Life Lessons

No Bucket List for Me: But Still Places to Be

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I don’t have a bucket list. That phrase doesn’t make sense to me: how can a bucket be a list? Anything related to a bucket would be chaotic, a mess, a blob, a pile, certainly not a list with bullets and indents. Also, as a city (or suburban) woman, I’ve rarely used a bucket, so why would I use one to contemplate the things that I may, on occasion, daydream about?

On a non-literal level, I’m easy on myself. I have no desire to do something that scares me or could kill me even more than driving in southern Florida. I don’t get what’s accomplished—what you get out of—jumping from anything, be it a bridge, a ledge, or an airplane. Overcoming fear? If you’ve gotten to the age when people around you talk about their bucket lists, then you’ve surely done plenty of things that were scary in your day-to-day living. Why push fate? Anyway, isn’t it more about you trusting in whatever technology is used and the people who used it as opposed to you doing something that proves you’re stronger than you thought? So how is that validating? Why not just take a deep breath, acknowledge where you’ve been, where you are, and have a nice meal to celebrate survival, and then contemplate what is yet to come?

I don’t even have a “Places to Visit” list because it doesn’t matter. So what if I never get to Australia, which I dreamed about visiting after watching Walkabout when I was a girl. Anyway, the girl who was moved by that movie is a different version of me—do I want to visit Australia or am I simply holding onto her desire? Besides, I think my response to that movie was about wanting to be somewhere completely different, to have an adventure. Does it have to be in Australia where I was fascinated by two kids who have a very sad adventure after they’re abandoned in the Outback by their father who commits suicide? I did live in an entirely different place where I walked around its semi-arid landscape and had adventures, so mission accomplished, sort of.

Maybe if we think about what our goals and destinations represent, it could prevent disappointment and clinging to outdated notions of ourselves. What we need to do is realize how far we’ve come in our lives and what we’ve done—dare I say accomplished (this really is a note to self)—and not look to do more before taking stock and reassessing. Which, of course, needs to be free of competitive accounting, which, I dare say, is often the culprit in contemplating goals. Again, does it matter where I’ve had delightful days, as long as I’ve had a few?

A few months ago, I realized that in all the places I’ve lived: New York City, Buffalo, the Tel Aviv area, Northern Virginia, and now the West Palm Beach area, I’ve never gone to all the guidebook-worthy places. Now, I’m determined to change that. Walk in nature, a city, a quaint town. Go to a museum. Discover foods and restaurants. The focus now is on where I live as opposed to seeking to do the same things I like to do after having spent a lot of time, money, and anxiety, to just get from here to there. With home as my base, I have the benefit of returning to my comfy space after the hours of exploration. Do I feel challenged? Why do I need to be? I’m enjoying exploring without discomfort. Am I really a better version of myself if I’ve managed to get from the airport to a hotel to a tourist site to a nice restaurant and have even stood up for myself if something went wrong?

At the base of all these places to visit and things to do should be an understanding of what I need to feel that I’m not standing still as a person. More times than not, that happens sitting on the balcony writing. Of course, the writing is informed by the meanderings, even if they only took me around the block. Perhaps appreciation of what we have and who we are matters more than checked lists of places seen. What does it say about us if we can’t appreciate experiences that happen close to home?

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Alligator in park about 20 minutes from home

Single Women and Their Blood Pressure

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Flamingo Park, West Palm Beach

In the latest edition of—whether you want it or not, you’re getting it—the AARP magazine—I read the article, “8 Habits That Are Raising Your Blood Pressure,” which got mine up from reading it, when I had hoped that it would give me tips on lowering it.

The first listed reason for high blood pressure details the harm of being “an antisocial woman or an overly social man.” It then goes on to talk about “socially isolated” women, and men who have too large of a network. (Maybe with all the talk of AI taking over the writing world, I’m back in teacher-mode, focusing on words and their usage, and why we still need people to see the not-so-subtle nuances). Why are they equating someone who is antisocial with someone who is socially isolated? These are not the same. In one case, you go out of your way to stay away from people; in the other, it’s not that you don’t want to socialize, it’s that connections aren’t there, for whatever reason, and that’s stressing you out (and, oops, there goes your blood pressure).

I also don’t understand how, in our extrovert-focused society, the author can say that someone who hangs out with lots of people is “overly social.” What does this even mean? Maybe it’s about lacking deep connections or downtime to process all the excitement you’ve been having, so that your blood pressure can have a breather? 

Clearly, the article is meant to be helpful, with yet another list to help us live our lives. But it feels like judging is happening. It’s not healthy for women to be too alone or men to be too together, in relation to (only?) blood pressure. But what is a person supposed to do about that? It’s not as if lonely people haven’t tried to unlonely themselves, and the overly social have become used to that way of being. (I assume that they have heard of meditation, reading, and walks by a body of water, but perhaps there may be some realizations, insights, and thoughts that they prefer to keep at bay. And the lonely of us, surely, they have been defeated by multiple attempts at making enough lasting connections to keep loneliness from impacting their health.)

Which brings me to thinking of the things that we’re constantly told (even if we’re not seeking them out) that can help us be healthier and happier. I wonder, is the goal to be a better version of ourselves or to become a bland, generic version?

For a time, I was going to a fair number of meet-ups (for me it was a lot; for the social, a blip on their calendar) and each time there were the introductions that covered the usual condensed life story. After a while, I was tired of introducing myself repeatedly at each event. But it gets tough to rethink both the past and the present, which leads to a review, which leads to a critique, which leads to stress, which leads to, once again, high blood pressure. It was also dull to hear the same things from the people I was meeting. At times it felt that we had all hit the same milestones which resulted in our being in this bowling alley, restaurant, or walking path at this moment. It was as if a flattened version of ourselves was in attendance.

And who wants that? At a certain point, the potential for a life-changing meeting with the man of my dreams (do I even have one?) or even of making a new friend to go to brunch with (oh, how extravagant the desires) are too insignificant to bother. Better to be single dealing with high blood pressure than to be constantly presented with one’s failures.

Ok, I correct myself, these are not failures. These are the choices I have made as I try to lead a full and fulfilling life. And it’s still up to me, AARP suggestions or not, to figure out what degree of lonely and social is right for me. Perhaps today’s plan to go by myself to a museum I have never been to in a city I have never been to is part of that ongoing process.

 


Retirement Phase 2.0: My Mother’s Keeper

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It’s retirement 2.0 for me! The change from 1.0 is not because I’ve relocated to a Caribbean Island with—or without—a lover. Nor is it because I’ve become a babysitting grandmother, correcting mistakes that I made with my daughters. Nor is it back to working full-time because of boredom or overly optimistic financial planning. No. It’s 2.0 because my mother has had some health issues lately and now depends on me for more than my charming presence in her home.

The tentative plans that I started contemplating when I last visited my daughters, where I would stay for a few months near each of them out on the West Coast, have dissipated. Gone, now that my mother needs me to help her out more—physically (if she’ll take my arm) and mentally (if she’ll listen to me through the cycle of woe and anxiety that has become her internal voice track). Now I get to take her to her doctors’ appointments, which have become more than annual—and to remember for her when they are, and to not get chocolate cake (wink wink—GET chocolate cake) when I go to the grocery store for her.

She went from being a supremely capable older woman to an unsure elderly woman in a single illness. It is the age, I understand from friends, on the cusp of 90, when that happens. Hopefully, the treatment(s?) will heal her physically, but it still seems that this was a before-after moment. She has been touched by the idea of her mortality, something that she has kept hidden in the back of her mind, even as the wrinkles took over. From what I’ve been told from those who’ve gone through this before me, the before-after switch into being elderly—feeling frail and forlornly fearful of mortality—is often because of a fall. With her it was a fall and another fall, a passing out, a few days in the hospital, visits to new specialists, and tests. No broken bones, but a fractured spirit. And even as self-focused as I can be, I know that this is not the time to be two flights away for an extended period of time.

It’s funny, she still thinks that I don’t have to make any changes to accommodate her. After all, I’m still doing my occasional dogsitting nearby, now that she's recovered enough to not need me there to make sure she makes it to the bathroom. Her sense of independence, or is it an inability to ask for and accept help, perhaps keeps her strong and fighting. But, looking from the outside and also thinking about myself and this inherited family trait, it also seems to mean losing out on a way to connect to loved ones and people who care.

Independence does not mean that you eschew help just for the sake of showing that you can do it. At a certain point, this seems more a sign of stubbornness than logic. No, it means that you’re making your own decisions while also appreciating that there are ways for others to make your life easier—to enhance your life. If we offer a hand, why can’t we accept one as well?

It's not as if you’re dumping the burden of you onto someone else. It’s not even sharing it, since it’s still your reality. Rather, it’s being aware that there are people who care and who you can trust to not diminish you, but to encourage you to be fully you, within whatever limitations time and gravity have done to your body.

It seems to me that this is a lesson all of us could use, whatever stage we’re in of the aging process.

 


My Friends’ Husbands

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Dogs and Cats Walkway Sculpture Garden, Maurice A. Ferré Park, Miami


My friends have nice husbands. That observation came about when a friend’s husband briefly chatted with me as I started a zoom call with his wife. Later that same day, another friend’s husband did the same thing. They made me feel included in their lives and that I was their friend too.

Because of them, and a few other husbands (who often do the same thing, wave included), I lost the last vestiges of the bitter lumping together of all men that had been lingering since my divorce in 2007. Their generally kind demeanors have forced me to be more accepting and to become a feminist who is not against men, but for women. I don’t know if it’s more effective in getting women through those darn glass ceilings and with complete authority over their bodies, but it feels a little calmer inside me as I go about my life. It's nice not to distrust every man.

At the same time that I made that realization about my friends’ husbands, it also occurred to me that most of my friends are married. That hadn’t been the case for a long time. When I was getting divorced and then for years after, most of my friends were divorced. Except for one (and I wonder about that now), we all had stories of control and abuse—emotional, verbal, or physical—that we bonded over, where “to bond” means that someone understands you without blaming you or telling you what you should have done differently.

Perhaps the good guys do finish first since their marriages are the ones that last. Seems to me the charismatic guys that some of us were drawn to turned out to spoil, like the last piece of cake that turns your stomach because you just couldn’t resist eating it even though you knew that you already had enough and were going to get sick if you had any more sugar. Next time, you keep hoping, you will finally listen to your body and stop.

These men, who wave and say hello in the background of zoom calls as they go on their way, and their wife and I settle down to analyze our lives and the world (and the horrible things that, mainly, men are doing—ah, the temptation to generalize because sometimes there is truth behind the generalization), add a dimension to my life—in addition to what their wives add.

With one friend, we have had mutual “speaking to the choir” rants for years, where we basically echo each other’s thoughts about the state of the world and the people in charge. Another friend, who I have known since elementary school, while she has a much different life than mine, our similar beginnings and the things that matter to us have created a strong friendship. I’ve joined a relatively new friend in trying to change the world, which is, surely, a powerful bonding experience. (Wave to husbands and wives here!)

And now another realization: with these friends I focus on the external world, rather than wallowing in the warmth of self-pity (which I did enjoy; I don’t understand why self-pity is a bad thing when it’s a building block of “things can only get better”). Until this moment, I didn’t even realize that I had made this transition. I had mourned the loss of my divorced-friends’ friendships, but I see now that it was more of a sloughing of what was no longer essential. Our important work was done. We had built each other back up. Sharing our bitter stories helped me (us, I hope) heal into appreciating a wave of hello without feeling a stab of regret and thoughts of bad choices. Rather, they helped me to think that maybe I could have a small slice of cake now.


Retired Women Don’t Like Clothes

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Lake Worth Beach Parrots

It turns out that retired women don’t like clothes. Okay, maybe not clothes altogether. I don’t think that they’re turning clothing-optional, but the process of having to dress to head outside and, you know, interact with people who have things to do and places to be is not something that they look forward to doing. Apparently, years of interactions and dressing for those interactions, has sapped us of our desire to do it one more time. Stay-at-home-retirees! That’s a thing.

It's also a thing to be surprised by the person we used to be. Who is that woman who ran meetings and talked to people all day long? Could she possibly be the woman who lives in her Boomer sweats, tries to sneak out to the stores when no one else will be there, and who cringes at the thought of chit chat?

The idea of the older recluse is not far from our minds—in an envious way.

We did not retire to waste more time on mindless activities and conversations. If that’s what you’re offering, then there’s no getting dressed for you!

Tied with not wanting to get dressed in outside clothes in general is not wanting to get dressed at a specific time for a specific event. If us older people aren’t in the work force, it’s because we have no desire to set an alarm clock for anything other than zooming with friends or family. If we need to set aside even a couple of hours a week consistently to do something, well, that’s another hurdle that we’d rather not overcome.

The ability to roll over in the morning when you see that it’s gray or rainy or snowy or sunny and not feel guilty about it is pure joy. It’s not the same as pressing the snooze button. No, it’s the freedom of knowing that no button can dislodge me.

A lifetime of busy schedules and commitments has led to this, a generation of women who would rather retreat than plan, or attend, another event.

We have become as flighty as our teenage selves, or even our own kids. Sure, we sign up for volunteering and we’re committed to making the world a better place (or is a less horrible place?). Unless, of course, there is that urge to just stay home, with no places to be and people to see, no one expecting anything from us.

It’s lovely to know that you’re in charge of your time—and your wardrobe. You can finally just suit yourself.


The Ways I Define Myself

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Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas

During the holidays, I travelled out West to visit my daughters. (Thankfully, I was neither delayed by storms nor technical meltdowns, and my luggage stayed with me, though it was tight in some bathroom stalls.) It was a break from “daughter living with mother” to “mother visiting daughters.” Now, I’m back in Florida and dog sitting for a few days, so I’m on my own and thinking about how both of those identities define me and, yet, leave me missing me.

The longer I sit here thinking about this, it finally comes to me that I must stop using them as an alternative to establishing a post-retirement identity. I cannot place these relationships in a position where I relinquish my independence, without anyone even wanting that control. These three people are supremely independent and expect the same of me—know me to be the same. Now is not the time to change that.

As has been clear for years, and though I have allowed myself to ignore the evidence and let myself imagine my role differently, my daughters don’t need me in the daily running of their lives. That is a good thing. I am an accessory, maybe a necessary one, but certainly not one needed on a daily basis. I am the pot that you need to cook a specific dish; you may cook it often, but not every day. Perhaps I am like the keychain charms that I keep giving as gifts (first a bedazzled initial from Las Vegas and then a hamsa with the Traveler’s Prayer from Israel), something that you take for granted that is part of something that you need.

I am in limbo. And I feel this even more sitting here in this house that is not mine with the sweet dog who is not mine. Years ago, I had a house and a dog. But I don’t have those things anymore because I married the wrong person and life unraveled to this point. I wish I were over regretting the way things turned out. I need to accept it as history, not as something that could have been different.

Which makes me realize, too, that I should rejoice in this situation where I am in control of the next steps that I take. I am not in constant consultation with a partner or in demand by an uncertain child. The quietness of my days, my ability to spend hours facing my computer without any interruptions, is not a twist of fate, but the way things were meant to be, for me.  

Perhaps thinking of my relationships with my daughters and my mother is to see that we are in a kind of voluntary relationship now, where our past is a benefit, one that feeds the present and the future. If the cost for the things that I don’t have is this peaceful existence and relationships, then there is nothing to regret.

Sometimes, when I read with dread of yet another husband who has killed his wife and maybe also his children, I remember back to a colleague who feared for my life when I left work each day. And I am eternally grateful that I am here to think this thought. It brings me back to this realization that life itself is the gift.

Here I am: I have no job, no permanent home, no partnered relationship; I have a pension and some savings. I am a person with a ticket to try to be fully herself in as simple and effective a way as suits me. Leaving aside the hindering weight of expectations and disappointments is surely an important step in the process. This recurring step is perhaps here to remind me that my past—myself in the past—is neither positive nor negative, but the reality of lived life. Recognition of self at this moment: always an initial step, always different.

Even as I sit here thinking that I am stagnant, I see that I am not. And that is the beauty, isn’t it? As this earth hurls through space without our feeling it, we, too, hurl through our lives without realizing it. Not noticing, noting, the changes, but they have taken place. Life is being lived; even here, within thoughts, desires, regrets, acknowledgments.

I see now that there is always purpose, even if it doesn’t seem so. Something that I feared was not true, hence the reliance on being needed.

It comes to me as I stare out the window waiting for thoughts to come that the weight of each life, as it exists in balance with the other lives in its range, is unknowable but that does not negate its force. The essence that is unique to each of us—impacting, impacted—is the distillation of the experiences we have lived to reach now. There must be satisfaction in this moment, for there to be more in the next.


Fate or Meeting a Long-Lost Friend in the Holocaust Museum

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View from the grounds of Yad Vashem (author's pic)

I met my ex-husband waiting for a bus at Haifa’s central station. I was by myself because the person I went into Haifa with wanted to stay and shop, while I wanted to get back to the kibbutz where I was living to start getting ready to fly to England in two days. We briefly chatted while waiting for the bus to Tiberias, then, once the bus came and I sat down, he slowly walked down the aisle and sat next to me. We talked, somehow; I had enough Hebrew and he had enough English to hold a conversation. He visited me the next day and we exchanged addresses. Over the next six months we corresponded and when I made aliya (moved to Israel), we met again, beginning our very romantic romance that didn’t end romantically.

Shortly after my family and I moved to Virginia, knowing no one, I took my daughters to a children’s festival. I was alone with them since my husband, who wouldn’t have wanted to go there and would have suggested something else, had briefly returned to Israel to deal with his green card. After sitting down, I looked behind me to see how full the auditorium was, and, there, a few rows behind us was a friend who I had lost touch with when I went away to college. Our friendship was a foundation upon which my life in Virginia depended.

The latest fateful encounter was a few days ago in Jerusalem. Some people have religious revelations there; I had a supremely human one.

In the midst of the emotional experience that is Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, I saw a friend from New York who I hadn’t seen in over 10 years. I was watching a short video on the experiences of Bulgarian Jews during the Holocaust, a special interest since I’m translating and condensing survivors’ stories from there for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. As I watched, I noticed a woman to my left who was also watching the movie. She seemed familiar, but I couldn’t place her. I stepped back as if to turn away. Then I thought that I can’t walk away just because I couldn’t remember her name.

I turned to her and said, “I know you. I’m Laura.” She looked at me with eyes full of the sadness that weighs on you in that museum. Then they widened into excitement, and said, “I’m G.” And in that moment, we remembered each other. We hugged with all the emotion that bears down on you there, but also from the deep well of disappointment that had been our lives when we had last been in touch, each dealing with our turbulent divorces from our husbands.

How to explain how unexpected this encounter was? Neither of us lives in Jerusalem, or even Israel for that matter. Both of us on vacation, in a large, busy museum with our minds engrossed. It is not a people-watching place. An unexplainable meeting. Fate.

It turns out that she was showing Israel to her second husband and the next week they would visit her daughter (who had been a childhood friend of older daughter’s) who now lives in Tel Aviv. They visited the museum the previous day, but hadn’t finished, so they came back and started where they had gotten up to when the museum closed. I thought that I wouldn’t get in since they said that there were no entry tickets.

Once in, though, if either of us had gone at a different pace or turned to look at something else, there would not have been that moment of recognition.

We hugged and cried, loudly. (I wonder what the people who saw us thought had brought us to that emotional state at that spot.)

We talked for a few minutes, it was hard to stop, but there was still so much more of the museum to experience. We arranged to meet later that day at her hotel, which was a few minutes from mine. As I continued, my thoughts were full of excitement and surprise at our meeting, reconnecting.

Fate? Something brought us together. Made those other chance encounters happen too. Not many over a lifetime, but they had been significant, had brought so much to my life. Those people at those moments. Me at those moments.

What is it that we want from friendships, relationships? To feel heard and be asked to listen. To be encouraged and give support.

I was in Jerusalem for three days and it was fascinating. But I was not moved. I did not experience a connection to God, or the force that is.

I reconnected with a friend.

It makes me wonder if friendships are part of the essence that is. Part of the fiber that connects all living things. The people, who may be briefly in our lives or present for much of it, bring us deeper into ourselves. They accompany us as we—timidly, irreverently, thoughtfully, naively, trustingly—trod our path. Perhaps what connects us—that otherworldly thread—is that we each need something outside of the self to help us fully become ourselves, to experience and appreciate our lives and who we are, in all that is.


Back in Israel: A Tourist in a Place that Had Been Home

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Where we used to live in Tel Aviv

I’m in Israel visiting for a month after not having been here for more than 22 years. Much is different; much is the same. For Israel; for me.

When I left in the summer of 2000, I lived here with my family, my husband and I were about to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary in the dream home we recently purchased, one daughter was going into 4th grade and her sister into kindergarten, and I worked in the high-tech industry. Now, I live in southern Florida with my mother (after leaving Northern Virginia where we moved that summer for what was supposed to be a temporary stay), I’ve been divorced for many years, my daughters have both graduated college, and I retired from teaching (a career I hadn’t even envisioned in 2000). Twenty-two years of living, but always wistfully thinking that I should be in Israel.

This trip represents action—finally back—and a moment to pause before moving forward, unstuck. It’s time to accept, I see now, who I am and where I am. I need to acknowledge that the past is different from what I thought it would be. How many of us are living the lives we had imagined when we were 20?

Looking forward, I need to think about what I need to do so that this moment becomes a stepping stone for what will be, rather than a memorial keeping me stuck contemplating what was not.

From 0 to 20 in New York, 20 to 40 in Israel, 40 to 60 in Virginia. Maybe the moves and the timings were right. There was enough time in each place to adapt and feel at home, as least as much as possible when I live so much in my own (internal and external) space. 

On this trip (because that is what it is), I see that I have always been a woman who spends much of her time wandering around by herself, people-watching, contemplating, being in motion and still at the same moment. I feared encountering this aloneness (one reason why it took so long for me to come back). But that’s okay, I realize; it’s my core.

But I’m not always alone here. I have come to meet people I volunteer with long-distance and to finally see the two institutions I’ve spent hours helping raise funds for, so that they can continue the important work they do in bringing people together, providing an education, showing that equality and mutual respect are not just for other people in other places. I am necessary. I have purpose. I may be a wanderer, but I’m also a giver. That balance maintains me, wherever my home may be.

Israel is busier, more crowded, more built-up, than when I was last here. But still, the characters and the character, the sounds and the Shabbat silence, the foods and the interactions, remind me of why I moved here so many years ago. To be Jewish in Israel is a somber and satisfying fulfillment of identity and history. It is to feel connected from the root.

The Hebrew that took years to learn looks and sounds wonderful: I read signs and advertisements, listen to the news (oh, the news ☹), and I can still eavesdrop (this was my first indication that I had learned enough Hebrew to integrate into society), and ask for help, and hold conversations. To see people dressed like me, the many secular Israelis, and the religious Jews, with their head coverings and clothing styles signaling their belief systems, is comforting. It is to re-immerse into a world that feels so comfortable, even though it has been so long. At home, but not home is still a satisfying to experience.

Being confronted with my past in such a physical way makes me realize that life is not about the choices we make, but how we live from them. My actions and inactions have led me to a fulfilling life, with people who I love and who love me. Not an outcome to regret, but one to celebrate.

Going forward, perhaps I can incorporate more frequent visits here so that my past, my present, and my future blend together.

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My view now in Zichron Ya'acov

Retirement Brain: Things I Forget Intentionally and Unintentionally

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Driving to the beach the other morning, I heard about a not-new study that tested the brain function of people 14 years before retirement and then 14 years after. Deterioration occurs. Verbal memory was negatively impacted, which means people forgot words and verbal items (referring to analogies, antonyms, sentence completion, and reading comprehension). “Use it or lose it.” This made me think about some trade-offs that may occur upon retirement. My fear of forgetting where a comma goes and for whom the bell tolls contrasted with my fear of not spending time with the people who matter to me, of having my life overshadowed by concerns for my students (who have probably already forgotten me), and of not having the opportunity to figure out who I am without thinking about my career. The fear of staying in a job for fear of forgetting could result in not getting to experience post-work life.

This made me think of some of the things we need to remember over the course of our lives: people (faces, names, stories, birthdays); homes; schedules; career terminology; driving routes and walking paths; recipes; events; family histories; the books read; the movies, plays, and TV shows watched; and the places visited. Thinking back, or trying to, it’s hard to even realize how many things have been forgotten. But just because something isn’t recalled doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been absorbed somehow into our essence. The croissant of life (much nicer to think about than an onion’s layers).

What do we want from our memory? From our lives? We want them intact and for us to be in control of them. But how much of that is possible?

Even before I retired at the end of the 2019-20 school year when I was 60 and a few months (right at the age when I could start receiving my pension), I already felt myself needing more time to access words and to regain a train of thought. It’s so odd to experience those inside wrinkles, just as it is to feel the thinning hair and see the age spots. In class (here’s a partial excuse), it became apparent that I really needed to watch what I said because it could be recorded and twisted to be turned against me (by a parent whose darling was not getting the A they absolutely deserved), so I took my time composing my thoughts before speaking. (Self-censorship or wisdom?) Even so, I could feel my brain working instead of it just working. Kind of like watching my mother get up from a chair: at 88 it was a slow-motion process, not a simple act.

Of course, I don’t want to forget things, especially if it’s my fault. I play Wordle and Quordle daily, and read and write, but I talk a lot less than I used to. Oh my, the amount of talking that goes into teaching. But that’s now countered with the calm I feel (except when looking at the stock market and my life savings experiencing loss). The balance of words lost to calm maintained must surely count as a significant benefit.

I hadn’t realized how much thinking about work overtakes our thoughts for so much of our lives. From a young age we’re directed to think about what we want to be when we grow up, and then we study for that and work at it, and then realize that we were wrong, so we try to figure out what we really want to do, and then work to transition into that new field, and then there’s the money we need to make to support ourselves and our growing families, and self-satisfaction takes a backseat to money for our children so they can start the process themselves. It’s never-ending, until it does end—at the point when a new version of us can emerge.

I remember words and their meanings, but now I also think about finding my own meanings so that I want to hold on and not loosen my grasp of life.

Here I am. A person focusing on being a better me and figuring out what that entails. It’s not selfish to continue within this unfurling, to live fully within my allotted time and space. It is to live within my expectations, not society’s.


Finding Meaning and Being Meaning

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In the distance are several small brown shapes. Perhaps they are napping birds, waiting for the heat to dissipate (October and midday heat still offends), so they can resume their search for food. Maybe they are tree stumps, forever moored to the ground. Or maybe they are palm fronds torn from their treed-connections by Hurricane Ian, which seemed to have gardened our area, not gutted it like it did the west coast. (Yes, when people here say the “west coast,” they are referring the west coast of Florida, not to California. A singular mindset in a peninsula.)

Without binoculars, I cannot tell what they are. I guess I could walk over there when I finish sitting in this library, soaking in the quiet until the students arrive to wait for their parents to pick them up or to work with tutors.

Groups of white birds (storks?) have just taken flight. They are too unattached and small in number to count as a flock. A small yellow butterfly has raced past at an astounding pace. The birds have flown to another grassy area, all except for one bird that seems to be looking for a mini-flock to join or rejoin.

The brown shapes have not moved, so I assume they are not birds for, surely, they would have responded to all the movement around them, even if to bristle at the disturbance as I will do soon when the children arrive.

When I taught, I prided myself on always finding meaning in even the smallest details in a story. It was a challenge I enjoyed. But now, I’m a person who doesn’t need to instruct on how to think and how to analyze. I am simply a person experiencing a moment with no agenda to find or impose upon it.

Which is better or truer to me? Does it matter? Are both meaning-finding and being true expressions of my existence? And at this moment, this day after Yom Kippur, I can find gratitude for the wholeness of this moment. I can adjust my demands/expectations/hopes for myself and try to be purpose—as a bird or butterfly or fallen leaf. Do I need to proclaim (to myself) who I am in order to be enriched, or is acknowledging and respecting each moment enough?

In each moment, to be and to be that being is purpose. My insight.


In One Month: A Trip to My Past

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Positive thoughts on a morning walk

In a month, I’m going to Israel for a month. I haven’t been there since the summer of 2000 when my family and I moved to Virginia—a temporary move that became permanent. That’s a long time to be away from the place I originally immigrated to assuming that I would live my life there.

When I left, I had a good job in the high-tech industry (it relocated us), a husband who had an excellent job waiting for him at a DC law firm, older daughter was going into 4th grade and her sister was starting kindergarten. We stayed for a few days with my parents in Queens, then we made our move to Northern Virginia.

About a year before we left Israel, after years of house hunting, we moved into our dream home in Ra’anana (a city about 12 miles north of Tel Aviv). It was a huge accomplishment and we were both proud. But I was to learn that getting what you wish for can exist at the same time as creeping unhappiness.

When I left Israel, I thought peace was on its way. I had seen two cars with Jordanian license plates in Tel Aviv, surely, a positive sign. I thought that I was going to have a brief break from the tensions, that Israel was going to finally deal with the internal strife between religious and secular Jews, and that my daughters would have the opportunity to get to know my family better. I was also going to take a break from the Laura I was in Hebrew, almost fluent, but always missing a word or not getting an expression, and anxious about making grammatical mistakes. I missed being the funny, sarcastic Laura I was in English.

When I first moved to Israel, I was 21. I had a life to create and I did. My Israeli life. When we left, I was 39. Since then, my life became another life—almost every aspect unexpected. My second American life. I lost that high-tech job, got a master’s degree that I never really used, divorced my Israeli husband, became and then retired from being a teacher, and my daughters went on their own trajectories on the other side of the country. My father died, my mother moved to Florida, where I now give her emotional, tech, and driving support.

What will it be like to return to a place that I’m told is so different from the one I left? Will I feel at home in this new version? Who will I be there? Who would I have become if I had stayed? I fear going back, being a stranger to my past.

Perhaps I need to embrace then/now/if thinking with the understanding that people and places don’t have to be permanent to be impactful, and that permanence isn’t always what we need. There is always regret, because there are always opportunities not taken and experiences not lived. On the flip side, there were different opportunities experienced. Life is not a blank slate.

Regret exists in not having stayed, but there is also the understanding that if I had stayed and gotten divorced there, things would probably have been very hard for me. I gloss over this, but it is part of the reality that I must acknowledge to loosen the regret and accept that things unfolded the way they were meant to. Accept the trajectory, accept how our lives were created in its wake.

This time when I go, I’m not a young woman seeking adventure or a middle-aged woman still expecting others to direct her life. No. It’s me, seeking to return to the place that is so meaningful—the place that enlivened me and took me out of myself—that started me on my path to being a more compassionate person than if I had stayed in New York.

Now, I’m looking to spend time in the place that has meaning beyond my (a) single life, enhancing my perception of what it means to lead a purposeful, fulfilling life. Perhaps to embrace and absorb and share has always been the point. Perhaps the outsider that I became once I lived in Israel and then returned to the States is how I could fully life my life.

Trepidations for this trip, this journey. It is finally here. This past, this potential. This is me.


Pet Love: Protecting Our Hearts

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Since I began dogsitting last year, I have come to appreciate dog owners and the love they give their dogs. Sometimes their dogs substitute for the children they didn’t have and sometimes they substitute for the children they have but who have grown up (and usually moved on) leaving them lacking an immediate object for their affection. Perhaps this is why there seems to be a sadness intermixed with the joy of dog love. (It could also be that many of the dogs I have met are getting older and there is fear of anticipated loss.)

But it is not just love of a specific dog that I note, and I do note that and why not, why not be attentive to the needs of the dog that follows you around, looking at you as if you matter, as if being next to you is always the best place in the house, as if your goings out and comings in are of importance, because they are (and sometimes even commemorated with a treat!). What I see is a need for people to share their love; a need that reaches beyond the specifics of their living arrangements, where even couples who are growing old together no longer show their love or it is simply taken for granted. We need to give and to receive.

We have so much love to give that showering it on a pet who is always grateful and appreciative soothes the ache that grows within many of us as we get older. For so long our lives have been lived within certain parameters—our jobs, our families, our interests, our community—that dog love enables us to reach beyond the intellectual confines we live within and pushes us to acknowledge that we are also a person whose soul, self, essence, being, is a world—a worthy world simply within breath and consciousness. For a dog, our presence is the only needed proof of our existence, and isn’t it a relief to be seen for being me and not as a value to be calculated.

I wonder, though, about the structure of our world, where humanity and inhumanity seem to go hand-in-hand. Why is it that we cannot express this love we have within—the appreciation of our essence—beyond the confines of the animals with whom we live? What would happen if we could share this love with more than the dogs (and cats and other chosen animals) we have in our homes? Where would we be? What is it that gives us the ability to love, but also the inability to share it? Why are we prevented from sharing our true selves?

On yesterday’s morning walk, I encountered a woman who was out looking for her cat who escaped from her cat sitter’s home two weeks ago. She recoiled from this week’s dog, saying that she is not a dog person. I said that he is the perfect dog for a non-dog person, gentle and sweet. She was heartbroken as she told me about her missing cat. I thought RIP, to that cat who was not an outside cat who had probably already been forgotten as a satisfying meal. I felt bad for her, and wondered when she would stop denying the reality of her cat’s demise.

Perhaps this story illustrates why it’s so hard to share our love beyond our homes—beyond those we know love us. We need to protect our hearts, not from expanding, but from collapsing in pain. Perhaps the calculation for humanity is that things will be better for us all when our hope of sharing, of giving, of connecting in love is stronger than our anticipation of hurt, of loneliness, of disappointment, of anger in loss of love.


Hot and Humid Thoughts on a Summer Day in Florida

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View from my a perfect picnic spot

The other day I wanted (more than usual) to disconnect from the cycle of my thoughts and connect with something that lets me step aside from the constant nag to acknowledge, analyze, and assess what’s outside and inside. To not read the newspaper, emails, tweets. To not think about my position and thoughts. To not think beyond the scope of who I am at this moment.

So, I drove to the ocean and sat for about an hour (until the free parking time was up) for a lunch and no-learn. I let myself sit. (I also let myself eat two burritos, which was one too many.)

Happily, I discovered a new beach in Palm Beach where there was ample parking and I could sit under a palm-frond-covered hut over a picnic table instead of on the burning sand with the scorching noonday sun pressing down on my head.

This being Florida and, apparently, land of the iguana, as I turned into one picnic area a huge brown and tan iguana with what looked like a mane of spikes, headed for the bushes when it heard me, but, thankfully, I saw it and I scurried away even faster. I had no desire to share the space with a resentful iguana.

The next picnic area seemed iguana-free, so I sat there. Every few minutes I banged on the picnic table with my palm or water bottle. I didn’t want to see any angry iguana relatives. While there, I was (mainly) at peace (at least as at peace as you can be when you fear lizards lurking nearby).

The waves rolled in and out like breath, enabling me to meditate without needing a mantra or to call myself back to breathe. I caught the waves. The intention that I set for myself was simply to be at peace. How sad that I must force myself to absorb and be part of a scene instead of always demanding that I find a meaning in the moment. (Ah, here I am, doing just that.) But how glorious, too, that my purpose can be to understand what motivates me—a person—when there are no external factors. Now, without a job that constantly overtakes my thoughts, I can be an existentialist, focusing on what I need to find purpose and be purpose.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a library and it’s pouring outside while the thunder rolls and rolls. Another aspect of a summer day in Florida. As much as I may think that one thing defines a place—a person—there are always more dimensions.

I am of myself and of the world. I need to balance between the demands that I put on myself to be myself (just look at my ever-growing pile of books to read, and restaurants to try), and my assertion that one’s purpose is to be of service to others using skills and guided by heart. I need to work on the feeling that time tending to me is not time away from, but time preparing for.


Marriage and Divorce Anniversary: Reflections on Being Alone

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Thirty-seven years ago this week, I got married. Fifteen years ago this week, my divorce was finalized. This week, I’m dogsitting, which means that I’m staying in someone else’s home taking care of their pet. (Coincidentally, the owner went to a wedding.) These three points in time could be the things that I tell someone I’ve just met to explain my life. I can’t decide, though, if this is cause for tears of sadness or joy, or just a bit of bitter self-reflection in which to stew.

It wasn’t easy to have moved on from a failed marriage and a nasty divorce; that took years. Time during which I savored my independence. Time when I also experienced being fully myself and the stillness that is me.

Does the demand that we live in the moment punish us, make us feel we are not doing life the right way, if we live a mainly sedentary, word-engrossed life?

Having moved the day I retired, from Northern Virginia to South Florida, meant that I was starting over, once again. There had been the move from New York to Israel, and then from Israel to Virginia. There had been the change from being single to married to divorced. There was the transition from being a parent with children at home to being a parent who occasionally sees her adult children after long plane trips.

It's good that I forget what I thought my life would be like and accept what it is, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t experience malaise and disappointment. My life is steeped in solitude and knowing that it could have been different, leads to both regret and relief. It also makes me determined to not let inertia win.

This last move seemed so easy: just get into my stuffed car and drive south on I95. But it not only took away the one home I created on my own, it changed relationships with good friends, and meant the loss of acquaintances whose good mornings and hellos were comforting acknowledgements. While I don’t regret the move, I can still experience it as a loss.

The pain of divorce is not just the resulting aloneness, but the feeling of failure at having picked the wrong person, at not being able to make it work, at wondering if I missed what my life should have been. After the divorce, I had two other failed relationships, which just adds to the burden that I carry that I will remain alone, when, sometimes, I wonder if I would be happier with a partner.

It's funny. For a long time, most of my friends were single. Now, mainly because of fallings-out, those women who had been my rocks and activity partners are no longer in my life. My married friends have proven their friendship and over the time that I have known them, I see the solidity and safety they have created with their spouses. Clearly, we are all different and we each have our own path to travel, however circuitous, but to not pause and wonder and feel the moment’s emotions seems that it would be a stop and not part of the journey into my future.

This is a day when I acknowledge that I have so much to be grateful for, but remorse has captured my heart. When I finish writing and posting this, I feel that tears will no longer be held back by the process of trying to understand. What is there to understand? I made choices and I am living with the result. All is well. Though I ache for change and I know, oh, yes, I definitely do, that it is up to me to do what I must to not face regret more than joy.


Dementia at the Doctor’s Office

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Wakodahatchee Wetlands

JOHN*. MOVE. NOW. NO. JOHN. JOHN. STOP. JOHN. STOP. NO. MOVE.

That was the background “conversation” at the doctor’s office the other day when I went for my annual. One old White woman in a wheelchair, a late middle-aged White man pushing her, and her young Black aide. I did a double-take at them when I heard the man say something to the receptionist about his wife because she looked much older than him, her husband, who I thought was her son, a very good son.

When I was brought back to an examining room, the nurse and I could still hear her shouting. I said something about how hard it is to hear the woman yelling at her husband so harshly. The nurse said that the woman hadn’t always been like that, that she had been a lovely person. Apparently, the anger is an expression of her dementia. It was upsetting to be witness to such an open display of what would normally be hidden in one’s home and to see what dementia can do to a person, that memory loss is also a loss of self.

Up until COVID put a stop to visits, I was a hospice volunteer for about a year. During, that time, I visited a few patients with dementia. Since some of them lived in a memory care unit in a senior living community, I saw other people with dementia when I visited them. In all that time, I hadn’t seen anyone so hostile, though there had been glimmers of insistence and impatience. Hearing her was scarier than when one woman called me “Mother.” If the harshness is not uncommon, then perhaps the angry patients there were in their rooms or medicated or taken care of differently.

Weekly for most of that year, I visited a man whose wife visited him daily. She used my weekly visits as a little break for herself—she would go an hour later to be with him. She was watchful over the aides and took care of him like a mother hen. The situation, his dementia and other health issues, took a heavy toll on her, even with the help he received. It was so hard to see that everything she did was from her love of him, while he was sunk into his own world. I couldn’t imagine how the husband in the doctor’s office was managing when it seemed that it was just him and one aide. Not just the work of taking care of her physically, but the drain on him to care for this woman who had taken over his wife. How does a person keep going, keep giving from love, when the spousal relationship no longer exists? Is the connection at the soul-level or the commitment and vows level, so that the nature of the relationship no longer matters?

One of the things that I learned that year of volunteering was how difficult it is for a spouse or child to care for a loved one who is sick, especially with dementia. It was relentless, harder than caring for an infant. There is no positive trajectory to expect or a break in demands when independence comes, and, perhaps, too, it is hard knowing that all the love and care you give will be unrequited. Not that we do things to be appreciated, but this is a truly selfless love, where your giving takes so much from you—even if you don’t think of it that way. There are so many things that can push a person into being fully committed to another to practically blanking of the self, even if it is temporary. Maybe my thoughts say more about my fears, than they do about this man and his patience.

Perhaps I’m focusing on this because it’s a fear that naturally comes when a parent is in their 80s. My mother’s memory and sense of self are firmly intact. Sure, she forgot what time her haircut was a few times, but I would forget that, too, if I didn’t put it into my calendar. Knowing that she took care of her mother and my father when they were sick at the end of their lives and that I said I would do the same for her scares me. Living with her, seeing this woman who would walk at a New York City pace now hesitant to walk from the living room to the kitchen concerns me, makes me anxious about the future. We each have tests, a lifetime of tests. Some we pass; some confuse us; some we learn from the hard way; and some we anticipate or fear, but hope that we won’t disappoint ourselves and those we love.

* Not his real name.  


Retirement Self-Exploration and Expression: Being Free from External Supervision and Validation

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Looking Up

I’ve been thinking again about my back-of-the-mind desire to have a small business and I’ve finally come to the realization that the business (selling something) itself isn’t the true desire. No, it’s about being recognized for my creativity. Afterall, I barely shop (except for the supermarket because I don’t know what I’ll want to eat in two days) and I’ve always found not spending money more important than having things (just ask my daughters how long it took to convince me to get a TV instead of using my laptop). It’s about being seen and acknowledged for who I am. Why, though, would someone who I don’t know paying for something that I created make me feel good about myself? What does external validation, or the lack of it, mean?

More than 20 years ago I created a card deck for self-discovery that I called “A Minute to Myself.” I didn’t end up selling many copies. The personality that could create an introspective game was the same personality that struggled to sell it. For years I’ve felt bad about that, but I shouldn’t. My pride in creating something should not be clouded by my lack of business acumen or a not aggressive-enough personality. Why should one ability be perceived as more important than another? That is another realization.

Now that I’m retired, I should be free from thinking of myself in terms of trade, in terms of an exchange. Sure, there’s still money to earn (because, well, the economy), but I need to finally separate myself from this thinking. There is me, and then there is the world around me and its hierarchies. As I am finally without a boss and a big boss telling me what to do and how to do it, I need to also expel that externally formed internal self-assessor from influencing my decisions. I need to free up my internal space so that I can think for myself, rather than stay/become entrenched. Why would I use this time and opportunity to be yet another producer of products that may be found on a table at a future yard sale.

No bosses to appease. No parents to please. No students to supervise. No controlling deadlines. No regulating alarms. Retirement should be self-directed. Why would I want to put myself back into being judged, especially when I know that judgments generally reflect those doing the judging and not those being judged? Why would I want to re-encase myself when I can finally act on these realizations—the realizations that show me that I am a better me when I skip the comparisons, and focus on living my life.

From “A Minute to Myself”: Self—Are you pleased with what you have become, with what you are doing with your life? Why? Why not?


What Do I Know? Learning to Value My Experiences

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Grateful for beauty and talented people

Sometimes I wonder what I know, which is a way of thinking about how much I do or do not value myself and my life experiences.

I was 20 when I completed my BA in English Language and Literature, with an emphasis on writing. When I moved to Israel not long afterward, I learned Hebrew to integrate into life there. Since then, I’ve taught Hebrew and translated articles, a book, and Holocaust survivor testimonies from Hebrew to English. My first real job was writing user’s manuals for software programs (back when they were printed and shrink-wrapped). After typing, “Press Enter,” one too many times, I got creative and became a marketing writer. For a creative after-hours outlet, I developed toys and games—my drawer is full! More than twenty years after finishing my undergraduate degree, I completed an MS in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. As part of my studies, I became a trained mediator. Then, for sixteen years I was a high school English teacher, who enjoyed resolving conflicts between students doing groupwork, as well as explaining how to use commas and semi-colons, among other prized punctuation marks. Over the years, I’ve used my writing and editing skills to help friends, family, and non-profits to improve their documents, so that they effectively represent them. I’ve written two novels, a memoir, a few children’s books, a play, and (what would amount to) volumes of personal essays.

And, I’m the mother of two adult daughters, who both have college degrees (one a graduate degree as well), who are in stable relationships, and who seem to enjoy spending time with me. I was married for 21 years. Then, I divorced him before I was completely broken by his controlling ways (though I was definitely broke). As a single woman, I purchased two cars, and bought and sold a condo.

So, clearly, there are things that I know. Life. I know how to live. I know how to use and develop my skills, so that I can benefit myself and others. Yet, self-doubt arises. I wonder what I know because I think that I should know other things—things that I value more than the things I know, things that other people know.

I can blame this on being a woman in this ridiculously male-centric and misogynistic society (where “society” is used in the global sense of the word), but I don’t want to. I want to think about how I can emotionally support myself without needing a societal upheaval first (because that seems to be a long way off, though now I’m volunteering with an organization helping to change that). I don’t want to use this valid excuse. I want to confront myself and create a space where I look up to myself. This doubt should not still be accompanying me.

When I first became a teacher in my 40s, I doubted that I could do it because I didn’t think I knew enough or that I had anything to share. Turns out, with studying, a few helpful colleagues (and students), teacher editions of textbooks, and my own life experience, I knew enough. No. I knew a lot. But that was in the classroom. I conquered my doubts there.

Still, this disappointment that I didn’t accomplish more—that I didn’t become more—continues to beleaguer me. It overrides what should be a sense of self that lets me focus on what will be and not what wasn’t. My three professional regrets are that I’m not a published author, an entrepreneur, and/or an expert in a chosen field. But when I think of those aspirations, ones that put a lot of time demands on a person, I realize that they were never within reach because I always sought work-life balance over professional dedication. (No leaning in here.) I didn’t stay up late delving into whatever it was that I needed to delve into. No. I read books for pleasure, lots of books. I drove my daughters to their lessons and to friends’ houses, and I enjoyed weekend baking and afternoon naps. I made things easy for my husband, so he could devote himself to his work. I went easy on myself, because oftentimes just getting through a day felt like an accomplishment. It still does.

A few months ago, I went to a women’s discussion group where we focused on gratitude. We all talked about the things we’re grateful for. After health, we mainly focused on people, and a few pets. I wonder now if changing how I think about gratitude would help me on my path to no-excuse self-acceptance. Perhaps I need to look within when I contemplate gratitude. Why should it be based on external indicators? Funnily, health is an internal factor. Maybe that’s my clue. Why do we judge ourselves against external factors (because it seems that gratitude has a certain degree of comparison)? We’re playing solitaire, not poker.

At the end of the hour, the leader suggested that we keep gratitude journals. If I had done that, and was still doing it, my entry for today would read: I’m grateful that I didn’t abandon this essay, but kept writing until I wrote into understanding. I’m grateful that I decided to change the in-person volunteer work I do so that I feel that I’m giving more than I’m getting. I’m grateful for my health.

And if I expanded my journal to includes words to focus on, I would write: Appreciation. Purpose. Compassion.  

May you all find the balance and words that inspire and protect you.

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Grateful for the beauty in nature




No Home of My Own: And Not Regretting It, For Now

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Suspension Bridge over River

When I first got married, my future ex-husband and I bought a fourth-floor walk-up in Petach Tikva, a non-glamourous (then and now) city east of Tel Aviv. After that, we rented an apartment in Queens and then one in Tel Aviv. After three years of looking, we bought our dream home in Ra’anana, an upscale city northeast of Tel Aviv, but within a year we ended up moving to Northern Virginia, and renting a house in Great Falls, selling the dream house, then renting a townhouse in Reston, until we bought our next dream home in Great Falls. But the marriage failed and neither of us could afford to live in that house, so we sold it (after two agonizing years). and I rented an apartment in Oakton, until I bought a condo of my own in Alexandria. It’s that condo that I sold last year, right before my retirement. That’s 36 years of worrying about finding the right place, paying the rent or mortgage and all the other costs involved; for the last fifteen of those years, I was a single mother/woman. 

Now, for the first time since I went to college at 17, I live with my mother, in her one-bedroom condo in southern Florida. I’m living rent-free, sleeping on a couch, with most of my things in boxes in closets.

My retirement plan is to buy a home near younger daughter when she’s more settled in a few years. Since her sister also lives on the West Coast, this will be, thankfully, much closer to her as well. For the past year, I’ve been thinking about buying this next home, with the occasional foray into Zillow to imagine possibilities. It’s been a balance between looking with dismay at rising prices and, now, mortgage rates as well, and excitement at the prospect of living someplace completely new where I can create a life for myself.

But as I make plans as a mother, I also need to make them as a daughter. At this point, it seems that my mother will join me in this move. While she’s not exactly thrilled about moving from hot, sunny Florida to chilly, rainy Oregon, coming with me overrides staying alone. And me, after living with her for a year, I see that she’s not the get-up-and-go person she was just a few years ago.

In a conversation with younger daughter the other day, she expressed her concern that I’m still living with Grandma. This, probably, followed me complaining about not having enough privacy there. It could also be her concern for me and, perhaps, a weirdness at having her mother living with her grandmother, seeming to lose some of the independence she's always known me to treasure. But she had a point. For a year, I’ve been whining about missing having my own space. Then it occurred to me that in this past year I’ve been free from worrying about those monthly payments for the first time in my adult life.

Hours of my life have been spent watching house hunting programs: tiny homes, off-the-grid homes, van life, living abroad, living in the country, living in extravagant homes, living in big cities, living in small towns, even DYI homes. Hours of watching people swoon over kitchen islands and complain about bathrooms, and always demanding more space, more rooms, closer to the water or downtown or the mountains or a better view. I have envied so many people.

Now, I’ve taken a sudden break from that yearning and jealousy. I’ve decided to appreciate the good fortune that I have and not push against it. It’s a new experience to think about myself without immediately connecting to the place where I live. While the four walls and what we do with them and how we feel in them—and even the surrounding area—seem to define us to some degree, I want to free myself from equating space with presence, existence.  

When I visited friends in the DC area in April, I drove by my old condo and went to places that I used to enjoy walking around, as well as favorite dining spots. Temporarily, I inhabited my old life. There were no longings to return. And now, for three weeks I’ve been visiting my daughters, staying in their homes and in Airbnb’s. It’s wonderful to see them establishing themselves, setting up their lives and the places they will inhabit.

Over the years, I’ve connected to each new place and, to some degree, the people there. It was about being grounded in a particular space and creating a life there. But now, I’ll focus on my actions and interactions: to be within myself, the moment, and the people within that moment. I will find freedom in not being tied to one place. Perhaps I can do this since I have found comfort in different places. I have learned that it is not the particular place that gives meaning, but how I interact with the place and the people who live there. I am my home.


The Book Clubs I Have Been In: Creating Community and Balanced Introspection Through Books

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Low tide in Coos Bay, Oregon

Books have always been where I immerse myself. They are my escape from the world, but they are also my way into understanding the world and us, the lovely, confusing, annoying characters in it. They are my ongoing hobby, where the only tool I need is a library card. Ironically, they have also been an essential way to find friends and create community.

Years ago, I was in a book club that rotated between the homes of about eight women in the Washington, DC, area. The tie that brought us together was that we had either worked for the same governmental organization or knew someone who worked there. Though a few women left and others joined, we stayed together for about four years. About two years in, we met at a new member’s home, a woman who had never been in a book club. After eating the lovely meal she had prepared, and just as we were about to start our book talk, she remarked, “Oh, I get it, the book is an excuse to get together.” We all laughed in understanding agreement. I would add that it’s not just an excuse to get together, but a way to meet women who have similar interests or even personalities. Book readers (who are interested in similar books), flock together.

The first book club I joined was in Israel, where we would, memorably, meet on the Tel Aviv beach when the weather permitted (which was most of the time). Sitting around a table in the sand with the whisper of the waves and the hum of Hebrew all around, while we talked in English—made me feel completely at home.  

This was the most eclectic book group I was part of since our tie was that most of us were originally from English-speaking countries. We decided not to decide on a book to read and discuss each month, but that we would be a book exchange club. Each woman would bring a book that she had read (whether brought over from the old country or purchased it at a local bookstore). Then, when we met, we would give a synopsis and our opinion of the book, and whoever was interested would take it home for the month. If more than one person was interested, you would wait another month or two until it was your turn.

For a few years, up until the pandemic, I was in a book club that was composed of teachers or staff who knew each other from working at the same school or being on the same countywide school committee. At the beginning of the pandemic, we tried to continue via Zoom, but some of us couldn’t focus on reading and it was hard to get the books in time for our meetings when the library was closed so often. But we still needed to talk, so that’s what we did for almost two years. Now, though, our numbers have dwindled. It seems that an organizing objective is essential. It was great while it lasted.

Two of us from that defunct book club couldn’t bear being without book talks. As retired teachers of language and literature (English for me and Spanish for her), who are quite happy to be out of the classroom, we both found that we truly missed talking about books— hearing someone else’s insights and analyzing together. So, we created a book club of two. We tell each other what we’re reading and if it sounds interesting to the other, she gets it and then when she’s done reading, we get together on zoom since she’s in Virginia and I’m in Florida. We still spend at least half of each meeting talking about what’s happening in our lives and the world, but we always get to the books.

Thinking about these book clubs and the women I have known through them makes me realize that we were part of a grand sisterhood. Though we rarely all liked the same book, the key was that we came together to hear each other, to learn from each other, to be with each other—we agreed on that—not on characters and plot and writing style. We all sought out a connection grounded in a common intellectual interest.

Life can be busy and diffuse, where so many of the things we do simply focus on the mundane realities of being fed, clothed, and housed. The reading of books is like a meditation, where I am both within myself and out of myself in a balance of here and there. The talking about books creates a thread that connects me to others; it’s like a conversation that brings out thoughts never before realized. My essence (my presence as me) is realized in these actions and interactions. It’s good to stop and acknowledge the power and importance of the things we do habitually, for too often we overlook them and miss out on realizing the impact they have on our days and our lives. It is essential for our souls to acknowledge that our days are not just the things on our to-do list, but our contemplations—together and alone.

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High tide in Coos Bay, Oregon