Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Staying Centered

I am having some trouble reconciling my philosophy for how I should live my life with actually living it. Circumstances around me are creating stress and I am struggling to keep relaxed and focus on all the truly wonderful blessings of my life. I fear it is in my nature to worry inordinately about everything, even those things to which I should not give a second thought.

After the wonderful weekend in Baltimore and DC, I was looking forward to having Jessica here with the girls just a few days later. Jessica and Erica had arranged for a sleepover here so that the girls could celebrate Brenna’s upcoming birthday. Last Friday was a day off from school for Sami and Izzy, so Jess was supposed to come in on Thursday evening and return on Saturday evening. At the last minute, Brenna had a strep throat and the sleepover plans were canceled. It rained heavily on Thursday evening, and I did not want Jessica to make the long drive in the rain at night. During the week I spent a few days cooking, putting away in the freezer a supply of potato knishes and potato latkes from the leftovers of a twenty-pound bag of giant Idahos from Costco. Saul spent some time, as I was between jobs, updating my computer with a new system—Snow Leopard, and updating my InDesign CS2 to CS4. Also canceled at the last minute was lunch on Wednesday with Roxy to celebrate her 60th birthday. We rescheduled, hopefully, for tomorrow.

After the anticipation of a full house, our last minute lack of plans left us a bit disoriented. We forgot to take Saul’s car in for a scheduled service appointment, sleeping late instead on Friday.
Later that morning, Adele and I had a lunch date with Marianne, Mom’s hospice volunteer. We met her on the grounds of Foulkeways, a Quaker retirement and assisted living community where she resides, which is just down the street from where we live. We were in awe of the sheer size of the community, not to mention the beauty of the facilities, the engaging productiveness of the people we met, and the delicious lunch we were served. The community sits on a lushly green and well-manicured 110 acres which are so surrounded by wooded tracts and a residential neighborhood that neither Adele, nor I, ever knew of its scope although we have driven past it regularly for at least 20 years. The community was having a crafts fair that day and a great deal of talent was on display. I bought a stunning hand-made doll coat and hat as a future gift for my friend, Faith, who collects dolls, and a packet of beautiful beads from BeadforLife made from paper by women in Uganda. There is such an assortment of sizes, shapes and colors, and with the unusual glazing, one would never guess of what they are made. The main building in which we were attending the fair also housed a magnificent restaurant-like dining facility with large walls of windows overlooking the grounds, a full-scale cafeteria downstairs surrounded by cozy sitting areas with sofas, game tables and fireplaces. Marianne ushered us into a two-story-high, well-stocked library, complete with a computer room, all lit by natural daylight pouring through the huge windows and skylights. An art room was available and well-stocked, even possessing a kiln. As we toured with Marianne, we observed workmen putting the finishing touches on a new greenhouse, flanked by new installations for playing croquette and tennis. Marianne also took us to see her apartment, which is filled with a lifetime of her memories. Most impressive was a large oil portrait of her and her twin sister as children of about nine years old. She gardens on the grassy area that belongs to her, adjoining her patio, and paints with oils in her apartment. We were greeted as we entered by her adorable little dog, who keeps her company and to whom she speaks only in Hungarian. She volunteers at a soup kitchen in Norristown in addition to her hospice volunteer work, and is a great fan of the opera and attends regularly with friends. All week I have thought about her life, the poignancy of the losses of many of her loved ones, the dispersal of her family by the Holocaust, and the grace with which she moves through her daily activities. I sense that there is an overwhelming sadness, but also joy in the little pleasures of her daily life.

Beth and Larry joined us for Shabbat dinner this week. I prepared a relatively simple meal, which Saul assembled in the afternoon while I took a brief nap, a rare luxury for me on Friday afternoons. We had lentil soup, caesar salad, salmon burgers, home-made potato knishes, and maple-glazed Brussels sprouts with chestnuts. For dessert, Larry brought cinnamon buns, which we ate with warm home-made baked rice pudding, topped with whipped cream. I took my home-made challah from the freezer this week. We were very excited to hear that Beth got an engineering job this week and will be starting work in nearby Plymouth Meeting after Thanksgiving.

During the weekend, Saul caught up with some of his students working for Team Children while I stayed home, relaxed with my Sunday New York Times Crossword Puzzle, and began to read from the folio of letters Adele and I found written by my father to my mother, almost daily, from May of 1943 until December of 1943, while he was stationed in England during WWII. Immersing myself in these letters for the weekend left me in a strange state of mind. My father was an excellent, prolific and descriptive writer. Holding these letters and V-mails written in his own neat hand at the age of 27, younger than my youngest child right now, and listening in my head to his reassuring voice to my mother (aged 20) advising her of how to deal with the tribulations of raising their baby daughter (my sister), aged 6 months to one year, I felt closer to him, in certain ways, than I had ever felt in his lifetime. Looking at photographs of the two of them at that young age gave me a perspective of them that had been forgotten since my childhood, or perhaps, had never existed for me, as I am more than seven years younger than my sister. I felt more bereaved than ever before to have lost their physical presence forever. Several times, I had to put the letters down and walk away, trying to contain my tears as I read my father’s brave and poignant words about their separation being necessary in order to make the world a safe place in which the two of them could raise a family. Little did they know, in 1943, the horrors of the concentration camps and just how horrific life would have been for them if Hitler had succeeded.

Saul and Beth moved my plants and trees into the garage on Friday morning as a hard frost was expected the following morning. With the type of fall weather we have been having, the trees are covered with fruit and flowers as though it is late spring. The kaffir lime tree is spectacular and is harboring grapefruit size limes as well as delicate and aromatic white flowers and I hated to move it from its favorite spot on the deck.

My computer was acting strange as I tried to begin my new work for the month and, on investigation, we discovered that there were glitches in some of the new upgrades on many levels. Saul spent many hours researching and finally taking it back to most of its original state while I agonized quietly in the background, hiding my anxiety in another room.

I had let myself be cajoled into cooking another dinner at MBI-EE, this time, for the Men’s Club. So a large part of this last week has been occupied with locating and gathering all the materials and foodstuff that is necessary to produce a dinner for 50 people. Saul, like me, enjoys the hunt for the items on the list, but there is a certain amount of anxiety associated with producing a dinner for 50 diverse people and satisfying them.

On Monday morning, Adele called to say that Ava had been rushed to the hospital the previous evening with a very high fever. She was diagnosed with H1N1 flu and sent home with a prescription for Tamiflu. She is doing much better now, and the fever has gone down.

I felt myself swinging back and forth like a pendulum this week between despair and elation—the despair of evil in the world, the finality of death, and a feeling of the futility of it all; the elation of learning of my young parents brave attempts to make a good life for their family in the face of all that, and in knowing that in many ways, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. From moment to moment, the pendulum could go either way for me. From moment to moment, I strain to stay centered.

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