September 11. Like so many others, I remember where I was and what I was doing on that infamous morning. I too recall the details of stories, events, and conversations of that day…and the many days after. Faces of tireless responders and reporters trying to maintain composure while doing their jobs; recordings of heartbreaking voices and words of victims saying goodbye; images of reluctant heroes saving many lives while losing some of their own…all are imprinted in my memory banks.
One week after September 11, I turned forty. There was no more “business as usual.” Individuals, families, communities, and the world had changed. It became clear that my life had to be different too. I had to do something. Maybe that was my version of a midlife crisis.
As I reflect back on the past fifteen years, I’m struck by the depth and breadth of transformations that have taken place in my life. Some were inevitable. Others intentional. Many circumstantial or coincidental. A small few spiritual.
Both of my children grew up. Their middle school, high school, and college years flew by and they now are young adults; one is even married. My husband took some risks and changed jobs. The economic crisis caused us to batten down the hatches, weather the storm, and then rebuild. We moved into a new home.
The most profound metamorphosis, however, was mine. A seemingly random decision to enroll in an adult Jewish education program, commonly known as Melton, reframed my understanding and appreciation of this thing called Judaism that is more about values and a way of life than religion. It ignited a desire to acquire more knowledge and led to the pursuit of a Masters in Jewish Studies. The research for and writing of a paper fueled the hunt for paternal ancestry. The process of discovery yielded hundreds of names, interesting stories, confrontations with the past, meetings with newly found cousins, and the repair of severed ties. And, most significantly, the choice of a volunteer position turned into a dramatically different career decision and ultimately a more authentic self. The journey of the last fifteen years has been particularly hard. Its challenges cannot be underestimated, yet neither can its rewards.
On Sunday I turn fifty-five. It’s only a number. But it’s a number that reflects decades of experiences, growth, and learning that are sacred. It includes loved, trusted, and respected people who make life worth living. It belies the evolution of beliefs and perspectives that serve as a moral compass.
But, after I blow out the candles (honey, I want an ice cream cake), my wish is that fifty-five is just a brief milestone along a continued search for relevance, justice, happiness and peace.