There are so many of them.
Off-hand comments, tossed carelessly into a conversation in the way that one might toss their coat onto a chair upon entering a room. They permeate our lives, popping up several times during the course of one day, emitting such a consistent low hum within conversation that we barely seem them.
Except on those occasions when one spikes up and smacks you in the face (kind of like a rake will snap up and crack you if you step on the tines).
This is one such story.
It all started the day of my father’s funeral.
We had just returned from the cemetery, and I was standing in front of the spread of food. The Jewish traditions for mourning require that the bereaved family sit at home with friends and family coming to visit. It’s called sitting Shiva. There are rituals and practices that everyone embraces as part of the Shiva process. For example, after returning home from the cemetery, everyone is supposed to walk around the block and then, before entering the home, you’re supposed to wash your hands out on the front steps.
Another practice says that all the mirrors in the home must be covered and those in mourning aren’t supposed to shower, primp or otherwise worry about their appearance. These are age-old traditions handed down from generation to generation.
I’m not sure, but at some point another critical tradition was added.
Eating, and alot of it.
My family’s gathering was no exception, and not being one to buck any tradition related to food, I found myself standing by the ample buffet. Entranced by a mold of whitefish salad, I didn’t realize that someone was talking to me. I didn’t recognize him, and candidly I don’t know that I’d know him if I fell over him today, but in that dazed moment of emotional turmoil and culinary overload I acknowledged his presence and his voice came into aural focus.
“You must be the kid from California,” he said.
“Yes,” I nodded, while swallowing some cheese blintz.
Moment of awkward silence and then, “So I hear you work in television.”
Another seemingly epic pause.
I recall nodding. I must have because he launched into talking. Since my personal audio channel seemed jammed with a constant hiss of static, I was having a hard time hearing him. So I kept gamely munching at a bagel offering an occasional smile.
Then he said something that caught my attention.
” … how are things?”
The reception for this station was now crystal clear.
“I beg your pardon?” I asked. I was sure that I had misheard him, because he couldn’t possibly be asking me some version of “What’s up?”
I was wrong.
“Well, you know, other than this (gesturing around at the mourners throughout the house) how are things in your life?”
Let it never be said that I am nothing if not quick on my feet.
“Is that like saying ‘Other than that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the play?”
A third monumental chasm of silence … and then came the tidal wave. The laughter started with a snort. I think someone may have choked on some coffee. A jerky chain reaction of laughter ensued, and while the chuckles rose and fell, I wandered away; but the phrase stayed with me … other than that … It stayed with me that whole week, during my flight home and well into the days that followed my return … other than that.
Suddenly I heard it everywhere … come on … you hear it too. You’ve probably said it yourself at least once today … and no matter where I go, there’s one thing I remember.
The image of a beverage shooting out of someone’s nose.