Why

As we walked the rough cobblestones of the death camps some of the elderly among us struggled with the uneven terrain even as they struggled with memories of lost family and broken connections and betrayed heritage. I watched her walk beyond the limits of her ability because this is was why she came .

At Auschwitz I, the docent took us through buildings that were still standing, explaining the function of each. The eugenics, where terrible experiments took place. The original rooms that served as “barracks”, people packed on the floor with no space to walk. The “punishment” cells where the SS experimented with ways to kill. And many more.

Although the buildings were relatively close together, it was hard going. Those that had been utilizing wheelchairs were unable to do so on these unforgiving paths. And the docent, sensitive to the limitations of some in our group, suggested places that folks could rest and wait for us to meet up with them. Many did just that – they rested, they waited, unable to go on.

One of the most moving things I witnessed on this trip was one elderly woman. Overweight, swollen legs, short of breath. She was offered many opportunities to rest, to stop, to end the tour at each camp. I watched her struggle on, slowly, well behind the pace of the rest of the group. But she would not give up. Being on this sacred ground, where her family died, was the most important thing. Walking these paths, looking for their names on the recording pages, this was everything. She would not give up, she would keep going the whole way, no matter how painful or how difficult, because this was why she came.

Hiraeth

I lie in this old bed, with it’s lacy sheets and long history, in this rambling old box of a house. I think of all the loves, and not so, that have shared this place with me; some better unremembered. Just one whose absence is painful; not a husband in case you wondered.

This old box holds my memories, fifty years gone though it never was really home. In a life where I never really settled anywhere for long, it became a kind of symbolic home, a place to come back to. It has a familiarity that only long time places have. The dangerous winding road that brings me here is not dangerous to me, even in the ice and dark, as I know it so well. The seasons of flowers and fruit trees, some now gone and some just feeding the bears, are like my own seasons; as familiar as breathing.

The seasons of my life are, in some ways measured here although I will always think of myself as a New Yorker. This is the lodestar place, the peaceful place and the occasional refuge despite the vagaries of familial relationships. Every part of this place is a marker of memory; puppies now gone and buried in the lawn, my son racing naked in the grass, the smell of our first horse, the view from a bedroom window. This is where I came from college, from the wreck of my time in D.C., this where I found recovery, this is where I came on holidays from law school, this is where I began my career, this is where my son was born.

I realized recently that where I live, both town and house, has been my home for the longest in my entire lifetime. What an odd thing, from birth to this moment I have never stopped anywhere for this long. And I never imagined it would be where I would finally light for good. Perhaps there is one more place, who can tell?

Now, as I watch my mother decline along with this old box, I know that all of our time here is drawing to a close. And while I know that I cannot and would not go back, there are those moments I wish I could revisit. The roads not taken, the seasons not fully appreciated. Regret is useless but human, not a place to linger. Gratitude is where I have to live, that this old box has sheltered me until I could stand alone. It is a new season in my life, I am not done.

Not for Sissies

So the last six months in particular, I have had a few odd breakouts of ailments including two bouts of bacterial infection in my sinuses. Don’t worry, this won’t be a list of what’s wrong with me; I am fundamentally pretty healthy.

I am not used to getting sick and I am not used to be knocked out and fatigued when I am sick. I am an energetic, active person and this is alien to me. Yes, I know, it has only been a week, but really.

Nobody really tells you or describes to you the specific and detailed changes that happen to you as your body ages. Maybe that is for the best. Maybe if we knew in advance, we would live in terror or perhaps take the easy way out. I don’t know.

It starts in such a subtle way, little things you don’t really notice at first. Then the changes start to cumulate. Some bother me more than others. It bothers me that my skin is no longer smooth and beautiful; my arms and legs look as my grandmother’s did. My neck which is long and was beautiful is now pouchy and inescapably old. All the sun damage from long ago is visible. Arthritis has snuck in a bit to various parts of my body. It doesn’t hold me back but it does mean I don’t spring out of bed in the morning, I stretch and give myself a minute.

On my bad days, I completely understand people’s compulsion to “correct” surgically the signs of aging; the things they don’t like about themselves. I sometimes think there are just a few small things…

The funny thing is, I loved my Grandmother more than almost anyone and her skin being crinkly didn’t bother me one little bit. And when I look at my face on a good day, at the lines on it, I think I have earned them -laughing and crying. When I am able to be kind to myself I think I have used this body hard and long and by some miracle it serves me still and mostly pretty well.

I'm glad I didn't know that growing old was not for sissies. I am also glad to know that I am not a sissy. I am working at aging as gracefully as I possibly can because I am keenly aware that it is so much more wonderful than the… Click To Tweet

I’m glad I didn’t know that growing old was not for sissies. I am also glad to know that I am not a I’m glad I didn’t know that growing old was not for sissies. I am also glad to know that I am not a sissy. I am working at aging as gracefully as I possibly can because I am keenly aware that it is so much more wonderful than the alternative. I am not done yet. sissy. I am working at aging as gracefully as I possibly can because I am keenly aware that it is so much more wonderful than the alternative. I am not done yet.

Listen to the River

“Mama, Mama many worlds I’ve known since I first left home.” I was, as I often do, listening to the Grateful Dead in my car. And hearing those words sent me reeling through my past. I have heard these words a thousand times but for some reason, they had particular resonance this day.

"Mama, Mama many worlds I've known since I first left home." I was, as I often do, listening to the Grateful Dead in my car. Click To Tweet

And I have had one amazing long strange trip, to quote another song; and many worlds. It is hard to write about memory and about past life without lingering at the regrets. They are easier to stop on than the joys but with an effort, I remind myself to stop on those too.

I left home for college at the age of sixteen, it was 1969 and peace, love and protest were in the air. Along with weed, pills and mushrooms. I lived on a barely finished campus on Long Island but mostly with an artist and his entourage. His portrait of me at that age still hangs in my bedroom, a lovely reminder of the good.

I left college before I turned eighteen and traveled the country working, singing, hitchhiking, going to Dead and Jefferson Airplane concerts. From the age of sixteen until who knows when I had the wonderful fortune to see so many of my icons and my heroes, in concert in mostly small venues. Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Pete Seeger, Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt, Dexter Gordon, Betty Carter, Etta James and so many more. The music has always been the thing for me. I feel most myself in music and closest to G-d in music.

I have lived and worked and sung in California, Arizona, Ohio, Massachusetts, Florida, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico. I may have forgotten a few. And I take many memories from them all, music, food, local idiom. I have sung jazz, gospel, country, country rock, folk and now Americana (that’s what they call old hippie folk/rock these days) and traditional and original Jewish liturgical music. What a road.

I have had multiple careers. I have never been a moneymaker but I have been able to support my family. And I have had the great joy of doing both good in the world and the things I love. Of course, there were a few jobs along the way that weren’t so interesting.

I have been harassed and abused. I have been loved and amused. I have loved and I have been disappointed. I am a mother, the greatest joy of my life; and that came from doing good. I am in an entirely new and alien phase of life so there will be more to talk about.

There is so much to tell but these are my thoughts for today. Many worlds I have indeed known, and there are more to travel through.

At Ease

I grew up in “the city”, that’s Manhattan to those who don’t know. New Yorkers are very arrogant about being the only city. At any rate as much as I have lived in rural and suburban settings throughout my life, I think the rhythm of cities is in me.

Recently, I had the chance to travel to some amazing cities, each one very different than the next. Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow, Prague, Munich – quite a whirlwind. The purpose of the trip wasn’t really “sightseeing” in the traditional sense, but nevertheless we had the opportunity to experience the character of each and what makes each one special. Berlin is full of avant garde artists, musicians, street art; it is a city very alive in a very modern way despite the history embedded there. And still a place for jazz. Warsaw has kept alive a Jewish quarter that doesn’t really exist anymore, the city (and country) was the site of the only active resistance against the Nazis. Warsaw was 85% destroyed in World War II and has been completely rebuilt. They have made great efforts to preserve what can be preserved, 20 feet remains of the ghetto wall but the path of the wall is marked in the streets. Kracow is the complete opposite in that it was almost entirely left standing and it is a beautiful and perfectly preserved historic city. And Prague, ah Prague. Also largely untouched by the war and an amazing and beautiful city, it is very reminiscent of Paris and just as lovely. And there is music everywhere, in every church and cathedral there are chamber players and in the clubs and bars, more music.

I have had the privilege of sitting in Constitution Square in Athens, in a cafe in the ninth arrondissement in Paris and now in the central square in the old town in Prague (not to leave the others out). A seat in a cafe, a cup of coffee and watching the crowded world go by. I feel completely at peace in these settings. I don’t love being in crowds generally, but somehow the general bustle of urban places feels totally familiar and utterly fascinating.

I have had the privilege of sitting in Constitution Square in Athens, in a cafe in the ninth arrondissement in Paris and now in the central square in the old town in Prague (not to leave the others out). A seat in a cafe, a cup of coffee… Click To Tweet

Every now and then one has one of those magical days, or mornings, or afternoons. A moment in life that stands out from the ordinary good. One such for me was an afternoon-evening in Prague. It was a rare unscheduled and free time during this hectic tour. I sat, as I always do, with my coffee and then walked back across the bridge to buy a wallet (a story for another day). I had walked the Charles bridge the day before as all tourists must, but discovered that the bridge that allows cars to make the crossing is much easier and less crowded. And then I walked the old town. I was given a flyer for a chamber concert that evening and determined that it was where I would be. So proceeded to walk, and got completely lost. I didn’t mind a bit. I walked about 19,000 steps that afternoon and saw a lot of that part of town. My google maps wasn’t much help as the streets didn’t match the signs on the building but for some reason, no anxiety. I had the flyer for my concert and it had a map on it, so many lovely encounters asking for directions later, I was back to the appropriate cathedral, St. Clement’s. Vivaldi, Mozart, Pachelbel and Bach later, I tucked into a cab and headed back to my hotel.

My magic afternoon included fresh berries from the open air market, cappucino in an old square, homemade chocolate ice cream, flirtation with handsome older men, lots of walking and very good chamber music in a cathedral adorned effusively with angels. The very best of a lovely city and completely at ease. I love the country but I have an urban soul.