I’m on a plane again. Last week, I flew to Chicago and then Indianapolis in 48 hours, where it was 1 and 8 degrees respectively. Today, I’m en route to LA, where it’s 60 degrees and rainy.
I’m a weather snob. The cold makes me mad; impatient, unmotivated, but worse, it makes me desperate for time to pass. This is not a healthy state of mind for a person who strives to live in the present and who resists the passage of time (aka aging). It creates an acute feeling of dissonance similar to time travel, as if I’m experiencing one kind of phase, going through the motions, but imagining myself in another.
So during winters in NYC, I’m not myself. I haven’t been myself lately, but I think most people haven’t. February seems to be the designated time for purging, as if the universe has lagged in its stock taking duties after the New Year and is only now getting around to it. People I know are either celebrating rebirths or mourning losses.
Last weekend, my husband and I planned a short trip to Chicago, where his brother was being bestowed the great honor of becoming ordained to be a deacon. I had never been to an ordination before, and I was looking forward to witnessing this kind of Rite of Passage (and also relishing the opportunity to blog about it and how it might contrast with my other brother in law becoming a Rabbi). We decided to spend Saturday night in downtown Chicago for Valentines Day and Sunday at the service with family. But I ended up attending a different type of service altogether.
The day before we were due to depart, I learned that my roommate from college and one of my closest friends had lost her mother to cancer. I had known her mother well, having spent Jewish holidays with them in their home in Indianapolis, a four-hour drive from St. Louis where we went to school. Only a few months ago in December, when my friend visited with me in NYC, she had mentioned how happy her mother was that the two of us were still close, despite the distance and different life stages. I remembered how eight years ago, when I separated from my ex-husband and moved back to NYC to start my life over, she flew out to stay with me in the temporary sublet I was renting, breast-pumps in tow after having left her newborn at home with her husband for the weekend.
Without a moment’s hesitation, I told her: “I’m coming to the funeral. I’ll see you on Sunday.”
I thought about my own amazing mother, whose 70th birthday we had just celebrated, and my two loving sisters who flank me on either side in age and fortitude. My friend didn’t have any sisters, and now she didn’t have a mother. I booked a flight from Chicago to Indianapolis for the day and was going to miss the ordination, but my husband and his family understood and supported my decision.
It was freezing in Chicago when my flight took off early Sunday morning. It was freezing in Indiana when my cab pulled up to my friend’s parents’ house at the end of the cul-de-sac, which twenty-two years later, I instantly recognized. I wasn’t certain whether my presence there would be a comfort or an oddity, and I didn’t want to get there too early. I actually had lunch at the airport – at the terminal I had arrived at – to kill some time so that I could give her family space. But when I walked through the door and saw her father, and then her, and we embraced, I knew I had done the right thing. Her children were in various stages of preparation – their first funeral – and her youngest now eight years old clung to her tearfully and pelted her with existential questions about life and death. I watched as my friend – now a mother – comforted her own daughter, as I remembered the countless times her own mother had done so for her. The family photographs on the wall brought me back to our youth, to our college days. To a time when I had just started dating my ex-husband. To a time when I was young and carefree and where loss was a word with no essence, no agency – a thing that happened to older people. To a time where our future and the gains and losses it would bestow were unknown and abstract.
And there I was, twenty-two years later, in the midst of contemplating motherhood, at the beginnings of a new phase in my life – a rebirth – and the word “loss” struck me with force, and then the word “love” did too (Valentines Day not withstanding). Now, I was older and wiser, with the associated wear and tear, and grateful for my beloved husband who was standing beside his brother in church while I was at a funeral service in synagogue. It occurred to me that loss and rebirth were happening simultaneously, and that you can’t fully fathom one without having experienced the other.
And here I am now, flying to sunny Los Angeles, where I once lived, the clashing of times, seasons and stages making me wish that it was no longer February, while also being grateful for being right here, in this moment, and all the possibility that comes with it.