Rega, a Moment


An occasional chance to take a moment, take a breath, and look at what's around you with Anita Silvert.

Rega, a Moment

A moment to consider...Broadway

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Our family has had a remarkable weekend. For the first time in a while, we were all together, not for a holiday, not for a birthday, just to share something special. We went to New York for a friend's Broadway opening. This is a really big deal. 

We've known this young man since he was a kid, watched him work hard, and hone his skills, and capitalize on opportunities.  He missed a major high school event because he was on international tour with West Side Story. Yeah, I'd have made the same choice, too.  And here he was, opening on Broadway…Broadway! In "Aladdin."  I think I have to see the show again and this time watch some of the other people on stage!  Proud "other-mama" moment. 

Our friend took us backstage after the show.  For the first and last time, I got to stand on a Broadway stage and look out to the audience.  The seats were empty, but some lights were still on, and I just stood there for a moment.  Part of me just wanted to break into a time step; part of me had "Rose's Turn" and "Chorus Line" going through my head simultaneously (it gets noisy in there, I admit.)  The backstage looked like any backstage of an ongoing production.  There were props and scenery and stage spikes, but this was a BROADWAY stage, and the magic of that wasn't lost on me at all. After the show, we went to catch a bite, next to the theater, and the menu and the beer choices were just like the places my friends and I go after rehearsals.  But this was a beer on BROADWAY.  Soon, we were just a bunch of singers and dancers, comparing audition stories, director choices, and laughing a whole lot.  It was a very good night.

March Madness was going on this weekend too, or so I'm told.  We have a true sports fan in the family, and she was checking her updates all weekend to see how her teams were doing.  She's not as into musical theater as her sister and I are, though she was just as excited about the weekend.  I was struck by the similarity of our passions.

I don't know what it's like to play in a championship game, or make it to the playoffs, or any such thing.  I know these athletes work hard, hone skills, and capitalize on opportunities. You trust your team, the people who are out there with you who have your back, with whom you've established a rhythm and an awareness that needs no words.   Athletes, whether on stage or on the court, live for those moments.  And lest anyone think otherwise, those folks up there dancing and singing are true athletes; you try singing and dancing through a musical number, full out, 8 shows a week and not letting the audience see you pant for breath.  Then add to it the fact that, for this particular show, there are many bare chests and midriffs!

When you're a performer, you get to do that playoff game over and over. Every night, for the audience, is opening night.  Your hundredth performance is their first one. Sure, if you're lucky, like our friend, it becomes a job, and you go do it whether you're at 100% or not. But I cannot express the joy that comes from performing.  Our friend may be hoofing it in a bonafide Broadway hit, while I'm preparing for the next community theater audition, but I assure you, when we hear the overture we remember why we do this.  You check your makeup and costume, bounce on your toes a little, your heartbeat picks up, then you take a big breath, and let those ticket-holders know they made the right choice to show up.   

If you're in New York, go see "Aladdin."  The carpet really flies, the Genie really makes magic, and watch for the guy in the opening number in yellow on stage right.  Mr. Martin, we are so very proud of you.

A moment to consider...gravity

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"Are they insane?" is my running commentary to the Olympics, and it doesn't matter if it's winter or summer.  It's the same reaction I always have to (what seem to me as) lethal combinations of height, speed, distance and chance, plus routinely thumbing one's nose at the law of gravity. 

I can watch the figure skaters, because I can look past the obvious lunacy of a ¼" blade that constitutes the difference between their vertical and painful horizontal orientation.  They're dancers, albeit dancers on a very narrow edge, but dancers nonetheless.  I am in the same kind of awe when I watch dancers on a stage, whether it's classical ballet, tap, or an all-out Broadway-jazzy number.  Each element of their bodies employs strength, balance, endurance and pure artistry.  I get that.

Yes, I know you can say that about snowboarders and those guys who blend skiing with being upside down, and I see that in gymnasts, too.   Fantastic body awareness, attention to presentation and all.  But luge?  I just don't see it. Speed skating?   Balance, to be sure.  Strength and endurance, of course.  But the wipe-out potential is huge.  And why on earth would you willingly hurdle yourself down an icy tube at 80 miles an hour?  Face down.  Or even face up, barely seeing what's at your toes?  Eighty miles an hour?  I don't even like to drive that fast.  Why would you intentionally fly 20 feet in the air, turning over and over, losing all sense of perspective and gravity, landing somehow on a thin board that's attached to your feet….and then do it again?!  Seriously, why would you do that?

By the way, this isn't an age thing.  I never liked going fast.  It's too easy to crash. Too easy to get hurt.  Too easy to do serious damage to my one functional body, and given my state of dexterity and balance (or lack thereof), serious damage is always on the horizon.  You can imagine how I felt about my daughter going into gymnastics, but at least they landed on solid ground often enough.  A series of her painful sprained ankles confirmed my wariness of that sport.  Swimming? Yes, swimming - a lot harder to get hurt. 

So there's the basic difference between me and those Olympians. (Insert obvious comments here).  You can pick up on my personality:  I do not have the need for speed.  I don't like going downhill, either literally or figuratively, and certainly not at high speeds. Years ago, I realized that I don't like the feeling of being out of control, and that's exactly the appeal of these of downhill, airborne, speed-dependent folks.  I can appreciate the determination and practice that it takes to get good at these sports, but I can't imagine what it is that got them interested in the first place.  I appreciate challenges, but not the ones that can cause such physical harm. 

And there you have it.   There are risk-takers, speed-demons, danger-courters, control-defyers.  And then there's me, who likes to bike, dance, walk, even run, at a controlled, sustainable pace.  Sigh. I sound pretty boring, I know. But someone has to sit on the couch and watch these people while obeying the laws of gravity.

A moment to consider...making peace with the Polar Vortex

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How do you know when you've left childhood completely behind?  When it snows, and all you think is, "Oh, man. It's snowing."  Not "Oh man!  It's snowing!"

These last few weeks have been quite a ride, meteorologically speaking. The Polar Vortex even made it too cold for the polar bears.  Snow and wind and more of both, and then 60 degree temperature swings. 

But how many of you spent some time throwing boiling water in the air, just to see it change properties in an instant?  How many tried hammering nails with frozen bananas?  (Ok, I may have been on social media a little more often than usual.)  How many of you tried to throw a snowball?  It was a little cold for a while there to play outside, to be sure, but the hot chocolate afterward tasted great.  As you drank from the mug, how many of you stopped to watch through the window as the world turned white?  Or did you think far more practical thoughts? 

Snow has that ability, temporary though it may be, to simplify the world.  The sounds of life are muffled, and so is the sunlight.  Did you see all the variations of the color white that played out on trees and lawns, cars and streetlights?  The trees were encased in ice, but the snow was soft and light.  It was pretty easy to shovel, which was good since we had to do it several times.   Both the inside and outside worlds slowed down.  We even had a few extra days of winter break.

A lot of people have been posting on social media about gratitude lately, and being grateful kept playing in my head last week:  I am in a warm house, there is food in the pantry.  No pipes had burst, no one had fallen.  Everyone I loved was in their own cocoon, safe and warm, too.  I was grateful, too, for the people who did get to work, especially the ones who work on helping those who were not as safe and warm as I was.

The winter tends to bring out the adult in us.  Logistics. Shoveling. Salting. Scraping.  Last week was a luxury,  It's a situation of being old enough and young enough to recognize it. 

A moment to consider...the life of Sam

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Frankly, there's nothing to write about today except Sammy.  Many of us knew him for 18 months as Superman Sam, but yesterday, he was just Sammy, a little boy. He didn't have super-powers anymore; the ninja leukemia got him and even the extra boost he got from the anonymous "SuperMensch" donation of bone marrow cells couldn't beat back the cancer.

Much has been written about Sam and his parents, Rabbis Michael and Phyllis Sommer.  Sam and his family even made the front page of the Chicago Tribune today.  Much of what was written, however, came from Phyllis herself, who chronicled this horrific journey for us all.  I don't think I've seen an act of greater courage than this one, in which both these parents opened up their hearts to the world (for indeed, this story traveled the globe) to see, read, feel and share.

Of course, few can share what this was really like, and if you can, my heart breaks for you, too. 

As some of you know, I love taking part in community theater, and have been lucky enough to be cast in shows with wonderful folks.  Many of them are younger, with younger children.  I hear them speak of the minute-by-minute, energy-draining and energy-giving aspects of living with young kids.  It's familiar, in a distant, far-away kind of way.  They try to imagine what it's like having older children, like it's some sort of vacation to an exotic land to which they have a deferred ticket, pre-paid.  The one thing that's hardest for them to imagine is not knowing exactly where your kids are at every moment.

I mean, when your kids are young, you can pretty much tell someone not only where they are, who they're with, what they're wearing and what they last ate…..and depending on their age, when they last went to the bathroom.  When your kids are older, like mine are, I can pretty much tell you….none of that.   I can only tell you where and how they were when last we spoke, and only as much as they've decided to shared with me.  I'm on a need-to-know basis with my children.

My sister once told me having kids is like one long letting-go.  You're so connected at the beginning…literally…and slowly, naturally, you begin letting go the minute they start breathing on their own.  If you do it right, the stars are aligned, and you haven't made any major, therapy-inducing mistakes, you're still connected twenty-odd years down the road, and beyond.

Then something like Sam happens.  The long letting-go is snapped and your end of the line is left flapping in the wind, lonely and aimless, ragged and bare.  People keep saying his spirit lives on, but sometimes that's not what you need - you need to feel the other end of the line, you want to feel a hug or hear a voice; the spirit isn't enough.  You want to see how the story turns out, see the child in the adult, because s/he became an adult.  Phyllis and Michael, and Sam's sibs David, Yael and Solly, were robbed.  The cosmic Scissors cut the line.

When we hear stories like this, we will hug our kids a little tighter, make some calls or send a quick I-love-you text, anything to reactivate the pulse-beat that goes back and forth along that string, just to make sure both ends are still live. Literally.  For Sam, his end of the string isn't live anymore; for Phyllis and Michael, as their other kids grow and lengthen the lines between them, there will always be a shortened fragment, buffeted by the wind, frayed at one end.  But I know they'll find a way to weave that lone string into the rest of the family's strong, braided story.

A moment to consider...the first snow

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It snowed on Monday. I don't know what your news feed was like, but you would think, from mine this is thoroughly unexpected and portends dire events.  It's  terrible, it's awful, whatever shall we do.  People, people.  It's the middle of November. And it's Chicago. Where's the surprise? What's the problem? 

Monday afternoon, having lunch in town, I saw some kids welcoming the snow; twirling, spinning, laughing.  Remember when the first snow did that to you? It was all fresh and fun.  Here's how you know you've become an adult: your first thought at the first snow is all about shoveling and driving and everything but fun.   Here's how you know you still have some kid in you:  you smile at the first flake. 

What is it about becoming an "adult" that makes us unable to enjoy the first snow, even for a moment?  If there ever was an opportunity to be truly present, it's the first snow, or the first warm rain, or the first peach or the first day you buy pears because they really are in season.  In fact, being present is being aware of things even being in or out of season.  Today wasn't about what's to come, it's about what's here now.  It means we came around to another season.  It's the perfect "Shehechiyanu" moment. "Blessed are You, Source of Life, who has sustained me and kept me alive to reach this time."  Literally.

Now, I'm not blind to the rigors of winter.  February is the longest month in the year, no matter what the calendar says, and I'm just as tired of being cold by then as the next Chicagoan. But I'm a third generation Chicagoan, and though I've lived on both coasts, I love this town. I used to live in LA, and after four years, although it sounds clichéd,  I missed the change of seasons.  The east coast was better, season-wise, but it wasn't Chicago. 

I love that first day when you can smell summer, even though I know it's going to get blisteringly, can't-sleep hot.  Doesn't matter.  That first moment when you feel summer coming up from the sidewalk…..ahhh.  As for spring and fall - well, they never last long enough anyway, because they're just perfect.

I re-read this and realize I sound like a nut - but I really did love Monday.  I came home from work, got my master fire-building son to make the first fire of the season in the fireplace (and yes, that was a Shehechiyanu moment), poured something warm and and took a little nap.

Bring it on, winter.  And just remember, every day of winter brings us one day closer to spring.  Remind me of that in February.

A moment to consider...networking

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As anyone will tell you, it seems I know a lot of people. That used to be called just being friendly. Now it's called networking. Talk a lot?  That's networking too.  Keep in touch with old friends?  Yup, networking. 

Five minutes ago, while sitting here in my offsite office space, um,  I mean local coffee shop, an old friend who has just moved back into town came in and said she was looking for work.  I found a listing she said looked interesting,  and within minutes, I'd called the person I know at that place, asked them to take a look at her resume, sent it ahead, and the rest is up to the two of them.

Whatever that used to be called, it's certainly called networking now. 

The downside of this, of course, is when otherwise unqualified people are hired simply because they "know someone."   But the upside is when great people get to meet each other, and it's a joy to watch a new relationship grow. 

We also know folks who collect LinkedIn contacts and Facebook "friends" like so many stamps or coins; interesting enough for now, but mostly because they may be valuable later.

So, all this networking begs the question of wondering about when you cross the line from yenta to manipulator.  Has friendship become suspect?  Most of us have the friends we have by now - how often do you get to make new ones? There are work friends, childhood friends, spouses' friends, acquaintances - oh so many levels and frameworks and boxes to put people in. But apparently, they're all fair game for networking. 

Are there people with whom you won't "network"?  Are there those for whom you wouldn't act as a referral?  What category name do we give those folks?

I wear a lot of hats.  Each one gets me into different doors, different worlds, and they each create new and ever-changing Venn Diagrams with other sections of my life.  That makes for 1) lots of data in my devices, 2) learning about the seemingly endless ways people have of making a living and 3) opportunities to see those subtle links in the universe. 

Oh, right.  Networking.

A moment to grandmother’s kitchen

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I.Am.Tired.  Oh,  so very tired.  In the last 12 hours, I have made two briskets, two batches of matzah balls, a double batch of soup, a carrot soufflé, a marble pound cake and a peach cobbler. And I did a load of laundry (full disclosure: it's not folded yet, but I.Am.Tired, and the other adult in this house can do it just as well.)

I say all this not out of any bravado.  I'm too tired for bravado.  Rather, I say it with wonderment, as in, "How did my grandmother do this?"  Now, I don't only mean, "How did she do this in her tiny Chicago kitchen?" though it probably measured about 6x8, in which she had two sets of pots and pans, two sets of silverware, and if I remember correctly, there were two sets of dishes (though my mother thinks there was only one, all glass) and one refrigerator and a small freezer.  In fact, I often wonder how she cooked up our holiday dinners for 12 or 15 people.  She wasn't a fabulous cook, but the holidays were really good. But I digress.

What's really striking me tonight is, "How did she do this and work full-time?"  How does anyone?  I work full-time, but I work for a Jewish organization, so frankly, no one was expecting much out of me once we hit the end of last week.  Everyone I know in my professional sphere (ok, here I will specify the women) is sort of in the same boat.  The last few weeks were really, really busy; I work for an adult Jewish Educational initiative, and there was a flurry of new groups launching, as August became late August, became "the week before - I need to clear my inbox."

Did I mention I'm also preparing to be a cantorial soloist for three different services, small though they may be?  They're not full services, but music must be reviewed and attention must be paid.

I spent the first 20 years of my marriage staying home with three kids, and if I made any income, it was sporadic and part-time.  My mother stayed home until we were in high school, at which point she began working outside the house.  She's often said that she didn't want to be like her mother in that respect; my grandmother (Chicago born and bred, and a college graduate) was a full-time teacher.   My mother is Chicago born and bred, and a college graduate too, but she wanted to be home for us.

My mom has been cooking for weeks, and every time she called to say another dish was cooked, cooled and stored, I panicked a little.  I know it's partly because she can't pull these all-day cooking marathons anymore, and partly because she's incredibly organized.  I'm wondering if I can pull these marathons anymore, either.  Which is concerning, since I don't plan to stop working soon.

So, another year gone, another year starting, another brisket made and the new peach cobbler recipe is cooling.  I didn't have little ones underfoot (don't get me started on how new, fully employed mothers do this….oh wait, I hope they get invited out!), the dog let me alone, and my Pandora was going full-tilt. 

I'm ready. I'm tired and achy, but I'm ready.  There was something I was supposed to do…wait, what was it?  Oh right.  Actually spend some time contemplating Rosh Hashanah, being intentional, thinking about the great moments that this week will bring, and the still, small voice I hope to hear.  Oh well, I can't do everything.  Maybe next year.

Wishing everyone who has read this far, and has been reading thus far, the sweetest and healthiest of New Years.  May this be the year we find peace in our hearts, our homes and in our world.