Monthly Archives: September 2020

What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?

I recently had a weird dream that was all jumbled up, but I recall that the question shrouded me in regret and remorse:

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

I jumped out of bed, grabbed my journal, and wrote it down.

Then I tossed and turned, asking myself the question over and over again.

It was a fitful night, and I finally gave up trying to sleep and began writing this blog post.

What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?

What would you do?

Rosh Hashanah, a time of repenting and forgiveness, begins at sundown tonight—Friday, September 18.

There it is—that number 18. It always manages to creep up and in, whenever I’m soul searching.

“The days of awe,” also known as the “ten days of repentance,” include Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the days in between, during which time Jews reflect on how we cycle through the year, bring it to a close, and begin again.

I don’t know about you, but I could really use a new beginning.

In the old days, when I would attend Temple during the High Holy Days, I would recite the same prayers every year. Year after year, the same tedious prayers. But this year is like no other year.

In thinking about what has happened over the past twelve months, I am regretful that I ever thought the prayers were routine—or worse, boring.

So, I pulled out the prayers today. And yes, they’re the same old familiar prayers, but in a calming, rejuvenating way.

Like all of you, my circumstances have forever changed.

The past twelve months have brought and wrought a harrowing narrative coupled with a Groundhog Day corona-routine that has rocked my world.

I looked back in my journal to remind me of all the things that happened over my past twelve-month life. If only I could go back to a simpler, safer time. If only I could go back to twelve months ago.

Last September 18, I had a Me Too awakening that left me with a glorious sense of acceptance. Finally. And of course, it happened on the 18th.

In October, I drove with my husband to Manchester, Vermont, for a wedding. The wedding was terrific, but it was the hours of driving, exploring, and conversating that reminded me of why I love spending time with my guy.

In November, I flew to London with my daughter, and we had an unforgettable ten days. I had never been to the UK, and will probably never get there again. I wish I would have known that back then.

On December 31, I threw a New Year’s Eve party, and we all cheered and celebrated the coming of 2020 with steak, lobster, and champagne. Happy 2020! Happy New Year!

In January, my grandson turned ten years old! And I recall thinking that it seemed like yesterday that I gently held his tiny swaddled body at the hospital. Back in the day when I assumed that I had all the time in the world to spend with him.

In February, I celebrated my daughter’s birthday in Brooklyn, New York, at an annual Peter Luger’s extravaganza with her two best friends. Porterhouse, thick-cut bacon, and an ice-cold martini, oh my!

And then, well, everything changed.

On March 7, I went into quarantine. I haven’t left my house since.

I remember the date, not because Coronavirus happened, but because it was the birthday of a special someone. A someone I’ve never met and who is a beloved and integral part of what I would do if I weren’t afraid.

On April 3, I corona-celebrated my 67th birthday. How the hell did 67 happen? But the day is seared in my memory forever, not because I turned 67, but because my Aunt Mary and one of my best friends I affectionately called Annie Pannie, were both buried that day.

On May 10, I got to see my daughter for the first time since we celebrated her birthday in February. The best Mother’s Day ever.

On June 21, we spent Father’s Day with two of our grandchildren, albeit socially distant. We hadn’t seen them since the prior November. And wow, how they had grown.

On July 21, I was fired from my executive director job by the deputy mayor of Cedarhurst, New York, because I asked to sit out the promoting and organizing of the annual summer Sidewalk Sale, which in the past years brought thousands of people to the shopping village. Sorry, not sorry, but I didn’t see anywhere in my job description that it was okay to kill people.

In August, I celebrated my 21st wedding anniversary with my husband corona-style, i.e., I warmed up whatever leftovers I had in my fridge, followed by a two-hour television binge of Married at First Sight.

And now, here we are on September 18, 2020.

I’m contemplating what I would do if I weren’t afraid—to reach out, and ask a most treasured person for their forgiveness.

I recently read that in asking for forgiveness, we often overlook the balance between the one who asks for forgiveness and the one who forgives.

I find it difficult to forgive myself for the mistakes I’ve made. And even though I recognize that I’m a work in progress, I continually beat myself up over events I wish I could go back and change.

I desperately want a do-over. A chance to make things right and put the mistakes and regrets behind me and out of my life forever.

I would ask for a second chance—that’s what I would do if I weren’t afraid.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve asked this person for forgiveness many times.

So many times that I’ve all but given up.

I said, “all but.”

Before I was Jewish, I was Catholic and taught that I was born with original sin. I always took that to mean that I was predisposed to making mistakes—a lot of them.

And I learned over the years that sh** happens. But it’s never too late to make amends.

I’ve personally given plenty of loved one’s numerous chances. Some took full and loving advantage, and others did not. But I don’t regret forgiving.

So, I’m going to ask for forgiveness, even though I’m afraid.

And I know that if I’m forgiven—which I probably won’t be—we will never be able to get back to the way we were. Asking and receiving forgiveness doesn’t mean all is erased.

I’m not naïve.

I know that if I’m forgiven, it will never eliminate the anguish of the injury or the memory of the pain I caused. I’m just hoping to break the impasse—to unbreak two hearts.

And tonight, when I light the Sabbath candles, I’ll pray for a new beginning. Not just for me, but for all of us.

Because we are in a very dark time, and there is way too much suffering and human wounds out there.

And even though I’m afraid, I will send that email. I won’t call because I know I’ll never get a callback.

I’m hoping, but not expecting a response to my apology.

And until I draw my last breath, I will pray for the courage to keep trying and to never lose hope.

Even though I’m afraid.

Adagio for Strings

In 1971, I majored in music theory and minored in piano at a little known college with a decent ranking music department in Brevard, North Carolina.

My most memorable class assignment was to write an essay about the one piece of work I would share with a friend to try to hook them into loving classical music.

The assignment was to choose the piece, write about the composer, and explain how it hooked me in.

I chose American composer Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

I never found the original essay, but I recently found a practice sketchbook full of poems and random thoughts, including a couple of pages about Barber and his magnificent work.

The notebook was a real find, and reading through the part about Adagio for Strings hit my own heartstrings and prompted me to bolt to the computer and write this blog post.

Samuel Barber was a pianist and just twenty-six years old when he wrote the approximately eight-minute second movement to his String Quartet in B minor, Op. 11 — Quatuor Diotima.

His inspiration was Virgil’s Georgics, a didactic poem divided into four sections.

This is the passage from Georgic III that was supposed to have inspired Barber:

As in mid ocean when a wave far off
Begins to whiten, mustering from the main
Its rounded breast, and, onward rolled to land
Falls with prodigious roar among the rocks,
Huge as a very mountain: but the depths
Upseethe in swirling eddies, and disgorge
The murky sand-lees from their sunken bed.

I can almost envision Barber’s epiphanic reaction to Virgil’s genius, and how he might recreate its awe-inspiring impact through a sorrowful musical quartet of strings.

Reading The Georgics out loud in English today, while simultaneously listening to Adagio for Strings, I rediscovered myriad layers of beautiful, melodic, heartbreaking, and inspiring verses.

Barber wrote the movement while living in Austria in 1936, as the world watched while Adolf Hitler violated the Treaty of Versailles and marched 22,000 troops into the Rhineland, just east of Germany’s border with France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Adagio of Strings didn’t have its debut until November of 1938 when America was still reeling from the Great Depression, Europe was sliding into the chaos of war, and the Nazis were terrorizing the German Jews.

Now, I don’t know if I’m describing the musicality of Adagio correctly, but for me, it quietly starts with the stirring simplicity of a single note played by the violins. It mournfully sits alone for two long beats, followed by the viola and the cello.

The movement gathers momentum in a sequential cathartic pattern of notes.

The piece triumphantly reaches its heartbreaking prodigious roar of a climax at just over six minutes, and you think it’s over.

It’s so moving; you almost need it to be over.

But it’s not.

While you take in the climatic enormity of what you’ve just heard, the deafening moment of silence is interrupted by a chilling second entrance. From the pent-up depths, the movement comes churning up from the sunken bed and then softly fades away.

Ebb and flow. Ebb and flow.

The coming and going. Or is it the decline and regrowth?

Music aficionado Sally White of Westport, Connecticut turned me on to Adagio for Strings back in the late ’60s. The first time I heard it, Sally literally held me up from crumbling into a heap.

Adagio of Strings was an enormous comfort to me in tough times, and I long ago decided that it would be the last act at my funeral.

My college essay notes were just a bunch of words and dangling modifiers, but reading them today, forty-eight years later, I sadly know exactly what I felt and meant to say.

The nuance

quiet

powerless but powerful

every quiet changing chord

changes

the reminder

of me

the slight rallentando

the teardrops falling

watching them

drip drop

sadness, loneliness

hopeless

manipulated

robbed

the rubato, the manipulation, the robbing

transparent

I can’t hide

no one can hide

the moving intimacy

the heartbreaking immediacy

the poignancy

emotional urgency

heartbreaking strings

heartstrings

moving quartet

That melancholy entrance

the heartbreaking climax. At the very end, two chords

Two seconds, maybe three,

Seems forever

The end

The string family

tragic

The violin, the baby

the viola, the older sister,

and the cello,

the cello.

Barber suffered from depression and alcoholism and died of cancer in 1981, at the age of 70.

Fast forward to 2005, when Dutch DJ and producer Tiësto turned Adagio of Strings into a dance extravaganza.

When I first heard it, I was beyond skeptical.

Tiësto started his repertoire with a thud thud thud.

I thought that the heavy pounding was no way to honor Barber’s classical movement.

And then Tiësto brilliantly stopped and paused for a second before throwing in the original Adagio angst.

I weirdly yelled out, YESSSSS loudly.

Then he shouted, “Make some noise,” and broke into a fist-pumping feel-good anthem that was invigorating and filled me with hope and recovery.

Tiësto took Adagio of Strings from its original heartbreak and conquest to liberation and salvation.

Make some freakin’ noise.

Like BAM—try as you might, nothing is going to take me down.

Ever.

The full String Quartet in B minor, Op. 11 (Quatuor Diotima) by Samuel Barber. 

Winter Is Coming

I am deeply entrenched in a two-person pandemic pod with no outdoor possibilities at the end of the tunnel.

And my plus-one solitary confinement doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon.

I check out Facebook for proof of outside life. And it distresses me to see so many people living seemingly normal ones.

Not because I’m not happy for them. But because I’m not ready for normal. I don’t think that normal as I once knew it, will ever exist for me again.

I’m feeling awkward and downright anxious about socially interacting with others. And the thought of returning to my normal life terrifies me.

It took just six months for my values to upend themselves. The person I was BC (before Corona) has disappeared.

I’ve become a pro at mani-pedis. I’m okay with my greying hair. I read more, I write more, and I love that I know every single ingredient that I put into my mouth. I‘m not only eating healthier, but I also have a consistent and successful workout routine. It took a plague to reach my weight goal.

I watch the birds build their family nests, I revel in my dollhouse projects, and yes, I literally smell the roses in my back yard—a lot.

I grew tomatoes and scallions for the first time, I’m adept at pruning my trees, and I’m okay with scrubbing our four toilets. Scrub a dub dub—my house has never been cleaner.

But there is a dark side to my confinement.

The longer I stay in, the less I want to venture out.

The mere thought of having to go to my doctor for a flu shot causes my heart to pound.

And I haven’t been to a grocery store in six months.

Let me rephrase that: I haven’t been anywhere in six months, and I have no immediate plans to leave my house before spring.

Well, I take that back. I plan on getting a flu shot, no matter how stressful. And come hell or high water, I am going to vote.

I watch what’s happening in the real world through the lens of my living room bay window.

Day in and day out, I obsessively observe outside life from the safety and security of my inside life.

I see a ton of thirty-something families walking and socializing together.

Without masks.

I see young children playing together and teenagers walking with their friends.

I see cars coming and going.

But what I don’t see are any old folks. And I don’t see any older adults visiting the young families on my block.

Although I recently saw an elderly couple get out of their car and wave to the family across the street from us—one measly sixty-something couple.

My young neighbors apparently just had a baby, because the mommy carefully and proudly held up her bundle of joy for the older people to see.

Watching this family blow socially distanced kisses to each other brought me to tears.

It also made me think about the logistics of how and when my husband and I would re-emerge from our self-imposed confinement.

Would we take the outdoor plunge together? What if he’s ready and I’m not? I shuddered at the thought and forced myself to put it out of my head.

From the confines of my property lot, I have wistfully watched spring and summer come and go.

And I am mentally preparing myself for winter.

To quote the motto of House Stark: “WINTER IS COMING.”

The meaning behind the Game of Thrones mantra was to prepare for the worst. It was a dire warning combined with persistent vigilance to be ready for anything that could happen. And whatever happened was always BAD.

The Starks, who were the rulers of the North, ceaselessly prepared for the coming of winter, which inevitably hit them devastatingly hard.

The word winter was used as a metaphor to convey the dark and cold season and the imminent danger, destruction, and death.

When the words “Winter is Coming” were uttered, it was always right before the sh*t was about to hit the fan.

As I gaze out my bay window and watch the leaves turning brown, I’m hoping for a brave new world.

But in my heart, I know winter is coming.

And I’m not ready.