the simple life
While convalescing, I read a wrenching memoir entitled The Arrogant Years by the author Lucette Lagnado, who also wrote The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit. Lagnado hails from an Orthodox Jewish family, originally from Egypt, that falls upon hard times. She suffers from Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a young teen and the treatments leave her infertile. She is somewhat of a rebellious child and ends up working as an investigative reporter in adulthood.
As she ages, she feels a bit sorry for herself when she visits some of her old friends and finds them married with children and living in tight-knit Orthodox enclaves, where the siblings, children, and grandparents all live in the same neighborhood and take care of each other. In contrast, her siblings have scattered and she struggles, as a busy career woman, to help her mother when she becomes old and infirm and is sent to a variety of substandard nursing homes. She writes, p. 367:
Above all, the Community took care of its own, my friend reminded me. If someone was sick and infirm, there were armies of volunteers rushing to visit them and comfort them and bring them soup… And that outside world I had found so seductive? It was a wasteland, a lost and hopeless place, my friend believed. While she loved America, it was such a lonely country– so many American families were broken, fractured beyond repair. Children lived hundreds, thousands of miles from their fathers and mothers. Grandchildren hardly ever saw their grandparents. Families came together once or twice a year– Thanksgiving, Christmas–on what had become requisite, almost forced reunions.
Alone and sick, I found this multi-generational community a mighty appealing vision. And yet, a few pages later, in discussing another family, she mentions, p. 371:
His wife who joined us was a serious, soft-spoken woman; she worked with Orthodox victims of spousal abuse.
So there you have it– life is not perfect in this community either. Lagnado herself feels like “damaged goods,” worthless, in her community once she loses her ability to conceive children.
I felt the same sense of modern life’s complexity reading this opinion piece about Michelle Obama’s speech on the importance of fathers. The columnist mentions Michelle Obama’s strong father figure and the important role Obama is playing in the life of his own daughters and uses these examples to support her argument that fathers are indispensable. I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but she fails to mention that Obama was raised by a single mother, and, he, of course, turned out pretty well. So perhaps things are not so simple? The column:
In reading Lagnado’s memoir, I couldn’t disagree that, however imperfect traditional societies may be, the modern, secular world also leaves us wanting. A worthwhile book on this subject is Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists. I recommend it for those living outside the traditional family structure, as it does a good job of describing how lonely and alienating the modern world can be and offers some possible solutions: