October 23, 2011

Baby Shower: the Hope of New Life

I went to a baby shower yesterday. After the devastation of Daniel's death, I felt very strange and teary-eyed during the brief drive to the event. When I walked in, it felt a little like the Twilight Zone. There were a lot of young women there, some pregnant, some with babies. Then there were a number of women my age, the mothers of the young women and their friends. Also a few younger girls in their early teens, cousins of the expectant mom. I looked around, wondering how many of this assembly had known, or would know, tragedy in their lives.

First order of business: find someone to talk with. I sat down with a woman I've seen before but didn't know. This was good for the initial break-the-ice casual chit-chat. It started to move my mind to neutral ground. Then the hostess asked us to go to the buffet and get our food. Food is always a life-affirming thing, and it was a lovely selection of down-to-earth healthy foods. As we ate and chatted, I became more comfortable with being in the present.

Then came the inevitable party games, bringing laughter to everyone's lips, and encouraging interaction with people outside of your own age group. I usually consider these games an inane waste of time, but in this case it was a useful step in the healing process for me. Passing a pacifier to a stranger by way of a soda-straw in your mouth makes everyone feel equally awkward and giggly. For a brief moment of concentration on a useless but difficult task, you must step away from all other thoughts.

The dad-to-be arrived, and settled down with his wife for the happy chore of opening the gifts. It was actually a ridiculous assortment of gifts. About 80% of the gifts were books: baby books and children's books. I guess I was one of the very few who bought what the couple registered for. But it was cute to watch all the young women react to the books.... they were still very close to their childhood selves, and the mere sight of these books brought delight to them. My peers and I simply smiled at "Good Night Moon" from the OTHER side of the memories. My friend, the grandma-to-be, sat contentedly holding someone's baby. She looked so very happy.

I kept looking around at all the women, glad for the wide spectrum of ages. I felt a little bit of cynicism, but also felt strangely comforted by the camaraderie of this age-old rite. It was good to see the excitement on the face of the mother-to-be, and feel the happiness of her friends as they expect the best for her. Life goes on, new babies are born, mothers laugh and cry. We were all there to help send her on this new journey with hope and support. And we'll all be there if life hands her a loss. As a community we share each other's joys and sorrows. That's comforting.

October 8, 2011

Yom Kippur Comes Full Circle

13 years ago, we moved to Portland just in time for the High Holy Days. On Yom Kippur, we sat in a strange temple where we knew nobody, amidst a sea of people in white clothing, and navigated our way through the very long, intense, somber process that is Yom Kippur. Then, all of a sudden, a small boy burst through the door, having escaped from child-care, ran to the young couple sitting in front of us, beaming from ear to ear, and shouted "Mommy, Daddy, my loose tooth came out!"

That moment lives in my memory as my best Yom Kippur experience ever. It was so real, so NOW, so life-affirming, so joyous. Just the break we needed, and also a motivation to love God even more.

Fast-forward to 2011. Life has come full-circle in the mystical period of 13 years, to present us with... death. And my worst Yom Kippur ever. Friday morning, just before Yom Kippur began, we buried the 26-year-old friend of my sons. Then, a few hours later, the Holy Day began, and we attempted to switch gears, to focus on asking God's forgiveness for our alleged sins. I couldn't do it. I am sucker-punched at the sudden death of a lovely young man I knew so well. I am so angry at God, or whoever/whatever controls these things. My head felt like it would explode. (And later, during the night, I thought it might do just that.)

In the morning, we had all sat in Stampfer Chapel for the funeral, dressed in black. All the young men, including my two sons, sat in the back, huddled together for support. They all looked so handsome in their suits, and so bewildered at this new and incomprehensible experience. And sitting throughout the rest of the chapel were a lot of people my age, crying their eyes out. These were the parents of Daniel's peers. The mothers who drove countless carpools, fed him, made sure he took his pills with applesauce, and the fathers who coached the childhood sports teams and drove the Maccabi team to PDX at 4 am, the pre-school and Hebrew school teachers who set him on the road to a love of Judaism. We had all cared for him as one of our own, felt a certain protectiveness over this sweet, diminutive child. Some of us had continued to know him as an adult, and were so very proud of his accomplishments. We all protected him when he was in our care... what happened?!?

In the evening, many of us were back in the same chapel, dressed in white for Yom Kippur. I couldn't stop crying. I really have a bone to pick with God. How could You? I tried, really tried, to focus on the text in the book. Tried to think about my past year, or the year ahead. But all I could think of was Daniel, and that plain casket, and his parents.

And I thought about that little boy 13 years ago. I wonder what he's up to now. He must be about 18 or 19 now. How was his Bar Mitzvah? Is he going on Birthright? Or is he pierced and tattooed? Is he still alive? Is he healthy? Did his teeth come in okay? Are his parents alive? I hope so. And I wish I could tell them.... hold onto him tight.