Micha Shagrir, the Israeli moviemaker, was an irreverent wit and a man of peace. I saw him last in his beloved Jerusalem. He was close to the end. Cancer had him in its claws. I asked him how he was doing.
“Well,” he said with a warm smile, “I am reminded of the quandary of the newspaper headline writer who ended up with this: Marshal Tito Is Still Dying.”
It is good to be playful at death’s door. To go, in the words of William Butler Yeats, “proud, open-eyed and laughing to the tomb.” A life well lived leaves no illusions. Think of death as a resolution. As some sage once remarked, “Life is a predicament that precedes death.”
I’ve been trying to make the most of the predicament, like all of you, dear suffering readers. Try recalling that we owe the Magna Carta to bad King John. Do not forget that the likeliest thing is that something unlikely will happen. Celebrate the fact that humor, scoops, political oratory and the Constitution are all enjoying a revival due to negative forces that will remain unnamed.
Remember that the advice Einstein scribbled on a scrap of paper is far more important than the $1.5 million it just fetched at auction: “A quiet and modest life brings more joy than a pursuit of success bound with constant unrest.”
(I am failing pretty miserably in this regard, by the way. But it is never too late!)
Try thinking of the imperturbable, Venetian gondolier bolt upright in the storm, eyes fixed on the horizon. Try thinking of your young daughter combing her hair out. If all else fails, and gloom is enveloping, think of the silver bullet of a good Martini at dusk, or the wisdom of the old Jewish cable:
“Start worrying. Details to follow.”
And the Jews, lo and behold, are still around, still worrying, still making trouble and laughing, like Shagrir. Day after day peace is still dying, but not yet dead, between Israelis and Palestinians. Nothing dies easily these days.
So there is hope and cause to celebrate and be thankful. America is still “this big, boisterous, brawling, intemperate, striving, daring, beautiful, bountiful, brave, magnificent country,” as Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, put it the other day; and the world’s anti-American elites still cry out: “Yankee, go home — and take our baby with you!”
Lament grows tiresome, as does a very high and righteous moral tone. Life is a curve, not a straight line. Of all the virtues, surely stoicism, decency and forgiveness rate near the top — particularly in a culture of facile complaint, indecent vanity and vindictive piling-on. Silence seems to me a near-forgotten quality.
But I could be wrong. That is always a possibility, and, in this line of work, a very public one.
Then there is the consolation of unintended consequences. Take the British referendum vote to leave the European Union. This was an extraordinary, voluntary act of self-harm from a country previously more renowned for pragmatism than over-the-cliff auto-propulsion. No word existed for such odd behavior so one had to be invented: Brexit.
This, in turn, has given rise to the need for a dictionary definition. This one appears on inktank.fi: “The undefined being negotiated by the unprepared in order to get the unspecified for the uninformed.”
It’s not over yet.
And again, when it comes to unintended consequences, there’s the real possibility that Germany will end up with a foreign minister named Cem Ozdemir after elections last month that were marked by a strong showing by the rightist, xenophobic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Ozdemir, who is of Turkish descent, is a leader of the Green Party, now in coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel. I know Ozdemir, who was born into a working-class family and is a man of principle. He would be the perfect rebuke to the AfD.
I mentioned the revival of oratory. Here is Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, explaining his decision not to run again for his seat: “We must never regard as ‘normal’ the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country — the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve.”
If that does not cheer you up, dear reader, I do not know what will. Of course, if all else fails, consider the moments of beauty in your life. They are there, all around you. I remember many of them, when existence quickens, like the aftershocks from an earthquake.