Yesterday, fishing the makings for our sukkah out of our somewhat dusty attic, I was overcome by an allergy attack that lasted 12 hours. Despite having dust allergies, I haven’t had a reaction like that for over 20 years, and this morning, my core muscles ached from the hours of violent sneezing.
I think that my body is so worn down from the events of the past year, along with my lack of care for it, and that my emotional state continues to be, if not fragile, then at least volatile, that an iota of dust entered my system and became the proverbial last straw. It brought me down, baby, down – a reminder of how, despite my best attempts to move up and out of these days of grief, recovery and undoubtedly, a form of care giving PTSD, my body holds the muscle memory and knows when I’m fooling myself.
Fortunately, this morning dawned and I was no longer reacting. I’m back to enjoying the glorious fall weather, and the onset of my favorite holiday – Sukkot, the festival of booths. Where Jews erect a sukkah, in which they eat and supposedly sleep, under the light of the harvest moon. When I was a little girl and enraptured by the “All of A Kind Family” series, and the little girls in those books made do with having their sukkah on their Lower East Side fire escape, peering at the stars through the black slats of the metal stairs, I wanted nothing more than to have a sukkah of my own through which the stars would shine.
And so I do. We’ve had a sukkah in our backyard for 24 years, as long as we’ve owned this house. This year, knowing how worn out I am, an army of friends offered to be my very own sukkah-raising team, and the structure was up and decorated in nearly no time at all. All I did was bake cookies and offer some sweet apple cider to my merry band of builders.
I know I’ve said this many times and in many ways over the last year, but I cannot imagine getting through my husband’s illness and death and now, the aftermath, without the love and support of friends, family and community. Given that our family all lives far away, the friends who live close by, who surround us like a warm blanket, are our surrogate family. They are here for what we need, when we need it.
And then there are friends from other places, and other times. Two weeks ago, a high school friend who’s an artist had a painting showing in a gallery opening in Brooklyn, and instead of simply looking at the Facebook event page and wishing I could be there, back home, I made it happen. It was easy enough -- I scheduled some useful work meetings and took myself up to New York to attend. Without much planning, several other friends from high school, two of whom I haven’t seen or been in touch with, other than Facebook, for over 35 years, met at the opening and then we spent several hours over drinks and dinner, reminiscing.
Now, I know people go to their high school reunions, and everyone is (generally) happy to see each other and compare notes and share pictures and enjoy the moment. People even spend months losing weight and whitening their teeth to look their very best so that they can feel good around the jock who broke their heart or the girl who ignored them in math class. But this felt different. This was more of impromptu gathering of four people who were connected in various ways, 35 years ago, but whose lives had diverged until this unplanned moment in a neighborhood under the Manhattan Bridge that hadn’t existed the last time we were all together.
I wasn’t sure what we would talk about. Turns out there was no need to worry. We each had stories of love, loss, triumph, success, accomplishment, failure, friendship and work to share. We had memories of being together, and things we didn’t remember, but someone else around the table did. We had memories that have pained us, and those that have guided us. We had memories of each other, and insights that reminded one that our high school was a special place in a special time. A product of its generation, it had no grades, no competition, and teachers who were committed to a new way of building a classroom. We all benefitted from the freedom that came with this type of learning, and while it wouldn’t fly in today’s hotly competitive academic climate, as students we were shaped by the independent thinking, creative teaching, and most importantly, emphasis on individual responsibility we each were asked to take for our own education at this special school.
I think that shared formative experience helped make each of us into adults who have a particularly self-reliant way of looking at the world. And after our dinner was over and we had to say goodbye (for now), I know that one thing we all had in common was that we each were giddy and happy and buoyed by the experience of sharing our lives, our pasts and our futures at that table. While initially the idea of heading to New York and seeing some old friends didn't seem momentous, the next morning I woke up still feeling all kinds of squishy inside, for I felt connected to people who knew me when I was just becoming me. And as I feel as though I am once again in an embryonic stage, waiting for the next phase to launch, it was the right place to be and the right people to be with. It was a fateful trip.
I have been thinking for a few years that I was losing the pull, the tug to feel New York streets underneath my feet, but between my high school comrades, and dear college friends with whom I recently reconnected, and a friend from the DC part of my life who is now living in New York, as well as my many colleagues, and, not least, my three oldest friends, I’m feeling the axis tilt once again and I’m being drawn back, slowly, to the city that raised me.
I’m not moving any time soon. I still have two teens to shepherd out of high school and onto college, and a career and friends and a community and life here that is meaningful and nourishing. But if there happens to be a position that would allow me to bounce between the two places for a while, I wouldn’t be averse to considering it.
I’m home here. I’m home there. And I once again have a temporary home in my sukkah this year. I seem to find homes in different places, at different times, with people who are mine, and where my heart can be filled and my life can be sweet and someday, whole again.