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"...should the ducklings have stopped swimming?"

I'm almost in awe of this gorgeous passage from Sholom Aleichem's "Hodel", from Selected Stories. The dairyman Tevye has just been told by his beloved daughter Hodel that she is leaving home, likely forever, to be with her husband, an apparent revolutionary who was recently imprisoned.

I speak to her half in fun and half in anger, and all the time my heart weeps. But Tevye is no weakling; I control myself. And Hodel doesn't lose her dignity either; she answers me word for word, speaking quietly and thoughtfully. And Tevye's daughters can talk.

And though my head is lowered and my eyes are shut, still I seem to see her - her face is pale and lifeless like the moon, but her voice trembles...Shall I fall on her neck and plead with her not to go? I know it won't help. Those daughters of mine - when they fall in love with somebody, it is with their heads and hearts, their bodies and souls.

Well, we sat on the doorstep a long time - maybe all night. Most of the time we were silent, and when we did speak it was in snatches, a word here, a word there. I said to her, "I want to ask you only one thing: did you ever hear of a girl marrying a man so that she could follow him to the ends of the earth?" And she answered, "With him I'd go anywhere." I pointed out how foolish that was. And she said, "Father, you will never understand." So I told her a little fable - about a hen that hatched some ducklings. As soon as the ducklings could move they took to the water and swam, and the poor hen stood on shore, clucking and clucking.

"What do you say to that, my daughter?"

"What can I say?" she answered. "I am sorry for the poor hen, but just because she stood there clucking, should the ducklings have stopped swimming?"

There is an answer for you. She's not stupid, that daughter of mine.

Hodel's last comment might be the finest expression of a grown child's need to lead an independent life, and a parent's need to let the child go, that I've ever seen. How wonderful.

December 4, 2011 in Books | Permalink