The sound of soda

Last year I attended Rosh Hashanah at a race track -- this year my religious experience is carbonated, thanks to my son.


Barbara Field
September 14, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

It could've been a "Yo Quiero Taco Bell" cup. But tonight my 9-year-old put his left ear to the gallon-size "Star Wars" cup and listened to the magic of Dr. Pepper. He said, "It makes a beautiful, sparkling sound." I'm a single mother too tired to argue, too tired to say that I once bought only the expensive baby juices with no additives and am now reduced to expediency: If it's liquid and nontoxic, it's consumable. Go for it. I watched his careful concentration as the straw grazed his earlobe and I contemplated how I'm going to pay both this month's car insurance and the orthodontist bill. Then I leaned in. We both listened to the bubbling effervescence and meditated.

Why not meditate to soda bubbles? We live in San Diego, where we boogie-board in the Pacific until December; wash our cars as often as our babies in holy, recycled water; worship cosmetic surgery; and close our eyes to the downer of homeless children. In San Diego, convertibles are religion. Ours is a culture looking for its mojo.

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This week my son, Adam, and I look for something else. We will go to temple for Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish New Year. We will remember the beginning of creation, when God gave us breath ... between my kick-boxing classes and Adam's baseball practice, that is. We will repent, analyze where we went wrong and pray for forgiveness.

We've meditated and prayed before. While our temple was being built on a new site, the congregation attended services at the Del Mar race track in the off-track betting building. I told Adam we were betting on God and he was betting on us. Last year, the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Convention met during the High Holy Days and we all hung out at the sacred race track. Guys with tattoos, earrings, kerchiefs and beer bellies checked out rows and rows of shiny bikes. The Jews, dressed in suits and light wool dresses, zigzagged through the spectacle, making their way to a room to pray-for-a-day. In the makeshift sanctuary, whenever someone opened the door, our prayers were punctuated by vroooooooom-vrooooooooom. A different kind of amen.

My son took it all in stride. He has a scholarship at a Jewish day school where I guess in addition to learning Hebrew, the Ten Commandments and to give charity every Friday, he must've learned about respect for others on motorcycle transport. He's into his Jewishness, maybe because of the school or his friends or my slow reawakening to it. He's into it now as I wasn't when I grew up. He sometimes wears his yarmulkah to the grocery store and when I tell him we don't need to advertise, he says, "I like it." Sometimes he wears it while eating a pork chop or ham and grits at his Southern Presbyterian grandma's house. She moved here a few years ago to be near Adam. His identification with being Jewish surprises me and encourages me.

Thinking back to last year, maybe the Harley riders found us to be an exotic bunch. Hundreds of people ready to confess to God once a year, marathon-style -- ready to come before an almighty and pray that we make the Book Of Life's column A. And yet, maybe they didn't find us so strange. We're all after the same darn things: endless love, everlasting beauty and health, a house in Malibu, an end to poverty and war, some sort of spirituality, a higher sense of being. Whether we find it through "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," spinning, born again-ness or a sidecar with lots of chrome, isn't everyone seeking that same peaceful center? Something calls us all.

On Rosh Hashanah Jews are called by the blowing of a ram's horn. That ram's horn, the shofar, is like a great car alarm going off in the middle of Qualcomm Stadium during an important Padres game. Who will hear it? Tekiah -- the one long blast. Shevarim -- three quick blows. Teru'ah -- nine staccato blasts. I understand the blowing of the horn takes all your breath, all your might. It's like a primal cry made up of wounded and strange sounds. It seems to be saying: Wake up, you self-centered entrepreneurs in Wonderbras, you complacent soccer moms in your Ford Explorers, you mountain-biking stockbrokers and lawyers who forgot to take stock of your life. That shrill sound jolts us and touches our soul. We all ache. We all want to be forgiven. We all want to start again.

So, we'll eat apples and honey and pray for a sweet year. We'll even go to Moonlight Beach after services for Tashlich, where everyone including the rabbi dons shorts and flip-flops. We'll cast our sins in a body of water by throwing bread onto the waves as the surfers catch the big one, the blonde mothers slather sunscreen on their tots and teen girls with white lipstick and Mehndi body art confess to each other about flirtations that took place behind their high school's metal-detecting machines.

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Then seasons pass, we reflect, repent and start anew again. Only this year, the Harley guys are gone. Rosh Hashanah won't just be a tradition for me in which we talk outside in the sunlight during the service and watch the kids play tag. Nor will it be a grim reminder of being Jewish, as we were reminded when the gunner at the Grenada Hills JCC sprayed Jewish children with an Uzi like it was bug spray. This time, I remember what Rosh Hashanah was called in a children's book -- "the world's birthday." It came to me while Adam blew more bubbles through the straw in his "Star Wars" cup.

I had a child who shook my world from top to bottom, from inside and out. I stood in the kitchen with him tonight, respecting him, loving him so simply, agreeing to listen to the hum of soda bubbles. And listening to that sparkling sound, smelling my son's hair as he concentrated, standing so close our heads nearly bumped in what he calls a head-butt, I was filled with gratitude.

I'm thankful. For God and nature, for my family and son, for Taco Bell, a ram's horn, the breath of creation.

Nine years ago, Adam stopped breathing a moment after he was born. The doctor said, "Sleepy baby." Nurses were called, a machine rolled in. There was a flurry of sounds. The doctor said, "Get the oxygen. Quick!"

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Nine years later, Adam is breathing. Not only did I hear the sound of soda bubbles tonight, but for three or four seconds, I heard the sound of my son exhale. Then inhale slightly. Then you know what? He exhaled again.


Barbara Field

Barbara Field has written for CBS, Microsoft and Scripps. She is a San Diego freelance writer, editor and marketing consultant.

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