Winter Solstice Reflection: Where were you 2 years ago?

The pandemic has forced us to make peace with uncertainty.

December 13, 2019. 

I’d just returned from a fabulous NYC trip. My daughter and I shopped Fifth Avenue, dined out, enjoyed the holiday displays, visited Rockefeller Center, and happily sat in a crowded Broadway theatre.

We had no idea what was in store for the 2020 New Year. Couldn’t even imagine it. 

No idea that some faraway virus would upend our lives. 

No inkling that her 2020 NYU graduation would be cancelled. 

Never fathomed that the Broadway we’d always enjoyed would shut down in two months. 

And so it goes.

Here we are December 19th, 2021, still exhausted from risk calculations. The Omicron news brings flashbacks to 2020. We may be in a different, even better place, yet for many of us, our bodies remember the trauma and react as if it’s happening all over again. 

The pandemic years have forced us to make peace with uncertainty. As a result, I’m less inclined to put things off, and more inclined to grab an opportunity when it arises. 

So, recently, my daughter and I grabbed tickets to a holiday musical showing in Boston. We were all dressed up and ready to go when we learned that the show was cancelled.

Yet a strange thing happened.

Instead of utter disappointment, we were more relieved to find this out before driving all the way into Boston at night! Thankfully, the venue offered us the chance to rebook. So we grabbed that, too.

A few days later, we sat in the Wang Theatre among the other vaccinated or negative-testing patrons, all masked. Exactly 2 years from the date of our Broadway show. 

I even wore the same dress to commemorate the milestone.

And while it certainly felt different, it still felt wonderful.

***

The shortest, and darkest, day of the Northern Hemisphere approaches. And yet, the winter solstice also means the days are getting slightly longer, though it will take a while to notice.

Tonight there’s the full Cold Moon to marvel. 

And the annual Ursids meteor shower to catch.

This year, though, the bright moon will make it harder to see those spectacular shooting stars.  

Be patient. 

Keep watching.

Don’t miss the show. ~

December 19, 2019. Moon Dance Begins Again.

What Makes A Gift Special?

What makes a special gift?

What’s the most special gift you’ve ever received?

This holiday season, I’ve started asking people this question. Birthdays, Mother’s Day, and Christmas topped the list.

As I listened to their gift stories, I noticed a common thread as to what makes a special present.

l.  There is an element of surprise or the unexpected.

2.  The gift showed thoughtfulness or effort.

3.  The gift said: “I know what you like. I get you!

What did not matter was the expense of the gift, even if the gift did cost a lot.

Handmade or experiential gifts were frequently mentioned. A love poem. A trip to the Grand Canyon.

Childhood gifts were often a long-coveted item. A chemistry set. A locket. A Cabbage Patch Doll.

Here’s the story of my favorite childhood gift. 

Growing up, my brothers and I received a small present or gelt (coins) on each night of Chanukah. My parents saved the best for last. The year I was eight, I unwrapped my 8th night gift to find a great surprise. A ballerina music box. A tiny dancer inside a glass dome with a white and gold skirt. She spun around to a waltz from the Broadway show, Carousel, the same song I had danced to in my first ballet recital.

This alone would have delighted me. What made the gift most special, though, is the back story.

A few months prior, while on a family trip, I spotted this Swiss-made music box in a fancy gift shop. I begged my mother to buy it.

“It’s lovely,” she said, “but much too expensive. I’m sorry, sweetheart.” 

I remember the feeling of longing and sadness. So unfair! I believed this one-of-a-kind music box was meant to be mine. Now it would go to some other girl who loved ballet.

Weeks passed and the pretty music box was soon forgotten.

That is, until it magically appeared in my hands the last night of Chanukah. 

Surprise. Thoughtfulness. Effort. I get you! 

This cherished gift had all these elements. It’s no wonder that I’ve continued to love music boxes all these years.

When they were young, my children liked to hear this story every Chanukah (with Mom’s dramatic effects, of course.)

I shared the music box with each daughter when she began ballet lessons.

I’ve tried to emulate this gift-giving style for my children. In turn, I’ve seen them do the same with family and friends. They enjoy hunting for that perfect gift that says, “I get you”.

One Chanukah, my then thirteen year-old daughter surprised me with a copy of a rare, out-of-print book I had so loved as little girl.

And this Chanukah, my son surprised his younger sister with an inscribed Harry Potter music box.

I get you!

What was your favorite gift?

Sending you readers the gift of words.

Happy Holidays!

Could You Save A Life?

Do you know CPR? Could you save a life?

It can happen in a split second.

You’re going about your ordinary day only to be thrust into extraordinary circumstances.

Life and death.

A child. Blue lips. Screaming parents. Sounds you’ve never heard and hope never to hear again.

Your body reacts before your mind. Your hands take over compressing the little girl’s chest. Breathe your essence into her. One, two, three…

You’re pretty sure she’s gone, yet you stay calm amidst the chaos circling the room.

You believe in miracles.

After what feels an interminable wait, the paramedics arrive. You step aside as they take over, whisk the child away. 

The hysteria unfolds outside the house where the October sky is too beautiful for tragedy.

You recognize the shock in the mother’s face. You know what is happening to her brain and body because you have been there before. So you stay, try to steady her, speak gently, hold her, run through the house to find her shoes, help her go with the ambulance.

You answer the police officer’s questions. You notice his moist eyes. Now you are shaking. He takes you home, thanks you for being there, tells you to take good care of yourself.

But it is not you who needs care. You will be okay.

The child’s parents will remain in the After–a place you have lived in–never ever the same. 

This is what haunts you.

Their little girl doesn’t come home.

***

You reflect, of course. Try to make meaning of what happened before breakfast on a bright ordinary morning. Why you, of all people, were there at that right/wrong moment. You with the anxious brain prone to panic.

Later you will learn that there was nothing the parents, or you, could have done at that point to save the child. There were underlying circumstances. No one was at fault.

Of course there are no guarantees. Minutes matter. Often it is too late.

Still, you take comfort knowing you tried. And that those left to carry on are also comforted by this knowledge. You were with them in their worst moment. 

You think about a few close calls you had when your own children were little, how you did the right thing. But that was a while ago. So you take time to review other life-saving skills. Encourage others to do the same.

Because you never know when you’ll be called upon to help a stranger. Or a neighbor. And if that doesn’t motivate you to learn first-aid skills, then think of your children, grandchildren, or spouse. 

Could you perform CPR?

Could you save someone from choking?

Do you know the signs of a stroke?

Do you know how to use a home fire extinguisher?

It can happen in a split second.

I know. I’ve been there. ~

Lessons from my Olympic Dad-Byron Krieger

My Dad, Byron Krieger, was a two-time Olympic fencer.

He also competed in the Pan American games, the Maccabi games, and many regional/national tournaments. He’s in 3 Hall of Fames.

Dad never boasted about any of this. Growing up, my siblings and I enjoyed hearing stories of his fencing days. He was clearly proud, yet his accolades were most often relayed to us by our uncles and mother. Years later, we’d learn even more about his accomplishments through reading newspaper clippings. 

Dad’s trophies and medals lined our living room. I liked to read the plaques and run my hands over the golden fencer figure on top.

Our friends were impressed, though we usually had to explain the sport of fencing had nothing to do with backyard boundaries. Once the kids heard about swords, their eyes would pop. “Did he ever kill anyone?”


A portrait of my father wearing his Olympic uniform hung in our family room. I’m sure my mom put it up.

Throughout our childhood, our father’s quiet but powerful presence emanated from this painting.

It’s funny how family pictures can become part of the background noise that you don’t even notice, until one day, after not having seen it for many years, everything comes back. 

Now, I can feel the weight of expectation, mostly unspoken, yet fully absorbed:

Work hard. Strive for excellence. Never give up. Face your fears.

Once, as a teen, one of my brothers asked Dad if he could wear his Olympic warmup jacket that hung in our front closet. His answer, delivered with a smile, surprised us. “No, because you didn’t earn it.”

Today, our father’s jacket is displayed in the Museum of Fencing

There were other ingrained lessons, too, mainly taught by example, lessons I still try to live by.

*Be the better person

*Avoid gossip

*Be kind.

*Don’t hold grudges.

*Treat all people with respect.

*Practice good sportsmanship especially when you lose.

*Deflect uncomfortable conversations with humor. 

*Admit and learn from mistakes.

*Don’t complain

*Be proud of your heritage


To honor his legacy, I created the Byron Krieger athletic scholarship for talented students who embody Dad’s values. 

Gabriella Hirsch

One of the special outcomes of this endeavor was hearing from children and grandchildren of Dad’s Olympic teammates.

The inscription on my father’s gravestone reads: Humble Champion.

The short phrase sums up a long and abundant life. ~

#Coronaversary. What have you learned one year later?

What have you learned from the pandemic year?

When was your last “normal” day?

What were you doing when the world turned upside down?

For me that was Friday, March 13th 2020.

Like toppling dominoes, one cancellation piled atop another. Our public school went remote. Our synagogue cancelled Sabbath services. Our town library closed. My gym and dance studio closed. An up-coming business trip was cancelled. My private students cancelled their lessons. My daughter came home from college (thinking it would be a few weeks).

Oh, and my son’s engagement party was planned for that weekend. 

I’m glad I didn’t know how long the doom would last. How many lives would be lost.

There is hope now. But our world is different. You are different. Hopefully, you’ve gained some things amidst all the losses. 

***

I learned the primacy of relationships over work and ambition. 

I learned that absence makes the heart grow fonder and stronger.

I learned how much I miss my grandchildren.

I learned that children are better mask-adapters than adults. 

I learned it’s okay to sit in the car and cry.

I learned to surrender to uncertainty.

I learned to expect plans to change. 

I learned how to teach lessons over Zoom. 

I learned we can build bridges with words.

I learned words I wish I didn’t have to utter: lockdown, social-distancing, aerosols, quarantine, asymptomatic, fomites, super-spreader…

I learned that family members can hold vastly different beliefs from me. 

I learned that when things are looking really bad, look toward the heavens. 

I learned just how wise my young adult children have become.

I learned that writing can sustain me.

I learned what I can and cannot live without.

I learned just how lucky I am. ~

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