Today is my grandmother’s 95th birthday. During her 30 years in Iraq, she survived both world wars and a small civil war during the year she finally fled for the United States. During her 60 plus years in NYC, she has survived the bombings of the World Trade Center and the Twin Towers, two deplorable terms of George W. Bush, as well as a long marriage to my grandfather, a somewhat predictable man who preferred smoking cigarettes to enjoying the fruits of cultural life in Manhattan. She has survived even more hardships than that, including a nearly fatal bout with pneumonia almost three years ago and a painful chronic combination of sciatica and scoliosis.
But that’s what survivors do. They survive.
In my estimation, my grandmother has made it to her 95th birthday for a multiple of reasons. She’s tough-minded and has a strong work ethic. She’s a loving being who cares greatly for family and friends. And she’s a reader who has hardly lost an intellectual and mental step in her near century of life. But all of the aforementioned characteristics would be null and void if she wasn’t also the beneficiary of good fortune along the way.
As a Jew, my grandmother was lucky to have been a Sephardic who was living in the Middle East and not an Ashkenazi nestled in Eastern Europe at the time of the Holocaust. No matter how tough she is, eluding the genocidal intentions of the Nazis may have been too tall an order. By the same token, she was lucky to escape the anti-Jewish purges in her native country of Iraq when she and the rest of her family bought their way out in 1948.
As hard as this is to admit, my grandmother is also lucky that my grandfather died when he did. He had become a “deadweight” and was arguably holding my adventurous grandmother back from enjoying life to the fullest. Once he passed, she got to smell the roses again visiting Eastern Europe, Canada, various parts of the Western United States and a memorable family trip to Israel, Egypt and Jordan in 1995. Much to my heart’s content, she also became a sports fan.
Perhaps we make our own luck in life. The law of karma would likely affirm that hypothesis. Regardless, my Grandma Juliette is blessed with the combination of great character and good fortune. Today on her birthday, she will be surrounded by children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, loving cousins, nephews and in-laws.
I have learned a lot from my grandmother and hope to keep doing so. As her life has shown, one cannot anticipate the future but living each day as if it’s your last probably helps a person exceed expectations, lifespan and otherwise.
So to my Grandma Juliette, I say “mazel tov” and to survivors like her, I must add “Le chaim”.