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Making Airport Connections

I felt the cup give way as I walked toward the gate. The tips of my fingers had grown uncomfortably hot, despite the cardboard sleeve, and I silently cursed myself for not washing out my commuter mug and setting the timer on the coffee machine last night.

Driving to the airport before dawn, parking the car, getting through the TSA line—everything went smoothly as I imagined myself sitting at the gate, alone with my thoughts and my sixteen ounces of Joe.

As I wondered whether I could I make it just a few more steps, the lid popped up and steamed milk ran over my fingers.  I wheeled my bag to the right, and propped it against the wall as I reattached the lid.

Arriving at the gate, I was surprised to find only two empty seats, in a row designated for disabled passengers.  An elderly woman with a cane sat at one end and a younger, still-grandmotherly type sat at the other, her left foot sporting a walking cast. I won’t sit more than a minute, I thought. I needed to dig some tissues from my purse to wipe my hand.

After sitting and placing the purse at my feet, I leaned down slowly. I held the cup gingerly by its rim, careful not to squeeze. Its base hovered no more than an inch from the floor. When the lid popped up this time, the cup fell from my hand.

I managed to salvage about half of the coffee.  Not yet caffeinated, I found my reaction time slowed and my ability to direct the spill away from my bags diminished. The elderly woman leaned forward on her cane, sighed loudly and pushed herself upright. Scowling, she walked away.

I exhaled and fought back tears. I was saving them for later.

I noticed that the other woman was shaking her head and smiling sympathetically at me.

“It’s not going to be a good day, is it?”

“Maybe not,” she agreed.

“I just wanted to sit and drink a cup of coffee before this funeral. I just…” I trailed off, searching for my sense of humor. “I just need to clean up this mess. I can handle messes. I have kids.”

She laughed.

“I’m going home from a funeral, so I know exactly how you feel. My brother died.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry for your loss.”

We looked into each other’s eyes as we held our grief together for a silent moment. Suddenly, I remembered the spilled coffee, which was spreading across the floor at my feet. I looked down to survey the damage.

“I’m sure he has something to help you,” she said, as she gestured to a man pushing a cart a few feet away.  There was a mop in a bucket attached to his cart.

It was only as I grabbed my purse and stood that I realized my sleeve was dripping coffee. I wondered if the smell would energize me during the funeral. Maybe the day would not be as bad as I’d feared.

“Do you mind watching my bags?” I called to her over my shoulder as I broke into a slow jog.

I didn’t wait for her to refuse. This was a minor transgression of airport protocol, but I was desperate to catch the man with the mop.

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My Week with the “F Word”

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It began while I was exercising and I heard the news on NPR: The F-bomb was added to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. My first thought was that my eldest, who is preparing to be collegiate, doesn’t need to look up that expression in a dictionary.

Next, when I was driving my son to school, we heard Mumford & Sons’ “Little Lion Man” on the radio.  Did you know that there is radio version, in which dead air replaces the F-bomb? How did I miss that when I was downloading the song from iTunes?!

Then, I saw Company J’s final performance of Spring Awakening, a contemporary musical adaptation of a 19th century German play.  Because my daughter was in the cast, I saw the show three times within one week, and watched her bound across the stage during what is arguably the only upbeat number in the show, “Totally F**ked.” It was fabulous—a real crowd-pleaser—and although many other songs are more beautiful and haunting, this one has been my earworm all week.

Spring Awakening may seem like an unusual choice for a Teen Summer Stock Production at a Jewish Community Center.  I definitely encountered people who questioned the wisdom of the Producing Artistic Director, Brian Kimmel, and other MJCCA Arts & Culture Staff.  And I patiently listened to the unsolicited opinions of parents who asked me to explain this perceived transgression:

“I don’t think this show is appropriate for anyone under 18. Do you know what’s in the Second Act?!”

Yes, I know. Teen suicide, young men exploring their emerging sexuality, teen pregnancy that ends in a botched abortion and the young woman’s death.  It’s quite upsetting to watch.  But at least there is the comic relief of the “F Song,” as it is affectionately known in my house.

“Why are they doing that show? I mean, it’s the Jewish Community Center.”

Because Jewish teens confront these issues.  In every society—from 19th century Germany to 21st century suburban Atlanta—teens suffer as they become adults who are different from the people their parents imagined and expected they would be.  And teens don’t always have adults with whom they can discuss their pain.  Theater is one vehicle for teens to express their irrepressible emotions.

I am grateful to the open-minded staff of Company J, and I applaud their brave choice.  Through careful staging and the sensitive handling of difficult material, they challenged a group of teenagers to portray uncomfortable situations that adults would often prefer to ignore.  In a discussion with the audience after the final performance, these actors spoke eloquently about how much they wanted to raise awareness in the community and help those who may feel isolated and alone.

Leaving the theater, I was filled with hope that a peaceful “Purple Summer” can follow the turbulent awakenings of spring.

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Legacy

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I’d been meaning to visit the website for about a month—ever since I’d heard about it on Freakonomics—but I just hadn’t found the time.  Then a link to Legacy.com appeared on my Facebook Timeline beside a thumbnail picture of Pat Kelly, the former Assistant Head of the Solomon Schechter School where I spent the first five years of my rabbinate. I’d planned to visit for research purposes; instead I must visit to leave a condolence message.

The thing that struck me when I first heard about Legacy.com is that they employ screeners to moderate these messages.  According to the Freakonomics report, “Legacy.com believes that a legacy truly is forever, and that it shouldn’t be sullied by inappropriate comments.”  This jibes with Jewish traditions regarding eulogies, as well as with the wisdom of mothers everywhere.  The rabbis of the Talmud discuss how to eulogize a not-so-nice person, concluding that one must not offer effusive praise that strains the credibility of both speaker and listeners. The podcast is definitely worth a listen, but I want to get back to what I found at the website.

I was surprised by how saddened I was to read of Pat’s death. She had lived a full life and, as a faithful Catholic had always believed that death was merely the beginning of a new chapter. In addition, Pat retired shortly after I moved away, and I hadn’t spoken to her in more than a decade.  So why did I find tears clouding my vision each time I sat down to work at the computer?

One of the last times I saw Pat, before I packed up my small office in the Middle School building, she gave me a framed card that I have kept in every office I have occupied since then.  I hadn’t realized how much her wish—written in her impeccable hand—had guided me through my years in the rabbinate. Pat’s presence in my life was palpable; her absence in this world difficult to accept.

When my son found me sniffling quietly as I stared at the computer screen, I told him that I was sad because an old friend and mentor had died. But I was also happy: reading a condolence message from Daniel S., I felt Pat was in the room with me.

Years ago, I was a troublemaker at Solomon Schechter School, and Mrs. Kelly was assigned to the task of helping me to straighten up and fly right. I dreaded being sent to her office. But over the years, she helped me to grow, giving me artwork assignments to decorate the school and helping me to discover the talents I had to offer to others. She saw the spark in me and nurtured it. Years later, when I taught at Schechter, she was a mentor and friend. I am truly saddened by the news of her passing. She was a wonderful and positive influence in my life, and shares credit for my being an elementary teacher today.

Legacy.com shares credit for connecting two people who didn’t know each other but knew Pat Kelly, and were inspired and nurtured by her.  For a brief moment, we were brought together to mourn her death, celebrate her life and bear witness to her legacy.

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