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. ~

What do you miss right now?

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My friend told me she feels guilty about her sadness at missing her oldest son’s high school graduation when so many people have lost their lives to Corona virus.

I told her there is nothing to feel guilty about. There is no yardstick for grief. Yes, it can always be worse, yet why don’t we feel better when someone says this?

We are all experiencing loss right now of every magnitude.

We have lost our physical communities.

We have lost trust in our leaders.

We have lost milestone celebrations.

We have lost the freedom to travel freely.

We have lost the chance to attend that special concert.

We have lost our spot on the beach.

We have lost the ability to kiss our grandchildren.

Gig & Rivkah Pesach 2016

And much more.

Some losses caused by the Covid-19 pandemic aren’t apparent at first. They hit us as our child’s birthday approaches.  The hit us as we flip the calendar: Cape Cod trip. 

These losses may seem small but they add up. They loom large in our heart.

Before the pandemic, I tried keeping a gratitude journal as espoused by so many self-help gurus. My entries tended toward big things: family, friends, health, work, and home. It was hard to think of the small things.

That is, until they are gone.

Here’s one thing I missed early on: my morning writing space at the library.  This sunny glass room with a view. Free to use—just sign up. 

LIbrary Spot

Why didn’t this appear in my gratitude journal? 

Because I couldn’t fathom losing it.  

I have a good imagination. Over-active sometimes.  I write fiction, after all.  Yet, I never imagined that in March 2020 a world-wide pandemic would close my special writing space in Boston.

Often, we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. Trite but true.

I am confident that I’ll have this writing space back in the near future.

But you only get one high school graduation.

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Acknowledge your losses. Grieve them, no matter how small. Find comfort. Think of something to look forward to. Make a list of what you still have.

Rosmarie Heusser's Comments - Peace for the Soul

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And remember, it’s okay to miss the small stuff.  Manicures and malls. Coffee shops and handshakes. Smiles from strangers. 

So go ahead, tell me what you miss, big and small. 

No yardsticks here.

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The Other Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a sad day for some people.

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Mother’s Day is a feel-good holiday celebrated with Sunday brunch, breakfast-in-bed, greeting cards, gifts, hugs, and visits.

While the media brings us warm stories of maternal love and devotion, we should remember those who face this day with longing, sadness, or ambivalence.

Mothers who have lost a child.

Women who have suffered multiple miscarriages.

Women unable to get pregnant.

Those who gave up a baby for adoption.

Those who never met their mother.

Those who lost their mother too early.

Those whose mother no longer recognizes them.

Those estranged from their mother.

Those with a mother in prison.

If you know someone in the above categories, reach out on Mother’s Day. Show sensitivity.  I think of my nieces and nephew, young adults, who have missed their mom for the past 4 and a half years.

If your mother is alive, count yourself lucky—no matter the state of your relationship.

You still have the chance to make peace, make amends, practice forgiveness, ask questions, or simply say, “I love you.”

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The way we understand and relate to our mothers will be different at twenty-five than at forty-five and at fifty-five. Becoming a mother made me understand my own better and appreciate her sacrifices, which I’d taken for granted in my youth.

As the eldest of six children, I was the designated babysitter during my teen years. I dreaded Saturday nights when I was on call to make dinner, care for a fussy baby or deal with a sibling who refused to go to bed. I thought it was so unfair that my mother left me in charge of my five siblings when I wanted to go out with friends. In my adolescent self-centeredness, I couldn’t fathom why she needed to go out every week.

Where was she going? On a date with my father—her beloved.

Years later, I’d remember this when trying to find a trustworthy babysitter to care for my own kids so I could enjoy a Saturday night date.

Today I’m grateful for the close relationship with my three children and hope it will continue to flourish into their adulthood.  I cherish the Mother’s Day gifts they’ve given over the years, especially the handmade ones with written expressions.

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I think the greatest gift we can give our mothers (and fathers) is gratitude and appreciation.

Sift through any resentment and look for what your mom gave you, no matter how small.

Then let her know.

          *  *  *

Here’s mine.

Mom, thank you for…

Instilling in me a sense of adventure and romance.

Encouraging my talents.

Nourishing my imagination.

Fantastic childhood birthdays parties.

The gift of a musical home.

The gift of words—the family stories, children’s books, and poetry.

You may have tangible wealth untold;

Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.

Richer than I you can never be –

I had a Mother who read to me.

                 ~Strikland Gillilan

What are you grateful for?

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