On October 12, 2018, I boarded a plane to Los Angeles to celebrate the B’nai Mitzvah for the twins of one of my closest friends. The celebration was bound to be festive and the weekend plans were filled with some of the friends that know me best and whom I love the most. Once I found my Basic Economy seat in the middle of the back row (the one next to the bathroom that does not recline), I started to sob. My situation had little to do with my short-term, physical discomfort but instead was a manifestation of my current emotions and my older son Greg’s enduring struggles. Greg and my husband, Kenny, had recently returned from Orlando, home of the Brain Plasticity Center, in a last ditch effort to find a “cure” for Greg’s post concussive symptoms that had been present for the better part of two years. At this point in time, he wasn’t feeling any better and had decided, in the interest of his mental and physical health, to step out of school for the semester. While the decision was the right one, the heartache that I felt for him in this moment of his life was profound. My tears flowed as I traveled across the country and continued, even in the most joyous moments, intermittently throughout the weekend.
In my experience, gratitude is realized most prominently when fundamental needs such as good health, mutually loving relationships, or deep and enduring friendships, are threatened and then restored. It is through the potential loss of one’s good fortune in life that gratitude is not only understood intellectually, but also experienced deeply in your heart. It is with this struggle and regaining in mind that I truly understand what gratitude is. As I get ready to go back to Los Angeles this weekend to celebrate the last of the Bat Mitzvah celebrations for my friends’ children, and as Greg prepares to possibly move across the country this month to begin his career in Los Angeles, the journey of the past few years is particularly poignant.
When people ask me, “How are you? How are the boys?”, I know to answer that, at this moment, everyone is healthy, thank G-d. So, in the spirit of the season, I have made a partial list of the things in my life that I am truly thankful for, starting with this note of gratitude that Greg wrote to me and Kenny last week:
Mom and Dad,
It would be impossible to thank you for all the things you’ve done for me and all the ways you’ve made my life what it is. I owe you both for everything I am and have. Please know that nothing you have done for me in the last 3 years has gone unnoticed and unappreciated. From dad helping me get me through the academic grind of school when my concussion symptoms were intense, to sending me to Orlando to seek treatment regardless of the cost, to being there whenever I needed to talk despite how nonsensical I can be, to working your asses off and saving money my whole life to put me through college debt-free, to being my biggest fans in my professional and creative journey, to putting food on the table, making me feel safe and loved, you are both my heart and my backbone and I couldn’t be what I am without you. You go above and beyond as parents everyday and you both are incredibly special human beings. I am loving life again and I owe that in large part to both of you.
Happy Thanksgiving and I love you bigger than the god that I don’t know if I believe in,
Tuesdays with Danny
This semester, I began teaching a public speaking course. It has challenged me in so many ways. I have conquered my fear of standing in front of a room of Wharton students and learned to operate all sorts of technology necessary to run the class. What I have enjoyed most about this opportunity is that coming to Penn’s campus and offering to pay for my younger son Danny’s lunch guarantees a weekly meal with him. It is during these weekly meals that I feel more connected to my 20 year old son than at any other time in our relationship to date. He shares information about his classes, his fraternity, his life at college, his girlfriend, his pending summer internship search and plans to travel abroad next year. For some reason, this same information would be quite difficult to extract at home. When asked to renew my teaching commitment at the same time slot next semester, I immediately said yes. I loveTuesdays.
Persistence Paying Off
When my husband Kenny and I began discussing the possibility of his launching a social impact start-up nonprofit organization more than five years ago, we were both 100% on board and yet neither of us could have anticipated both the complexities of the experience. I often equate it to Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus. I have this image of him pushing a boulder up the hill. Every day, the boulder comes tumbling down. Day after day, he gets up with a smile on his face and increasing level of passion, commitment, competency, and with like-minded and determined colleagues, prepares to push that boulder back up the hill no matter what gets in the way. This year, Philadelphia Youth Basketball has transcended into phase two of building an innovative and impactful youth development and community empowerment organization propelled by some major breakthroughs that bode well for the future. I know in my heart that he and his colleagues are building something amazingly significant and enduring for thousands of kids.
My love for my first dog, Raffi, has skewed my reality. Raffi led to Rosie when Greg was leaving for college, and shortly after Danny left, we got Reece. Having three dogs and walking 185 pounds of dog is a daily challenge. They shed, they jump, they bark, and they each come with anxieties of their own. I understand that this is no one’s fault but my own. And yet, in moments like these, when I am looking out my window with the unexpected snow falling to the ground, and I am surrounded by three sleeping dogs, all with beating hearts and love to give, I couldn’t feel happier.