Category Archives: Memoir

Rebooting Myself After The Great Computer Crash: You Gotta Back That Thang Up

photo from mandyxclear @ flickr.com

It’s not like there weren’t signs.

There were.

I just wanted Mac to make it to my son’s bar mitzvah.

I promised Mac would be able to rest the very next day. So despite his advanced age, I pushed my computer to stay with me until June 23, 2012.

But then I heard Mountain Lion was coming out.

So I waited.

And all through July, I continued to pressure Mac to perform.

Even though I knew he was crashing.

Because he kept crashing.

Whenever Mac went down, I’d curse, get a snack and a drink, give him a few minutes to cool down, then I’d press the power button. And Mac would hum to let me know he wasn’t too furious, and he’d take me back to the lovely blue screen.

Until one day, he didn’t.

On Friday, August 24th, I held an 8 gig flash drive in my hand. I’d planned to back up all my files so I could transfer everything to the new computer, the one I was going out to buy – right after I had transferred all my files.

I was greeted by a white screen.

Reacting to Trouble

If you see this, you should probably start crying. Maybe.

After attempting to reboot several times, I put my face close to Mac’s LCD, and when I listened, I heard Mac making quiet beeping noises – like the countdown to some kind of nuclear detonation. After a moment, the icon of a dark gray file folder appeared in the center of the white screen. Centered inside the folder was an ominous flashing question mark.

Four hours later, I dragged the entire mess to a well-respected computer data retrieval professional. Several of us stood in a queue, holding our boxes and cables, the pieces-parts of our sundry devices. Looking grief-stricken, we spoke in hushed tones about the symptoms of our beloved electronics and dared to guess their prognoses.

When it was Mac’s turn to be seen, Lou performed all kinds of procedures.

Nothing worked.

Lou asked if he could hold onto my computer for 24 hours. He wanted to try one more test.

Of course, I agreed.

Anything to resurrect Mac long enough to extract his memories, my memories.

*weep*

As I waited to hear from Lou, I considered what I had potentially lost:

  • 20 years of English curricula
  • Irreplaceable letters of recommendation
  • The contact information for everyone I know
  • My calendar information
  • 34,000 songs uploaded from CDs (not purchased from iTunes)
  • Decades of photographs & videos

But by far the worst thing was the realization that I had lost my writing.

  • Over 400 poems
  • Twenty short stories
  • A full-length non-fiction memoir
  • And my current 400-page fiction manuscript, which was on the 2nd draft of revisions.

But you had backed things up, right?

All I can do is hang my head in shame.

No.

No, I didn’t.

And how stupid was that?

If you do not have at least one external hard drive, do yourself a favor and get one. Set it to back-up daily or, at least, weekly.

Several people tell me they keep one flash drive outside their homes, with friends or in a safe deposit box. That way, in the case of fire or flood, they feel secure knowing they still have a copy of their most beloved photographs and other hard to replace documents.

You mean you didn’t have Dropbox/iCloud?

Image representing Dropbox as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Both Dropbox and iCloud provide “invisible storage.” You  put your faith that someone else’s server is going to do a good job for you. Dropbox is a cool tool, but it is not meant to store thousands of photographs. When you sign up, the folks at Dropbox provide you with 2 GB of storage, but you have to remember to put your stuff in there. It isn’t automatic. Clearly, I’ve demonstrated that I’m not good about reliably saving my computer files, so if the whole backing-things-up doesn’t occur automatically, it might not happen at all for me.

As far as iCloud goes, even the folks at Apple will tell you iCloud is meant for saving text. iCloud isn’t great when it comes to large files like photographs or very large text files. So yes, iCloud is better than nothing – but an external hard drive is still better.

Signs That Your Computer is Dying

As I said earlier, there were indications that my beloved Mac was in trouble. And I ignored every single sign. Here are some of the most basic symptoms that will tell you that you need to back your stuff up and fast:

1.Lag. Remember when your computer was young and zippy? Me, too. I knew Mac had become slow and irritable over the years, but I never thought he’d just konk out on me. Lag is one of the very first signs that you need to have your computer looked at. Sometimes there are just a lot of duplicate files that need to be deleted. Sometimes there is dust inside your computer that needs to be cleaned out. If your computer is noticeably slower than it once was, bring it to a technician.

2. Noises. If your old girl is knocking around, making banging sounds or clicking sounds; or if you hear chirping noises — almost like birds — these are not good things. Also if it sounds like there is a small car inside your computer constantly revving up and then cooling down, you will want to back that thang up. Immediately. And then bring your computer to a technician.

You know? This.

3. The Spinning Wheel of Doom. Apple users are familiar with the circular icon that looks like you’ve just won at Trivial Pursuit. And it shows up once in a while. But as your computer gets older and fills with more stuff, you may start to see it more often and for longer durations. In my case, the freakin’ wheel was spinning for much longer than normal. I just accepted it. Meanwhile, I learned this is your computer’s way of screaming at you: “Doctor! Somebody get me a doctor! I have a serious problem!” Learn your computer’s language and listen to what it is trying to tell you.

4. Frequent crashing. If you are in the middle doing something and the application unexpectedly quits, this is not a good thing. Be sure to know how old your computer is. Apple warranties its computers for three years. Three years. There is a reason for that. The folks at Apple know how long these suckers their desktops are going to last. Mac’s warranty ended in March 2012. It died 5 months later. I was on borrowed time. FYI: Laptops can have a shorter life, depending on the way they are handled.

Moving Through The Stages of Loss

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is well-recognized for her book On Death and Dying which explains the 5 stages of grief. Since I had been living in denial about Mac’s situation for so long, I quickly moved to anger. I was furious at myself for not buying a new computer, especially once Mountain Lion was released. I mean, seriously, what precisely was I waiting for? I screamed at my son for playing so much Minecraft because I was sure that was what had put the final nail in Mac’s coffin. Then I got mad at myself again for yelling at my son. But not before I accused my husband of being unhelpful because he didn’t insist that I get a new computer, especially when he knew I needed a new one.

I’d put the last of my hopes into Lou, who sent me this email 24 hours after I’d left Mac in his office.

Your drive has a fatal hardware failure. Most likely the bearings that the spindle rides on have seized, preventing the motor from turning the spindle. Recovery of the data from this drive is a tier 2 level of recovery which requires a clean room and a level of expertise I don’t have in-house.

However, I have an out-of-house recovery group that can do this work.  Let me know what you would like to do.

I’m not going to lie. For a week, I was in a funk. A person who is generally sparkly, I felt pretty sparked-out.

Like my formerly functioning computer, I shut down.

I didn’t realize how dependent I’d become on my Mac. Everything I needed was in one place. I didn’t know how I was going to rebuild. I could only see loss.

In reality, getting mad or feeling sad wasn’t going to bring Mac back.

Right when I was feeling my most lowly-low, I read Kristen Lamb’s piece Maturity – The Difference Between the Amateur and the Professional where she reminds writers that writing is hard work. Inadvertently, she reminded me that I had a choice in this situation. I could be a pee-pee head and keep crying about all that I had lost. I could quit. Or I could start creating again. I could view the death of my computer as an ending or a beginning.

I went and ordered a new iMac. (It should be here next week.)

To get me excited, my son designed a cool new header for my blog. (It’s not up yet.) And I’m working on some other updates to my blog, too.

So What About The Clean Room Thing? Are You Doing It?

I contacted that forensics data retrieval lab in Temple, Texas. If I agree, they will bury my computer in the ground and, just like in Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery, they will resurrect it. But they can’t guarantee that Mac won’t come back all weird and creepy and try to kill me.

Just kidding.

They aren’t going to bury Mac. The deal at ACS Data Recovery is this: I send them my hard drive, and if they can’t retrieve 100% of the information, the cost to me is $0. But if they can, the cost is 1.64 bajillion dollars.

I feel like I have to give it a whirl, to know that I tried everything.

Obviously, this post is about the death of my computer. And while I temporarily lost it, I think I’ve regained some perspective. I mean, we have food and shelter. I’m grateful that everyone in my life is healthy and as the Jewish High Holidays approach over the next few weeks, I will be thinking and writing about more than just my recent computer woes.

But this seemed like an opportunity to share something with everyone.

The hard drive nestled in the cardboard box on my kitchen table represents twenty years of my life. And, as a friend pointed out: “It isn’t the computer that has the value, it’s the stuff on our computers that is worth everything.”

If you take nothing else from this post, take this: If you have valuable things on your computer, things you cherish, please please please spend $125 and get yourself an external hard drive.

And don’t say you’ll do it tomorrow.

Do it today.

Now.

Because tomorrow could be your computer’s big crash.

What is one thing you’d be devastated to learn was gone if your computer died? Do you have an external hard drive? Can you recommend a good one? How often do you back-up? What method(s) do you use? Assuming you could get your computer files back, how much would you be willing to spend? 

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Somebody That I Used To Know

Warning: This post contain content that may trigger survivors of abuse. If this is an issue for you, you might want to skip today’s post.

They have been playing this song on the radio a lot.

And it’s bringing things up for me.

See, there is this man who is trapped in the fabric of my limbs’ history.

For better or worse, we got tangled up many summers ago, and even though I set him free, he returns in memories.

When I think back to the best night of a most perfect summer, I remember fluffy white towels and hot showers and blueberries bought fresh from a crooked fruit stand.

Stevie Nicks sang for us, husky and low.

He was the leader and I wanted to follow.

And it was good.

When we said goodbye that August, I leaned against a brown Chevette. The leaves were still green when he put his hands on either side of my head and squeezed. He took a red lollypop out of his mouth and when we kissed, our teeth scraped together.

I should have known then. Because lollypops are too sweet. They are filled with artificial flavors and colors and objects in the mirror appear closer than they are.

One year later, he used his body like a weapon and blew me apart.

So I think of him each August.

I can’t help it.

These days, we have no real connection.

But I wonder if his wife knows about what he did. His children?

I wonder what they might think about the man in the expensive suit, if they knew he once gutted a girl like a fish.

How well do we know our partners? And would we really want to know their darkest secrets?

What music brings you back to dark places? 

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Celebrating 13

Tech’s 13th b’day cake • Yup, Kit-Kats & M&Ms & chocolate cake!

It should have been a day for parades and singing and whooping it up and flowers.

I was sure there would be balloons.

Instead there was a vacuum extractor.

It doesn’t surprise me that my son is as cautious as he is. His introduction to the world was of rough and tumble handling, of being ripped away, and I believe that it left its mark on him – though he knows none of the details.

In a hazy dream, I saw blood fill one of those pink plastic hospital basins and wondered: Whose blood could that be?

I am told that my son stopped breathing five times after he was born.

I think he innately senses that life is fragile, unpredictable and doesn’t always turn out as planned.

It was not in the birth plan for my uterus not to contract.

{Who knew I had a feisty uterus?}

It was not in the birth plan to lose so much blood. It was not in the birth plan to be rushed to away for an emergency hysterectomy.

Okay, so maybe I didn’t have a birth plan.

But I had plans.

I’d planned to go home with my newborn and revel in his newness. I’d planned to be up and around within 24 hours. I’d planned for people to marvel at us in the grocery store: “Up and around already?” they’d say.

I’d planned long, lazy, late summer walks with our fancy-schmancy new stroller. I’d planned to bring my son outside and show him the world, let him feel the August sun on his cheeks.

On my eighth day in the hospital, my OB-GYN stood beside my hospital bed.

And while a moyel read blessings and performed my son’s circumcision, my doctor sobbed.

What is it?” I asked. “You must have seen sixty-five bazillion of these.”

My doctor wiped her eyes and her mascara smeared over her nose.

I don’t know why I remember this, but I do.

“There was a point where I thought I was going to lose you both. I’m so happy you’re leaving the hospital as a family.”

And we did leave the hospital as a family.

{And we figured out how to get the $@%&! bucket in $@%&! carseat.}

And the sun went down and it came up again.

And thirteen years later, my husband and I have this fabulous son.

And I know it sounds all braggy and everything but he is incredibly smart, so we like to tease him how much smarter he might have been if he hadn’t lost all those brain cells in the NICU.

We are fortunate to be able to laugh about these things.

Because it could have ended in another, completely devastating way.

And now, as my ever-lengthening teenager heads out each morning, he still gives me a smooch — even in front of his friends.

He still thinks I’m cool.

{Sometimes.}

He still twirls my hair and tells me I’m pretty and that he’s glad I’m his mom.

{Right before he falls asleep.}

Who could ask for more?

I believe we will keep him.

Tonight he will eat something sweet.

We will push him up against the measuring door to see how much he has grown.

You know, on the outside.

People say 13 is an unlucky number.

But I feel so dang lucky.

And balloons or not, we celebrate his life every day.

Because why wouldn’t we?

What was the last thing you celebrated? Anyone else have a feisty uterus? Or a tough delivery?

On Marriage & Changing My Name: An Unusual Anniversary Post

Romantic, right?

The woman behind the counter looked at the diamond studded watch that squashed her wrist, making it look like a fat sausage. She drummed her fat fingers against the counter top. She was in a hurry, and I was holding her up.

Though my fiancé and I had been engaged for eighteen months and I had more than ample time to think about it, talk about it, and make that decision, it wasn’t until we actually went to get our marriage license twenty-four hours before the wedding that I realized I could no longer defer reality. I had to make a choice.

I was torn.

Part of me wanted to keep my last name.

“Schuls” is the Americanized version of my grandfather’s Polish name. But it is hard to pronounce and no one ever spells it correctly on a first try. Still, it is my family name, linking me to my parents and my brother.

Anxiety prickled as I thought about my nickname?

It would be strange not to be RAS anymore.

I briefly entertained the idea that a new convention should be created where the man and the woman take a new name, perhaps join their names, and blend them in the name of holy matrimony. I proposed “SHAKE-OB-SON” and “JEWELS” to my fiancé, telling him we could go down into history like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Henry Stanton who forever changed the institution of marriage by omitting the word ‘obey’ from their marital vows.

“We can be innovators, too!” I told him, grabbing his arm.

My fiancé laughed and called the idea ridiculous.

I pouted and wondered why I had to give up my identity.

Why I was the one who had to sacrifice, hassle with changing social security forms, medical records, credit cards, magazine subscriptions and insurance forms.

But the other part of me.

Oh.

The other part of me liked the idea of being lost in love.

Or something.

After all, I loved the guy.

I bit my lip and considered; it would be easier to spell.

The woman’s click-clacking fingers tapped faster, faster. A line had formed behind us.

I stared at her watch and felt time move too fast and too slow all at once.

Two other couples waited patiently to fill out their forms: other women had decided these things already.

“I’d like to hyphenate,” I declared.

And taking a breath, I said aloud it for the first time: “Renée Ann Schuls-Jacobson.”

Then I signed the papers, knowing that no one would ever say that whole mouthful.

It was official.

It doesn’t fit on a my driver’s license.

Or any of my credit cards.

And my students call me Mrs. Jacobson.

But, like I said, I loved the guy.

Still do.

Happy anniversary, Hubby.

Me & Hubs in 1995. Trust me: His mullet was hot.

Would you encourage your daughter to keep her own name or take the name of her spouse? If you had to do it again, would you do something different with the names thing? Or just make fun of our picture. Whatever floats your boat.

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He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

My 12-year old son recently shared his 7th grade yearbook with me, so I pulled out one of mine from a box in the basement.

As I flipped through, I remembered that in 1982, a guy named Tad* was a major theme.

“Who’s Tad?” Tech’s eyebrows arched.

“Just a boy I liked.”

My son saw people wishing me luck with Tad.

He also saw a disproportionate number of people leaving me ominous messages, warning me to be careful.

• • •

I’ve been wanting to share this story for a long time, and I’m excited to share the rest of it at Kludgy Mom‘s place!

Gigi is one of my most favorite bloggers, and back in May she asked a bunch us to imagine spending the entire summer at a remote cabin on the beach with a bunch of girlfriends. We were supposed to picture ourselves, in the evenings, gathered around a bonfire, maybe with a glass of wine, sharing in great conversation and the exchange of ideas.

I’m closing comments here today in hopes that you will follow me to the bonfire where I’ll tell you about the first boy to gut my heart.

Click here & meet me at the beach.

I’ll be waiting for you.

*Author’s Note: While this story is true, it should be noted that the guy I liked was not named Tad.

On Sons & Thunderstorms

When my son was still wrapped up like a burrito, every time there was a thunderstorm, I carried him outside to the worn wooden bench perched on our front stoop, and, together, we sat and listened to the boomers.

As my burrito grew, he morphed into my l’il Monkey. Whenever we heard thunder or saw that first flick of lightning, we raced to the front door. He’d mastered deadbolts by then, and he turned the knob furiously as if the ice-cream truck were sitting in our driveway. Once outside, we piled on the old bench — my son sat on my lap, holding my hand with a combination of anticipation and fear while I counted: “One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand…”

And when the world shook, we laughed, and he begged for another so we waited impatiently for the next thunder-clap to shake our world.

For years we watched the skies darken, the clouds quicken, felt the air grow heavy on our skin. We listened to water slap our sidewalk angrily, and we both came to see how it works: how storms can be furious and yet temporary. He learned that even the scariest storms pass.

I know children who are terrified of thunder and lightning – kids who put their hands over their ears and cry or hide, but my son was raised up on late May storms: flashes of light and all that racket.

Maybe it’s because we imagined G-d taking a shower.

{The way my Monkey was starting to take showers.}

Maybe it’s because we imagined G-d needed to fill up the oceans.

{The way my Monkey was starting to have responsibilities.}

Maybe it’s because he imagined G-d stomping around looking for something He had misplaced.

{The way Monkey misplaced things and got all stompy and frustrated.}

Maybe it’s because he liked talking about G-d and trying to relate to Him.

“G-d makes rain. And rain makes the world grow, Mommy!” l’il Monkey told me as he stared at the yellow lilies, thirsty for a drink.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that with each summer storm, my summer-son was getting “growed up” too.

One May, I saw my son needed a new raincoat and boots for puddle stomping.

“I don’t need a coat. Or a ‘brella.” Monkey said as a matter-of-fact.

And he ran out into the downpour.

Unprotected.

Now I’m not saying it’s smart to go outside and run around on a lawn during an electrical storm, I’m just saying that we did.

We made up goofy dances, sang ridiculous songs, and chased each other around the yard in our bare feet until we were mud-spattered and drenched.

These days my little burrito is 13 years old.

We live in a different house with a less inviting front stoop. Plus, he’s gotten all teenager-ishy so we don’t really do the thunderstorm thing anymore.

One day, when I am an old woman and I hear the distant clatter of thunder, I will remember tiny yellow rain coats and tiny yellow rain-boots. I may not remember much else, but I will remember those little moments — perhaps as one long blurry moment — when the world turned chocolate pudding and everything was positively puddle wonderful.

What do you remember about thunderstorms? What little mommy-moments do you cherish?

Grandma’s Charms

My grandma had an awesome chunky, clunky charm bracelet.

It had sixty-five bajillion charms on it, and it clanked whenever she shook her wrist.

She died in 1982, while I was at summer camp.

I don’t know to whom her charm bracelet was willed, but I never saw  — or heard — it again.

Fast forward three years. My senior year of high school, two friends of mine and I fancied ourselves jewelry makers and set up shop stringing rainbow-colored beads onto tiny black fishing lures.

Our plan?

To become famous jewelry makers.

Or maybe to earn just enough money to see the next Grateful Dead Show.

{Or maybe that was just my plan.}

Anyway, after school and on weekends, we bought miniscule black fishing lures and itsy-bitsy multi-colored seed beads and transformed these cheap components into semi-hideous totally fabulous earrings, bracelets and necklaces.

We hawked our wares during periods 5, 6 and 7 lunch and sold everything for under $5.

And then my left thumbnail split in two.

And that was it; we were out of business.

Still, it was good while it lasted.

While our little business was booming, I got to table together with two friends. And as we slumped over flat surfaces sorting beads and determining color schemes, we talked about our lives: the boys we liked, what we thought we might do after college, where we might eventually land.

Our stuff was not fancy, but people seemed to like it. And it was wonderful to see someone delight in wearing something that we had made.

Recently, I saw these really adorable bracelets.

They don’t call ’em cutey for nothin’!

I immediately liked the colorful bead combinations, especially one bracelet with a whimsical heart-drop dangle featuring two people smooching.

I like that bauble a lot.

I like to roll the round smooth beads between my fingers and see if I can guess which one is which just by the way it feels.

Even though this bracelet is nothing like the junk kind my friends and I created in high school — nor is it like the one my grandmother wore — the clinking sounds strangely familiar.

So now I jingle a bit, and — happily — it reminds me of old friends.

And of my grandmother.

Pieces of my life’s history in metal and beads.

Who could have known that this little bracelet would bring me such sweet memories?

Tell me about a favorite piece of symbolic jewelry.

tweet me @rasjacobson

Lessons From Laryngitis

Google Images

I get sick once a year.

Without fail, I get The December Glurg with a side order of cough that generally lasts until Groundhog Day.

Sadly, this year, things are off to the same hideous predictable pattern.

On the second to last day of classes, I showed up with serious laryngitis.

It’s a good thing my students were doing presentations; otherwise, I would have been sunk. Overnight my normally robust voice had changed into the squeak of a zit-faced boy going through puberty.

And I knew the cough was bad when my husband — who is ultra-tolerant when it comes to illness — moved all three of his striped pillows and disappeared into the guestroom.

None of this would have even been a big deal if I could have just gone home and gone to bed and rested for a week. Or three.

Except, I couldn’t.

I had to catch a plane to Florida the day after classes ended.

It was not a trip that could be rescheduled.

So I became one of those passengers.

The ones we all hate.

The ones who cough and snurgle and hork up luggies during the entire trip.

And remember, my voice was gone.

I carried around a small pad of paper upon which I had written this message:

I figured it would come in handy.

Inadvertently, I had become a walking, coughing sociological experiment. Because I soon discovered that when a person can’t talk, people respond with an awkwardish awkward awkwardness. Which is ultra-weird: kind of like layering the word awkward three times.

Folks fell into four categories:

1. The Avoiders

These people could see I was crazy mad-cow sick and kept a wide girth. They avoided me and my pile of balled up tissues. They pointed me out to their children and said words I couldn’t hear but I imagined were something like: Stay away from that lady, darling. She is sick — maybe even dying — and I don’t want you to get whatever she has. The unfortunate woman who had to sit next to me on the airplane pleaded loudly with the attendant to have her seat changed. Alas, the aircraft was full, so she leaned away — her face toward the aisle — during the entire duration of the flight. Actually, I’m, not sure if that is true. I fell asleep about 13 minutes after takeoff.

2. The Whisperers

When I got to Enterprise to rent my car, I took out my confirmation materials and my little pad of paper. While I tried to whisper, no sound came out. I pointed to my sign. Strangely, the agent – lovely as she was — began whispering to me. She whispered all the rules about renting the car. She whispered my options for insurance. She whispered for me to sign here. And here. And here, too. I was amazed my her bizarre mimicry, which made me prompt her:

She laughed and corrected herself. But this happened several times during my time in Florida. Still, I would pick The Whisperers over the next group any day of the week.

3. The Shouters

While the whisperers adjusted their volume to low, the shouters went the other way. They seemed to assume that my lack of-speech meant that I was deaf and that by screeching at me, they might be able to break through my silence – or something. Or maybe they thought I would be better able to read their lips if they were screaming at thrash rock concert decibel. Again, I took out my little pad of paper:

One day, in need of tissues and cough syrup, I went to the closest Publix. A stock-boy was replenishing the inventory near the pharmacy, and I figured he would be the best able to help me. I showed him my note, and I could tell he was befuddled. It became obvious that the stock-boy was not a native speaker of English, and I wondered if he did not know what “laryngitis” meant, so I added:

I wondered if maybe the colloquialism of “losing my voice” confused him. (You never know.) So I turned a page on my pad and added:

His melodic accent had a musical lilt.

“Are we on hidden camera?”

I shook my head to indicate that we were not. He frowned, disappointed. I began frantically scribbling a message about what I was trying to find in the store, but before I could show him my words, he became hysterical. He shouted: “I don’t know how to help you! Go find someone else!”

4. The Rescuers

Thankfully, there are always people who try to help.

Amazingly, an elderly woman who actually knew American Sign Language materialized in the Publix and offered to interpret for me. I showed her my pad of paper indicating that I wasn’t deaf, that I simply had laryngitis.

She looked at the stock-boy at Publix like he had eleventeen heads.

“For goodness sake,” she said, “This girl has laryngitis! Just read what she writes on the pad and answer her questions.” She looked at me with gentle eyes and offered advice: “Drink lots of tea and rest up.” Then she doddered away.

Like the elderly woman willing to act as my interpreter, help also came in the form of a black man with a broad mustache who helped to lift my small bag into the trunk of my rental car. And a patient tattooed girl in Chipotle, who waited for me to write out my order — even though a line was thronging behind me. Help was the housekeeper in my hotel who gave me a few  extra towels: the Latino man at the main desk in the hospital who helped me find a certain room. He was at the gas station when the pump didn’t work, and she was in the airport when I really needed a Snickers bar.

Now that my voice has returned to normalcy and my husband has come back to our bedroom, I see that having temporary laryngitis was a gift. Being sick away from home made me think about the role I want to play in other people’s lives when I see them struggling: the roles we choose to take on every day in each others’ lives.

Back in 5th grade, I learned about the Holocaust and was amazed by the different choices people made. Later, as I taught novels like Lord of the Flies, I have tried to help students recognize that each of us has the capacity for awesome goodness as well as tremendous cruelty: that we can all be bystanders, victims, perpetrators and rescuers. It is like putting on an outfit: How much bystander do you want to wear today? How does cruel look on you? What about kind? How do you look when you slip into a little kindness? It is simply up to us as to which role we wish to play.

In general, I want to help.

Sometimes, helping wears me a little thin. But I am willing to get a meal and deliver it, pick up a few groceries for a friend: even if I get coughed on or exposed to her germiest germs. Even if there are no germs, just ugly, scary illness, I want to help if I can because I know how much I appreciate those little moments where people go out of their way to make things a little easier for me.

How do you respond when you see someone struggling? Do you try to avoid the interaction altogether? Do you get angry? Or try to help?

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What We Are: A Hanukkah Post

When my son was a l’il dude, I tried not to bring him to the grocery store if I could avoid it. But one year, it was our turn to host the annual family Hanukkah party and twenty-four people were coming over that night, so I found myself in the grocery store for the eleventy-seventh time that week.

As a result of poor planning, I had to bring the l’il dude along.

As I zoomed down the aisles – grabbing applesauce and sour cream for the latkes — we rushed past rolls of wrapping paper featuring snowflakes, ornaments in every shape and color, lighted-reindeer for the yard, artificial garlands and wreaths, tree skirts; boxes of 100-count multi-color lights; enormous platters embossed with angels sporting sparkling halos; floppy red, velvet hats with fluffy white pom-poms at the ends; pillar candles in red and green and gold; Godiva chocolates wrapped in boxes with bows and six-packs of chocolate Santas wrapped in silver foil.

It was full-blown Christmas in that grocery store.

My 4-year old – who had spent the last 18 months of his life at a Jewish Community pre-school surrounded by other children who did the same things in their homes that we did in ours — sat trapped inside the grocery cart. He eyed the Christmas fixins with curiosity; his head whipped from side to side, taking it all in.

“Know what’s weird?” my son started tentatively.

I heard his words, but I didn’t.

I needed to find the tuna fish.

And another carton of eggs for the egg salad.

I needed jelly filled donuts.

And I needed more oil. More oil for the latkes.

“What’s weird is that there is so much Christmas stuff because almost nobody celebrates it.”

I stopped pushing the cart.

I looked at my sweet, innocent son.

I thought:

How do I explain that Jews make up 0.2% of the world population?

That in the United States we comprise 1.7% of the population.

That when he starts kindergarten in September, he will likely be the only Jewish kid in his class.

That people might not like him because he is Jewish.

That, once, store owners wouldn’t allow me to clean my clothes in their laundromat because I was Jewish.

That millions of people have been killed throughout history because of their love of Torah. Because of their desire to preserve generations of religious and cultural traditions.

I rubbed my son’s spiky crew cut and I told him this:

“There are many people in this big world and you will find that people celebrate things in lots of ways. Hopefully, when you get older, you will have friends who will invite you to their houses to celebrate Christmas. And a hundred other holidays that you don’t even know about yet. Because there are a eleventy-million-bajillion ways to celebrate what is close to our hearts. And each way is wonderful. Hanukkah is just one way. But it’s ours.”

My son smiled.

And like the wish that it was, it has come to pass.

My l’il dude is now 12 years old. And he has celebrated Christmas with friends. And Kwanzaa. And Eid. And Diwali. He loves being invited to experience how his friends celebrate their assorted religious and cultural traditions. He feels proud to have tasted everything from stollen to chickpea curry. He has sampled poori, spicy khaja, and sweet and nutty desserts like atte ka seera. My boy’s ears have heard many dialects, and he is fluent in laughter. He can understand a smile in any language. He has learned the stories behind why people do what they do, and he understands their beliefs are as right and precious to his friends and their families as ours are to us.

He has sampled many different ways to be.

But he has never wanted to be anything other than what he is.

Other than what we are.

• • •

Now go read Life in The Married Lane by the amazing Rivki Silver.

I would like to thank Streit’s and Doni Zasloff Thomas a.k.a. Mama Doni, the lead singer/songwriter of The Mama Doni Band for providing each of the 16 bloggers involved in #HanukkahHoopla with a little cyberswag.

Click on the button below to be connected to the other bloggers involved in the #HanukkahHoopla project!


My Cat-Eye Glasses

When I was in elementary school, I had a really good friend named Andra.

We did everything the same.

We dressed the same.

We picked out the same books on our Scholastic Book orders.

We asked our mothers to pack us the same lunches.

We even got chicken pox at the same time.

image by dorriebelle @flickr.com

Then, Andra got glasses.

She looked so cool in her cute cat-eye frames.

I soooo wanted to look like Andra in her cute cat-eye glasses.

I told my parents that I couldn’t see the blackboard.

That bought me a ticket to the ophthalmologist.

He tested my eyes.

As it turned out, I saw better than 20/20.

He told me that I probably wouldn’t need glasses for years.

I think I kind of wanted to stick my tongue out at him.

But I didn’t.

Eyeglasses always seemed like such a cool fashion accessory.

So anytime there was an opportunity to dress-up, I would wear pretend glasses.

You know, the kind without lenses.

Then I turned 40.

And suddenly, one day, I was looking at a menu in a restaurant and I couldn’t read anything on my menu.

All the words looked really blurry.

I was all: “What the deuce?”

I asked my husband if we could trade menus because — obviously — mine had been printed badly.

And then I saw that his menu had been printed badly, too.

And I was all: “How can you even read this?”

My husband looked at me knowingly.

The next thing I knew I had a prescription for real life reading glasses.

I was all: “Whoo hoo!”

And then I started my search for the perfect eye-wear.

Who knew it would be so hard?

There were so many choices.

And a lot of stuff was just plain ugly.

Which made me feel ugly.

Which bummed me out.

Friends suggested I find a pair of glasses that I really love, so I didn’t feel as though I’d lost my mojo.

So I started collecting glasses.

And I’ve accumulated quite a collection.

But none were quite right.

Recently, I saw this cute pair of gray cat-eye frames, and I thought of my old friend.

How fun are these?

I wonder what kind of glasses Andra’s wearing nowadays.

Because I’m thinking I have to get these in black.

And purple.

Do you wear glasses? How do you feel about them?

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