Khasene hobn

Dear Bernard:

I don’t remember what it was like to be sixteen.  You are certainly bright, but you are also somewhat naive.  And that naivete will be your undoing, at least for a long time.

For one thing, you have a great sense of honor.  Not that that, in itself, is a bad thing.  A promise must be kept at all costs, and your word is your bond.  But sometimes in life we can’t keep our word, due to circumstances beyond our control.

Your parents, like many lower-class Jews, believe in the phrase khasene hobn.  (Get married.)  Marriage, to them, is the cure and the answer to everything.  Your son is addicted to gambling?  Khasene hobn.  Your son is on his way to becoming an alcoholic?  Khasene hobn.  Parents of a daughter are the same.  Get married, no matter to whom or what.

Here you are, a twenty-three-year-old bokher,  and not married?  Khasene hobn!  You let them pressure you into it, and you blame yourself for cooperating.

“What girl would look on you?

“What girl would go with you?”

Here’s a girl who’s willing to have you.  You’d better take her — fast.  You won’t find another one.  So you propose to her.  You’re intelligent enough to know youi’re making a mistake.  But naive enough to believe that, having given your word, you must keep it.

You will never forgive your parents for that. You won’t forgive yourself for many years.

It would be very easy to dump her if she were a bitch, a nag, or a nasty person.  But she’s not.  She’s a nice girl.  Unfortunately, she’s also depressed.  You’ve never had to deal with depression before.  Depression is not just a disease, it’s a communicable disease.  You feel that, somehow, it’s your fault.  Perhaps you did or said something, or failed to do or say something.  Only after the divorce, do you read up on depression, and realize it had nothing to do with you.  You never do decide whether her parents were unaware of her condition or palmed her off on this naive schlemazel.

At UCLA’s Theater Arts Department, you’re offered a job by Universal Studios — the only graduate student who is — and you turn it down.  You have a chance to direct a film — not a student film but a professional production — in Hong Kong, and you turn it down.

You feel that you’ve thrown your life away, and you leave UCLA.

Around forty, feeling you’ve accomplished nothing, you seriously contemplate suicide.  But you don’t do it.  It’s your curiosity that stops you.  You’re always curious to know what’s going to happen next.

Yes, you do get divorced.  I don’t want to spoil things by telling you too much, but I will tell you this:

You will meet the woman of your dreams.  And you’ll recognize her immediately, without hesitation.  You’ll also know, beyond any doubt, that she’s the one.

Yes, you will marry the woman of your dreams.  And here’s the best part:

The reality will be even better.

So hang in there, kid.

Affectionately yours,

Bernard St. James


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