So we made it, my friends. Another year under our belts, another “old lang syne” as the songs go. A time to look back and reflect on all that has been and look forward to all we hope for. In this spirit of honoring the past, over holiday break I decided to take my Mom, who turns 80 in this year, on a trip down memory lane…literally. Between the years of 1978 and 1992, my family called western CT home, in both the now much misunderstood Newtown and also the very tony Ridgefield. As I live approximately a 2 hour drive from these places, I determined a road trip was in order, complete with hotel reservations at the very spot my younger sister learned to swim and of course dinner at our favorite family restaurant, the aptly named Rosy Tomorrows. We set off, a kind of New Yorker magazine cartoon version of Thelma and Louise, and revisited the happy haunts of our past. It turned out to be a deeply satisfying journey on so many levels, as we rudely snapped pictures of homes we used to call our own and other landmarks pertinent to the years we spent taking them for granted. We made a wrong turn (or two), laughed A LOT and mocked the rest of the family by texting them pictures of the fun they were missing.
old lang syne reminds us, as with any visit to the ghosts of the past, there is
always a profound resonance of the bittersweet.
Wrapped in a deep, thick, cozy blanket of nostalgia, we felt grateful
for all that had been as well as all that has come to us since; yet we were
ever mindful of loss, both our own and the losses of others. We mourned our next door neighbor from
Newtown, a brilliant, funny woman who was taken from her family too soon. We mourned for the families of Sandy Hook Elementary
School, this unrecoverable and bizarre aberration of violence in a peaceful and
beautiful town. We mourned for the way
“things used to be”, while knowing that in truth the world only expands and becomes
more inclusive with each New Year…we prayed for the day when no child is ever
truly left behind, a day when we can all feel safe in our communities. We mourned my father, now sorely missed for 9
new years, who would have totally been up for such a journey if he was still
Dad was a fearless optimist, a man a clever writer would have referred to as
“consciously naïve”. He believed in the
intrinsic goodness of mankind and always viewed life through a prism of hope,
no matter how dire the circumstances.
His sense of humor was always fully intact and my Mother used to
jokingly refer to him as “Harry the pusher”, because if there was anyone who
wanted the people around him to enjoy life more, I have yet to meet him. Like Dickens’ Fezziwig, my Dad thought every
day could be a party, and his enthusiasm was both infectious and healing. My Dad always made me feel safe, no matter
what. Even when we battled through
differences of opinion (and we did this often enough), he always made me feel
accepted. With my Dad I felt known, I
felt seen, I felt highly regarded. And I
would be surprised if there is any person who knew him who feels any
differently. My father was a gentleman
and a philosopher, and his spirit is a guiding light in my life to this day.
Scott Peck, one of Dad’s favorite authors, famously wrote: “Life is difficult. This is a great truth…because
once we truly see this truth, we transcend it…Once it is accepted, the fact
that life is difficult no longer matters”.
We say hindsight is 20/20
because it gifts us with perspective, the gift only time and experience can
give. In retrospect we realize that
great challenges give us our greatest rewards.
Looking back, who do I appreciate more than the kid who brought a
flashlight and a Reader’s Digest magazine
to a performance of a play I wrote and directed? In hindsight, who is wiser than the alcoholic
I dated who told me I would be “insufferable” if I “had boobs too”. I have often said today’s bad experience is
tomorrow’s funny story and thank God for that.
But while real tragedy infrequently lends itself to humor, it does
always inevitably inspire everything that is beautiful about mankind—heroism,
compassion, generosity, and the understanding that we are all in this together.
my Dad was dying, I used to lie next to him watching him sleep. Each breath struck me as a precious gift; I
cherished every rise and fall of his chest.
One day he awoke and caught me in my vigil. I looked at him with all the seriousness of a
young person contemplating death for the first time and asked “Do you know how
much I love you?” Without batting an
eyelash, my father smiled his impish grin and said “Yes”, his tone conveying
the “of course, silly”. He knew then
what I had not yet figured out—we are all dying. At difference paces and in different ways,
but it is happening to each and every one of us. And that is not a bad thing. Every day we die to yesterday’s self, and are
reborn with more wisdom, more depth, and more truth. We die to who we used to be and are reborn to
who we are now. We have the gift of
looking backward to understand it really is a wonderful life, when you take it
as a whole. When you wake up in the
morning, remember this: every day you
have a clean slate. Not just New Year’s
Day, EVERY day. Life is difficult and wonderful and new with every breath you
take. So celebrate your wonderful life,
and be happy in it.