I planned to spend the second to last Friday night in August hanging out at home with my re-constituted family. After having the boys away at camp the four previous Friday nights, I was looking forward to having them all to myself. Maybe burgers on the grill and then a fire pit. Maybe the brothers would build that fire together. Maybe Noah would play a few songs on the guitar.
Maybe none of this was going to happen.
Around 2:00 that afternoon, Noah shared with us that he agreed to play guitar at Shabbat Services at our synagogue that evening. Had he made plans with friends without consulting us, there would have been a reluctant conversation about communicating and togetherness. over the next few years, I expect to lose many of these gentle tug-o-wars on the invisible tether that connects me with my son. But there would be no pushing or pulling this time. I generally don’t compete with G-d. Odds are not in my favor. Chase however sometimes thinks he can. So when I informed him of Plan B, I didn’t wait for the protest – I just gave him an out. Which he took. My evening of family togetherness had shifted venues and was down a man. But not for long.
Within minutes of the new plan being cemented, I received a voice mail from a neighbor who I haven’t seen in quite some time. Her elderly mother (we will call her H) now lives with her and is a member of our synagogue. Was there any chance we were attending services and could give H a ride?
My answer was, of course, yes. But admittedly I began to feel sorry for myself that my vision of the evening had deviated so widely from its original form. And, as is often the case when I am not in control of my own destiny, I search wildly about for someone to validate my disappointment.. In this instance, and pretty much all others, that person is my husband. The man just does not duck fast enough.Me: OK. It’s official!! We have moved from Family Night to Community Night! How is this going to work???? Dave: Uh…… Me: No really, seriously. I’m not sure if we can all ride together because Noah has to be there early and H might need to leave early and, wait, did you feel that??? The sky is falling. I was just hit on the head with a piece of SKY!!!
And as is often the case when the sky is falling, my sweet husband tried to fix it.Dave: Don’t worry. We’ll take two cars. I’ll bring Noah early. You go pick up H. And if she wants to leave early, I’ll take her home.
Plan B was now operational whether I liked it or not. Dave took off with Noah. I left to pick up H. Chase stayed at home with his heathen self.
H was waiting outside for me in her driveway when I arrived. She had just had her hair done and looked very nice for the evening service. Her daughter explained to me that she sometimes gets confused, but is otherwise capable. They both thanked me for the ride. H maneuvered herself into the passenger seat and we set off on the 15 minute journey to the synagogue but not before she misplaced her purse on the console next to her and had a moment of distress when she could not find it. I was worried about being in charge of her — but we headed out and chatted the entire time in the car. We talked about family and H shared with me how grateful she was for her daughter who cared for her. I told her about my boys and let her know that Noah was going to play the guitar that evening. She asked me twice within 5 minutes whether I worked outside the home. I answered her both times.
H declined my offer to park in the handicapped spot in front of the building and instead instructed me to the parking lot. She moved quickly across the asphalt and over the stone path, with me keeping pace alongside her, pointing out potential obstacles and ready to break her fall at a moment’s notice. She smiled knowingly and told me not to worry. She always avoids the stone path in favor of the grass. H was not confused about everything.
Upon arrival, she had a hero’s welcome. H is a long time congregant and had been a dedicated volunteer before her health compelled her to stay home. It had been quite some time since she had been at services — a place she told me she loved to be. Everyone was so happy to see her – and she, them. At that moment, I no longer felt like a caregiver. I was the deliverer of joy in the form of this lovely woman. And I felt proud – not of myself, but of her. How could I not be? Forty years from now — I will be H. I can only hope that I have the grace and dignity that she carries with her. I was especially pleased when it was made obvious that we would sit together. And believe me — she had plenty of other options. So there I sat, with H on one side, my husband on the other, and my son playing guitar and singing throughout the service. It was one of the nicest nights of the summer.
When the service was over, the congregation moved onto the “oneg”, the regular reception where cookies and coffee awaited. I asked H if she wanted to stay but she preferred to head home. Dave was ready to make good on his promise of taking her while I stayed back with Noah and socialized, something I normally enjoy very much. But I wasn’t having any of it. I wanted to take H home myself.
The ride home was full of more friendly banter although this time our conversation stream was punctuated by what had to be at least 25 “thank yous” from H to me. To each one, I returned the expression of thanks, each one more heartfelt than the next. If given a choice then, I wouldn’t have spent the evening any other way. As we drove down the highway towards our neighborhood, I thought about what an honor it was to have her company… how humbled I was that her daughter entrusted her to me… how the night that wasn’t planned was absolutely meant to be.
It wasn’t until a car sped past me with its horn blaring that I realized I had been driving 40 m.p.h. in a 65 m.p.h. zone.
Serendipity: It is one of my favorite words because of the way it rolls off the tongue, happily with a bit of whimsy in there for good measure. And nothing tickles me more than when it happens. In its purest form, serendipity is good luck that falls at your feet. Other times, it is disguised. But if you have the patience and know where to look, you can often find it just below the surface of disappointment… buried, but still very much accessible, within the ever-dreaded layers of Plan B.