A year ago, this is us: We were a family of four and our beautiful daughter was about to have her Bat Mitzvah on Halloween. The family joke was that Zoe's excited Grandma, Jay's mom, booked the caterer for lunch when Zoe was born so the egg salad and lox were ready. Knowing my mom, she was planning ahead too and had baked her dozens of chocolate chip cookies weeks in advance and would take them out of the freezer in time for the weekend. I had driven Zoe back and forth to Hebrew for years and obsessed over the details. Jay had nervously watched our friends' dads give Bat/Bar Mitzvah speeches to their children not knowing if he could do the same when it was his turn.
We also had been collecting Halloween decorations for over a year, talked about what we would dress up as for months, rented our costumes when we finally decided what to be, watched Zoe try on many dresses until she found the right one, gave Simon advance notice that he would have to give up wearing athletic shorts for a day and bought our outfits for the weekend in plenty of time. We could not wait to see our daughter read from the Torah surrounded by friends and family. Jay still was unsure if he could make a speech to his daughter at her Bat Mitzvah.
We were nervous but excited and so proud of Zoe. Zoe practiced her speech with Jay many times but never let me hear it until the day of because she wanted to surprise me. And because Jay was the one who would hang out on her floor on many nights helping her with whatever she needed. I can still see him lying on her floor looking up at his girl. Always looking up to her with adoration and doubting if he could say what he wanted to say to her at her Bat Mitzvah.
When I imply that Jay was unsure if he could make a speech, I am putting it lightly. He was terrified of it and told our Rabbi that unless he gave her a signal before the parents were to speak, to only call me up to the pulpit where I would give a speech for the both of us.
It was a last minute game time decision and Jay decided to go for it. He gave the Rabbi the signal and she called us both up to speak to Zoe. Jay spoke beautifully and it was such a proud moment for us all. And proud is putting it lightly. The ease at which his words came out of his mouth felt triumphant.
It’s fitting that Jay and Simon were watching the Rocky movies at this time. Jay and I came from the same corner of the ring. We understood our corner where we were fighting for what we wanted and who we wanted to be but it was a hard fight and we knew how it felt to be beaten down by fear, shame, worry, self-doubt and habits that were hard to break.
When you have been down and you hear the referee count of 1, 2 and right before 3, you find your feet under you again, there is a way that you see the world as Jay saw Zoe looking up to her from the floor of her room. You look up to the good moments in awe and find faith in miracles because you know how hard it is to get back up again and you know how hard you worked to get where you are.
On the day of Zoe's Bat Mitzvah, we were standing on our feet tall and I imagine in my vision of pride that Jay and I were hand in hand with our arms out stretched over our heads in victory and the loser down for the count was all those words I said above that I do not need to repeat because they are not worthy of it.
I do not remember the exact words our Rabbi said but in my memory what stands out is hearing her say to Zoe "May God bless you and keep you always."
While it seems that day the blessings of the universe were upon us, our blessings would soon take disguise as we would that night for Zoe’s Halloween party. Zoe was a cat, Simon was Gonzo, Jay was Dracula and I, a green witch.
It’s almost Halloween again and I am wondering if our blessings are taking on a lighter disguise in the form of bluebirds because each and every time I write, my words seem to call upon a few who come to dance and sing in my backyard. I question if it is Jay who sees me in the ring and knows that often I am still fighting the same hard punches I give to myself?
He flies above trying to show me there is way out of the ring but he knows I get lost easily so he comes back often to check on me. I hope by winter when the bluebirds fly south, I have an idea of where I am going. It’s a good thing I believe in miracles.
This Is Us by Emmy Lou Harris and Mark Knopfler.