Women, We are Greater Than This
Recently, as I was driving down an almost deserted highway, also in a post-holiday mood, exhausted by the rancor being expressed all around us, I started to think about one of the more remarkable moments of my life, it happened on a Christmas day, in South Florida.
Traditionally, in my home, Christmas Eve has been the major holiday, thus on Christmas Day, there was always room for flexibility, in terms of how the day was spent. On one year, after our Christmas Eve festivities, I had decided to invite several of our Jewish neighbors to the house for dinner. There was no way to hide that it was Christmas Day, our house is always dressed to the nines for the season, nor was there any reason to pretend it was anything other than Christmas Day.
I was excited for them to see the Christmas Village, as I always am for anyone to see it, and as this is a joyous time of year, for us, I am always pleased to open the house and extend our hospitality.
We had eaten our roast pork the night before, so for Christmas Day dinner with our Jewish friends, I most definitely kept the meal kosher, though I leaned a bit toward a merry old English offering.
My lovely and gracious neighbors all arrived joyfully, bearing Christmas cards and gifts, and set about making all of the appropriate comments about the decorations and the table, which I had not set with my Christmas china, but rather my “good” china, which I bought for ten dollars a month, my freshman year in college.
Dinner was a delight, the conversation pleasant and gregarious, everyone enjoying themselves, just as a hostess would want. After dinner the ladies, there were four of them, retired to the Florida room, to await dessert and coffee, while Kate and I cleared the table.
All of our guest knew each other, but none of them were friends; what they shared was that we all lived in the same neighborhood, they were all Jewish, and were friends with me and Kate. Thus, as Kate and I were away from the room, they began to chat among themselves about the things, which one speaks about, when making casual conversation with acquaintances; and while we were busy in the kitchen, we kept one ear on their chat, wanting to make sure all was going well, which it was, thank God, I remember thinking.
After a while, Kate made her way to the Florida room, taking a seat with the women, who had started to talk about where they each lived in New York City.
(I will digress for a moment, because I can: I must add that there is never a time I am now in “The City” where I do not hear all of their voices, as I walk the streets. I am most grateful to have had the memories of all of the men and women of Tamarac, who once lived in New York City imprinted on my soul. Yes, I do remember having lived there as a child, and I do remember the many trips to New York before Tamarac, but oh my, how my life has been enriched by the memories shared.)
The ladies continued talking about the books they were reading, their families, trips taken, upcoming plans, and exchanging a bit of information about health issues, which always rear their head; but suddenly the conversation turned to Christmas, and I put down the dish I was carrying, wanting to listen closer.
Since moving to Tamarac, I had been honored to share in so many stories about my neighbors lives, most wonderful and inspiring, but more than one that went along the lines of a woman, on a flight, who asked one of my neighbors if she was Jewish, she responded that she was, and the other woman promptly asked the flight attendant for another seat. I did not want to hear a terrible Christmas story about the mean boys, who chased my dear neighbor, when he was ten years old, threw him to the ground and began to beat him, forcing him to kiss a crucifix, before letting him go, with his shirt bloodied; his only white shirt, that his mother daily washed, starched, and ironed for the next day of school, and which he carefully took off and hung up, to keep it in good repair, but who on that day, when he came home feeling ashamed, his mother had said nothing to him, somehow knowing exactly why the shirt was stained. I wanted Christmas joy.
I was not playing Christmas carols, that day, rather I had selected classical music to accompany us, especially given that one of my guest was a season ticket holder to the ballet, the other had received her Master’s in Music, and the third had recently gone into a long discourse about how the new “Tenors” could not hold a candle to the likes of Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras, and Placido Domingo, the fourth, as far as I knew, from being in her home, always had the perfect soundtrack playing.
They had begun to talk about their favorite Christmas music. Interesting, I thought, with some relief. But soon, my relief turned to sheer ecstasy, as they allowed us to once again to venture into their world.
One of the ladies began talking about how at Christmas time, in New York, the city was always so festive and full of excitement, and how on her lunch hour, she would walk over to a church, pressing her ear against the door, just to listen to the Christmas carols. I stepped away from the kitchen, it could all wait, and I wanted to hear more.
Another shared a story about one of her favorite dates, telling us it was during the War (WWII), when things were so challenging, and her fellow had taken her to St. Patrick’s, on Christmas Eve, to listen to Christmas carols – well, she opened up an entirely new thread of conversation. It seems that stepping into a church, at least in New York City, during World War II, was the thing to do – they had all, at one point or another, enjoyed a Christmas concert, and all had such found memories of the events. It made me so very happy.
I eventually brought in the dessert and coffee and the conversation continued for hours more, they always had so many wonderful stories and more time we spent with our remarkable neighbors, the more they let us into their worlds, giving us a glimpse of their lives and thus enriching our own. I do not know that I have ever been given a finer Christmas present than listening to the ladies talk that day, so freely and open without reservations or constraints.
Eventually, we would share in listening to Handel’s Messiah with one of them, at a fine performance in Coral Gables, but it would be properly critiqued, as not quite holding up to New York City standards – I know – but oh my the company was outstanding!
So many of the ladies have now passed away, it saddens me, but I am grateful for having been able to meet and interact with them and their husbands and their children.
At the moment, I find myself in a state of utter sorrow regarding our interactions with each other, especially women. I am tired of the name calling and the tallying of scores, especially a score of losses, not wins.
I cannot believe the things we are choosing to mark as important and worth hurting one another for; we have become obsessed, as a people, with being right and we do not care what we are right about or what our being right will cost, not only our opponent but us.
I know women who marched and/or supported both sides of the recent marches around the world, in regard to issues which impact women and the current administration in Washington D. C., honestly folks, I support all of my friends, on both sides of these issues, who are actively engaged in the process of expressing their feelings and letting their voice and concerns be heard; however, I do not understand why we are in a fight to the death of one side or the other. What has happened to dialogue and understanding and hope?
I believe, as women, we have more in common with one another than not; our concerns are shared. We all want to improve the quality of life for those we love and those we have never met; we want to live in a secure and healthy environment, where we can flourish, as a people. Yes, we are all concerned about everything from clean drinking water to good schools, we do not want to live in a world marked by fear or want, rather we desire everyone to have enough to eat, a place sleep, and a job which allows us to support ourselves and our families.
Are there differences? Yes, there are – Queens is not Brooklyn, the Island is not Manhattan, and the Bronx has its own flavor – but folks, it is all New York City, and each borough brings its unique and valuable contribution to the most remarkable city in the world; and each borough is evolving, which is a good thing.
I am the first to admit that I often long for a by gone era and wish I had experienced New York City during the War, but I am thrilled to be able to stroll those streets today, even though they are not exactly, in most places, as they were when the stories I have heard were lived. Somehow, I feel we must find a way to see what we share and what we can value in each other, and not simply focus on what it is that we disagree on.
I have my concerns, many concerns regarding the current state of political unrest and the agendas on both sides of the isle; there is too much at state to not be engaged, but I fear we have become a people willing to burn down the house, in order to make the point that we want the window opened instead of closed.
If we continue this fight, in this manner, what will be left? Women should be the voice of reason, especially at this moment in history. We need to lead the fight toward building a world where we are all able to advance and be productive, protecting those who have no voice and finding a way to bring everyone to the table – there has to be compromise, and I fear if we do not birth hope we will soon find ourselves trapped in someone else’s horror, where there is no room at the table for any of us. That Is All For Now.