My favorite children’s book is one that used to belong to my mom and is somehow still in great condition. My Mother is Lost captures the paralyzing panic of wandering through Macy’s unaccompanied, with no idea how you’ll get home. But really, My Mother is Lost is a statement on life, perception and the essential crises of the human experience. In my nostalgia, I might be attributing too much wisdom to a picture book, but I’ll stand by my claims nonetheless.
The story features a young boy shopping at a department store with his mother, who insists her son hold on to her leather glove (which somehow was normal to wear indoors in 1970) as they walked through the mall, so that the pair will stay together. The son follows these orders loyally, grasping the smooth fingertips for dear life. But suddenly, he loses his focus and they somehow still separate; the boy discovers with dread that “his mother is lost”. He searches through every department, examining every rack and checking behind every mannequin display, until eventually (spoiler alert) the store clerk reunites the mother and son.
Of course, to an adult reading this tale, the irony begins at the title; the boy himself is the one who is lost, directionless and astray. Yet, from his perspective, the boy is not focused on his own state of “lost,” but worried about his poor mother, who must be wandering senselessly through menswear and useless kitchen gadgets.
I can’t be the only one who just knows this book must be based on some old Chasidic tale. You can just imagine Carlebach telling it in his signature guitar-strumming style, sing-speaking a phrase at a time– there was a young boyyy in the village…(Can someone corroborate this theory please?)
In any event, I do wonder what relevance this all has for me, and why the hell it came to mind as I did my yearly pre-High Holiday agonizing. What have I gained from my moments of confusion, disarray, “lost-ness” this year? When has my divine “Mother” (ooh, being subversive) been “lost” in my eyes, when it was really I who, in my self-absorbed distraction, let the glove (stick with the metaphor) slip out of my hands? When have I gone about seeking my reunion with said Guiding Figure, and have I been searching enough?
Upon the High Holidays, I tend to feel not unlike a child lost in Macy’s (hell, basically the way I still feel in Macy’s). The overwhelming sense of my own smallness and the desperation of my vulnerable condition, the tense, anxious urgency that screams “This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared” (not my phrase, and read this book if you know what’s good for you), and of course, the irritability exacerbated by hunger (#hangry) all fit both my disoriented mall experiences and my synagogue dread.
But, continuing in the vein of Chasidic folk tales, I would like to imagine that, like the storybook’s Mother, G-d is searching for us while we grasp frantically for G-d’s glove to return to our hand. Perhaps that’s as childish as the book itself. But it makes me feel a little bit less like I’m hiding behind racks of overpriced dresses, and closer to my figurative Mother’s arms.
Yes, I am lost–and we all are; true, I let the glove slip away. But please, meet me by the escalator and I’ll try to hold on tighter.