Terumah. Again. 

Six months after September 11, many still weren’t willing to fly. The fear of boarding an airplane, the idea of what could happen (what DID happen!) continued to be strong. I couldn’t blame them. It was the weekend of my son’s Bar Mitzvah, however, and we had no choice but to carry on with or without our out-of-town family and friends. Thankfully most came. 

I remember the weekend vividly. The events, after more than eighteen months of planning and preparing, came off without a hitch. My chartreuse silk suit and beaded sunset-colored “red carpet” gown (they still fit!) were glamorous. My son’s command over the services, and his chanting of Parashat Terumah, left me with feelings of pride, love, and gratitude. It’s hard to believe it all happened fifteen years ago.

* * *

I always have been fascinated by the concept of memories. We create them by zeroing in on a person, place, event, experience — or just a moment in time — and deeming it worthy of remembering. We assign value or relevance to the memory which, in turn, becomes part of ourselves and our lives. And when we share our personal narrative with others, the “elevator pitch” we offer is a summary of what we believe to be the most salient, meaningful, and relevant memories that define our sense of self.

I had a conversation with my grandfather recently about his memories. I asked why he chooses primarily to retell (over and over and over again!!!) stories about his life prior to 1960. After all, at the age of ninety-eight, shouldn’t he have interesting tales from the past fifty-seven years too? He paused, reflected, and shook his head with a wry smile. He offered no response. I reached my own conclusions. 

Once created, memories have the power to exert positive or negative associations. They even seem to control thoughts and drive behaviors. To cope, we might try to distort them…repress them…or relive them. Sometimes, they cause us to get stuck in a time or place; unable to move on or change. After living in America for almost seventy years, my grandfather still sees himself as an immigrant from “the old country,” a Holocaust survivor who cannot express himself well in English. No matter how blessed he is or how much he accomplished, he never has been broken free of the memories that shaped his very much younger self. 

As for me, I want memories to enhance my life; not control it. I embrace the opportunity to create new ones, even as this blog has been a wonderful way to capture and record older ones…as well as the lessons I learned from them. 

In the future, as I wander down memory lane, I promise that my grandchildren will only have to hear stories about their father’s Bar Mitzvah once a year. 

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