Friday, May 3, 2013

answering the tough questions

Last week, a friend in the building asked me to do her a favor. She had a hair appointment, and was not in the mood to drag her kids along with her – so would I mind hanging out with them for a couple of hours while she went? Her kids crack me up, so of course I said yes. (Let’s be real: I would have said yes anyway since I try to be like that, flexible and easygoing and helpful. But liking her kids was really an added bonus.)

Her 10-year-old daughter (let’s call her O) and I had been talking about the new Les Miz movie for a few weeks (she is flabbergasted that I have seen the show on Broadway, and that I know someone who played in the orchestra – love how easy it can be to impress a 10-year-old) so naturally we settled in to watch it pretty much immediately after my friend left.

It took a long time for the Les Miz movie to be shown on base, and so Yoni and I went so far as to go to a Japanese movie theatre to see it a few months ago. While there were many interesting things about seeing the story told on screen as opposed to on stage, one of the strongest impressions I walked away with was just how heavily religious themes are laced into the rest of the story. As much as I’ve known and listened to this musical basically my entire life, I never really got that sense from the Broadway version or the cassette tape we listened to in the car so many mornings on the way to school.

Having had that reflective moment after seeing the movie a few months ago, I shouldn’t have been blindsided by this next encounter – but I was anyway. About an hour or so into the movie, O turned to me and said, “Miss Leora” (yeah, that’s what ALL kids here call me – I can’t seem to convince their parents that it’s unnecessary), “can I ask you a question?” “Sure,” I said, “what’s up O?” She responded, carefully, slowly, “Why don’t Jewish people believe in Jesus?” Oh.

I should explain that O and her mom and I talk about religion a lot – so that question was not quite as arresting or surprising as it might seem. But still. What does one say to the 10-year-old child of a friend who asks you such an honest and complicated question?

I tried not to show my surprise or hesitation, and bumbled through an answer that seemed to satisfy her. But really, I should be used to it by now. Because answering questions that are at once simple and complicated sometimes feels like it’s my biggest job here in Okinawa. My favorite one went something like this: “So, my only experience with Jewish people comes from watching Fiddler on the Roof. Where do you fall in that continuum?”

Whenever presented with one of these questions, I almost always have a momentary panic attack. But then I try to think about the simplest, clearest, most honest, easiest-to-understand way to explain something, and take it from there. That strategy seems to be working for me so far, but eventually O will turn 11. Here’s hoping things don’t get endlessly more complicated. Oy.

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