In early September, I had an aha! moment in the middle of my grandson Asher’s Bar Mitzvah. Twenty of us were gathered in an open tent in his yard, masked, socially distanced, while the other invitees attended on Zoom. I glimpsed what life could be like if we got on with it and stopped waiting for life to be like it used to be.
Most of us fantasize about what life will be when COVID-19 is gone and this in-between time is over. We want our graduations, weddings, and funerals to be the way they used to be. That hope for back-to-normal springs from a model of change that remains in most of our heads even though it is woefully outdated in a pandemic-stricken world. We assume a three-step model: status quo, a change process, return to the status quo. But the newer and truer truth is that the only constant is change itself. We need to get over our waiting, our expectations for return-to-normal.
We need to start dealing with the world as it is today and accept the fact that change will be never-ending.
Eight years ago Asher had started learning to read Hebrew and preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. Asher knew exactly how it would all happen because his sister’s Bat Mitzvah had been just two years earlier. Invitations to “save the date” would be sent more than a year in advance. There would be more than a hundred people at the morning service at the temple to celebrate his moment of becoming an adult and reading the Torah, (The Bible written in ancient Hebrew). And in the evening, there would be a dinner for everyone at a hotel with dancing and music. And an ice cream sundae bar and cotton candy. And champagne, toasts, and lots of gifts.
Then in February, COVID-19 arrived. By March the Temple was closed. What should they do? Postpone the Bar Mitzvah until the pandemic was over and the temple was open again? No, they decided to go ahead. The time for his Bar Mitzvah was now, this year, even though the temple was closed.
In August, Asher and his parents sent out “change of plans” announcements. Tears were shed and new arrangements hatched. Asher’s Bar Mitzvah day dawned sunny, cool, and gorgeous. Some compensation, I thought, for all the necessary adaptations. Masks were worn by all the attendees and social distancing kept. The faces of those attending by Zoom were on a large screen at the front of the tent. Asher and his family sat at a table at the front of the tent. The service began with the face of the Rabbi Zoomed in and his opening words. Asher read his portion of the Torah with confidence and chanted in a pitch-perfect voice. And there were blessings from the rabbi, the cantor, the parents, and the two grandmothers.
My words to Asher were about the Tuesday afternoons that I had spent with him from the day he was born until middle school. How we both love games and over the years moved on from Candy Land and Sorry, to UNO, chess, Monopoly, whist, and Codewords. I was at my best, fully present.
Words of wisdom and Mazel tovs abounded from Zooming aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends all over the world. Uncle Alan in Australia stayed up past 3 AM to give his blessing to Asher. It was an unforgettable outpouring of love. I am Unitarian, which also has a coming-of-age period of study and a ceremony. I respect all faiths and religious tolerance is an important value of mine. If only every thirteen-year-old could have such a caring welcome into adulthood.
It impressed me that this celebration was plunked in the midst of COVID-19 when nothing is back to normal. Every detail was supportive of social distancing. Everyone got a special mask and hand sanitizer as favors to take home. The lunch was pre-boxed sandwiches and salads. And in the afternoon there was a parade of cars, local friends coming by to congratulate Asher.
This was not the Bar Mitzvah that Asher and his family had expected. Much of the ancient tradition was kept but much could not be replicated. And other parts of the service were modern-day adaptations like the Zoom which allowed for worldwide connections at the moment. It was not a repeat of previous events: it was a new alchemy.
My aha! moment was the sudden realization of how often expectations are themselves a problem. We have all been to movies that were disappointing because of too much hype before we saw them. And proms that were a disaster, vacations where the house didn’t look at all like the pictures and it rained all week, and marriages that weren’t always happily ever after. Yes, expectations can be killjoys.
We can all benefit from letting go of expectations. We need to start each day, each task, each event with an open mind, seeing it as new and unique. And it is in the adaptations and innovations that we make the moment ours.
Questions to Ponder:
- What things have you postponed doing until COVID-19 is over?
- Accepting COVID-19 will be here for some time, what might you/will you add to your “to-do” list?
- Can you imagine one small change that would bring more joy to your days? Can you do it?
Katharine Esty is a practicing psychotherapist, a widow, a mother, a grandmother, and a writer. Her recent book, Eightysomethings- A Practical Guide to Letting Go, Aging Well, and Finding Unexpected Happiness, was published by Skyhorse.
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