For Jo – In Her Renaissance
Today is my friend Joanne’s birthday. It’s a big one to us – sixty is a pretty impressive number, and worthy of celebration. Since I can’t be with her today, at the very least it is deserving of a post.
A few years ago, my daughter-in-law set up my Facebook page though I had little expectation that I would ‘meet’ people in such a forum. Within two hours of being connected, I received a message from Jo. She had been looking for me for oh, about forty years. And I felt a surge of gratitude and disbelief that is difficult to explain. Honestly, I don’t consider myself one of the memorable ones. But anyway, there was no denying that we were best friends in junior high school, two of the bar mitzvah brides in the neighborhood (a phrase of my mother’s referring to the number of bar mitzvahs we were invited to attend), and typically on the phone when we weren’t in each other’s apartment. But life happened in between then and now. We went to different high schools, colleges. The last time I saw her was when she came to hear me sing at a place called “Catch A Rising Star” in New York.
“While they talked they remembered the years of their youth, and each thought of the other as he had been in another time” (John Edward Williams)
So we have traveled different roads, in different cities, in different vehicles. And yet our travels paralleled each other. Our majors were similar, our commitments were similar. Our twenties were blessed with the arrival of our kids but kicked our asses in every other way. I probably built more walls around me than Jo; she remains far more open and trusting. I am here for her today as I was for her when I was thirteen. We have both lost our parents and understand the seismic shift this causes in one’s bearings; one’s place in the world. She thinks I’m a better person than I am. I think of her as a magic kite – she soars and dips in colors so vibrant your eyes have to adjust to its brightness. You see nothing else in the sky.
Jo was going to become a bat mitzvah today, but sometimes life shouts “Plot Change!” and you have to adjust accordingly. She was going to speak about her journey, what she has integrated into her soul along the way. She had asked me to say something too – and I would have said the following – “This is a day that celebrates the nexus of all that has come before you and all that still awaits. I am a better, happier person for your friendship. The children you have taught and the parents you have guided have been led by an uncompromising, dedicated, singularly outstanding educator. The formidable and unyielding love for Ben and Jenna is so powerful, it is its own energy force. Your heart holds more than most can ever hope to experience in a lifetime – and you still have a long way to go. This world which you have touched with your passion and your elation, with your sorrow and your tears, with your right and righteous “Made In America” indignation and gentle yearnings for a view of the Gulf Of Mexico – is a better place because of the way you have chosen to grace it. I would have thanked you for the gift of being able to speak these words. Yet that said, I’m just as happy to write them to you here. With love and laughter and wishes for all that you wish for yourself and more – Happy Birthday Jo.