Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Outer Circle

Can you find me, safely ensconced in the "Outer Circle"?
Sadly, the truth has begun to sink in. The evidence seems incontrovertible. I’m getting older. I’m no longer a member of the “younger” generation. Consider the evidence:
1. I just spent the weekend in the U.S., attending the wonderful wedding of my eldest nephew. That’s right, my nephew just got married. And we’re not one of those families where the mother had a child later on in life, so that the “uncle” and his “nephew” are really the same age.
2. I teach a class at Orot on Hilchot Shabbat, and was trying to explain to my students that in the generation previous to mine, oftentimes people were reluctant to accept halachot that they didn’t practice in their youth. (“What do you mean you can’t wash dishes on Friday night with a sponge? I’ve always done it that way!” That sort of thing.) Except, when I was about to say, “the generation before us.” Looking around the room at a group of twenty-year-olds, I realized that there was no “us” in the room. I was the “us”. To my students, I wasn’t describing their parents. That’s me. I was describing their grandparents.
3. I attended a lovely wedding a few weeks ago of a young couple from our yishuv. I was invited by the parents – the father attending my weekly gemara shiur. At the wedding, I came to recognize that this represented the first wedding I was attending as a member of the previous generation – not invited by the groom or bride whom I don’t really know at all, but solely through a relationship with the parents. And I realized that my place was now solidly in the outer circle.
My cool, hipster glasses
4. My niece recently commented on my cool, hipster glasses. After I finished laughing, I explained to her that my regular glasses had broken, leaving me with no choice other than to use the cheap, second-pair-free glasses that I had bought years ago that I used to run with at the JCC in Michigan. The glasses, rather than being new, are so old that they've come full-circle, and are now back in. Those are my cool new glasses.
At every wedding, when the dancing begins there’s an inner circle, and an “outer circle.” At first, the lines between them are clear: family inside, everyone else outside. Rebbeim and teachers inside, everyone else out. (I’m describing the men’s circles. I have no idea what goes on behind the michitzah. From the brief glimpse I’ve stolen over the years, it always seems like a blur of maypoles, signs and other paraphernalia flying about.) But then the lines blur, and the inner and outer circles divide not by relationship, but by age. The groom’s younger friends push forward, their energy, youth and vitality moving them at a pace that the older folk (having ingested some heavy food, a salad, and too much bread) simply can’t or won’t match. We’re OK with that, perfectly content to shuffle our way around the outer circle and enjoy the elation of the event from that relative safe distance. Sure, I might force my way in for a brief moment, but soon enough I allow the push of the young to force me back out to where I belong, in the outer circle, where I can mosey along, enjoying the simcha, but no longer a driving force.
I’ve come to terms with my new “outer circle” membership. After all, I will soon (please God) turn forty, and while that’s certainly not old, I’m rather comfortable not needing to get my cardio workout at weddings. And still, when you cross from one generation to the next; from one circle to the next, it’s a time to take stock and consider your next steps, as you dance perhaps a little slower, with a different crowd, but still at the wedding nonetheless.