Sunday, April 27, 2014

In the Aftermath of the Crash

Back in the interminable land of February in this harshest of winters, I had a momentary, startling awareness that the oppressive cold and relentless grey were temporary afflictions and in the blink of an eye, summer would be upon us.

This winter caused a crimp in our creature comforts here in New York. Going outside was perilous...or at least unpleasant. Adults relived that cumbersome bundled-up feeling from childhood. Mere coats did not suffice; layers were needed to withstand the weather.

But this past winter was not just about inconvenience. For all but those who inexplicably deny global warming, there was the sad and scary acknowledgement that nature was striking back at humankind.

This winter felt, more than anything, like a warning of worse things to come.

On Wednesday mornings I teach a class in ethical communications to student clergy at a Westchester seminary. This is the second time I am teaching this class; it is one I created right after graduating from Columbia Journalism School three years ago.

One of my students is consumed with pre-apocalyptic thoughts; he sees imminent worldwide economic and ecological collapse. He speaks of the need to grieve for the planet. He feels Judaism has an approach for dealing with what is happening now, what is about to happen, the struggle to come.

My student observes me as well. Twice, he suggested that I need to slow down. My life was too busy, he said. Moving so quickly, ideas could not take root, he said.

Astonished by his insight, wondering if I ought to act huffy and offended and old school teacher-like, I have instead paused to give serious weight to his words.

He is right. I am way too busy. I need to slow down, let my ideas take root.

But need alone does not govern my life.  There are the responsibilities of adult life, the compromises that must inevitably be made. My student is wise but young, closest in age to my youngest child.

When life is overfull, with dramatic events, to boot, there is a paradoxical sense of time standing still. At 2 in the morning I am strangely awake, despite a fantastically busy day, trying to remember what took place this winter and coming up blank.

I sit in the place of blankness for while. The winter months seem like one grey, undifferentiated mass. Did anything actually happen? Looking backwards gives me a bleak and lonely feeling. I don't like returning to the very recent past.

I want to move forward into the warm light.

And then I recall my exuberant drum lessons with Mike at Funkadelic studios, the Beatles, Genesis, Chicago, Rolling Stones, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bad Company songs we played, the new licks and fills I learned, the hilarious Saturday night rock-out jam session that HOBB* attended, cello in tow. There was dancing at the Iguana Club, the Culture Club and the JCC's Swing Remix Parties, shows for $4 through Play-by-Play. There was music at The Sidewalk Cafe, City Winery, Cleopatra's Needle. I remember transcendent acupuncture sessions with the intuitive Dr. Liu,where my thoughts had a chance to broaden, deepen and bloom; exquisitely painful massages by Don the therapist. I remember the Wednesday morning classes I taught, the projects I have worked on. There was the joy of Purim and the hard work of Passover, the books I read, magazines devoured, movies I saw, shows and museum exhibitions and events I attended. There was one wacky and inspired Sunday road trip with a dear friend to Philadelphia to museum hop, another memorable train ride back from DC with a rabbi friend involving a bottle of wine and lots of gossip. There were weekly Scrabble matches with HOBB. There were dinners with friends (though fewer than usual), open Mic performances, haircuts and karaoke nights. There were weekly therapy sessions where I delved into deep examination of my life. There were writing project proposals drafted. There were columns written and published.

And wait...yes! There was more. There was planning for Middle Babe's upcoming wedding. There were joyous shopping trips with my daughter, a visit to the venue with my mother and sister, meetings with vendors, checks written, endless texts, phone conversations and emails.

Tucked into the past few months were visits from Little Babe, my youngest, sweet mornings listening to him playing piano and guitar at home, even singing together. There were car trips back to school, and one night a trip with HOBB to Muhlenberg College to hear our son perform Miller's Angels. Most memorably, there was a mother-son epic road trip to DC where he played me his newest songs, my heart completely melting.

Yeah, I think. Stuff happened.

There were antic and animated Skype conversations aplenty with Big Babe, my oldest son, living in Berlin. There were spontaneous phone calls -- just because I missed him and wanted to hear his voice. We planned a trip in April where we would meet in Paris and go on to Berlin. I threw my precious American Express points towards it. There were my prolific son's recent articles, my motherly pride and awe in his journalistic and cultural prowess.

There was my father's second Bar Mitzvah, at the age of 83, a coming-together of my extended family. There was a delightful trip to St. Petersburg, Florida with HOBB with everything, it seemed -- a concert, museum visits, sun-drenched walks, movies, two visits to a local karaoke bar, intimacy, Scrabble and the company of other journalists at an annual conference.

And then there was...there was...

"Ari?" I said, answering my buzzing iPhone four weeks ago, today, in the middle of a freezing, rainy Sunday afternoon.

But the caller was not my husband.

"This is George," said an unfamiliar voice. "I'm a paramedic. Your husband was just in a serious accident."

There was the accident.

There was the accident, which happened on the day I was too sick to travel with my husband to the Bruderhof, a Christian community, to lead a pre-Passover model seder.

And there was the miracle -- HOBB walking, unscathed out of the car that crashed into the median of I87 at the Rockland/Orange County line, taking out 20 feet of guardrail, spinning around 360 degrees.

On the other end of the phone, I was incredulous, feverish. George reached me at the Apthorp Pharmacy where I had gone to fill my prescription for Cipro, having just been diagnosed with bronchitis. My fever was over 102. I had felt sick for days, could not stop coughing.

There was the accident so there was the frantic Sunday afternoon effort to rent a car in Manhattan. There was the breathless drive up I87 to retrieve HOBB from Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, NY with Middle Babe, her fiance and my husband's oldest brother in our tin can of a car. When we got to Good Sam, HOBB was confused and disheveled but very much alive.

The car had been totaled but he was not even visibly bruised.

Two days after the crash there was my mother's back surgery in Florida. After my fever broke, I flew down to Boca Raton to help in her care, antibiotics in tow, leaving behind my still-shaken husband. There was the sweetness of time with my parents and my sister, who flew in from Israel for three weeks.

The weakness from my illness lingered for weeks. My husband had a difficult tooth extraction days after his accident when I was with my parents. He sent me pictures of his swollen face. I had to cancel my trip to Europe to meet Big Babe in Paris and then go, together, to Berlin.

And suddenly, there was the mandate to shop, clean and cook for Passover. There were the two Seders we hosted. This year, the holiday, usually beloved, felt like an unwelcome, demanding guest who occupied our life for over a week.

On the morning after Passover, I had my first colonoscopy. Terrified about the sedation, I hadn't thought about what they might find. They found something but don't know what it is. Further tests are needed.

As my student pointed out, being too busy prevents dwelling on one thought or idea for long.

I've been writing for nearly an hour and a half, in the middle of the night after a most busy, most memorable Saturday spent with alumni at Columbia J School, where HOBB was honored. I deliberately write Saturday and not Shabbat because HOBB and I experienced the day outside of the cocoon of observance, outside of the rhythm of relaxation and retreat from the world.

Sacred Shabbat time became secular.

Perhaps that is why I feel exiled from myself.

The many events of the day were heady and yet...

Something was given but something also was taken.

Now, ninety minutes after I began writing, I am no longer wide awake.

In the middle of the night, I lifted the chilly cobwebs that have settled over the long, dark and difficult winter months and now have an overview of what took place.

I documented what I am able to reasonably write but there are more things that happened.

With just a few hours until sunrise, I am heading to bed, eager to move toward the light.

I crave long days and the solace of sunshine.

I know that a mere ellipsis stands between now and Memorial Day Weekend.

My student is right. I am so busy I cannot properly dwell on my thoughts.

They cannot take root.

At this moment, I am rootless.



But that, too, is a place.

Sometimes I feel scared and sad, as we all should after such a pre-apocalyptic winter.

But right now, I only feel tired.

When I look back at this moment in time, I know that I will see it as its own discrete period: The Aftermath of the Crash.

*Husband of Bungalow Babe

1 comment:

From the Trenches said...

Wow, so relieved HOBB is OK! That puts everything else in perspective right? How busy all of us are in New York--but can we imagine it any other way? Here's wishing for sunshine and good health for us all! When it finally warms up everyone's mood will lift.