I have hooded eyes. Lots of people do. Perhaps you who are reading this are doing so with your own hooded eyes. I only know about them, though, because my grandmother had them.
Not only do we share hooded eyes, my grandmother and I, I’m also named after HER grandmother, my great-grandmother, Esther Leah. So? What difference does this make in my life?
Well, for one thing, it’s why I’m calm about living to a great age. My grandmother lived to be 96 years old, almost all of those years until the last three being in excellent health. And because we share hooded eyes and Esther Leah as an ancestress, I’ve always identified with my grandmother. She was very small, and so am I, which I definitely don’t like. But my grandmother seemed calm and inperturbable about everything, including her height, so she’s become my role model. From generation to generation, as the phrase goes —
The Hebrew for “from generation to generation” is l’dor v’dor“. It’s used in the prayer book, and especially in the liturgy for the Passover seder, over and over again. My hooded eyes certainly reached me l’dor v’dor.
There’s another unlovely trait I’ll only admit to because at last, with great age, it’s greatly diminished. That is, having a jealous nature. It used to torment me, because I felt twisted with jealousy while at the same time condemning it with my whole heart. Then one day I heard a spiritual woman give a talk about, I forget now what it was — but at one point she said, You’re not responsible for the things that you feel. You’re only responsible for what you do about them. And then I actually heard her say, Let’s say you have a jealous nature! So? Maybe you inherited it from your grandmother —
I didn’t hear anything else she said. I was totally astonished by this new idea. Maybe my jealousy wasn’t my own idea. Maybe I didn’t choose it. Maybe it was chosen for me in the genetic grab bag of life. I wasn’t guilty of jealousy. All I had to worry about was what I chose to do about my jealousy; that definitely was my choice.
Now I’m certainly not saying my actual little grandmother was a jealous person. I never saw anything like that in her, nor did I ever hear anything like that about her. But like everyone else, I have lots of ancestors. Maybe Esther Leah was a jealous person! She was certainly vain and imperious — but I digress.
What I heard so clearly that day was the promise that, although L’dor v’dor operates powerfully, it isn’t necessarily inescapable. The chain from generation to generation perhaps can be broken, by awareness, by clarity, by seeing what’s actually going on. Hooded or not, my eyes are my own, my own responsibility to keep wide open. I can choose to cherish what’s valuable in my inheritance, and to renounce what is not. And perhaps even to determine what I will pass on in my turn, l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation.