It was a Bar Mitzvah.
The Jewish right of passage for a 13-year-old boy where, according to ancient Jewish law, the boy becomes a man and therefore is supposed to become responsible for his actions (know any 13-year-old boys who are responsible for their actions)?
That being said, some years ago my childhood friend, Jane and her husband Alan were celebrating the Bar Mitzvah of their youngest son, and we were invited to New Jersey to partake in their joy. The ceremony was impressive, half in English, half in Hebrew, with the young man carefully reciting the traditional prayers and the portion of the liturgy he had studied so hard and prepared for several years.
When the religious ceremony ended, the guests were invited into the adjacent room for the luncheon. An event planner directed us to a table upon which were those place cards you’ve seen a hundred times. It had the guests’ names beautifully scripted in calligraphy and the table number at which they’d be sitting for the reception. We picked up our place card, made a stop at the bar for some wine to toast the young man, and went about finding the appointed table. Once seated with six others, we exchanged names, pleasantries, and handshakes.
Shortly thereafter, the rabbi appeared, blessed the wine I had already sampled (who knew I was supposed to wait?), gave a traditional blessing for the bread I had already nibbled (who knew I was supposed to wait?), and then it was time to eat. That’s when it all began. Somewhere between the fruit cup and the salad one of our table mates proclaimed, “I better eat good today. I’ve got a colonoscopy coming up this week.” There was a loud murmur of familiar recognition from several of the others. “Oh, I can remember mine,” offered one man. “The test is nothing, but the preparation is horrendous. You never get off the toilet.” Somehow the salad just placed in front of me by the white-gloved waiter no longer looked quite as appetizing as before.
“I couldn’t swallow that stuff they give you,” offered another affable fellow. “Every time I got that thick stuff in my mouth I thought I’d puke.” Bingo! There went the bread course, blessed or not.
By the time the chicken and potatoes came around and nearly everyone had put in their two cents on their procedure, I was wishing we were back in the car on the way home to Rhode Island.
“I wasn’t regular again for days,” a heretofore meek woman said just as the Bar Mitzvah cake was being cut and the strawberries and whipped cream were being added to each portion. A perfect ending.
With all due respect to this Bar Mitzvah, this is not an isolated incident. Gather a group of people together these days and invariably the conversation turns to the medical: medications, procedures, upcoming surgeries, side effects, and doctors appointments… and it usually takes place in some local coffee emporium or restaurant where the “regulars” gather.
What ever happened to complaining about the weather?
A good book you just read?
Your new neighbors?
Somehow even gossip has got to be better than talking about tests, bodily fluids, and trading cholesterol numbers. Many will tell you this comes with age, that doctor appointments are the only time some go out, making it their only subject of conversation. Then go out and do something worth talking about. Volunteer… read a book to a shut in, visit the senior center, see what’s doing at your church not just on Sunday. If you’re able, take a walk, join a book club, volunteer at a local school. Nothing like being around kids to make you smile.
Remember when HIPAA first came out in 1996? It was a new set of standards regarding health insurance and our rights, perhaps the biggest one being privacy. Yet I have been in a doctor’s waiting room where the nurse ushered in a patient, loudly stating before they were behind closed doors, “We’ll check on that mesh doctor put in during the hernia operation.” And more recently, a nurse in a busy medical office waved a specimen bottle around the reception area asking, “Is this Mrs. Smith’s sample?” Please.
Yes, please let us go back to when my mother said, “Certain things shouldn’t be discussed in public. No one wants to hear them.”
Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 16 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She has written three books: one about the towns and villages in our area, one about growing up in the ’50s, and one that recounts untold veterans’ stories from World War II to the present. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401-539-7762.