Thursday, September 5, 2013
Last night I played hooky, sort of, by meeting with my visual anthropology students only long enough to make sure they were working on projects due next week. Then I lit out for home in order to get there before sunset. As ambivalent as I am about the notion of "home" in Texas, I wanted to be there to see in the new year.
Mind you, we are not a terribly celebratory family. Not only are we not religious, but we don't even mark many secular occasions. For example, Tuesday was the twenty-second anniversary of my marriage to the Beloved Spouse. We were married at the Cook County courthouse in Chicago, the day after Labor Day in 1991. We had decided only the previous Thursday that we should make honest people of ourselves after three years of co-habitation, so we applied on Friday for a license; by law we needed a two-day cooling-off period, and the following Monday was a holiday, so we had to wait for the Tuesday. So, on September 3rd, we got hitched by a lady judge who miss-heard my intended's name as "Ronnie" (later on we did wonder if we were legally married, since his name isn't "Ronnie"--but the certificate listed him correctly, so we decided we were actually wed in the eyes of the law). She also seemed disappointed that we didn't have a camera with us, but sent us on our way when it was all over. We had lunch at a really bad steak house that showed soap operas (coincidentally, "Ronnie's"), and I went back to work at the Terra on Michigan Avenue. The newly-minted Beloved Spouse went home to write a paper.
In the intervening years, he's finished his Ph.D., I've abandoned mine, we've moved back to Texas, and come to miss Chicago terribly. The Terra Museum of Art is no more, and most of the bookstores we loved are no longer in business. The Cubs are still doing badly (except for that one blip a few years back), and the skyline has changed dramatically. So, when my daughter reminded me on Sunday that the anniversary was coming up, we reminisced about old times. But we didn't do anything else to commemorate the day.
Nor do we celebrate holidays much. Birthdays get noticed more than any other occasion, and we do try to get whatever family is available for Thanksgiving. But religious holidays, whether Jewish or Christian, tend to go by without much fanfare. So there are no big family Seders any more (my daughter goes to Minneapolis for Passover most years, to celebrate with her much more religious father), and I'm the only one who even notices when the High Holy Days arrive in fall--not because they're holy, in particular, but because they mark the passage from year to year. I like the idea of an autumn (or, in this case, late summer) new year, at the New Moon, with the season changing from hot to less hot, late tomatoes, the last of the hatch chili crop, Mexican avocados, and pomegranates. The garden is spent, wilted, and sadly neglected except for an occasional (and often illegal, due to drought restrictions) watering of the potager.
I arrived home in time to watch the sun sink and tint the sky pinkish. I poured myself a glass of pomegranate juice and San Pellegrino and went out to catch the end of the year. The dogs loved going out after having been cooped up all day, and we spent a few minutes enjoying the cooling temperatures (it had gotten up to 100 F, but was down in the low 90s) and the dropping humidity before we went back indoors. The rest of my evening was spent being nostalgic about Philadelphia, because the current issue of my alumni magazine had arrived in the mail. I was happy to note that nobody I'd known had died since the last issue. Another (non) event to celebrate.
Sometimes I wonder about my basic optimism. As cranky an old bitch as I pretend to be, I really like the fact that I'm still alive. I don't have many friends, but my spouse and my children count, along with my first husband (or, as I think I've referred to him in the past, The Initial Spouse--who recently sent me photos of our wedding in honor of its 45th anniversary) and an old chum from Taiwan days, both of whom still keep in touch. Work keeps the TBS and I from socializing much, but I really do enjoy just thinking and reflecting when I have time--things I'm not sure I appreciated when I was younger. Whenever I say anything about wanting to live as long as I'd like to (I'm hoping to beat my grandmother's record and make it to 105 or so), folks ask me why--and I just say something about wanting to see how things turn out. Maybe I'm waiting to see if the flying cars ever get here. But I'm not pessimistic enough to expect Armageddon--just realistic enough to think that we might somehow muddle through without killing ourselves off by being too stupid.
The potential for improvement keeps seeping into the conversation: ways to produce energy without smothering the planet, ways to make peace possible, ways to explore the universe, ways to feed the hungry, ways to stabilize global population and sustainably raise the standard of living for the severely impoverished. I'm not terribly sanguine about the public will it would take to do any of this, but I am hopeful.
So perhaps its the utopian impulse that kicks in when seasonal milestones take place: why I celebrate (by at least noticing) solstices, equinoxes, and seasonal changes. They remind me that I've made it through one more cycle. I could have been dead twenty years ago, or five years ago, but I'm not. I'm still here. I still have students who remind me that what I do for a living has some meaning, I have children I'm glad I brought into the world, and I ended up married to a tennis-coaching philosopher who makes me laugh and who's terribly fun to be around.
Who knows. Maybe before this time next year someone will start working on the idea of smaller energy grids (when enough people vote down huge high tension wires in their neighborhoods), or a blight will wipe out all the GMO corn crops, or somebody will invent a space drive that makes travel to other planets or solar systems possible before I'm 105. There's always hope for tikkun olam: healing of the world.
Jews mark most transitions with a blessing: "Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season." It's my favorite brucha (blessing), in part because it's not a prayer in the sense of a petition. It's an acknowledgment, an expression of gratitude, that can be addressed to the universe as a whole, even if one isn't a believer. At Rosh Hashana, it's generally said upon eating a fruit for the first time since the previous new year. I say it over figs in the spring, and sometimes over pomegranates in the fall.
To anyone who still reads this blog, Jewish or not, l'shana tova--I wish you a good year, happy, peaceful, and with many years to come.
Image credit: Pomegranates are rife with symbolism in ancient cultures. Their multitudinous seeds can represent fertility, fecundity, wealth--all appropriate concepts at the passing of seasons. This painting, Still-Life with Fruit and a Crystal Vase is by the Baroque Dutch artist, Willem van Aelst (ca. 1650), via Wikimedia Commons.