Tag Archives: #NYC

Friendships That Are Gifts

19 Oct

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Every now and then you are lucky enough to come across someone who will be your true friend. Someone who will understand the same jokes. Someone who you can laugh with until your stomach hurts and tears roll down your cheeks. Someone who will get you. Nearly 13 years ago, I was lucky enough to come across my beautiful friend, Beth.

Not long after that, when she was only 37, she called me to her home on a warm spring night. We sat on the porch and sipped iced tea and she told me she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was the first step in a heartbreaking chapter of our friendship.

Beth, loved by innumerable people besides me, was strongly supported by our local community and her larger network of family and friends. I had never known a friend with cancer and I had no idea what to do for her first. I began by pouring my heart into cooking. Every Wednesday night, for as long as she was undergoing treatment (which, incidentally, was many months) I made dinner for Beth and her family. Throughout this time, I noticed her lose her hair, her eyebrows, her eyelashes. I listened to her talk of sores in her mouth as she sucked ice pops, and lament that she was forgetting things from all the chemotherapy. I saw her family rally around her. And I saw her rally around her family. And most important, I watched her fight each day, talk relentlessly about the future, and continue to live her life positively. She was simply incredible.

On her final week of treatment, and the last time I delivered dinner to her family, I brought her a bottle of wine. I worried that such an open display of revelry might superstitiously invite bad luck, but 5 years after Beth’s diagnosis, I was fortunate enough to bring her pink champagne to celebrate the important milestone she finally reached.

What once consumed Beth and her family (and a large part of my mind as well), has become merely a part of her past. She does not dwell on what happened to her. She looks forward. She is happy. She is loved. She continues to live her life positively. She is still simply incredible.

Several months ago, Beth asked me to join her on the Avon 2 day, 39 mile walk across New York City. Without even thinking about it, I said yes. First, I have a problem saying no, and second, I would do anything for Beth. And then I panicked. 39 miles is a major undertaking that required 12 weeks of training, 2 pairs of sneakers, 3 new apps, a minimum fundraising goal of $1800, a weekend away from my family, and countless blisters. What I received in return, however, cannot be itemized. Walking through the streets of the city in which I have grown up, in which my parents have grown up, in which my grandparents have grown up, was nothing short of momentous. I walked past the area where my great grandfather owned an antiques store on the Lower East Side, the theater where I saw my first James Taylor concert, the apartment building I lived in during law school, the library in which my husband and I met, the street where my mother and I picked out yarmulkes for my wedding, the hospital where I delivered my first baby, the spot we used to stroll him to for Sunday brunch, the courthouses in which I spent so much time litigating. I walked through my family history for the past four generations. I walked through my life.

And then I realized, maybe that’s the point. Maybe when you walk through your whole life, your whole life comes back to you. Washed amid a sea of pink, our team held hands and crossed the finish line. I took so many pictures throughout the two days but my favorite one, by far, was the one captured by my husband, solely because of the pure glee you can see in my friend Beth’s smile.

Beth’s whole life has returned to her. She is complete. At the end of the walk, I kissed her and said “your friendship is a gift.” Because it is. I should know. I have been treasuring it now for almost 13 years.

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More pictures from the walk:

lincolncenter brooklyn bridge lowermanhattan dumbo water randalls man chinatown baseball china radio horse flatiron  flatiron2esbfamteam3theend

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My Mother, The Bell Ringer in Pink

3 Oct

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She said she would be there with bells on and she was.

When I was a high school senior, my beloved mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. We were unfortunately familiar with this because my mother’s mother and my mother’s mother’s sisters all had it too. A genuine hit in the gene lottery. I don’t recall my mother talking to me about this before she entered the hospital for her first mastectomy. All I remember is that for several weeks before I knew anything, I knew something was very wrong. She denied it, but I knew.

My mother checked herself out of the hospital, against her doctors’ advice, a day or two early so that she could see me off to the prom. This woman, with drains still attached, in serious pain, yet with a smile on her face, threw me and my friends and their families a small party. This is what keeps her going. This woman loves her family.

And we love her back.

That summer before college she lost all her hair. She lost her eyelashes, eyebrows and even arm hair. She lost her dignity. She sat with me in either a turban or a terrible wig and we played board games with my friend, Andrew. This was in between aggressive chemotherapy treatments where she would lay in bed and close the door to her room for several days until she felt well enough to emerge. We did not even cook dinners those days because the smell of the food would seep under her door and make its way to her nose and nauseate her. Every night when I thought my family was asleep, I would sneak outside and sit on my front step and cry.

At the end of August, my parents took me to Ann Arbor and helped me move into the dorm. I wanted to let everyone know that my mother was wearing a wig. That that horrible hair did not belong to her. That she had the most gorgeous hair I had ever seen, hopefully underneath her scalp, just waiting to grow back and make her whole again.

The second time she was diagnosed I was a newly married, young lawyer. It was exactly 9 years and 10 months after her first mastectomy. My mother was frightened and devastated and, again, a warrior. She had a second mastectomy and thankfully, due to a very early diagnosis, no treatment.

The third time was in 2007 and that was a horror show because she had no breasts left to remove. It was a mere six months after her beautiful sister, my incredible aunt, died. I think my mother’s heart literally broke from the loss because that was the neighborhood in which her cancer returned. My mother underwent major surgery and a severely complicated post-operative extended recovery period, and never once looked back. In the recovery room, she was awoken and told of the lengths they had to take in the operating room. Sedated, she responded, “I don’t care what I look like. I just want to live.”

And she did and she does.

We often “forget” that my mother had breast cancer because she has never dwelt on it. She never let it define her or become her life. It only became part of our conversations when she was living it or, more typically, when she was celebrating her survival.

And that she does as well. And often.

Early this week, my mother was contacted by a producer from The Today Show, inviting her to attend their kick off of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She asked her friend, Lydia, another survivor, and some other friends and family to join her. She made signs. She brought 6 pink sweaters for me to choose from because we had to dress in pink. My mother does everything big. And thank G-d, because she does life big too.

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At 6 am we were funneled into a VIP line full of survivors and their families. Many of the women were bald. All of them were smiling. My mother, with her beautiful, long, blonde hair, gratefully accepted a “GOD IS BIG ENOUGH” pink bracelet from the hairless woman in front of her. I started to feel badly about my mom’s hair, which she has grown out so she can donate it to Locks of Love, and how it might make these women feel. Then I thought, not only has she earned it, but she is an inspiration to these women who are currently fighting so hard for their lives. My pretty mama and her Rapunzel-like hair were a gift to these women who must see her and hope that they could one day be just like her: a mother; a sister; a daughter; a friend; a grandmother; an aunt; a survivor.

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My mother told the producer that she would attend this event “with bells on” and she literally did. She bought breast cancer awareness ribbons and bells and made all of us necklaces to wear.

She rang the loudest.

And she always does.

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Thank You For Being a Friend

7 May

oldladies

Some time ago, my mother asked me if I would like to watch a taping of “The Chew” and have lunch with Carla Hall at Otto. I didn’t pay much attention to the details or that it was through the “Adult Education” program of our home town. The day for this extravaganza finally approached and my mother was unable to attend. I called on my friend, Amy, to spend the day with me, and let me tell you, she was the perfect substitute.

This friend of mine has been my best friend for nearly 40 years. We literally grew up together. She is the one person (aside from my brother) that I get “the giggles” with. Any situation, at any moment, can send us into fits of laughter and render us unable to make eye contact the rest of the day for fear we will embarrass ourselves due to massive immaturity and poor behavior. Thank Gd for her. For real.

Amy was late, as usual. I got on the bus and lo and behold, it was Cocoon. I looked around, thinking I must be in the wrong place because clearly, they emptied out the local retirement home for the day and I was on a slow bus to nowhere with the Golden Girls’ mothers. I looked out among the sea of short-white-haired women in bifocals and thought “I can’t wait until Amy gets here. This is going to be the best day ever!”

I first checked in with an old woman I kept referring to as Bette Davis, I don’t know why. Bette Davis was very concerned because Amy’s name was not on the list and the list was already given to the folks at ABC. I asked whether we could persuade them to allow her entry but she was not so sure. She insisted we hop off the bus and head to the main office to let the ABC people know ahead of time so they could make sure that Amy was not operating an Al Qaeda cell. I shouldn’t have judged Bette Davis so fast. She turned out to be pretty spry.

Bette and I reboarded the bus and I anxiously awaited Amy’s expression when she saw we were taking a field trip with the Fixodent crew. I stepped over some canes and sat down. Finally, she got on the bus and our eyes met and it was just the moment I knew it would be: giddiness. We took seats in the way back of the bus and did the silent laugh (the best kind), until we collected our maturity and resigned ourselves to a day of fun with the widows of the Bartles and Jaymes dudes.

We arrived at ABC, and a woman with a Jane Fonda-esque hairdo (albeit very strangely bleached in some sort of Ombre fashion gone terribly wrong — maybe she did it at home?), rose right before the bus could fully stop. “Ombre” knew just what she was doing. She pushed aside several old ladies, making sure she was the first one off that bus, but for what? We had Ombre’s number.

We waited for an hour or so in a holding room where granola bars and water were offered. Ombre shoved in front of that line too. Finally, a guy who looked exactly like Shaggy from Scooby Doo (inasmuch as a human being can resemble a cartoon character), started to funnel us into the studio. Ombre cut this line too. She was really starting to get on our nerves.

We taped our applause, we taped our laughter, we taped our surprised expressions. The warm-up comedian asked who was single. Ombre raised her hand. Amy and I exchanged knowing glances. Things were taking a little long to get started and it occurred to me that I made a critical error in not rationing those free granola bars. Maybe there was a loose Tic Tac in my jacket pocket from 2008. No such luck. The Golden Girls theme song played on a loop in my head while I watched the hosts and the guest diners eat all the food they discussed in detail. This was my Guantanamo Bay and I did not like it at all. Rick Springfield was the special guest star. Or was that simply a hunger-induced hallucination?

After a few hours, the taping of the show was finally over and we were ravenous. Amy looked for an Advil to chew on after offering to split her last LifeSaver, as she wondered whether we would have to walk long to find the bus. Who was she kidding? This crowd wasn’t even going to make it  across the street! The bus picked us up right in front of the studio and we headed south to 8th Street.

Knowing we might be hungry, Bette Davis came prepared. She had the foresight to bring 2 boxes of matzoh (matzoh!), which she offered to everyone seated, as she weaved her way down the bus aisle. I refused but Amy ate that matzoh like someone just sprung her from POW camp. Otto came into view like a mirage. We entered the restaurant (Ombre pushed again!) and the old ladies stuffed their purses with anything that was free, which amounted to business cards for all of Mario Batali’s restaurants.

Lunch was delicious. I sat next to Carla Hall (who I loved! Hootie Hoo!) but don’t recall talking to her until I reentered society with my 3rd piece of pizza. Carla offered to autograph books that could be purchased and Ombre made a stink about how she thought the book was supposed to be given to us for free. You’re wrong, Ombre, get over it.

We boarded the bus to head back home. After all, it was almost 5, time for these ladies to hit the hay. Amy and I reconvened in the back of the bus. I looked around at these women and eavesdropped on some of their conversations. Several of them discussed the invention of the television and its emergence in popular culture and more specifically, the homes of the people they knew. They laughed and joked with each other. They discussed old memories they shared. Even Bette Davis, who worked the bus mic with more feedback than clarity (or was that one of these women’s hearing aid batteries going off?), spoke eloquently about the old days and her job at Good Housekeeping.

And then it dawned on me: these ladies were pretty amazing. Here they were, living their life and enjoying it to boot. They weren’t sitting around in a recliner, nursing a prune juice and crocheting booties for their great great grandchild. They were on an adventure, having a beautiful day with their friends. Even Ombre wasn’t so bad. Maybe. So what if they knew Abraham Lincoln personally. These women were storytellers. They were vital, they were important, they were lovely.

I looked at Amy, who napped most of the way home, and I thought, this is going to be us one day. We should only be so lucky.

Fast Forwarding Through Life

30 Apr

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This time last week I was miserable. Miserable. It was one of those weeks so murky and difficult to navigate, when things seemed they could implode at any turn, that I was longing for a fast-forward button for life. As always, I found myself repeating, “this time next week, things will be better.” The breaking point was Thursday.

I was terrified as to what the day would bring and at the same time, I just needed to hear everything. I dreaded and anticipated it, I cursed and welcomed it, and I thought of the Lisa 8 hours later who would know the answers to many of the questions plaguing her.

It turns out that Thursday was beautiful. A sign. Step One. I don’t know how I would be if I lived in a city without seasons because I draw so much hope and emotion from a sunny day, an autumn leaf, the first snow, the ocean breeze. I could probably get accustomed to the ocean breeze and sunny days, but would I appreciate them as much? Would they lift me still? Would they give much-needed meaning to doubts and fears and sadness? Would they be simply relished as euphoria-inducing gifts?

As the day progressed, news on all the fronts I had been anxiously sitting by, seemed to improve. And then, when you think you will never hear the words you want so badly to hear, I heard them. I heard them from a source I fell in love with, I heard them from the birds in the blossoming trees, I heard them from the rays of sunshine on my windshield.

As I drove home across the Triboro bridge, I stared at the New York City skyline I have been staring at my whole life. Maybe it’s being a New Yorker, maybe it’s being an optimist, maybe it’s just because it is, objectively beautiful, but every time it comes into view, it takes my breath away. Every single time. And thank G-d. I am so happy to be able to appreciate moments big and small, so grateful to feel sweeping surges of gratitude and love, so appreciative that I am still in awe of something some people might never realize they are in the presence of.

As we neared the end of the bridge, I looked at the people I love. I looked at the reassuring texts on my phone, I looked at the cloudless, blue sky, and I thought to myself “today, the sun is shining just for me.” Because it was.