My best friend (in the whole wide world) is Jewish. Yup, I said that. She has been my person for some forty-odd years. The post I tagged her on the other day says it all:
A good friend knows all your best stories, but a best friend has lived them with you.
Ain’t that the truth.
That she is Jewish is as consequential to me as me being a WASP is to her. If we defined each other by our backgrounds, where would that leave us? With a wealth of world history, yes, but missing the heart and soul of each other. Time and our humanity bonded us and while the tagged quote suggests she has lived all the ‘best’ stories with me, it fails to mention that she has also lived all my worst ones too. Yet still she loves me, as I do her.
She once included me as the gentile at her family’s Seder. Well, not the only gentile because her life partner was raised Catholic. A simple yet exquisite sketch of a rabbi hung on their living room wall beside a portrait of a dour-looking Cardinal in a striking red robe, a stunning artistic juxtaposition that honoured both their upbringings. Anyway, throughout the Seder, the door slightly ajar, the meaning of each serving, of every action, was described as each family member took their turn retelling the ancient story of the Israelites liberation. It remains a beautiful and mesmerizing memory.
Ellen is her name. She lives two hours north of me and I am visiting her this week to help her move into a new home that is closer to her family. While she leaves behind the home she shared for almost two decades with Lyn, the love of her life who died three years ago, she will be taking her memories and all else that matters with her. Together, we will help her settle in and celebrate change all while we allow and honour the sadness.
We texted each this past weekend, me excited for her move but cognizant of why it had to happen; she, happy yet sad. I wrote: I know this whole process has been such a combination of heartbreak ad excitement but you’re there now. Sit a while.
I wept at her reply.
There is heartbreak. I don’t want to push it away but I know I will have a good life in my new home. I just wish…
I just wish too. I wish life weren’t so harsh. I wish it were easier to recover from loss. I wish bad stories didn’t happen but that’s a pipe dream. I hate those well-meant but trite platitudes…things happen for a reason or there’s good that comes from everything. They make me want to scream No, there is not always good and there is not always a reason. Life turns. That’s our lot.
But in that turning and the tug-of-war between good and bad, for me, there has always been hope. I live each day firm in my belief that hope rules although these days that ain’t always easy. I can spin easily back to early days.
I remember running into Mum’s bed in 1962 when the radio voice from my old yellow box with its big brown dial spewed out catastrophic outcomes and news of nuclear annihilation, comments so far beyond my eight-year-old grasp that their terror can rally right to this day. Mum held me close, silent, probably in as much fear as I was but remained the mother-protector and gave me a safe place.
Until now, this fear had passed.
I remember fighting every truth about myself, a child, then teenager, then young adult, silent in my fear that the deviant I was would be discovered.
Until now, this fear too, had passed.
I remember my bestie telling the story of her mother, who as a young child remembered signs on the beaches of Toronto that said No Jews allowed.
And until now, this fear had passed.
Many of us are being tested daily to push fear away and stuff those old scary memories into submission. This is not new. Just read The Diaries of Anne Frank or Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy or Hersey’s Hiroshima or John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me or Kushner’s Angels in America or countless other titles to be reminded of how history reveals mankind’s underbelly yet also its resilience.
I am currently reading the Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. It’s horrible and beautiful and important. It is a reminder that amongst the rubble of mankind, hope and love can still be found.
I try not to use my stories for politics. There is other space for that. This is my writing page on which I share memories, my good and bad stories. I try to encourage others to do the same. But today I am breaking my own rule because I must. Because it feels like our humanity is at risk and all I want to do some days is run into my Mum’s room and hide under her warm covers.
When I go to bed and lay down my head, I close my eyes and say with my inside voice, “Hi God,” to whoever is listening. It is my meditative, contemplative way to rest my mind and it fortifies my faith in a greater energy. Mostly I pray that my family stays safe and that mother earth will last long enough for us to learn how to restore her. Sometimes, in trying times, I ask for something specific thinking it might matter or really, hoping it will matter. But my she-god energy just listens, yet I am calmed.
I’m using her a lot lately.
Just like I’ll use Ellen this week and she’ll use me, as we talk about how to fix the world and make it a better place, one person at a time. We will talk about November 6th, (a date I quietly snuck into my she-god requests, ages ago), and rant and rage about the state of democracy. We will share our fears and our hopes that this too shall pass.
But above and beyond all else we will sit a while, share memories, and let most of our moments together be untouched by the hand of others.