I’m grateful for this breath, for everything in between the breaths, for everything in between the everything.
Today (and everyday) is about giving thanks.
But today I’m going to tell you about the time I was Jewish.
Jewish, that is. Liking bagels obviously doesn’t count, although I do like a hot bagel with some cream cheese, especially in the Boise airport before an early morning flight (although if we’re being honest and without regard for consequence, I think most of us would take the doughnut).
Josh Ross was Jewish. He probably still is, but I haven’t talked to him in over three decades, so I can’t be sure. He was one of the few friends I had growing up and we spent many a night at each other’s houses, staying up late talking about Magic Johnson’s latest double-double and wondering why the 4th grade had to be so hard. We played football and soccer and rode skateboards on the weekends at the junior high down the street, which seemed so far away, but was really only a few blocks from my house and even closer to his.
Adolescents was already threatening innocence when I was invited to his bar mitzvah. Friendships sometimes drift apart in the haze of prepubescent confusion, and I hadn’t hung out with Josh in awhile. I also wasn’t exactly sure what a bar mitzvah was, except that it had something to do with being Jewish and a synagogue and getting presents.
But I got him a present anyway and by the time I walked into the synagogue and took the first seat I could find, my demise was already in motion. The lady sitting next to me shot me a sideways disapproving look, which I didn’t think I deserved, so I gave her a little wave just in case I misinterpreted her intent. A guy who looked like he was in charge behind the pulpit started reading out of a book. I had no idea what he was saying, only that he sounded pretty forceful.
So I was already confused when I stood up.
I stood up because I thought the guy in charge told me to. I guess it was more because everyone in the section around me stood up after he said something, so I thought he was telling our little geographic posse it was our time stand up.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a procession starting to build in the aisle to my left. As the line of important-looking people, some of them wearing robes like I’d seen at my congregational church back in the day, passed by, I swear that I felt a nudge from the lady next to me telling me to go. And the guy in charge said something that I interpreted as Go!
So I went.
I thought I was supposed to.
I started to realize this as the procession took its first turn to the right. We passed in front of Josh and his parents and they looked at me like I’d just shot a puppy, which was right about when I recognized how out of place I was in this particular procession. Twelve years old and short for my age. Almost-white blonde hair. Blue eyes.
So I did my best to look official and when everybody else took a left up the stairs into the front of the synagogue, I took a right.
And walked all the way to the back and out the door.
I kept walking, block after block, all the way home. Which was pretty far. I was somehow afraid an angry mob of bar-mitzvah police would appear if I looked back, so I kept my head down and my hands in my pockets.
I never did see Josh Ross again.
So what’s this have to do with Thanksgiving?
But I hope today holds some beauty for you.
And if some perfumed lady sitting next to you tells you to move, think twice.