In an effort to put the next several months into the proper perspective, I went to see the Boss today. Not the singer from New Jersey but my Boss, the woman who hired me more than ten years ago for a job I no longer have but upon whom I continually rely for wisdom, friendship and a clear-eyed and honest assessment of where things are.
The examination began immediately upon my entering her home. Within moments of crossing the threshold, I was questioned about my beard, my wife's change of career, my children's plans for summer camp and college, my board, my congregants, the Jewish people, Israel, and the abysmal state of politics in our nation today. No sooner was lunch served than I was listening to a monologue about the National Recovery Act, its use of marketing to win support, and the serious consideration I should be undertaking for a fundraising campaign to repair and renew our synagogue.
I kid you not: I was present no more than fifteen minutes and we had moved rapidly and thoroughly from one topic to the next and as I was making mental notes, the Boss said, "Why aren't you writing any of this down? Do you have it stored in that clever head of yours? Why don't you shave that ridiculous beard?"
The Boss is just a couple years older than my father would be and I have to admit to a special kinship I feel being both loved and amusingly abused by a member of the Generation of all Generations in 20th century America. My own opinions matter in relevance only in so far as they are truly persuasive (based on solid evidence.) Numbers matter and about the only thing that I was able to impress the Boss with was that our synagogue has grown by 230 families in the last 4 years and that a local philanthropist gave us $100,000 when he heard about our roof. "That's the most serious thing you've said all afternoon," the Boss said, winking. I had been there twenty minutes.
Some of the Boss's lectures I've heard many times. And I never tire of them, truly. There's the lecture on the importance of camping. There's the lesson about how crushed she was when Roosevelt died only to discover that Truman was an equally strong leader. There's the continued insistence that since 1948, Israel has continued to struggle for existential legitimacy. A vase of flowers stood behind me, a gift to the Boss from a young Palestinian professional who had visited and debated the finer points of the creation of the Palestinian refugees crisis and the ongoing challenge of the settlements. Well into her eighties, the Boss's suitors pursue her, for that brain, that stubbornness, and that brutally honest sense of humor.
Woven into the rational and the intellectual and the political were a few asides here and there, reflections of battles lost and won but reflections that never lasted long enough to cast a shadow on the next great project, just around the corner. We hatched a few ourselves.
Getting up to go--she noticed I was ready to leave before I announced my goodbye--she said, "I'm sure you have some bar mitzvah kid to tutor. I hope you write down everything I told you." And then she reviewed the plan for the next few months. I smiled, not taking notes, and she said, "I really don't see why you grew that beard."
"My wife thinks it's handsome," I said.
"Cary Grant was handsome," said the Boss. And with a smile she showed me the door.
As the 1 train pulled into the station, to take me to Chambers and then on to the 3 train to Brooklyn, I made a list of the Boss's agenda. My marching orders for the weeks ahead.
I considered listing "shaving" among the items but decided not to. The other items I'll follow through on--or there will be hell to pay.