An hour after I got home from a month-long business trip to China last fall, I was hungry again – hungry to go back. Last year, I hankered for the excitement of living alone abroad, for the challenge of communicating in a new language, and for the autonomy of having nobody else’s opinion to consider in making my decisions. (Of course, it’s cold comfort to have complete control of the remote when there’s nothing on television in English).
‘Tis the season – the season for overeating, celebrating and gathering. It’s also the season of giving praise, whether to your mother-in-law (ok, to my mother-in-law) for her delectable stuffed cabbage, or to your children for decorating the sukkah with such creative flair, and to God – for His gifts, forgiveness, and patience with us.
On September 11, 2001, after my Manhattan offices at the Jewish Federations of North America were evacuated, I walked across the street to pick up my friend Wendy from her office, and the two of us headed uptown to get my husband Michael from his. We planned to camp out at Wendy’s Upper West Side apartment until the Long Island Rail Road began running again. We made one stop along the way at the supermarket, to pick up the necessities we thought we would require if we couldn’t leave for a few days.
I remember exactly where I was when I heard that the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded 73 seconds after lift-off just before noon on Jan. 28, 1986 in Cape Canaveral, Fla. School was closed for parent-teacher conferences that day, but we had been assigned to watch the launch on television for homework. I was sitting cross-legged on the living room floor, watching the shuttle climb higher and higher and then … disaster. There was an explosion of smoke, the plume splitting into two, and then the trail of destruction lingering in the skies.
One of my favorite movies as I was growing was The Other Side of the Mountain, based on the non-fiction book A Long Way Up: The Story of Jill Kinmont by Evans G. Valens. In this inspirational and heartbreaking true story, Jill is a national championship skier who has a terrible skiing accident, leaving her a quadriplegic right before her 19th birthday. The movie followers her long road to emotional recovery, including her life-changing long-distance romance with Dick “Mad Dog” Buek, himself an exceptional skier and later a stunt daredevil.
While my husband Michael packed our suitcases in preparation for our return trip home from five wonderful vacation days in London, I gathered all of our used sheets and towels, stuffed them into a single pillowcase (as my Jewish male Martha Stewart-like husband had taught me) and carried the sack into kitchen where my friend and hostess Lisa was having breakfast before attending a class. “Do you want me to wash these?” I asked her. “Just leave them,” Lisa said. “I’ll get to them later in the week.”
When my father-in-law gave me and my husband Michael a birthday gift of sessions with his personal trainer, I realized that I had a choice: I could choose to be offended (as my mother-in-law was when he tried – and failed – to gift her a bathroom scale for her birthday) or I could choose to see this as an opportunity to get myself whipped into shape. Since I genuinely like my father-in-law, and he’s not known for beating around the bush, I chose the latter perspective. Michael and I booked our appointment with the trainer, Mona, and got ready to turn our flabs into abs.