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Hope For Tomorrow

            The weather is finally getting colder, and despite the rising Covid 19 rates around the United States, things in my little world are inching closer to normal. We’re still living most of our lives masked and/or on Zoom, but we have plenty of toilet paper, and imported television shows from Canada, and the library is open for browsing again.

Except, people are still dying. 230,000 is the current estimate, but it grows every day. We’re so used to Covid that the numbers of dead barely make it into the headlines anymore.

The autumn Hallmark movies have already given way to the Christmas movies, and even though I could have used a few more weeks of fall festivals and leaf peepers and corn mazes, I’m still happy to cozy up with the dogs and watch all of the happy endings unspool. Given the temperature of the world right now, with political debates and health debates and tension and drama from every direction, I find great relief in spending a few hours embraced by a pool of kindness, generosity and love. All I would add is some chocolate fudge ice cream, with whipped cream, and peanut butter sauce, and then it would be perfect.

“Did you say chocolate?”

The schools in my area have been reporting more Covid cases recently, so synagogue school may have to transition from hybrid to fully online any day now, but at least I’ve had almost two months with my students in person, getting to know them and build relationships. The kids are doing their best to squeeze some normalcy out of their current abnormal: planning Halloween costumes, hoarding jelly beans, running and playing and making a lot of noise whenever possible. They make me believe that everything might be okay, someday.

“Did you say Jelly Beans?”

Other than missing the chance to see the kids in person, though, the possibility of renewed restrictions doesn’t really interrupt my life. I’m not a trick or treater (I prefer to choose my own candy, thank you very much), and Thanksgiving isn’t a big deal in my family, and I get at least two months’ worth of Christmas spirit through my TV, so that won’t be any different for me this year either. The fact is, other than the masks and the Zooms, I don’t feel especially inconvenienced by Covid anymore, which, in itself, is horrifying. How did we get used to all of this death so easily? Why is it so easy to adapt to the worst news?

I’ve never gotten used to Donald Trump, though, maybe because he is always creating chaos, uprooting us from our placid acceptance of the current evil to force us to face a new and crazier evil.

I’m ready for the election to be over, and I’d like to believe that Joe Biden will win, but I’m afraid that the damage will linger long after the cause of the damage has left the building.

In the meantime, Cricket has been helping me collect leaves for Mom’s craft projects, nosing her way past the green ones and focusing on the reds, and browns, and yellows, with sharp edges and mysterious wormholes. She likes the leaves that have been sniffed, pawed at, stepped on, and yes, probably peed on too, because those are the ones with the richest stories to tell.

The Leaf Sniffer at work.

Mom is deep into her craft projects, melding her photography and quilting and weaving and painting and eco printing, into all new works of art. And I’m jealous. I haven’t had the patience to make anything lately – no knitting, not much baking or cooking – I haven’t even done much cutting or gluing, since I can’t hang things on the walls of my temporary classroom in the social hall. It takes energy and focus to create new things and lately when I’m not teaching or writing, I’m watching TV or sleeping.

But there’s something about the impermanence of the autumn leaves that makes me want to collect them and make them into something, or just to keep them between the pages of books, or in photos, or in my memory. It’s the same with my students. I keep wanting to freeze certain scenes in my memory, so that I’ll remember how wonderful these moments have been, despite everything else.

“I can fly!”

I would like to say that I am hopeful about the future, and that I can picture a world that is freer from meanness, and full of healing and compassion and the right kind of compromise, where the best of each of us is respected and encouraged to grow. But I’m not quite as optimistic as all that. Instead, I’ve been trying to hold on to the hope that tomorrow, or the next day, or the next, will give me the chance to watch something good on TV, or listen to a podcast that makes me feel better about the world, or watch my students run around in circles and scream and play, whether I see them in person or on Zoom.

Tomorrow has to be better than today, right?

“Are you sure?”
“I don’t think she’s sure.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Samson and Why I Hate Halloween

 

When I was six years old we had a dog named Samson. We adopted him as an eight week old puppy from the shelter. We were used to more aggressive or standoffish dogs, but Samson was a black Labrador mix and had the Lab personality through and through. My brother and I would race off the bus from school to see Samson and play with him. He was the happiest dog we’d ever had and we loved him.

It could just be that he was still a baby, and hadn’t settled into dogdom yet, or maybe he just didn’t have time to cause trouble before he died.

We only had him for two months, until he was hit by a car, on Halloween. I’ve built up a long list of reasons why I hate Halloween: monster movies scare me; I had to touch peeled grape “eyeballs” in the dark at a Halloween party; I don’t like knocking on strangers’ doors; I prefer to choose my own candy; and I have PTSD, so every time someone knocks on our door or rings the doorbell to trick or treat, I feel like hiding under the bed.

I sound like the Grinch who stole Halloween, I know.

But the bottom line is that Samson was hit by a car on Halloween, and the two events have always been paired in my mind.

Mom’s not sure how he got out of the house, but she blames herself. She thinks she must have left the door open when she took the garbage out. When she realized he wasn’t in the house, she ran outside to look for him and a group of kids told her he’d been hit by a car and they’d carried him to the side of the road. His body was still warm, but starting to get stiff by the time Mom brought him up to the porch. I don’t know why he ran out into the street. Maybe he was following the trick or treaters. I don’t know. I was already in my pajamas and probably asleep.

My father insisted that my brother and I not be told that night, so we found out the next morning, after they’d already buried him in the backyard.

Something about the Samson story still feels unresolved, like a haunting. And I don’t know what it is. The traumatic event happened off screen. I didn’t see him getting hit by the car, and I didn’t see him die. I worry that Samson could have been saved if only I’d known that he needed me. I don’t have many narrative memories of him, just a feeling. Not so much a body memory as a soul memory. I feel, in some indistinct place in my heart, my face, my hands, that he was a joyful place in my life. And he was fleeting.