To Tell the Truth

I don’t much like being corrected. Who does? But in my family, it’s a constant hazard. I spin stories, my scientifically minded husband and son bring me down to earth. They make claims about something historical, and I gather my authority.

But on Shabbos?

Prepare for a confession.

The sanctuary was returned to order. The def, darboukas and even the cowbell were packed up. My guitars were safely stored in the wayback.

We piled into our sea green (yes, it has the woody panels!) 1978 Country Squire station wagon and turned on the air conditioner. The “we” included my gentle and soft-spoken husband, Ralf, our twenty-year-old accordion-playing son, Erik, and our I-can-sing-harmony-to-anything-you-throw-at-me lay cantor, Angela Hodges.

The clacking of buckling seat belts subsided. The inevitable question arose.

“How was the service?”

“I loved the story,” Ralf said.

“I thought the music was right on,” Angela said.

“It was good,” Erik said.

Wait for it…

“But,” Erik added, “when you started talking about the Barchu and the unfathomable force that causes the sun to set I started thinking…”

I interrupted. “Don’t start in on me. I already know what you’re going to say.”

“What unfathomable force?” Erik asked. “Gravitation?”

Angela laughed. Ralf chuckled. I despaired.

Erik studies chemistry, which he claims is the use of the obscure in the pursuit of the irrelevant.

“Every time you are home from college,” I said, “I start worrying about what you are thinking at services. As soon I started speaking about the Barchu I could hear you in my head. ‘It’s the rotation of the earth we’re talking about, mom.”

“Well, it is!” Erik announced.

“When I do spiritual direction,” I said calmly, “the persons I work with often denigrate themselves. Sometimes I ask them to tell me whose voice is telling them that they are crazy, or overemotional, or whatever. It is almost always the mother’s voice they are hearing.”

Erik began laughing.

“But I,” I added, “I suffer because it is my son’s voice in my head telling me I am nuts.” I paused. “You have been doing this since you were about four.”

“Yeah,” Erik admitted. “I was a shmuck.”

“Yeeesss… well no, actually,” I said. “You just loved the truth.”

“Then I loved the truth.” Erik agreed. “Later, I realized there was no such thing as the objective truth. Now I correct people for the heck of it. While we’re on the subject, do you remember the question you asked before Ahavat Olam? You asked us to think about what makes us who we are,” Erik said. He paused.

“And you thought…” I said.

“A featherless biped with flat nails.”

Everyone laughed. Including me.

In case you don’t know the story, it is said that Plato once offered up Socrates’ definition of a man as a “featherless biped” to students of his academy.” In response, the philosopher and all-around snark Diogenes of Sinope plucked all the feathers from a chicken and brought it to Plato, saying, “Behold! I’ve brought you a man.” Possibly missing the point, Plato revised his definition to “a featherless biped with flat nails.”

Our car conversation moved on to new Spanish-speaking guests at the service. I forgot my Spanish (or rather remembered it), and mispronounced one of our visitor’s names. The family origins were in Latin America, not the Iberian peninsula.

“Sorry, folks” I said. “When I studied Spanish I learned the ‘c’ as a ‘th’ sound. In fact, over thirty years ago, Ralf was learning Spanish at the same time and he claimed he spoke Castilian Spanish even though he pronounced the ‘c’ like an ‘s.’ We had a big battle over who spoke Spanish the way they did in Spain.”

“So I got the inclination to correct people from somewhere,” Erik said. “Hmm.”

Everyone but me laughed.

“Oy. Guilty as charged,” I said. “I’ve been hoisted by own petard.”

Ralf, who had quietly listened to everything going down, finally spoke up.

“Actually,” my gentle husband said, “that’s hoist.”



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