It is written: “O Lord, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking guile.”
In every way O Lord, we try to take that duty upon ourselves; to guard our tongues and the words they say.
Yet, try as we might , in the heat of anger, or pain, or frustration, even in innocent tactlessness, we get carried away, and our mouths spew out words they would not utter in calmer moments.
And, we must concede, sometimes with the thoughts of protecting the sensitivities of another, we bend the truth or are insincere. We might even manipulate the words to put ourselves in better light.
It is hard, O Lord, to keep such tight control over our tongues that they utter naught, but saintly pronouncements. We are of the earth, and not the heavens.
Please let it be, O Lord, that they whom we have hurt try to understand and forgive our lapses, we will try to understand and forgive theirs.
My grandmother was the oldest of five sisters and four brothers in a family that emigrated from Russia following World War I. One sister, Matilda, was killed by a stray bullets fired by a Russian soldier galloping through their village during a pogrom. A brother got sick while hiding out in a dank basement, mostly likely during another pogrom.
I don’t know the exact details of their voyage to America, but know they went through Ellis Island, and ended up living a few blocks away from Hester Street… in a cold-water flat. Her father, Solomon Powell, tried many trades from laundry service to furrier.
When his first wife died, he married her cousin, Dora, and they had two sons. The youngest, Arthur Powell, was the only one to go to college, and not end up doing blue collar work. Through determination and exceptional business savvy, he founded Kravco Company, once one of the largest private shopping center management companies in the United States.
The rest of the Powell family trudged through, working at shipyards, dry cleaners, printing companies, and other jobs that keep the gears of society running.
My grandmother, Rose “Powell” Ridnor, married, Morris Ridnor, the only son, and youngest of a family of seven daughters. Morris, had flaming red hair, and was usually called by his nickname Red. He had numerous jobs from taxi driver, car salesmen, to chauffer, and finally, an assembly person at Lockheed Martin, in Burbank, California. His small stature made him a valued asset because he could squeeze into tight sections of the planes.
My grandparents never had much: A cute bungalow in Burbank, with a garden in the back (and chickens during World War II), and car in the garage.
In spite of having little, my grandmother was deeply grateful for everything she had, and took extraordinary pleasure in the ordinary. She delighted in the hibiscus bush that crept up the side of their house, chives flowers in salads, a crisp matzos at Passover, hot cup of coffee in the morning, doves cooing in the morning, and reading the paper while standing over the heater vent.
I find it stranger, therefore, that she’d write about guarding one’s tongue when I can’t recall anything foul coming out of her mouth. She’d experienced tragedy as a young girl, seeing her brother and sister die in Russia. The voyage to America may have seemed like an adventure for the few days, but certainly not luxurious in steerage. Living in a crowded tenement in New York, especially with the responsibility of being the oldest child, must have been challenging. And the years prior, during, and directly after World War II were difficult on her with Red serving or a chauffeur driving across country for weeks at a time.
Through all of this hardships, she was gracious, thoughtful, and loving. Whatever she spoke “in the heat of anger, or pain, or frustration and even in innocent tactlessness,” she must have had cause, and this small misstep was quickly forgotten.