Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tuesdays with Betsy

Each weekday afternoon, Luba and I wait for our kids at the bus stop on my corner.  If it's rainy, we wait in her car.  We usually get there early to have some girl time, even though we know the bus won't arrive for half an hour.  Friends are like that. On Tuesday, Luba handed me a box of a dozen Godiva Dessert Chocolates, telling me that they go good with a cry.

And, crying is on my agenda this week.

Friends and food and feelings are all intertwined in ways we don't often stop to ponder.  But, they are the crux of my thinking and the hidden impetus behind my writing.

I realize I'm being a bit vague, to I'll just get to it... This Sunday marks the tenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.  I am not just another blogger making note of it, though.  I am among its widows.  Those of you who know me personally know this story by heart and probably have your own memories to share.  For the sake of readers who don't know - and, frankly, for my own healing - I'll share some of this story.

Friends and family had just surprised Ari with a birthday bash for his upcoming thirtieth birthday.  But, he didn't live to see his actual birthday or the birth of his son, Gabi.  We wouldn't celebrate the first anniversary of our BBQ-style backyard wedding, either.  All of these, September celebrations. Ariel Louis Jacobs - Ari - was attending a conference at Windows on the World on the top floor of the North Tower on the morning of September 11, 2001.  He died, and all the what left, four years later, were a few bones and a frequent flyer card.

I was a twenty-seven-year-old, widowed, single mom.  And, grieving horribly.

My family drove from Minnesota to wait with me, knowing. We waited in my house for two days for my husband to come home.  In the dawning hours of September 13th, I perched lightly on a couch next to my dad and said, "He's gone, isn't he."  It wasn't a question.
(Ari and me at our backyard wedding in 2000)

Cheese platters and cookie trays and pans of baked ziti arrived along with the throngs of people who decorated my home for the two weeks following 9/11.  There was no room on my countertops, my fridge.  We borrowed space from neighbors.  My mom chased me with bananas, and my dad ran out for milkshakes.  I couldn't eat any of it.  And, I didn't want to talk to anyone.  I hid in my baby's nursery, organizing the jumpers and onesies people were leaving on my doorstep, grateful for the hum of activity in the rooms beyond, and staring at the little airplane-and-cloud border I'd painted a few weeks earlier.

It is friendship that ultimately brought me to food.  And, food that brought me to nature.  And, nature that is bringing me, each day, to myself.  For me, these are the elements of health and healing.

(a photoshop rendering of what would have been my family.)
Betsy Mitchell knocked on my door, while I was nursing one day, and gave her number to my mom.  Betsy checked in on me occasionally.  She was specific in offering me help, as when she offered to stay with baby Gabi so I could visit Ground Zero.  Later, the most important offer, to have dinner with her family on Tuesday night.  I went back every Tuesday for a year.

Her sons would play with Gabi on the family room floor of Betsy's perfectly warm and wonderful home while I sat at the butcher block island pouring out my grief and shoveling in hors d'oeuvres.  Betsy's husband Mark would get home from work, and we'd share a meal of the most delicious home cooking I've ever had.

Every Tuesday.

I met Chad in November of 2002, and we quickly moved in together, which required me to sell my beloved Westchester home and relocate to Connecticut.  (Goodbye Tuesday dinners.) I played house again.  I fell in love again.

Chad and I married on March 1, 2004.  We had two more boys to add to my son and his daughter.  We had a family.  But, we were both still grieving our respective losses.  We will likely always be in recovery from our pain, to be honest, but we've come a long way.  In part, this is because we have both embraced a philosophy that respects our natural world, and we share this love for "all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small."
(a newly married family, 2004)

In our new home, new town, I discovered nature that existed in neither suburban home of my childhood nor the bustling energy of the city.  I wasn't gardening yet, but I spent time in the quiet of the woods or the rustling of the lawn.  I made dinner for my family with the freshest ingredients I could find.  My neighbor had chickens, which I thought was kooky-but-cool.  I learned.

My relationship with food has, in many ways, been an evolution like any other healthy, dynamic relationship.  The more I learn, the more I fall in love.  From getting recipes from friends to visiting farmers markets, from watching documentaries to planting my own garden, I have grown as a human being.

When I stand in my garden in my muck-boots and my nearly ten-year-old son's rain jacket - a gift from summer camp for 9/11 kids - stringing twine around bamboo poles for my bush beans to climb, I feel at peace.  There is something beyond me, a greatness in the all-encompassing universe.  The drizzle isn't cold at all - it's exactly what it needs to be.  And, my heart warms against the icy pain of my loss.  Tending my garden is tending my soul, which needs care each and every day.

One thing has led to another across the todays of the last decade. From loss, there is healing and hope.  There is friendship, food, and the ability to remember without crumbling...  And, to feel truly happy without forgetting.

I am thankful to have had love with Ari, and to have found it, revised, with Chad.  I am thankful to be so in love with my children.  And, I am thankful for the friends who support me and the garden that heals me.

I wish to remember these lessons on days when love and gratitude feel distant. (Yes, we all have those days, including me.)  I wish for those who grieve to have friends bearing chocolate.

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