Sunday, October 26, 2008

Why Look Back?

When my husband urged me to sign up for Facebook, I had a moment of hesitation. He was enjoying finding old friends, and having them find him.

I, on the other hand, shuddered at the thought.

Yes- I’m one of the myriad of people who did not enjoy high school. (Elementary school wasn’t much better, but I do have a friend or two from back then that I’ve happily kept in touch with over the years.)

I know it’s cliché. And I find it ironic that I wound up teaching high school for 15 years.

I’ve always felt that if you haven’t been in touch with someone for 10, 20, 30, 40 years, there’s a reason. That theory found some justification almost 30 years ago when my husband and I attended a reunion of a youth group we belonged to when we were teenagers. There was a roomful of people who hadn’t seen each other in years, and after about 10 minutes, the conversations pretty much died out. Little pockets formed of people who had remained friends, but there wasn't much interaction between those groups. I remember two incidents of ‘mixing’ which resulted in mumblings of ‘what a bitch!’

I definitely prefer to leave the past in the past and instead focus on the friends I have now (many of whom have been my friends for 30 years and longer), and in looking forward to making new friends.

I’ve been wondering about people who make an effort to find old classmates. I’ve noticed one or two people who seem to have a compulsion to root out people from their past. Is something missing from their current lives? Do they have very fond memories of times past, and hope to touch them again? Are they lonely? Or h ealthfully nostalgic?

Honestly, I don’t mean to sound judgmental. I’ve always been somewhat in awe of people who’ve had happy childhoods, and who have close families. (No need for me to get into that now, especially as I’m sure it will find its way into future posts.)

For some reason I can’t fully fathom, I wound up listing my high school when I signed up for Facebook. Wouldn't you know, I was contacted by a couple of my old classmates.

Of course, I Googled them. I found that they were highly credentialed professionals. One of them was even in a field that had at one time pretty much consumed me. They are the sort of women I would love to meet and have as friends.

You won’t find me attending any high school reunions. But maybe, just maybe, there is room in my life for a touch of the past.

Not too much, though. I definitely prefer looking ahead.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sound Knows No Border

One night couple of weeks ago, I took a walk with my husband through a neighborhood a bit downhill from ours. This area is filled with million dollar villas, all of which have expansive views of the separation fence (which around here is a fence, not a wall) and the Palestinian villages beyond.

The homes we passed were beautiful- lush landscaping, huge windows, swimming pools- and the streets were clean and quiet.

[Note, if this is important to you: we do not live ‘over the Green Line’; our town (well, most of it- a few blocks straddle the line) lies within what is sometimes (erroneously?) called ‘Israel proper’.]

Um- did I say quiet??!!

Well, I guess if you could tune out the sound of the muezzin and of the music and cheers, shouts, fireworks, and gunfire (gunfire seems to be a regular accompaniment to our Arab neighbors’ celebrations) that was echoing (I was going to say ‘ricocheting’ but didn’t want you to think that there were bullets flying about) off the homes.

My husband and I walked about, mouths agape- the sound was REALLY loud. REALLY, REALLY, REALLY LOUD.

Occasionally, depending I guess on how the wind blows, we can hear the muezzin in our home, and several times a week the sound of fireworks and gunfire echoes along our block. But it’s never very loud, and it only lasts a few minutes.

This, on the other hand, was annoying, disruptive, have to keep-the-windows-closed-and -the -air-conditioner-on-to-keep-out-the-noise loud. Exponentially worse than the neighbor’s-dog-who-won’t-stop-barking, dammit, loud. [A pet peeve of mine (excuse the pun), especially as it sometimes seems that just about each and every one of our neighbors has a dog that barks all the time. (End of rant.)]

My husband said that the police should be called to tell the Palestinians to be quiet.

‘You’re kidding,’ I said.

He wasn’t.

On the other hand, I saw it as a unique culture bridge; a way to share in their celebration from afar, to listen to their favorite music. And the fireworks were pretty.

Yeah, sure, it was annoying. I wouldn’t want to pay a million dollars or more for a home in what I thought was a sleepy hillside town, only to be bombarded with such loud sounds that I couldn’t enjoy sitting on my deck.

But when you live in the hills, you have to anticipate echo. And anyone who lives in these parts (by that I mean, the Middle East) knows about celebratory gunfire. As to loud voices and loud music- hey, Israelis run with the best of them.

I keep thinking, though, that there’s an important message here. One that has to do with peace, and loving your neighbors.

I guess a cynic would say the message is that ‘Fences make good neighbors’.

Heck, I’d be happy with just that.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Rest in Peace

My father is buried in a small cemetery in northern New Jersey, not far from the house where I grew up. The cemetery is off a busy street, surrounded on three sides by houses, stores, and office buildings. But even though it's not at all isolated, the minute you step through the gates of the cemetery, you are surrounded by quiet. The edges of the cemetery have been planted with trees and bushes, shielding it from view of the houses, and serving as a sound barrier from any street noise. His grave is shaded by a large tree, and the area beyond is dark and grassy.

Whenever I visit my father's grave, I feel like I'm standing alone in a forest. It's a lush sanctuary, and I find myself lingering, not rushing to step back through the gates and into my car.

My father died when I was seven, and he was in and out of the hospital for years before then, so I never really got to know him. Yet, I harbor fond memories of him, and carry pictures of him in my head. When I'm at his graveside, I talk to him a bit, wishing him well, and catch him up on my life. I'm not sure why I do it, but I find it comforting, and I in some way I guess finding that comfort allows me to feel a closeness to him that we never were able to s
hare while he was alive.

Last year my mother passed away. She's buried in a cemetery at the entrance to Jerusalem, overlooking the main highway to Tel Aviv. I can see the cemetery from my terrace- it fills a mountainside, with graves painting the hilltop a soft beige. In recent years, the municipality has been building multi-level parking garage like structures to house the ever increasing numbers of newly departed.

It's a sanctuary of a different sort- there are still remnants of the forest that covered the mountain, and many of the older areas of the cemetery retain that forest feel, but most of the graves are atop hills or flat structures, with no trees to offer shelter from the blazing sun or biting wind. A faint roar of the highway is ever present, and there are always people in the cemetery, driving its twisting roads, in search of or returning from a loved one's grave.

Still, the cemetery offers its own feeling of solitude. Maybe it's the graves stretching on end, or the breathtaking views of the Jerusalem hills... or maybe it's a comfort in numbers that fills the flat, grave-filled expanses with a heavy silence.

The youngest of four children by several years, and the only daughter, I always had a close, intense relationship with my mother. We didn't always get along, but our love was deep, true, and loyal.
I married when I was 18, but my mother was always an integral part of my, my husband's, and my son's life. We opened our home to her without hesitation when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and cared for her for the last five years of her life.

My mom hasn't been gone long, so visits to her grave always make me cry. I miss her, and I find myself stroking her tombstone. I dawdle, not because of a lush sanctuary, but because I still long to hold her in my arms, to caress her hand, and to see her smiling eyes.

My memories of my father are fielded in a soft haze of long-ago. I remember him as a quiet man, his body wracked with pain, love for his children filling his life.

Memories of my mother, however, are filled with a bustling energy that seemed to have no end. My mother taught until she was 85, and recanted stories of her students for years after.

Through no plan, their resting places wound up reflecting their lives:

Visits to my father's grave are filled with quiet, broken only by the sound of birds in the trees, the paths to his graveside are of random stones laid in thick grass. One whispers there, understanding that a raised voice would be unforgivingly out of place.

My mother's grave is out in the open, views far and wide, the rush of sound and energy all around. People talk loudly, and fill the roads and paths. Death here is a part of life, not to be hidden or hushed.

What a wonderful gift, that they each rest in a place that will forever fill us with memories of how they lived their lives, and how they undoubtedly would want to be remembered.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Do Blogging and Marriage Mix (Well)?

When I told my husband, Stu (that's him on the left), that I was thinking of starting a blog, he seemed surprisingly neutral about the idea. Surprisingly because he's always enthusiastically supported pretty much all my ideas.

A few hours later, he came to me with a serious look on his face. "Can I ask you something? Why do you need to write a blog? Do you feel you can't share your thoughts with me? Is there a reason you need to post your thoughts publicly? Aren't my input and opinions good enough for you?"

"Wow," I thought, "where did that come from?"

A gamut of emotions swept over me: shock, anger, rage, disbelief, a feeling of being suppressed, frustration.... but, I took a deep breath, and tried to understand if he was feeling intimidated or estranged, and if so, why.

A possibly important aside

[The company my husband worked for shut down unexpectedly this spring, so he's been home for the past several months. I'm hoping that our getting along whi
le he's been around portends well for our (very) future retirement years- we've been spending almost all day, every day together, and still enjoy each other's company. (Mmmm... then again, I spent all of May traveling around the States... and he recently spent a few weeks at our son's... maybe that's how we've managed?!)]

I took a moment to reflect on our marriage (after 35 years together, you can do that in a flash), and realized how much we've always valued each other's opinion and sought it out. Now, suddenly, I wanted to present my thoughts publicly before turning to him.

I explained to him that I saw this blog as a way for me to organize my thoughts, and also as a means to discipline myself to daily or weekly writing, with the goal of exploring career options in writing. I was writing this blog for me. I wanted to make it public because I felt that would push me to write, as if I was accountable to posting regularly. It would be very nice if I got some comments on what I wrote, but that wasn't why I would be writing.

He still seemed uncomfortable with the idea, so I suggested that I might approach him before each posting, to discuss what I wanted to write about- not to clear it with him, and not necessarily to give him a heads up, but to bounce around some ideas, get his input, and of course, his opinion.

Uh, oh.

The feeling of suppression came back. Did I just suggest that my writing be censored? That I not be able to express my deepest concerns? That seemed to be the sticking point- he didn't understand why I had to post publicly. I'm a reflection of him, he said.

Talk about feeling censored! Talk about repression!

What was going on?

Being the strong-willed woman I am, and being the wonderful husband he is, we ....well, I'm not sure what we've done...

I'm blogging. He'll receive an email with each entry as I post it. I'm not publishing my last name, and I might consider a bit of self-censorship, in our son's interest (our son is a pulpit rabbi).

When you've got lemons.....

This may actually turn out to be a great thing for our marriage- it may open up yet another avenue of communication. Maybe seeing my thoughts in print will bring a new dimension to our relationship.

He joked tonight about starting his own blog, 'in competition' to mine. Well, OK- I don't see the need for a competition, but what the hell. Heck, maybe we'll have 3 blogs- his, mine, and ours.

So, honey, if you're reading this (and I know you are) - why don
't you set up your laptop on the other side of the table, and let's see how my ten-finger typing skills match up to yours.

Note to our son:

We're doing fine. Madly in love. Walking around town holding hands. And laughing.

See you soon.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Why Gleeful?

First post... It's bound to be awkward, so I guess the best way to start is to get the introductions out of the way, and explain why I claim to have a gleeful life, and how I strive to make sure I think I do.

Basics about me:

  • I'm 52.
  • Live in a hillside town overlooking Jerusalem, Israel- moved here from NJ about 8 years ago.
  • Vegetarian (since my mid- 20s)
  • I paint- decorative painting, mostly murals and furniture.
  • Hope to start writing.
  • LOVE to travel.
  • Married to the same man since I was 18.
  • Have one son, who has 5 daughters (and a new baby is expected in November!).
  • For 5 years I was my Mom's caregiver. She had Alzheimer's, and lived with us. Mom passed away a year ago.

So, why the gleeful?

I had an epiphanal moment moment a couple of years ago, when this thought was in my head as I woke up:

I don't live in Darfur.

That quick awakening thought summed up/opened up/changed everything for me.

While I'm able to reflect now on the years I cared for my mom, and realize that I am deeply grateful that I was able to care for her, I will never deny that it was a difficult time for me. I'll write about being a caregiver in a future post, but for now I'll say that I was pretty much house bound during those years, and as my son lives with his family in California, I only saw my grandchildren once or twice a year. Add to that problems with my siblings.... well, my days weren't always rosy.

That epiphanal morning will always be with me (I hope)- I try to start every day with that thought, stretching my arms high, shoulders rolling, grateful smile spreading across my face. If I'm lucky, I'll catch a glimpse of that smile in the mirror as I get out of bed.

Since then, I've developed patience, gratitude, excitement, and a wonderful sense of self-satisfaction. And, of course, glee. OK, not every moment of my day is filled with all or any of those, but bringing back that morning thought snaps me out of any glumness in, well, a snap.

I seem to be able to look at any negative event, and give it a good spin:

- My husband lost his job: Thank goodness he wasn't making a huge salary, or changing our lifestyle would have been really difficult!

- We don't have a car anymore: Our health has improved with all the walking we do nowadays!

- We need to sell some our things to raise some cash: Who needs all this stuff, anyway?!

You get the idea.

It's a great attitude, another thing that adds to my gratitude (and gleefulness).

About my life:

Am I starting over? Catching up? Finding myself?

Those are actually some of the things I hope I'll find answers to as I write this blog. After 5 house bound years, caring for my Mom, I'm just now starting to feel I'm ready to get on with life. I'm already grabbing every chance I get to travel, but I want more than that.

Write? Paint? Volunteer? Start a business? Change the world?

I think it was back in grade school when I first read of how women often come into their own when they reach their 50's, and I've always looked forward to reaching that time in my life. Well, I'm here, and I'm excitedly anticipating where I'll find myself, and what I'll be doing.

I'll be writing about things I've experienced, things I'm pondering, things that excite me, and things that are troubling me. I welcome your comments and reflections.

Something corny to end this first post- by now you know why and how much I love it: