Some of you have written wondering where I have been, why the silence and lack of posts. As many of you know it’s been an overwhelming year. My mother died in March, sealing a relationship of many complex, loving, and fractious decades. There is much to process, what remains within the chambers of my heart and my journals. I have been reciting Kaddish and that period of mourning will soon draw to a close. In and of itself, this tradition merits reams of reflection.
As you also know, our son’s wedding followed soon after Mom’s death, and we officially welcomed our wonderful daughter-in-law Elizabeth into our family. The words “a weekend filled with love and celebration” do not even come close to capturing all that we felt and experienced as so many friends and relatives came from all corners to join us in celebrating Elliot and Elizabeth’s marriage. My sister Abby and her husband Brian gave birth to a son (Brian, you were a mighty coach!) and so a new nephew was born on the cusp of these other family milestones. Life in the first half of the year was rich, bestowing the full arc of human experience.
We strove for calm in the summer. Martin and I moseyed around Saugatuck and went “up north” to Michigan’s beautiful spots of Petoskey and Harbor Springs. When we first moved here three decades ago, the locals kept raving about “up north,” how Lake Michigan was so beautiful and the sand dunes were so amazing. As Easterners who grew up bouncing in the waves of the Atlantic (and I who had also built sand castles out of the Gulf Coast’s sugary powder) we couldn’t really imagine how a lake could evoke such enthusiasm. We begin going with our kids and realized, yup, “up north” is pretty amazing.
It still is. Martin and I hadn’t visited in years, and it was deeply nourishing to immerse ourselves in the land of Petoskey stones, sailboats, Kilwin’s ice cream and long walks along the shores of quietly lapping water. The colors remain heart-catching shades of turquoise, emerald and midnight blue. There was a lot of nostalgia in those walks. New dreams surfaced along the water’s edge, dreams of taking our kids back there one day soon and maybe some years in the future, grandchildren.
Elizabeth’s father and step-mother invited us to visit them in South Lake Tahoe, where Elizabeth grew up. More beautiful water and good times. We went hiking, touring about and got a taste of wake surfing. Since my bout with water ski-ing didn’t end too well a few years back, I stayed on the boat. Elizabeth is a regular pro and Elliot managed to stay aloft for a few triumphant moments. Where our son gets his athletic genes I have no idea, but I love this shot of him just after he returned to the boat post ride.
Fall was a blur of the Jewish holidays. We marked them with so many of the beloved friends with whom we celebrate the turning of the Jewish wheel of time. We hosted what was I think our 26th or 27th Yom Kippur break the fast. I marked my first Yizkor (memorial service) standing this time in memory of my mother. We made a spur of the moment trip to Pittsburgh to visit with my brother Daniel, his wife Tammy and our niece Stella. We were there for Sukkot. Daniel and Tammy live in Squirrel Hill, a predominantly Jewish enclave within the city. As Shabbat dinner drew to a close, we could hear all the families up and down the street sitting in their sukkahs like we were, singing and enjoying the cool fall night and the blessing of the holiday.
Come November we did something we’ve never done — rented an apartment in Brooklyn and played like we were New Yorkers again. We spent Thanksgiving with my sister-in-law Helene, she of the coolest job on earth and then trundled back to Park Slope where Helene once lived and where the kids became New Yorkers in their own right.
Our little garden apartment (an efficient 700 square feet) was blocks from Helene’s old building. It was a hoot shopping at the market we used to, surfacing from the same subway line, settling into the same corners we once called home. It was a fortnight filled with memories and non-stop visiting with a lifetime of friends and family. We saw four shows between us, and more art exhibits than I could enumerate here. We ate more than we should have, a fact that we can enumerate on the scale, alas.
The energy was electric, the buildings climbing ever higher, the Christmas windows at Saks were witty and wonderful. Watching the skaters at Rockefeller Center was like being in a movie strip that spans decades. Across the street, Martin got his umbrella stolen at St. Patrick’s cathedral; he also went to a special taping of the Meredith Vieira show.
We spent an entire day at the Statue of Liberty and at Ellis Island. Quite moving to imagine the thousands and thousands of immigrants who came through those great halls, their fear and confusion, their hopes and the dreams. Could I have summoned the courage and fortitude to do what my grandfather did? Martin’s mother sailed to America on the Ile de France, the same ship Lindbergh booked for passage after making his historic trans-Atlantic flight. She told the story of their ship steaming into the harbor to fireboats shooting water into the air. A young teen at the time she thought, “Boy America sure does welcome immigrants with a lot of fanfare!”
Best of all we spent glorious amounts of time with Emma, easing into a rhythm of seeing one another that made us all rue the miles that separate us. She took us on a wonderful tour of Williamsburg where she lives. It’s hip, it’s gritty, there are pockets of charming quiet and scores of funky shops and bistros. Her corner grocery store looks like a typical New York City bodega from the outside. Once you enter, it just keeps going and going and going. Whole Foods meets Alice’s rabbit hole.
To top all of this off, Elliot made a surprise visit! He had a conference we hadn’t heard about. He and Emma cooked up the surprise, keeping a lid on it for weeks and weeks. One Sunday evening Emma insisted that we stay in and order out Chinese. There was a lot of flurrying on the phone as she spoke with the take-out place.
The bell rings, Emma goes to the door and says our food has arrived. In walks Elliot. It took us quite a few moments for our minds to believe what our eyes were seeing.
And now it’s December 31st. The secular wheel of time will tick into a new year in a few hours. It’s been the best of times and it’s been the worst of times. Those of you familiar with Bob Mankoff’s classic New Yorker cartoon will hear the editor’s challenge to Charles Dickens: ‘I wish you would make up your mind, Mr. Dickens. Was it the best of times or the worst of times? It could scarecely have been both.’
We all know that in life the best of times and the worst of times often ride upon one another heels, if not sit in one another’s laps. It was a wonderful year and it was a challenging year. I am glad to have moved through it in one piece, hopefully with grace and spirit. I am grateful for this past year of life and look forward to 2015. Hopefully it will be less dramatic yet one of good health, spent with those whom I love, and new adventures for body and soul.
Wishing all my loyal readers the same and more. Not sure what the new year will bring where these missives are concerned, but at an estate sale I found the most delightful book that I cannot wait to share with you. So I will probably start there one day soon.
What a beautiful, lyrical encapsulation of your year. You moved thousands of miles physically and spiritually. May the coming year be filled with love, health and growth- in whatever order you desire.
Thank you, Laya, for your new year’s wishes. Yes, thousands of miles.