Over the break, I tackled a number of old boxes that had been cluttering up my basement since I moved. Over the break, I tackled a number of old boxes that had been cluttering up my basement since I moved to London in 2010. My goals were: 1) to condense to a small fraction of what had accumulated; 2) to locate some class notes and resources from HUC that might be useful; and 3) to capture some treasures from my 3 girls’ childhoods. Most of what I found, I had remembered I had stashed; a few, however, were very pleasant surprises.
Looking through my old school papers, I was humbled again how many teachers had touched my life.Through all the assignments, tests, and grades, I found encouragement and mentorship. A handful of educators had gone an extra mile to cultivate my intellect, and my voice. Little did I know how much I would use these communication tools in a career I could never have imagined for myself as a young adolescent.
One assignment, though, surprised me. I did not recall the day my Grade 8 English class had a parents’ day. Apparently my mother(z”l) had filled in an interview form, reflecting on her own Grade 8 experiences. I knew my mother had grown up on a farm, had allergies that often confined her to work inside the house, and had attended a 1-room schoolhouse. I knew she was a horrible speller,because by age 10 I had become her human dictionary as she sat at her typewriter completing work for her master’s degree when she returned to school.
But to read these experiences, in my mother’s handwriting and through her own voice, connected me to her humanity in a way I had not done in years. She had traveled the world with my father in retirement, before she died. Most memorably, she went with me and my then-seven-year-old daughter to Israel as I began my own graduate studies to become a rabbi. Sadly she died during that year,but I remember vividly how she had encouraged me in my graduate work. It was one of the few experiences I had in common with her, since my suburban childhood bore little resemblance to her early years on a family farm.
Whether we have fond memories of our past, or still struggle to make peace with it, our memories and experiences are important touchstones on our journeys. Sometimes our memories give us insight into who we were to become; other times, they remind us of how much we have changed. But memory will always be a connection to our inner selves as we peer through its window. I am reminded of the words of the Shehecheyanu prayer we recite at important milestones. We praise God for “giving us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this season.”
I am grateful for all that has brought me to this moment in my life, and the blessing of memory to capture the treasures of my past.