Friends of mine are fond of the phrase "a low brush with fame." I have never been sure exactly what they meant by it, but here is what I think it means: you have some kind of encounter with someone which, through their merit and not through yours, is somehow catapulted into fame. Or infamy.
Maybe it doesn't mean that. Maybe it just means boarding a plane and passing Ed Koch and Pete Rose, sitting next to each other in First Class. But I'll take my definition. That's because, by my definition, my wife and I had not one, but two low brushes with fame of the same sort in a single week.
Both involve a story of sadness, although one, as it turns out, was temporary, and the other might not be. But they are of the same type. For last week, this AOL columnist learned that remarks we had made or encounters we have had were referred to in two published columns in other places.
Both incidents had to do with our long journey towards fertility. Both references were completely incidental to the columnists point. But we learned of them in the same week. A bizarre coincidence? Or a profound lesson for the coming Days of Awe? You be the judge. (Well, God is the Judge, although I think Kenneth Starr thinks that he is, but you get the idea.)
The first: at the Reform movement's annual rabbinic convention this past June, we wound up sitting at a breakfast table next to the terrific comedian Rabbi Bob Alper ("the only clergy person in America doing stand up comedy -- intentionally.") The opportunity was too good to pass up. My wife, as politely as possible, asked if she could share something with him. He was very gracious about being interrupted. She then told him that when she had had her first miscarriage, unexpectedly (of course) when she was visiting her sister in Chicago several days before Rosh Hashanah while we lived in Erie, was not immediately allowed to travel, and had to return home, alone, on Rosh Hashanah itself, during this incredibly difficult time, on a long drive from the Cleveland airport where she had gotten a cheap fare to Chicago, back to Erie, crying and miserable, she had popped his tape into the tape deck. And she had, miraculously, actually laughed. She has waited through another miscarriage, and two beautiful boys, to have the chance to tell Bob Alper what he meant to her at that moment. And she wasn't going to miss the opportunity to tell him.
Who could not be moved by such a compliment. I had a different occasion to speak with Rabbi Alper last week. He called me about something. And he read me a copy of an interview he had just done with the Jerusalem Post, in which he mentioned my wife's comment. Low Brush With Fame Number One.
The second was under sadder circumstances, but remarkably similar nonetheless. A close friend of mine, a quite liberal Protestant minister in his mid- 60's, was recently diagnosed with ALS -- Lou Gehrig's Disease. It is a mild form, slow progressing, and all that is affected -- and all that should be affected for many years to come -- is his speech. When I spoke with him recently, he told me that he had written an in depth column detailing his experiences with the diagnosis, treatment, and reaction to the disease. His words are truly moving, a great testimony to the human spirit. My friend lives in Connecticut. His primary care is now managed through the University of Connecticut Medical Center north of Hartford. And in his article, he writes "My only [prior] contact with the facility was the parking lot. I once picked up friends from Pennsylvania there. They were having difficulty conceiving a baby and were told that for their particular problem there was only one doctor who could help them, and she was at the UConn Medical Center. That was three years ago, and they now have two children..."
Actually, we went there to check out something that might have been contributing to the miscarriages, but turned out not to be, but the exact point isn't important. We're fine. And I am concerned about my friend, moved by his column but shaken by his news. Nevertheless, coming in the same week, that was Low Brush with Fame Number Two.
It's odd to think that chance encounters and comments over breakfast came make their way into some kind of permanent, published record. It's odd, that is, unless you are a Jew in September. With the High Holy Days looming over the horizon.
For is this not the very theme of these coming Days of Awe? That everything we say, everything we do, every move you make... somehow, somewhere, someone (read: some One) is watching you. In some karma-like connection with Eternity, our mortal acts and words are, if not published in a column, then recorded in a Book. Entered into our (do you remember this from Kindergarten?) Permanent Record.
Be careful, if you are a friend of mine. Maybe I will write about you in one of my columns. When you have forgotten what you have said. When you least expect it.
Be careful, if you are a human being. There is One who writes Columns in the Sky. And that One doesn't miss deadlines like I do. That One makes the Deadlines (so to speak). And the Lifelines. "You open the book of our days, and what is written there proclaims the signature... of every human being."
Forget whether the Secret Service agents can testify. Forget the fact that you are sure you can get away with something. Even all alone, God is watching you.
So be careful out there. And be careful in here. Have a healthy, happy year. And if someone does put your name in the news -- may it only be for good things!