An Unexpected Gift

Sunday was the HardLox festival in Asheville, the Jewish Food & Heritage Festival. I wanted to go simply because I admired the wittiness of the name. I asked Mom if she would like to go with me. “Sure!” she said, which is the answer she gives when she isn’t sure what I’m asking.

We arrived and wandered in and out of the booths, looking at handcrafted jewelry and tasting treats for Sukkot. As we were walking, the Beth HaTephila Kol Simcha Choir started performing. Mom asked to walk to the front of the stage. We stood there, listening to various songs and hymns in Hebrew and English. I was mesmerized by the conductor, obviously finding joy in this performance, adoration radiating from her entire body. I watched each of the individual members, also joyful, singing whole heartedly and without abandon. I glanced over at Mom, and she was mouthing the words as well. I glanced over again. We’re not Jewish. We didn’t grow up singing the songs of Israel. But here was Mom, whose Alzheimer’s makes her struggle with everyday language, and remembering words, and comprehending language, singing along with the chorus of songs she had never heard before, deeply engaged. I was silently grateful.

The music ended and we decided to get something to eat. I thoroughly enjoyed my kosher hot dog and mom picked at her bagel. I asked her if she’d like to stay longer or head home. She stared at me blankly. “Let’s go see who the next performers are, and then we’ll make our decision,” I suggested.

We sat on the curb in front of the stage as the Bandana Klezmer band tuned their instruments: accordion, fiddle, guitar, cello, harmonica. They played their first song and Mom said she’d like to stay. We tapped our feet and clapped our hands. After the second or third song, the band mentioned that there was a wide area in front of the stage, and their songs were perfect for dancing. I turned to Mom and jokingly said, “Do you want to dance?” “Sure!” she said, and handed me her purse. The next several minutes were a gift I could not have expected. She laughed heartily as she joined the circle of women and children dancing. She followed along with steps, raised her arms, and clapped. As each song ended, she looked for me with a panic-stricken expression, and I got her attention and motioned for her to continue dancing. After a few songs, she came and pulled me into the circle as well. We joined hands, danced to the right and to the left, waved our arms, and laughed together. Having witnessed so many things that she can’t do these days, this was a wonderful gift of what she can do, and can do with gusto, and love, and joy.

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Dancing to Bandana Klezmer

The Magic of the Cape

A while ago, a dear friend sent me a postcard from Cape Cod. And happened to mention that I should come visit on a future date when she’s there with her family. And I thought, “Yes!”

And then this year came, which has simply been hard. And she reached out and acknowledged it’s been a hard year, and wouldn’t I like to join her family in September on the Cape? She warned me that they were spectacular loafers. And I thought, “Yes!”

And I booked my tickets for a long weekend, and dreamed of lobster rolls.

And then got news that the company that I work for, Automattic, would be closing on the acquisition of Tumblr the exact dates that I planned to be on the Cape. And I thought, “Noooooo….”

I pondered. Should I cancel the trip? I talked to a colleague and she suggested that our work would be done well before closing (and in a perfect world it would have been). I thought about it some more and decided to go to the Cape and work from there as needed.

And there were things to be done, right up until the minute we closed. And I sat wrapped in my hoodie on the porch with a cool Cape breeze blowing and sent offer letters. And reviewed immigration cases. And responded to emails. And reminded myself that we get one shot at this life and I was on the Cape with a dear friend and her lovely family and jigsaw puzzles and lobster rolls and people who loafed like it was their job and their laid back attitude permeated the very air surrounding us. And each day before opening my computer I took the time to say good morning, and chit chat, and add a few pieces to the jigsaw puzzle, and dream about lobster rolls for lunch. And it might have been my most perfect vacation yet.

 

Unexpected Joy

And then there are moments which I could have never planned, which made them all the more incredible.

One of my dear friends from high school, who was also my roommate freshman year at UNC, who I lost touch with probably 25 years ago, messaged me through Facebook shortly before 5 pm. She was in Asheville visiting her mom, and would I like to join them? Without hesitation, I asked where they were and said I could be there in 20 minutes.

As I drove there, I wondered, “Would this be awkward?” “Would we have things to talk about?” “Why had we lost contact 25 years ago?”

And as soon as I saw her, and hugged her, and her family, it was if we were all back in time. So many laughs and memories, and stories to catch up on. What she had done. What I had done. How she ended up where she was. How I had. Changes. After a bit, I left to visit Mom, as I had promised her I would. I left feeling lighter, feeling joy, feeling loved, and feeling seen. What an incredible gift.

(Note: I took a selfie of us, which was so incredibly blurred it’s embarrassing, so I’m including a picture of some glittery Bulgarian artwork instead, which also brings unexpected joy.)

Joy

There’s a pottery place here in Asheville that I love, East Fork. Their pieces are elegant, beautiful, solid, graceful, a pleasure both to look at and to use.

And their email newsletters are a joy to read. They highlight a new product, sometimes an employee, and always end with a poem.

JOY  | by Carl Sandburg

Let a joy keep you.
Reach out your hands
And take it when it runs by,
As the Apache dancer
Clutches his woman.
I have seen them
Live long and laugh loud,
Sent on singing, singing,
Smashed to the heart
Under the ribs
With a terrible love.
Joy always,
Joy everywhere–
Let joy kill you!
Keep away from the little deaths.

Seventeen Years of Joy

Seventeen years ago my roommate at the time told me she was getting married and I needed to find a new home. The year was 2000, in San Francisco, and the dot com bubble had not yet burst. I showed up to open houses to find dozens of applicants ahead of me, cash deposit in hand, bidding on places of questionable character. I knew I would have to pay more to move from a shared place with a roommate to a place on my own, but I wasn’t prepared for the rents that were twice, and sometimes three times as much, as I had been paying, for places that were twice, and sometimes three times less nice, than where I had been living. After weeks of looking, the move-out date was approaching and I still didn’t have a place to live. I saw an ad for a studio on Craigslist, asked if I could see it that afternoon, left work early to beat the rush of applicants, and met the agent on the sidewalk. We walked up three flights of stairs, she opened the door, I walked into the hallway and said, “I’ll take it.” She looked perplexed. “Don’t you want to see the rest of the apartment?” “Nope, this is great.” It was clean, it was in a quiet neighborhood, and it was more or less (much more) in my budget.

I had a housewarming party a week later. Friends crowded in to the tiny studio; we toasted to new beginnings. And I received what would become one of my favorite gifts of all times. A simple vase with blue glass edging, with a note to invest in a $5 fresh bouquet of flowers each week. Since then, I’ve picked a small bouquet each week and arranged it in this vase that has followed me from that studio to multiple other homes. And it continues to bring me as much joy now as it did that first week in my new studio, seventeen years ago.

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Ups and Downs

Yesterday was a day filled with devastation and joy.

I awoke to the news of the earthquake in Nepal, one of my favorite countries. Nepal was the first country where Room to Read had projects. During my tenure there, I visited Nepal several times, and each time I stepped off the plane in Kathmandu, I felt magic in the air. When I think of Nepal, I think of hospitality, generosity, and overwhelming kindness. As I read stories of the earthquake throughout the morning, I wondered if my former colleagues and friends and their families were safe; but I also mourned for the hundreds, and then thousands, of people reported dead. I mourned the devastation and destruction of a beautiful, resilient country.

Yet, it was also a day of great joy. Two incredibly dear friends were married. The wedding was in Petaluma, on a farm, in the middle of the countryside. We were surrounded by rolling hills, friends, and love. Every moment of the evening was filled with delight: lovely vows, a ferris wheel, raucous laughter, delicious food, great music, never ending dancing, quiet laughter, and hugs.

Unexpectedly, throughout the day, the one constant was gratitude. I’m thankful that I know the beauty of Nepal, and the kindness of her people. I’m thankful for every colleague and friend I hear from in Nepal, letting us know they are safe. I’m thankful for the relief efforts that are already commencing in Nepal. But most of all, I’m thankful for the long-standing friendships and the people in my life that I love unconditionally, with whom I can share both the devastation and the joy.