Sunday, September 26, 2010

You Don't Love Me Yet, by Jonathan Lethem

Our family's tradition is to hold big dinner parties during the weekend that falls during the eight-day holiday of Sukkot. On those nights big, aluminum trays heavy with lasagna, and baskets of garlic bread cover the table in our sukkah. As the sun sets we light an oil-burning lantern that hangs from one of the roof beams and it casts a cozy, yellow glow over the faces of our guests. This year, though, something unexpected happened. This year, the Bat Mitzvah of the daughter of a dear family friend was scheduled over the holiday weekend so, instead of the frantic bustle of big dinners, we had the honor of attending this special event.

Although I was excited to be a part of my friend's daughter's Bat Mitzvah, because I wouldn't be holding our usual dinner parties, I expected I might feel as though something was missing. What took me by surprise, though, was how meaningful the weekend ended up being despite the absence of our Sukkot dinners. In fact the experience of joining in a good friend's simcha touched my heart so deeply, I didn't miss the dinners at all. That was unexpected.

There were a few moments that stood out. The first came during the ceremony when the rabbi called the Bat Mitzvah girl by the wrong name. At that time the Bat Mitzvah girl was sitting way at the edge of the stage, not exactly close to the rabbi, but she had the moxie to interrupt him, and called out to remind him of her name! Moxie from a 13-year-old girl under the pressure of a Bat Mitzvah ceremony -- who knew? The next moment came later that evening, at the end of the kids' dance party. It was time for the closing song, which was, of course, Green Day's, "The Time of Your Life," (this was expected) and the kids had their arms around each other, singing and swaying to the music. And that's when, spontaneously, six of us adults -- all good friends of each other and the celebrating family -- formed our own little circle. We slung our arms over each others' shoulders, swayed and sang along like the teenagers. Sure, the song has been so overplayed that is has become a cliche, but it isn't every day that I get the chance to celebrate the important place my friends hold in my life. And the third moment? This one still has me floored. Turns out one of the guests at the Bat Mitzvah was just featured in the news. Her parents were killed in the Holocaust and, through several serendipitous twists of fate, JUST LAST WEEK she was reunited with a member of the French family who housed her and helped to smuggle her safely into America.

The weekend's lesson: even if I don't get what I expect, if I am able to keep an open mind, I may end up with something even better. Take Jonathan Lethem's, "You Don't Love Me Yet." I've never read a Lethem novel, but because he is scheduled to speak as part of Butler's writers series I felt spurred to fill in this particular literary gap. In "You Don't Love Me Yet" Lethem tells the story of the four members of a garage rock band. At the start, an avant-garde performance artist sets up a complaint hotline as an art exhibit and the female member of the band is charged with answering the phone. One of the callers, known only as The Complainer, intrigues the band member and the story is off. YDLMY was one wild ride, and although I didn't understand it, I sure liked it. What is Lethem's theme? I have no idea. In YDLMY, just as in my Sukkot weekend, I didn't get what I expected. But I sure had fun.

Check out the link below for the Bat Mitzvah guest's amazing story -- and no, unlike the recent fiction of the story of the man who reunited with the girl who tossed him apples over the camp fence -- this one is for real!

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