FD likes to go over the events of the year in December, has been obsessing about this for about a week. Between the two of us, without a blog to record them (for this is not that kind of blog), we try to remember what has happened to us and to the people we know. It's a long list of remembers.
I've just come from my mother's house, refreshed from a nap on her sofa. The day has started, as usual, at nine in the office, but I cut my afternoon hours to go to the funeral of a close friend, an expected passing. In our community it is tradition, following the service, to follow the mais, the dead person, to the grave, literally walk behind the casket. These days bodies are flown to different destinations, different cities, even countries. So we walk behind the hearse in the cold, the rain, whatever the weather, to say goodbye.
Our friend wasn't a rabbi, he was just a regular guy, but special of course, to us.
The rabbis of two synagogues eulogized David, spoke of his faith and acceptance of disease, this gorgeous, positive man, his sweet-disposition, how he and his family moved to Chicago thirteen years ago. He helped build two synagogues, two renovations of older buildings, one edifice now more beautiful than the next.
The rabbis of each shul claim him. It wasn't with money, although I could be wrong, but surely with time, that he gave of himself. Everything takes time, all worthy projects. They speak of him in one of the new synagogues, and after the speeches, we follow our friend, on foot, to the next.
It's really cold, and me being a cold kind of person anyway, cold-intolerant, wearing a short, fall jacket, could easily opt out of the march down the busy street, but it doesn't feel like an option. Maybe reading the stories from the Holocaust, the survivor tales, has changed me. I make an association, cold is an obstacle, nothing more or less, and of course, this isn't Poland, dead of winter, 1942. And that awful awareness of the elements and the coldness of death, too, disappear.
I meet up with FD at the destination, and he greets me with, "I felt I had to walk, even though it's really cold; that it was an honor to accompany him." Right there with you, dear.
We walk together to the car in no particular hurry and he continues, "Let's stay together the whole day. I won't go back to the office. I'll go with you, wherever you're going." He knows that I'm picking up my mother, taking her to visit my father in the hospital, but there are errands, things to do. The day is full like every other day.
"Sometimes," he says, as we buckle ourselves in, "I think you don't need this kind of thing as much as me, just being together, that I'm not so necessary."
Such bait. I reassure, explain that this isn't so, and why. You might call this emotional intimacy.
We swing over to the grocery store to pick up an anniversary cake for my parents. I blank on the year, how long they're married, but have the number 64 in my head (wrong), so I tell the woman behind the counter, "Just write on the cake . . ."
Mom & Dad, 64?FD picks up champagne and sparkling grape juice, not sure if they'll let my father have a little champagne or not, and flowers, tulips. I pick out some cards, one from us, one from my mother to my father, forgetting to buy one from my father to my mother. Neither of them is in a position to buy the other anything.
We pick up Mom at her house. She's waiting at the front door. She doesn't know we're going to have a little party in the hospital room to celebrate her anniversary. FD and I are very excited.
Dad is sitting up in a chair, dressed. His hair is getting kind of long, in the hospital eight days. He's happy for the company but short of breath, six words to a breath, at most, sounds a little like the Godfather. He suggests, as we begin to sign the cards in front of him, that we get some post-its, write on these so we can recycle the cards.
You see, everyone's green these days.
But the cards are good, spot on, and we save them, so we sign them and hand them over. We don't stay long because he has work to do, it is time for rehab and if he isn't rehabbed, then what is he doing here, anyway? We want to keep him out of the hospital, but we're in no hurry. Every new decision is stressful. It's hard on my mother to shlep here every day. And she's lonely living without him, vulnerable, too.
It isn't easy staying awake on the drive back to the house, but I can't say this, of course. I flop on her sofa, asleep before I've even closed my eyes. While I nap she brushes off an old winter dress coat of hers because I've complained about being cold in my jacket, and haven't bought a new coat for myself in twenty years.
I wake up in a start and eventually ask FD. "What must it be like for her to see me age like this, crash on her couch like I just did? I was out for an hour!"
"We see our kids getting older," he philosophizes.
Not the same. Anyway. We start recollecting, without a blog, the year.
There have been other friends who are now gone, young people, at least we think so, one who left us at 50, suffering in silence, telling no one about her disease. A teacher. We call teachers in our community, stars. These are our stars. We lost a star.
Only about five weeks ago we lost another dear friend to a heart attack, 62. Playing raquetball. We escorted his body to the cargo hangar at the airport; he had a ticket to Israel for burial in the holy land. His mother, already there, reportedly said,
"I can accept it. I just can't believe it."
The week after that we heard that yet another member of the community had passed away in Spain, and the Spanish authorities want to embalm the body, not a Jewish tradition, unless the community, the family, comes up with $70,000 for transport on a private jet. Somehow this money is found. But an important person talks to another important person and the commercial airliner takes the body, as is.
And so it goes. Two of my uncles leave us, one younger than my father, one older.
People lose jobs, people lose lives, and we understand that 25% of all Americans are in danger of losing their homes. We watch, experience these statistics like everyone else, and worry.
Meanwhile, (K"H*) my brother-in-law has a new lease on life, a new kidney, not an easy find in your sixties, and my father, although gasping for breath, has a fistula and with the help of dialysis, could live for many more years. My grandson, an infant, has a heart that is whole. The surgeon who sewed it up is a doctor without borders who does this surgery on 13 year olds in impoverished villages, children who have not, until their surgery, lived a not-blue day in their lives.
We've had many new babies in the family, and marriages.
We have this idea, in my culture, that it's all decided, everything that happens to everyone in the world is decided on the Jewish New Year, a holiday that rolls around in September or October, depending upon the lunar cycle. We take off time for the holidays, look deeply into ourselves, our behavior, the things we've done, that which we haven't done, and we apologize, mainly to one another, for our greatest deficits, which we feel are communal, social. Then, ten days later, we fast for twenty-five hours, face our King, own up to our garbage, vow to do better, and hope for the best.
But since everyone else reviews their year at the end of December, some of us do this, too. We look back to look forward, as the snow falls and the temperatures drop into the single digits.
And it's New Years.
To you and yours, may it be happy, healthy, safe, and full of love,
*K"H means, basically, the evil eye should leave you alone.