My friend M had a wonderful habit of ending almost every conversation by giving whoever she was speaking to a hug and telling them, "I love you and I care." It always made me feel so special to see her and simply feel that love exuding from her.
M and her husband A have been members at my synagogue since the synagogue began. My parents joined the synagogue right after I was born, and I have been an active member since then, now teaching there six days a week, four different classes. When I was twelve I was given permission to finally join the Adult Choir (there was no other choir to join at the temple at that time). M was one of the two original members of the choir. I was the youngest member of the choir, but having grown up with all of the choir members, really felt like I had lots of additional sets of parents and grandparents. M and A, out of all of these, were my favorite set of extra grandparents.
Every time the choir performed, M would sit in the front row and A would sit at the end of his row so the two of them would end up basically sitting next to each other. You rarely saw one without the other. M and I would often chat about her grandson after services. She usually laughed as she described that her grandson had no idea she was as old as she was since she got on the floor with him to play all the time.
Tuesday was a bad day. J started the day by tantruming that she hated school and didn't want to go anymore. All three kids ended up missing the bus because of it, so I had to drive them to school. As I pulled out of their school's parking lot, the van started making an unsual noise that got a little louder as I continued driving. The synagogue is only about five minutes away, so I slowed down and just kept going. The noise began sounding almost rhythmic, sounding like maybe a tire was becoming flat. I pushed through, hoping to just make it to school before I couldn't drive anymore. As I got closer the sound got louder until I just pulled into a parking lot nearby. When I got out I looked at the tires, expecting to see one of the tires totally flat. Nope. They were all perfectly fine. Hmmm. I walked the rest of the way to school, arriving past my contractual start time, received a reprimand for not at least calling (oops - my cell phone's not charged), called my auto body mechanic BIL who happened to be around the corner and was able to check out the car before returning with the bad news: it's probably the transmission. Oh, crap.
And then the kids arrived, so I threw myself into teaching, putting the van to the back of my mind. Most of my class left that day at 12 (I stay until 1 with any kids sticking around for Lunch Bunch), so I called my mom to see if she could do me a favor and call our mechanic to have the van towed. I know, I'm old enough to make these calls myself, but I didn't have the number on me and couldn't leave my classroom to find the number and call.
As soon as she picked up the phone, she said, "I heard."
Wow. I can't believe that my BIL called my sister who then called my mom all within the three hours I was teaching. Just to clarify, I asked, "You heard about my car already?"
"No, I heard about M and A. About the car accident. They were both killed."
Silence. I heard a buzzing around my head as I stepped back to lean against my desk. My mom hadn't meant to blurt out this horrible news to me like this, she truly thought I knew and was calling to make sure that SHE had heard. And she definitely didn't know I was still responsible for kids. I struggled to make sense of what she had just said, and finally pulled myself together enough to sigh, "Oh my gosh. Woah. I hadn't heard that, but I still have kids here," at which point my mom began profusely appologizing for telling me like this, but I couldn't focus on that yet, knowing that I was seconds away from losing it and needing to keep up a front for the kids in my room. "Um, I was calling about my car. Can you call Billy's and get it towed there? I'll talk to you later." I hung up, stuck my head out into the hallway and in a very stiff voice asked for someone to step into my room for a moment, thinking to myself, "Keep it together, keep it together, keep it together..." As soon as someone started heading down, I left the room, locked myself into a bathroom, and let loose.
After a couple minutes I forced myself to calm down and headed to the Cantor's office, the woman who has been the choir director since before I joined. My red eyes told her instantly that I had just found out, and she wrapped me in a hug. I couldn't help myself; I stiffened and pulled away unintentionally, knowing that I couldn't allow myself to fall apart again since I still had to go back to my classroom. She pointed out one thing that helped: at least this loving couple basically went together. There was no long, drawn out time in the hospital for either of them; neither was aware of what happened to the other. And as horrific as the situation is, that is a blessing.
The funeral for M and A is tomorrow.
I keep going back to M's words, "I love you and I care." For most people, these will be the last words, the last interaction they had with her. What an amazing memory for so many people. And it made me begin focusing on the interactions that I have with other people. Do I make them feel loved? Do I show them that I care? And what can I do to make sure they know?
The only thing I can think to do for now is to try to be in the moment, to be present. When I'm with someone, I need to look at them and listen to them. And I need to go outside my comfort zone and reach out to my beautiful friends and make plans to get together with them.
And to anyone who cares enough to read about my little life, I sincerely have to say:
I love you, and I love that you care.
P.S. In case you're curious, the van is dead. We have to get a new one (well, new to us), and since the transmission is totally dead, we can't even use it for a trade in. This will make our finances even more strained than they currently are. I'm taking a deep breath now. Let's get through the funeral tomorrow, and then we'll focus on car shopping Saturday.