When I was visiting a friend in November, I not so jokingly said that if people asked what we did during the vacation, I was going to say that we spent most of our time complaining. We each are facing family and financial problems, and it was good to talk to someone who truly understood what I am going through. We both also acknowledged how lucky we really are, or at least have been. But even though our problems are first world problems, they are still real and pressing.
Both of us are watching family members decline as they age. My friend and I had both hoped our mothers would remain at home until they died; that no longer is possible. Her mother doesn’t recognize her or her siblings. It’s no longer safe for my mother to be at home alone and we don’t have the money for someone to live with us. This was something I’d been refusing to see and, in fact, had to have it pointed out to me by the staff in the rehabilitation center my mom went to after an illness.
At age 64, my friend and I look ahead to retirement, if we can afford it. She is still putting one child through college and would like her daughter to have as few loans as possible, so she plans on working until her daughter is out of school. But times are harder and it’s not as easy to find employment at our age. I now have one income to support a house that used to have two incomes, so am looking to spend wisely. However, neither of us are destitute – we should be able to keep our very nice places to live, even if we can’t, for example, afford expensive vacations (something neither of us does anyway). Believe it or not, our conversations were not depressing because we both have a sense of humor.
It’s funny to look back and realize the twists and turns my life has taken. I expected to get married someday and I’m sure under other circumstances I would have had children. But that didn’t happen and I am the person I am today because of the experiences and changes I went through. To be honest, there were some experiences I could have lived without. I once had someone say to me that I might have been a real witch (well, he used a different word that rhymes with that) if I hadn’t learned from those experiences. I was tempted to say that I would rather have been a witch, but there’s no way of knowing what walking an alternate path would have been like, or how I would have felt about my life.
What I do know is that I’m grateful for what I have had: loving and supportive family and friends, a true community and the advantages of living in the 20th and 21st centuries. I’m not certain I would have survived childhood if I hadn’t lived in the age of antibiotics. I certainly would not have become a rabbi or be writing this on a computer or wearing a cochlear implant. It is kind of amazing to, on the one hand, recognize the problems I’m facing and, on the other, still realize how wonderful my life has been – warts and all – because of the good people who have helped make me who I am.
It’s also important to note as we approach the holiday season – whether you celebrate secularly or religiously – that not everyone is as lucky as we are. So, this is the season to be thankful not for what we will get, but what we have. It’s also time to remember those who have less than us – financially, socially or personally. May we all find peace, friendship and love as the days grow shorter. Let us remember our blessings as the winter solstice arrives and we prepare to celebrate a holiday of light.