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…closets

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A couple of weeks ago, it seemed like everyone I knew was switching over their closets, including me.  "Switching over closets" is one of those phrases that either you get or you don't get…immediately.  It's like "switching over dishes," which we'll do about six months from now--you know, the "P" word.   But I digress.

When I was growing up, no one I knew had a closet big enough to contain summer and winter clothes.  I still don't know anyone who does.  I certainly don't.  I know some folks who I imagine have such closets, but not having been on their house tours, I can't be sure.  My family and I have lived in about four different houses over the decades, and I assure you, the house-hunting process included an awareness of where the off-season clothes would go.  

We've just ended the holiday marathon, and are beginning a long period of 5-day work weeks, no days off.  The closet switchover occurred during one of those holiday days, a time that began in days of self-reflection and ended in days of community celebration.  The closet switch-over (CS-O) is like that too.  Serious self-reflection:  questions like, does it still fit (really, I mean, really?), did I wear it at all this year (really, I mean, really?) do I even like it anymore (did I buy it just because it was on sale, even though it's a color I don't like….really, I mean, really?) and am I just tired of it?  The different piles begin to grow - giveaway, keep it, can't bear to give away - and it all has to happen in one day.  Few things are worse than stopping in the middle of the CS-O - it is the ultimate chaos, and makes it hard for me to think, much less get dressed in the morning.   

Twice a year, the period leading up to every CS-O is, by definition, pretty chaotic.  You never know what the weather is going to be like and any day could see you dipping back into tank tops and shorts, or grabbing a sweater.  Too late for sandals, but not yet ready for boots?  We've spent weeks in clothes limbo.  Was it too soon for the CS-O?  Should I wait another week? Can I clear the time needed?   And when the process is done, for just a shining moment, the closet (and the world) is in order.  Some pieces are greeted like old friends that I get to spend time with again.  Other pieces are sent out into the world to do good things for others.

When my children were little, we called the CS-O "The Fashion Show."  They tried everything on, and we could see how much they'd grown, and what wouldn't fit next season, and perhaps the other sister would enjoy it next.  It was actually pretty enjoyable. Maybe the adult version is more about how much growth has occurred internally; am I comfortable with my own style, or am I still looking at trends that look good on a 25-year-old?  Am I taking chances with color?  And of course, am I coming to terms with the aging body on which the clothes are displayed?  Really…I mean, really?

A moment to consider...grandparents

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There has been a significant lack of grandfathers in my life, both as a child and for my children.  I only knew one grandfather, my mother's dad.  He was a wonderful guy - made us laugh every time we saw him, yet strict in his own way.  He was a terrific storyteller, even though truth was a rare visitor to his stories.  He sketched great cartoons and still life pictures.  He bounced all three of us on his leg, saying we were riding a horse.  That must have been when we were very small, and he was very strong!  Rarely saw him without a suit and tie.  He had long since left the synagogue side of his Jewish life, ever since he lost all his money and the local shul wouldn't give him any more honors at the synagogue.  My grandmother would go to services all day, and Grandpa would dress in a suit and tie….and a hat…and sit like that all day, waiting for her to come home.  He fasted, but I think the only time he was in a synagogue again was at our Bat Mitzvahs.  He was, as I said, wonderful.

I never knew my father's father; neither did my mother.  He had died when dad was in the army, and was gone ten years by the time my parents got married.  I have one picture of him. 

Our children never knew my dad.  He died a year after I was married; one day he went to work, and never came home.  He would have made a terrific grandpa - my sisters had some experience with that, since their sons were born before my daughter, but even they were pretty young when Dad died.  The oldest was four.  Our daughter is named for him. My father-in-law was a great guy.  He was quiet, but funny, incredibly handy, and absolutely joyous around his grandchildren.  Again, my kids missed out on the grandpa-lottery.  He got sick when my girls were very young, and died when they were four and three.  The older one remembers putting pieces of chocolate on his pillow, like at a fancy hotel, when we came to visit at the hospital.  Our son is named for him.

Which brings me to today.  About 20 years ago, my mother started spending time with a man she volunteers with at the local hospital.  She has insisted for all those 20 years that they have not been dating.  To my mind, when you hold half a dozen theater subscriptions together, have dinner during the week and grab a movie every now and then…..well, that's dating.  She never looked for a replacement for my father.  Still, he has been a good companion for my mother.  He has been at all the family celebrations, holiday dinners, and even shows up in a few pictures here and there.

And now he's moving across the country to be with his son.  He's been sick here and there a bit, and "the boys" want him near them. It makes perfect sense, but it's not perfect.  There will be a huge hole in my mother's theater schedule…and her life.

There will be a big hole in our kids' lives, too, for once again, the elderly man at our holiday tables, will be gone.  As our older daughter said yesterday, he's the closest thing she's had to a grandpa in her life.  True.

I had all three of my grandparents alive and well, into my 30s.  I was very lucky.  There's one picture of my grandmother holding my firstborn.  My kids have hit the jackpot when it came to grandmas.  But Grandpas?  Well, I only wish they have fathers-in-law that stick around for a long, long time and they get to see how much fun a great grandpa is.

A moment to week

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I am exhausted today, because I spent 11+ hours yesterday in rehearsal, first day of tech week.  For those who are not familiar with "tech week", it is a phrase that evokes empathy, understanding and compassion in every theater person.  Friends know that no matter how much you're "there" for them,  it doesn't include tech week.  Family knows not to ask anything of you, including dinner on the table or clean laundry.  Even your mother knows not to expect a phone call.   I just saw a post from a friend that said she had just tossed her phone into the recycling bin - "must get more sleep."  I get it. There's tired, and then there's tech-tired;  it's a whole other place to be.

Tech week is the week before an opening of a show.  It's when all the technical aspects of the show get put into the production - lighting, sound, costumes, makeup, set (scenery).  The design crew has been building the set, figuring out the lighting and sound. The costumer has been making the costumes.  The actors have been memorizing lines and where they move around the stage.  The music has been learned (because, I am of course, talking about a musical), but the orchestra hasn't been brought in. Now, days before you open, you put it all together.  You may have taped out where that platform is, but now it's really there, and the black-and-blue mark on your leg proves that the actual set piece is less forgiving than a taped-out square on the floor.  The starting note you're used to hearing from the piano is now buried somewhere in the oboe or clarinet part, and who can hear them outside anyway? 

It's a little stressful.

This week, we have the added component of being an outdoor theater production, at the Wallace Bowl in Gillson Park.  Theater under the stars.  Theater under the bugs that show up in the lights and yes, in your mouth.   Theater under the humidity and the heat.  Or theater under the fog and cold.  It could be both…in the same performance even, because we are by the lake, you know.  And since this is non-equity theater, almost everyone in the cast has an actual job they have to show up at each morning.

But slowly, slowly, the patterns and moves and set changes and costume changes and rhythm settle into your (older) legs and a show emerges.  You've made a whole new slew of friends, whether you're lead or ensemble, whether you have three lines or are in almost every scene.  You've exercised your brain, your body, and your heart and soul. 

I don't know what it's like to be part of a team sport but I can speak to the team effort of a theater production.  Maybe it's similar; I think so.  Athletes talk about the physical and mental effort it takes.  Theater, too.  Athletes get encouragement from the crowd.  Actors talk about "reading the audience" - we can actually tell you if it's a good audience or not, because our performance and their experience are so intimately entwined. 

All in all, it comes down to passion.  This is my passion.  It's worth the long hours, bruised and tired legs, even the bug bites, just to put on a show.  Just to get up on the stage  and give people an experience they will enjoy.  People may be up on the stage kicking and twirling, but there is a more nuanced, delicate and almost imperceptible dance we do with the audience. It's opening night every night, because for every audience, it's their first time.  

Now excuse me while I go ice that new bruise, buy new eyelashes for the run, and head back for another tech rehearsal.  Shehechiyanu, v'kiyimanu, v'higiyanu laz'man hazeh.  The four sweetest words:  We open this week! 

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.