Opinion » Editorial

The Elephant in the Room

by Judah Leblang
Wednesday Feb 9, 2022

The Elephant in the Room

During the pandemic, many folks have taken up new hobbies, finding ways to fill their time during lockdown, quarantine, social isolation. Some have become collectors, searching on Ebay or Amazon for that one perfect Ty Cobb baseball card, Royal Copenhagen Christmas plate, or Xena Warrior-Princess T-shirt.

I collect slights, insults, resentments. I am the elephant in the room, bulky but incognito, balled up in a corner, blending with the furniture but taking it all in. I know all about forgiveness, turning the other cheek, and being the better man but like adopting a sense of faith, I'm a doubting Thomas, reluctant to sign on.

Instead I count the ways I am right, the ways I've been wronged, hold onto them like a life preserver in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. Since I can't hang onto all of them, I clutch the big ones, the ones that stick in my craw, abdomen, solar plexus, or in deeper, darker places: the nether regions where I brew my bile, aging and steeping like fine whiskey.

I am not admirable, not a role model, not one of those Jews, God's chosen people, who forgive and forget. And I'm not talking about the big stuff, stumbling back through our fraught history, the litany of Holocaust, Spanish Inquisition, Crusades, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, along with assorted pogroms, riots, and fill in the blanks.

No, these grievances are mine, my personal Festivus, my petty, small, imperfect self and though I am more forgiving today in my sixties than I was at 30, I still carry my resentments like a Nepalese Sherpa on a Himalayan trek, bowed under the weight of seven decades of life in Earth School.

  • Mrs. Ulner in 1962, my witch of a kindergarten teacher who mocked me for my fear of walking to school alone after I was hit by a car on the first day of school

  • Howard Simberg the fat bully who tortured me throughout middle and well into high school, from 1969-73, chasing me from our bus stop and sitting on my face on those rare occasions when he caught me;

  • Assorted Hebrew School teachers, one of whom, Ms. Portugali, she of the Israeli-accented English, long brown hair, olive skin and no bra, threatened to kick me out of my 7th grade class, and bring down the wrath of my parents.

    The list did accrue ad nauseum; I get nauseous just thinking about it.

    But I'm more of a generalist, the layers of old resentments mixing like sediment in the lining of my gut, melding with a general envy directed toward those who have the things I want: a long-term relationship with a hot but sensitive man, a full head of hair, and the energy I had as a twenty-something runner back in 1986. Carrying this toxic brew of envy does not, it must be said, promote good digestion, though it does keep me thin.

    Perhaps, I can lighten that load by focusing on my life now, this month and this year, which looks (after a really shitty start) to be promising something better than the previous two, if not approaching the normality of 2019, at least not the panic of 2020 and '21.

    After 20 years of living alone, I'm now in a community with 18 housemates. I'm getting daily practice in learning to let go, to focus on the benefits of social connection vs the isolation of only interacting via computer screen. So far, I've been able to enjoy my time here and to appreciate my housemates, even when I find them mildly annoying. Living in one room in a shared home, there's not much space for all the collectibles from my past.

    Now, as I transition to my "golden years," I need to lighten my load; facing 65, I don't have the strength or time to hoist the angst, to carry it on my narrow shoulders, and it isn't great for my health. Maybe it's time to find a new hobby, and to focus more on today rather than what happened in 10, 30 or 50 years ago. Instead of the elephant who remembers everything I'd like to be more like my cat, Stanley, who lives only for today, savoring each moment as it comes.

    Judah Leblang is a writer, teacher, and storyteller in Boston. He is the author of the memoir Echoes of Jerry and an instructor at GrubStreet. Find out more at judahleblang.com