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The Joys of the Grown-Up Life

To find a partner in life, to take care of them, put up with them, become one with them during a long, eventful marriage in which both of you are tested to the limits of your being, is to be shown the true mirror of your own character.

The other night, quite belatedly I admit, I watched the 2001 movie “Prozac Nation,” based on the 1994 bestseller by Elizabeth Wurtzel. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that a pointless tale about a mean-spirited, completely self-absorbed brat with an excuse note from her parents (yes, yes, they are both certifiable and poor little Lizzy had to excel to please her crazy mother, resulting in a scholarship to Harvard… real child abuse. Discuss it with the Tiger Mother). Elizabeth feels she has a right to be co-dependently crazy.

Afterward, I wondered what had become of her since her ride into bestsellerdom.

To my surprise, I found that pill-popping, suicidally-challenged Elizabeth is not only still writing, but mentoring, using her own life as an example.

In “I Refuse to be a Grown-Up: Secrets to Looking Young at 45” published in the April Atlantic Monthly, Wurtzel tells us she was at a party in Williamsburg with much younger people and a man was astonished when she told him her age. Yes, she has found the fountain of youth and is kind enough to share her secret with us: Never marry.

Never have children you will have to nurture, or (God forbid!) breastfeed.

Be promiscuous.

Do drugs. Scream and yell about what bothers you, apologize when you’re wrong. Be “vicious when necessary, sometimes just for fun.”

If one follows her advice, one can hope – using her own life as an example – to live alone with a dog and cat and “die screaming.”

While I am relieved Elizabeth is still alive and kicking, and obviously still writing, the article gave me pause.

While years ago such advice would not have been taken seriously, let alone published, today it seems to represent the thinking of a good many young people.

One need only pay attention to the lyrics of the latest pop hit: “I crashed my car into the bridge/I watched, I let it burn/I threw your s— into a bag and pushed it down the stairs/I crashed my car into the bridge/I don’t care, I love it/I don’t care.”

It is no secret that marriage (at least that between a man and a woman) is in deep trouble. Need I cite statistics on divorce and one-parent families?

It did get me thinking during the forced introspection of the recent Days of Awe. I am 64, and no one looking at me would doubt it. Still, I prefer my own life. And for those who are looking for lives to emulate, might I suggest another model than Elizabeth Wurtzel’s?

I married my first boyfriend, who is still the love of my life, at 20, and had four children. But my wrinkles, except for the laugh lines, don’t come from them. To give birth, nurse a child, raise him or her is to feel yourself connected to the deepest mysteries of the universe: life, love, creation. It brings a joy that no one can convey to you, that you simply must experience.

To find a partner in life, to take care of them, put up with them, become one with them during a long, eventful marriage in which both of you are tested to the limits of your being, is to be shown the true mirror of your own character.

You can never, ever know yourself as deeply in any other way. It is one of the great experiences of being human and being alive.

And whether that bond lasts forever, or for a time, you are a more whole human being because of it. And while I admit this means I have forgone the sexual adventures of my century, I can say I am glad I never shared my body or my bed with anyone who knew me less well, and cared for me less deeply, than the man I married.

Except for rallying for the presidency of Barack Obama, the young in America seem to have lost all interest in politics.

Unlike Wurtzel, who basically says politics is all a fraud that gives you wrinkles, I care deeply about whom I vote for, because I care deeply about the world I am leaving behind.

While I share her loathing for politically correct pundits and those who mindlessly repeat conventional wisdom, that doesn’t mean one can forgo the struggle of fighting the forces of evil that exploit the poor, damage the weak, hurt the defenseless.

I have exchanged many a non-physical but wounding blow with those who hate me for the stands I’ve taken.

Admittedly, my life would have been much less complicated and stressful if I’d switched on the television and had a beer instead, but the urge to make the world a better place before we leave is a grown-up goal, and one that is worth the battle scars.

Perhaps if I had a cat and a dog like Elizabeth instead of 12 grandchildren, I might care less.

Let me tell you, Elizabeth and your followers, about grandchildren. They come along just when the end of your life looms into view, closer than you ever imagined.

Their young bodies and young minds, their innocent beginnings in the world give you a second chance to help nurture and contribute. Just when you begin to feel old and useless, you have little hands to hold, curious minds to fill with hard-earned wisdom, and a place to put all the love you have to give while you are still alive. It gives you a new goal. To live to be at their birthdays, soccer games, plays and graduations, and to dance at their weddings.

Unlike Elizabeth, sometimes I do what other people want me to do, because other people are important to me.

Sometimes I invite people over whom I don’t like because they are lonely. Sometimes I make dinner for family members who have hurt me because there is a chance for reconciliation and life is so short.

I am also, like Elizabeth, interested in everything, even some things that on the surface don’t appear very interesting.

Like a child’s drawing, or an old man’s tale of youth.

Yes, Elizabeth, people are self-involved.

Sometimes, they have good reason, because no one is given anything in this world. But the fact that you are alive at this time and in this place is enough for me to care about you, to connect me to you wherever you are in the world. Self-indulgence isn’t a crime, except when it is all-consuming and leaves nothing in your mind and heart that can connect with others. When that happens, it’s not a lifestyle; it’s a tragedy.

I too care about how I look. I vainly dye the gray out of my hair. I put on face cream, although I’m pretty sure it’s useless. But at family gatherings in which photos are taken, I find that when surrounded by the large group of people who are my blood relatives, my husband, my children and their spouses, and my grandchildren, even though I don’t have Botox or nice teeth, I have a very beautiful smile.

And when I die (hopefully in peace and silence), I hope it will be on my face as I survey what I have left behind during my brief sojourn to this complicated planet.

This article was first published in the Jerusalem Post on 19 September 2013.

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9 comments on “The Joys of the Grown-Up Life”

  1. Kim Johnson

    “To give birth, nurse a child, raise him or her is to feel yourself connected to the deepest mysteries of the universe: life, love, creation. It brings a joy that no one can convey to you, that you simply must experience.”

    It saddens me to read these words from a woman whose books seem to say that women must learn to connect with what is deep inside them … no matter what their circumstances.

    To suggest that a woman may achieve her true measure of humanness only through bearing children is a slap in the face to those who cannot have them or choose not to have them.

    There are many reasons for choosing not to have children, and they are not all selfish ones.

    While Elizabeth Wurtzel has made a career out being loudly derisive of marriage and childbearing, her views are not particularly influential on women of sense and compassion.

    Naomi, your books (and I’ve read most of them) seem to celebrate women who find their humanity in the circumstances within which they exist. How can you believe this and still tell us that only in partnering for life can a woman truly know herself?

    You say, about marrying once, for a lifetime: “You can never, ever know yourself as deeply in any other way. It is one of the great experiences of being human and being alive.”

    And yet, how many women have had your good fortune of finding the love of their lives within their first 20 years?

    I am deeply disappointed to find such a narrow worldview from a woman I’d come to respect so deeply from her writings.

  2. Naomi R.

    A beautiful tribute to living life to its fullest. Naomi, I wish you B’ezrat HaShem a long life filled with happiness and hope. Thank you.

  3. Irma Rochlin

    So well put–as usual. How satisfying to see my children,grandchildren and great grandchildren
    following the same values and deriving pleasure from family and deep friendships and tikun olum. We are not an anachronism in this modern world but can utilize modern conveniences to enhance our inter-reactions with one another thru reading,writing,email,Skype and smart phones
    while keeping up with what is going on in every corner of the world thru TV. And keep learning and appreciating this wonderful gift of life Hashem has given us and the wonders of
    the beauties of this remarkable universe,its mountains and seas, sunrises and sunsets,the nourishing rains and trees and flowers and rivers and streams and oceans. So grateful for the years to make a difference and grow and enjoy even the lows and disappointments that help us grow. I feel your kindred spirit in all you write and the occasional times we meet at your book tour appearances. Kol ha kvoed. “Grammy” Irma Rochlin (former member of Florida House of Representatives)

  4. Bennett M. Rackman

    Dear Naomi,

    Yes, beautifully written.

    However, I think you omitted a value which you hold very dear. When you sit with your grandson or granddaughter, you can share the Torah they are learning in school. You can give them a unique understanding that may not be getting in the classrooms of the 21st century.

  5. Lindsey Walker

    Dear Naomi,
    As usual this is a wonderful, well thought out article, filled with truth. I enjoyed it very much and will share it with my 5 children, 14 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren (who are precocious, but, at 1 and 2, do not yet read. 🙂
    Looking forward to seeing you in Atlanta on November 3. My Etz Aviv Hadassah book group will be attending with me.
    B’shalom,
    Lindsey

  6. Jeanne

    What a beautiful article. Thanks for reminding me about all the truly important things in my life. These are the things that build character. I also believe that our inner spiritual life allows us to be grateful and to see these blessings.
    Love your books!
    Sincerely,
    Jeanne

  7. jeanlipchin

    Dear Naomi,

    Your books the Ghost of Hannah Mendes and Sacrifice of Tamar sustained me through a very difficult summer. THANK YOU!

    I wanted to ask you if any of your books are translated into Russian?

    I agree 100% with everything you said above, yet what can be done? I came to the US alone in 1978 as a Russian refugee and I knew one thing for sure, that I wanted a family, that I had to be a mother, before anything else. Now, my daughter and my son, aged 28 and 20, seem to want none of it. The same goes for the children of many of my friends and acquaintances. So, we came here to die out like dinosaurs…but what if it’s not just us, what if it’s God’s will for the entire white race?! Luckily, I recently learned, there is more then a million Haredim Jews in the world; wiping them out won’t be that easy, and that provides some consolation…

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