No, Thank You

images-1.jpeg

The New Year’s Eve race in Central Park is an iconic run given by New York Roadrunners.  It features fireworks at midnight, just as the run begins. I had great plans to participate in the Midnight Run tonight. It started in 1978, but I didn’t hear about until the mid-80’s, when my roommate, Astrid ran it.  I thought it was amazing.  I wasn’t a runner, so it never occurred to me that I would ever spend my New Year’s eve in the park running.  And, yet, a few years ago I did my first run.  I ran two more times, starting with my cousin Zena, and then with a friend the next year.  Two years ago I was on my own.

IMG_0185.jpg

It’s an exciting event with dancing prior to the run, and a buzz in the air with runners from all over the city, the country, and the world.  And, if that’s not enough, tell anyone what I did on New Years and I’d receive kudos.  Needless to say, I thought it would be a terrific way to start my year.  I started running with caution the last couple of months. Thinking I was ready for this, I purchased my spot, and took a run last week to pick up my number and shirt.  At 11PM  I dressed for the run, including the requisite knee supports.   Lucy, our dog, requested to go out, shortly after, and I accommodated her.  While we were walking, I realized that it would not be fun at all for me to go around the park in the rain.  I’m a slow runner so it would take me about an hour to do the four miles.  And, it takes awhile to get to the starting line due to the amazing crowd that shows up for this iconic run.  I’d be soaked.  Plus, racing on a slippery road, adds a stress of falling that takes away from the pure joy of it.

IMG_0047.jpeg

IMG_0046.jpeg

 

Accordingly, I took a pass. Normally, having said that I would go, would be reason enough to show up.  It can seem like a strong statement to start one’s year this way.  How could I change my mind?  How could I make a choice in the moment that’s better for me? I knew I would be proud once I had finished the run, but, as it turns out,  I am more proud for not going.

IMG_0048.jpeg

Not running is freedom. I have choices I didn’t have earlier in my life.  I used to feel obligated by what I imagined others would think.  But tonight it was what I thought that mattered most.  Saying no to the run was saying yes to me. Missing this one run feels like a big win.

 

A Show Under the Stars

Unknown-2.jpeg

It was around 1974. It had to be since it took about four years for my mom to perfect her tennis game.  She played every day at the Cherry Hill Tennis Courts.  She started out at the free outdoor courts in Kressen Woods, but it didn’t take long for my mom to realize that indoor courts were her best bet.    It was winter so playing indoor tennis made sense.  On that chilly  Wednesday I answered the phone, hopeful that a friend was calling.  But it was for my Mom.  The rich, low voice on the other end said he was Gladys Knight’s manager and wanted to see if Arlene, my mom, would play mixed doubles with them. I could not believe my ears.  I wrote down the message, making sure I got the number right. This was way better than any random weekday call from a friend.  When I told my mom she had a message, she first thought it was a prank. But her curiosity got the better of her and she ended up calling back.  Turns out Gladys was headlining at the Latin Casino, the Vegas Style night club that graced the West side of Cherry Hill’s Route 70. Ms. Knight liked to play tennis but they needed a forth.  My mom’s name was offered.

 

Unknown-3.jpegHGS36025JR-thumb.jpg

Unknown-1.jpeg

The next day, Thursday, after her regular league, my mom stayed and played mixed doubles with Gladys Knight and two of the Pips on court 14.  It was on the end, and was reserved for games without viewers.  I couldn’t wait until she came home.  She said they were very nice and they were on for another game the next day, a Friday.  Not only that, but they asked her to be their personal guest at their show Friday night. I wanted to ask so much more, but dinner had to get on the table and my chores took priority, at least while I lived in her house. I had fantasies of going with my mom, even though it was a nightclub and I was 14.  My mom was strict, and as far as she was concerned fourteen was closer to childhood than adulthood.  I had a differing opinion, like any good adolescent.

Unknown-3.jpegIMG_1882

My mom was no expert in making decisions, so she had to think about the offer.  I was amazed she had to think at all, how could she Not see a Motown star’s act?  But the words, “I have to think about it,” usually meant a delayed NO.  And that time was no exception.  She said they were lovely, but there would be too much smoke at the club.  My Mom was a dedicated Camel smoker until I was six, probably when she was pregnant with my brother.  Since then she would cough loudly in any public place, asking anyone within her vicinity to put out his cigarette.  Usually my mom was bashful, but she boldly made her requests much to the chagrin of the smokers.

IMG_1869.JPG

Fast forward to this summer, and my husband, Larry, has been working at Pier 17, the outdoor venue at The South Street Seaport.  Gladys Knight was headlining last week, and I knew I just had to see her. Larry made it happen.  Everyone at the venue treated me as if I had just played tennis with Gladys. Knight. But they were just great at hospitality. It was a spectacular night.  Before the show, the audience members started coming in. They looked extraordinary. Everyone was dressed up to the nines. It was it’s own show.  Then the band opened the act. In came the star.  Gladys Knight is musical royalty, yet she performs with enthusiasm and a generous heart.  Her voice sounded beautiful, complimented by her excellent band and back-up singers.   My mom might have thought the 1974 show wasn’t for her, but for me, Gladys Knight is a Knight to remember. IMG_1877.JPG2018-08-25 20.54.00.jpgIMG_1878.JPGIMG_1873.JPGIMG_1872.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

A Trip to Africa

IMG_1428.JPG

IMG_1407.JPGIMG_1399.JPG

 

 

What can I say about a dream come true?  Shall I say that I spent most of my life believing my dreams wouldn’t be fulfilled?  I lived much of my early years longing for the things that others had.  The thing about my longings is that it kept me out of the loop. There’s an unspoken presumption that it was beyond my reach. Growing up I heard about the trips to Florida my classmates took.  I longed to audition for a traveling high school production of Godspell, but had to work, and couldn’t afford to take time off, let alone pay for a ticket to California.  I felt left out.  Moving to New York in the early 80’s, there were apartments for sale at accessible prices. But for me, getting my hands on $200 was as elusive as paying for a $20,000 apartment.   It took years to learn that there were ways to have what I once thought as impossible.  I learned that by working hard in psychotherapy. And, throughout the years I’ve realized a few of my dreams, my own private practice, running the NYC Marathon at 56, and most recently, going on Safari in Africa.

IMG_1479.JPGDSC_0130.jpg

IMG_1552.JPG

It was a month ago Larry and I were in East Africa.  It truly was a dream come true.  I first had the idea when my mother mentioned wanting to go to Africa when I was a child. In my mind, we would go together. But through the years it became apparent she was not one who could travel easily.  I, on the other hand, started traveling in college. First studying art history in Paris, and visiting a few other European cities.  Then doing what I could to go on local road trips, and visit other countries.  But one of my bucket list trips had yet to be realized.

DSC_0132.jpg

A little over ten years ago I created the Africa fund.  This was separate from a vacation fund, or any other savings account I had.  I had thought I’d go for my 50th birthday, but I hadn’t saved enough to do anything but backpack, and I’m really no camper.  So, I aimed for my 60thbirthday.  When my mother died this year, I thought, “Why wait? We only live once. ”   And, so, I started planning the trip.  We chose Micato Safaris, which turned out to provide an amazing adventure.  They designed special experiences throughout.  Elephants are my favorite animal, and they made sure my time with Elephants surpassed any and all expectations.

IMG_1415.JPG

We started out in Kenya. We went to the Nairobi National Park. It was our first safari experience. There is a unique energy trying to visually locate animals in their natural habitat.  Giraffes can be easier to spot based on their height, but most of the animals blend in so beautifully that it was not as easy to spot them as I would have imagined.  Later we went to a Giraffe sanctuary.  They save endangered giraffes, and raise them until they can go back into the wild.  We got to feed these beautiful creatures with their purple, foot long tongues, and expressive eyes.  Later we visited the  Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which is an orphanage for baby elephants.  They ran past us in the sweet line as they made their way into their nightly beds.  They are rescued elephants, who are raised for their first few years, then introduced back into the wild, with their dedicated foster parents.

 

IMG_1674.JPG

 

IMG_1508.JPG

IMG_1642.JPG

The next day we flew to Tanzania for the Tanzania Spectacular tour.  It is aptly named.  We visited Tarangire, where we stayed in luxurious treetop cabins.  From there we went to the Ngorongoro Crater. It is like nothing else in that it attracts all the wildlife since there is a good supply of water.  From there we drove to the Serengeti.  The Serengeti is vast and varied.  There we were able to see so much.  And, though I was enamored by all the animals we saw, I have to say, I loved meeting and speaking to everyone we encountered.  When our tour ended in Tanzania Larry and I went to Zambia to enjoy the beauty and splendor of Victoria Falls.  While there, we went on a motor boat on the Zambezi to The Elephant Cafe, a restaurant that serves local cuisine after feeding and petting the rescued elephants they care for. It was an outstanding experience, from the crocodiles and hippos by the river, to a five star meal after communing with the gentle giants.

IMG_1515.JPG

IMG_1598.JPG

DSC_0142.jpgIMG_1733.JPG

Each moment of each day was full and satisfying.  I felt transformed.  Not only was I able to go somewhere I had only dreamed of, but I was able to enjoy all the trip had to offer.  I don’t know how it’s changed me.  Only time will tell.

IMG_2029.JPG

 

IMG_1727.JPG

 

IMG_1694.JPG

Running Again

 

IMG_1337.JPGI ran my first race in over a year.  It was slow process, both recovering from benign injuries, as well as running 15-minute miles this morning.  In the past months I went through acupuncture, medical massage and physical therapy putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. So, tentatively, step by step I took on Central Park’s Drive.

IMG_1332.JPG

What I noticed right away was the throngs who passed me as I inched my way forward.  I am no stranger to being left behind.  In elementary school I often was picked last in kickball, more for my lack of popularity than for any inability to kick and catch the ball. In junior high school I was not asked to parties.  I awkwardly went to school dances, uncertain how to pretend I was fine while swaying my hips to The Captain and Tennille.  Then, in my early adult years, I didn’t know how to negotiate apartment hunting, and ended up subletting again and again to keep a roof over my head.  I am still learning how to navigate the world.

Unknown-1.jpegUnknown-2.jpeg

IMG_1333.JPG

But today, I knew where I needed to be for start  of the event. I showed up along with a few thousand New York Road Runner members. Each one of us running for our own reasons.  This run helped me appreciate what I’ve learned over the years.  Some things are easier for some and not others.  We all have our own journey.  And, having others pass me can distinguish my particular trek through life.  A perfect spring day in Central Park making for an invaluable run.

IMG_1336.JPG

I Fell Well

 

IMG_2319I missed running, though I never thought I could be a runner. I was a girl who always got a cramp in my side when I tried to run anything more than a 50-yard-dash. In phys. ed. I ran the requisite laps around the gym, but my lungs burned and my midriff always hurt. I was among the last. Not THE last person, but close. And, in my twisted child’s mind, I took solace in that fact. That fact still gives me solace in my twisted adult mind when I slowly run races.

IMG_1262.JPG
Friday I returned to running. Sometime last winter I got injured running and found myself walking the city for months. Any time I tried to run, much to the chagrin of my PT, I would feel arbitrary pains in my hip, my knee, my calf. My mind said yes, but my body said no. After persistent stubbornness, I heeded to my lower half, and refrained from jogging at any speed.

Unknown-5.jpegimages-2.jpeg
After continued physical therapy and medical massages I dipped my toe in the water. I went for a slow, even jog by the East River. The sun was setting, and the path was unpopulated. I was so happy. Bed, Bath and Beyond was my destination. I like having a destination. I was buying a new bath mat. A purchase that was sorely needed. And, yet, the light weight would allow me to jog back home.

IMG_1256.JPG
I was slow and steady. I made sure that my posture was upright, since I tend to slump when I’m not thinking. When I was 6, 7, 8, my Grandma Bec insisted I walk paces across our living room with a thick book on top of my head. She saw good posture as a sign of good breading. I watched her walk with her head held high and her back erect until she no longer walked at age 98. She prided herself on her continence. That has always informed my drive to stand up straight.

IMG_1259.JPG

img_1261.jpg
So, while running slowly and carefully with good posture, looking at the commuters leaving their jobs to start their weekend, thinking of what I was going to try to get done Saturday & Sunday, I fell forward. As I move towards the York Avenue sidewalk, I put out my gloved hands and broke the fall with a less than perfect plank. Billy Joe Young, my sometimes trainer, though always awesome being, suggested I do planks on a regular basis. At best I did them on a semi-regular basis. Yet, having done them at all helped me break my fall so that I fell well. Initially startled, I was thrilled to be pain free. My gloves protected me from scrapping my hands. My upper arms, which I always considered weak, were strong enough to keep me from hitting the ground. My knees were safe. Oh, yeah!

images.jpeg
The strangers who kindly stopped to ask if I was okay, were visibly relieved when I got up so quickly. Then I ran with glee for the next quarter mile until I reached my destination. Staying in the moment is challenging. I can barely do it when meditating. And, I have a harder time when I’m running. Somehow I see running as an opportunity to go over all the arbitrary thoughts that pop up. But maybe the best thing about falling was coming back to the present. Maybe, just maybe, a safe fall was the best present I could ask for.

Unknown-1.jpeg

What I lost

 

IMG_1238.JPGNo one tells you how grief feels in the body. The aches and pains and fatigue knead on stressed parts of our anatomy. The lethargy the body takes on is formidable. Clothes must be loose, sounds soft.

Unknown-1.jpeg

My mother died. She was ill, so there were no surprises. She became weaker and weaker until she ceased to be. Death made sense in her case. And, yet, following her death, nothing seems to make sense. I’m losing things: earrings, gloves, documents. I forget. I forget to return emails, phone calls, texts. I forget to look at the lists I write so I won’t forget. I want to watch movies or TV, but it has to be soothing. Nothing aggressive please.

IMG_1240

I spent a good portion of my early life either trying to make my mother happy, then trying to make her understand. At the end, she was grateful for the little things, and I am grateful for that.

 

Getting up in the morning is an effort. Meditating brings arbitrary thoughts. Buying Merle Norman for my mom when I went to the mall. Wishing she wore pumps with her dress rather than booties. The Ford Grenada smell of Dentyne and Winston cigarettes when I was five. Her deliberate rub of Jubilee on the Formica counters. White tennis dresses and her worn Tretorns. Empire chicken parts with corn flake crumbs. Our past is in our present.

Unknown-2.jpegUnknown-3.jpegshopping.jpegUnknown-4.jpeg

I am here and there, Lost while discovering this new place. My body parts throb reminding me my mother is no longer.

IMG_0912.JPG

IMG_1239.JPG

 

I Was a Suburban Dropout

As soon as I could I moved to a city filled with misfits. I needed a sense of belonging, and New York provided me with friends and neighbors misunderstood in their former lives. Growing up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey attending a large high school and an affluent Hebrew School felt wrong to me. I yearned to fit in, but felt so different. I imbued my classmates with confidences and affluences they probably didn’t possess at such a young age. I had learned to harbor secrets, while watching acquaintances seemingly share their lives openly. I had to get out.

636083314913671089-CherryHillSchools70s.jpg

Unknown-7.jpeg

Yet, returning to attend my 40th High School reunion, it came to my attention that I had missed so much. I saw old friends, and remembered the special moments we shared. I remember viewing my first Christmas tree all decorated, feeling a sense of awe at the beauty of the season. I remember playing outside in a friend’s backyard, being called in for a home cooked lunch. I remember running around until dinner-time, when we all regrettably had to leave the fun. There were fireflies to catch, and bubbles to chase.

IMG_9214.jpeg

And, later, there were whispered calls to friends late at night bemoaning our parents’ cluelessness. There was clothes swapping, and sleepovers when we would double or triple date before meeting up to stay over our friend’s place. A group of us cut school to attend the Flyers’ Stanley Cup parade in 1975, feeling cool in Philadelphia. There was laughing in study hall, and gloating over a reading in Shakespeare, and the bewilderment of a simple biology class. There was babysitting, and the decision of which mall to shop with our earnings, Echelon, Cherry Hill or Moorestown.

Unknown-8.jpeg

I left Cherry Hill because I hadn’t grown up. I remembered all the perceived rejection. The awkwardness of trying to be intelligible at a social. The ignorance of how to apply to college in a town where education was highly valued. The clothes that were off-brand. I was not your average Cherry Hill girl. Oh, and how I longed to be average then. And, yet, in attending the reunion, it was clear to me how unique we all were. I was ashamed of my struggles. It was that shame that kept me feeling separate, not my colleagues. Returning was a gift. The kindnesses of old friends was palpable. The warmth in the room was tangible. And, the good feelings were ever present. We had all matured. I was accepted for who I was and who I am now. Conversely, I joyfully appreciated all who I saw.

20170923_212727.JPG

The reunion was a helpful reminder of our connections and our individuality. Both are valuable. Time teaches that.

636083321810475299-CherryHillSchools70s4.jpg