The Bagel Bopper and the Jesuits

After my parents died within less than a month of each other, I decided it would be best to find a full-time job.  That way, I would have somewhere to go each day and the chance to meet and mingle with a group of what I hoped would be new friends.

I’d been a freelance writer and author for many years, and the chance to bring in a regular paycheck and, hopefully, ease my grief seemed the perfect antidote to losing my parents.

Years before, I’d been a high school English teacher, then a writer/producer of educational filmstrips.  Remember them?  (If you’re weren’t in grade school by the early 1980s, you probably never heard of these rudimentary frame-by-frame  visuals with recorded sound.) I’d also written a slew of books and figured I was the perfect candidate for a job at Loyola Press in Chicago.  The head of the editorial staff agreed.

Loyola Press is a Catholic press started by Jesuits back in the day.  As a Jew, I wasn’t sure how that would go down, but my first assignment was to edit a series of books on reading and writing for elementary and middle school students.  Okay, I could do that.  And I did. The only signs of religion were the crosses that dominated the office walls and the prayers that began every faculty meeting or special event.  I put my head down and pretended to go along.

The Jesuits would have been proud because I prayed that my next assignment would augment the English series—maybe a focus on writing or literature or critical thinking. No such luck.  I was asked to edit and update Finding God, one of the faith program books.

I couldn’t do it.  Heck, I wasn’t sure I even believed in God.  And I wasn’t interested in finding Him/Her.

“You know I’m Jewish.”

“Of course, I do.  But this won’t be too much of a stretch.”

Were they kidding?  I couldn’t come in to work every day, sit down at my desk and read the New Testament or revise text about the importance and finding and keeping God in our lives.  I could easily sabotage the whole deal and write about bagels and lox instead of wafers and wine.  I could underscore the pure fantasy in much of the Biblical stories.  I could scream profanities so loud that the Jesuit priest in his second floor office would come running—well, running is a bit of an exaggeration.  He was getting on in age and walked with a cane.  (At least, that’s what I remember.)

So, I started searching for homes in northern California.  I’d wanted to live there since I’d graduated from college and decided this would be the perfect time to get the heck out of Dodge.  A move would be a perfect excuse that even the Father could forgive.

I was uncomfortable about quitting after only a year+ on the job and put off my resignation as long as I could.  But the Finding God project was scheduled to get underway, and I couldn’t hold my cards any longer.

“I can’t do it,” I told my immediate boss.  She was Catholic, too.

“You’ll be great.  You can be more objective.”

Objective?  I doubted she or the higher ups wanted objectivity.  I was, after all, a Bagel Bopper who, while not religious, resented the notion that Jews were Christ killers and that the Catholic church had remained silent during World War II when they knew damn well about the slaughter going on right under their noses.

But I’d heard that Jesuits were tolerant of other religions and believers in free education. I couldn’t argue with that.

Still, I quit.  Before I packed my bag and walked out the front door, I made my way up to the second floor office of the Father and titular head of Loyola Press.  I don’t remember what I said.  Probably some bogus about being needed to care for an elderly relative or needing time to write a novel.  I couldn’t possibly tell the truth and confess.

Father (I wish I could remember his full name) was generous and kind.  He wished me best of luck and thanked me for my service.

I felt like a—well, like a traitor.  Maybe I was getting religion, after all.





No, not the age jumps (gaps) between brothers and sisters. For now, I’ve written enough about that topic in both The Sibling Connection: How Siblings Shape Our Lives (shameless plug) and in many posts right here.


An age jump day.

An age jump day.

Nope, I’m talking about the days when you wake up, look at yourself in the mirror and stare in dismay at a new line that has made its debut around the corners of your mouth, the corner of an eye or anywhere else.  Or maybe a slightly deeper fold that runs along the side of your nose like a river in the Grand Canyon.

Oh, I could go on about the physical “ravages” of age.  I fondly remember the day when I was in my early 40s and a friend sat on a porch step one rung higher than mine.  She peered at the top of my head adorned with a mass of what I called a “lion’s mane” and declared, “You don’t have one gray hair!”

Honestly, I hadn’t given a thought to turning gray.  I was concerned about the small amount of loose skin between my bra strap and my arm.  (If only I’d realized then what I know now.  I would have worn sleeveless tops every day of the year.)

So, back to the present.  A new wrinkle . . . a deeper line . . . crepe paper skin . . . Your first response?  If you’re like most of us, you want to slam a bag over your head (any material/size will do) and sulk for the rest of the day.  And that’s what I recommend—minus the bag, of course.

We need to grieve.  To feel sorry for ourselves.  To wonder where all the time has gone and why we look more like our mothers/grandmothers than we vowed we ever would.

Hell, if you feel like buying a burka, go right ahead.  Cover yourself and all your imperfections from head to foot.  (If it’s summer, take care: you could suffocate.)

We grieve all kinds of losses: loved ones, pets, friends, satisfying jobs.  But, rarely, do we give ourselves permission to grieve for what society has convinced us is a loss of beauty.  Oh, we complain to anyone who will listen.  (My husband has had it up to “here.”)  We bitch about our flabby stomachs, our sagging chins, the veins large and small that mar our legs into an atlas-like illustration of all the rivers that flow through our state.

(BTW, I may take the prize for the flabby stomach thing.  Mine used to be so flat and taut.  Farewell.)

What I’ve found is a little bit of grief goes a long way.  Feel sorry for yourself.  Look at old pictures and curse the day you were born.  Maybe even try on that size 8 dress you’ve hidden in your closet in the hopes of someday being able to wear it again.

But at the end of your age jump and your day of grief, give it up.  Look straight in the mirror and thank the gods or goddesses that you look (and feel) as good as you do.  And remember: Next week, next month, six months from now you’ll look back on today and wish that you had embraced that wrinkle or sag because you looked damn good.




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When Siblings Are Friends: The Sibling Effect

When Siblings Are Friends: The Sibling Effect

In her New York Times Ties article, “When Friends Are ‘Like Family'”, Deborah Tannen explores friendship for a book in progress.

As the author of The Sibling Connection: How Siblings Shape Our Lives, I read Tannen’s piece with great interest.  I guess you might say that I’m a sibophile (I just made that up.  You won’t find it in the dictionary.)  I believe in the sibling relationship with all of its twists and turns and the many ways siblings help us understand why, how, and the way we are .

Of course, it’s not an either/or between siblings and friends.  Tannen points out that comments by the people she interviewed “shed light on the nature of friendship, the nature of family, and something that lies at the heart of both: what it means to be close.”

  • “Her friends are more precious than her sisters because they remember things from her past that her sister don’t and can’t, since they weren’t there.”  Our siblings have been there since the beginning.  How many of us have a best friend from childhood?  Sure, some of us.  But not many.  From high school?  Perhaps.  College?  Probably.  But these friends have no memory of us as kids, possibly not when we were adolescents.  Unlike our sisters (siblings of both genders), the majority of our friends were not part of our lives in our most formative years.  While it’s true that our siblings don’t always remember the same events in the same way we do, they were there and can offer their take which can be eye opening.  And as older adults when our parents have died, siblings are the only ones who can reminisce about our immediate and extended families.
  • “Many grown children continue to wish that their parents or siblings could see them for who they really are, not who they wish them to be. This goal can be realized in friendship. “She gets me,” a woman said of a friend. “When I’m with her I can be myself.”  According to one large study, two-thirds of people said a brother or sister was one of their best friends.  Jill Suitor, a sociologist at Purdue University, and her colleagues polled 274 families with 708 adult children (ages twenty-three to sixty-eight) and found that the majority had good feelings toward their siblings.  And when you ask older siblings to name their closest relative, they say they feel closer to siblings than to any other relatives except their children.
  • ” . . . family conjures longevity, love, support.”  Precisely.  Siblings often provide, not just conjure, “longevity, love, support.”  For example, I have known my sister since the day she was born.  (She is six years younger.)  Can’t say that about any of my friends.  Sure, we’ve had our issues over the years (No relationship is perfect.) but have worked through snafus and are as close as two humans can be.  Though she lives in another state, we talk and email often.  When the second-to-last of our surviving aunts died recently, she represented our immediate family at the funeral.  I was in Mexico and could not travel back to the U.S.  When I need information about, say, our grandparents and want to compare notes, I call my sister. When I have concerns about my adult son, I often call my sister.  When my parents were dying, my sister and I worked together as a supportive team.  None of my friends could have fulfilled that role.
  • “When a friend dies, a part of you dies, too, as you lose forever the experiences, the jokes, the references that you shared.”  True.  But what about the death of a sibling?  For adult surviving siblings, there is the sadness of the loss of family history.  One sibling I interviewed for The Sibling Connection said, “Our parents were both born in Europe. As a younger person, I was never concerned with the details of my roots.  In the last few years, I’ve been very concerned because my kids have been asking me.  I always depended on my brother, but he’s no here.  My historical roots . . . my local historian is gone.”   Verifying the past, resolving long-standing conflicts from childhood, and pulling up family roots are tasks cut short when an adult sibling dies.  Who are our checkpoints?  Not parents who are old or dead, nor spouses who entered into our adult lives.  And rarely friends because the majority don’t “go all the way back.”  Our siblings can be the only verification of our previous lives.
  • “Just as with literal families, friends who are like family can bring not only happiness but also pain, because the comfort of a close bond can sometimes morph into the restraints of bondage. The closer the bond, the greater the power to hurt – by disappointing, letting you down . . . ”  To be fair, this applies to siblings, too.  Siblings who are close—and brothers and sisters whose connections are frayed, sometimes for good—have hurt one another during childhood and beyond.  We may have said something hurtful in the heat of the moment or competed for parents’ attention or forgotten an important event.  My sister let me down by not consulting me before she suggested that my parents move to her town.  My brother let me down by not supporting my desire to give my mother a proper funeral. And then there were the issues around our inheritance.  (The illness and/or death of parent can be a dicey affair.)

We all have friends who are “like family.”  Eighty per cent of us have at least one sibling.  Both relationships can be loving, supportive, fun.  But unlike friends, our siblings are the only ones who go all the way back and can help us understand where we came from and where we’ve gone.



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