looks out the window anymore.
Thanks, Ms. Noonan.

Below: President Dwight D. Eisenhower, West Point Class of 1915, with a 1960 graduate, admiring a ring.

5. On the opinion page of WSJ,  Margaret Lough, a recent West Point graduate, waxes on nostalgically (My Place in the West Point Ring Cycle) about the meaning of the class ring, how each class determines what theirs will say. Ordinarily the motto rhymes.  Class of 2008, No Mission Too Great. This year the class has chosen, For Freedom We Fight.

It's a beautiful piece of journalism foreshadowing young people, idealistic, risking their lives to defend the lives of other Americans, our constitutional rights, our right to freedom.

I was in tears.



Neva Flores said…
I thoroughly enjoyed reading your wonderful post.
Jack said…
I worry about my children and the electronic tether. Believe me, I am tied to it- but I have lived without it. More importantly I still turn it off sometimes.

But I don't know if they'll be able to do it as easily.
Donna B. said…
On being heterocentric - I actually think that should be the default because... it is. That does not translate to being insensitive.

There's actually no better way to grow resentment of homosexuality than to start presuming that everyone you see might be one when it's statistically unlikely they are.

Besides, who wants to be judged, perceived, whatever, on the basis of their sexual preferences?

One of my favorite scenes from "As Good As It Gets" is when Melvin tells Simon that if only he were "wired" that way, Simon would be his first choice... or something along those lines.

IOW, sexuality is not a defining part of one's worth and it's a compliment to consider someone a worthy partner for someone you love, whether it will ever work out for whatever reason.
cardiogirl said…
I have no idea why I loved this exchange, but I did:

I tell the story to my son as we walk home and he laughs, says, "How random is that?"

It's not random at all if you have a critical mass of Jews. Happens everywhere in Israel, no matter who you talk to, and apparently, if you move into a retirement center, it will happen there, too. I'm sure it happens wherever there are concentrations of the same tribe.

I think because your son made a casual statement and you honed right down to the answer and I enjoyed the phrase "a critical mass of Jews."

Regardless, I enjoyed this story.
Margo said…
I thoroughly enjoyed this too, Ma. xxo
porcini66 said…
The saddest thing for my family at the moment is to know how desperately my father (87) wants to come home from nursing home he's in. They take good care of him and he is well loved there, but it is NOT home. It is not with his wife of 48 years. It is not his bed, his walls, his "stuff". He is so very sad about this and it breaks my heart. There is something so very plaintive about this simple want...he is so very sad as he wilts and withers, a smaller version of himself as each layer of dignity is stripped from him.
Ella said…
I'm glad you recognized that there might have been another thing to say to the little girl. She probably didn't realize that you would love to see your grandson grow up to marry a nice Jewish woman, come to Devon Ave to shop for fish with the kids..... ;-)

It's a small thing, to change from "Have I got a boy for you" to "Have I got a boy for you to play with"....
My daughter is five, so we all try to remember to say "You are so smart" as well as "You are so cute".
SeaSpray said…
Wonderful post for so many reasons.

I don't know if I could've been as polite as you after she said she didn't remember. Oh what I wouldn't give to hear another adult's account of my grandparents or mom. I wish I paid better attention. But I was a little girl when grandparents died.

What do you mean about phones while driving being the wave of the future? Did I misunderstand? I pray people will wake up and stop being so selfish and stupid when they drive. that being said ..I've made driving mistakes in other ways.
Anonymous said…
I would like to exchange links with your site
Is this possible?
therapydoc said…
Thanks all for your thoughts, I appreciate reading how people take what I'm saying, and the discussion.

As far as the heterosexism card goes, my research indicated that most GLBTs didn't feel they could get a grip on their own identities because at that time, in the late 90's there was no GLBT radar. So the sensitivity to the possibility is what I was after, not a default or an assumption of anything.

The whole homelessness thing, has to be painful, a part of grieving the difficulties of reaching "old age."

Oops, gotta' go, I have a 2:15.

But Anon, to exchange links, email me at therapydocATgmailDOTcom
Laurel said…
You might find this interesting!

Its about people not being able to process because they are too busy with technology.
Love your blog:)
Jew Wishes said…
Good post, TD. It's quite relevant to our times...the technological aspect has taken over "looking out of the car window", and other forms of daydreaming and/or seeing the world, man and nature.