January 20th is always a hard day for me. 26 years ago, on this day, I was sitting in a podiatrist’s office getting a cast off, when he asked if we’d heard the news. No, we hadn’t. That morning, while crossing the street in front of their school bus, a group of children had been hit by an oncoming car. And one had been killed – Donna, my childhood best friend.
It’s amazing how memory works. I remember those days as if they were yesterday. Going to their home; being there when her brothers returned from college and entered the house, praying that it was a misunderstanding; standing in her room by myself and looking around at everything that would eternally remain in its place; visiting for the shiva; sitting in the Rabbi’s office with the other kids from our class while one of her friends clutched a picture that had been taken just a few days before.
It’s hard to believe that I’ve had 26 years of life that Donna never had. It’s hard to think about the wealth of experience that she missed out on – the massive amount of activity that she wasn’t given the privilege to complete.
I’ve learned a few things from Donna’s death and have tried to incorporate those lessons into my own life. It’s strange to move from being a teenager who mourns for her friend to becoming an adult who mourns for her parents and the profound lose that they endured.
I look back at this picture of us and think of the sheer joy given to little people. That’s me on the far right, and that’s Donna on the far left. It’s impossibly hard to imagine that this picture was taken 38 years ago. I feel like I was just holding my first baby in my arms yesterday, and he’s about to have his bar mitzvah. How much more so must my parents feel confused by the passage of time? Where does it go? And how do we make sure to hold on to the moments as they are with us, even when we struggle with frustrations, fears, complications and more each day?
This, really, is the lesson for me on January 20th. Today, I get to cuddle with my baby when he wakes, sleepy-eyed from his crib, clutching his llama named Shampoo. Yes, there are lunches to make and big kids to get off to school, but those cuddle moments won’t come back. And I’m privileged to have been given them.
One thing that gave Donna’s mom peace of mind when she died was also quite an important lesson. Donna was a healthy 15 year old girl, and that meant that she often fought with her parents. She was growing and changing daily and her mom said that they often had conflict. That morning, however, as Donna headed out the door to school, they had not fought. She said that it had been an aberration – an unusually calm and peaceful morning and that this gave her great solace afterwards.
We never, ever know what is around the next corner. When I send Zeli off to school with a kiss, when I wish the big boys a great day as they walk out the door, I try very hard to make each parting a peaceful and joyful one.
Am I expecting tragedy at every turn?
Do I always succeed with this goal?
Good lord, no.
But I’m trying to ensure that they separate from me with each parting in a way that builds their confidence and that gives them a good feeling. And that I can carry Donna’s memory with me through my parenting today, as I carried her memory through my adolescence and young adult years.