When my now-eleven-year-old-daughter Sammi was still in my belly, I had a dream: a thin girl with straight, dirty blond hair and glasses, about nine or ten, was pushing a stroller at the zoo. I couldn’t see who was in the stroller, but something told me that pushing this stroller was very important for that young girl. Standing in place, her thin legs visible under short-shorts, she pushed her glasses above her eyes and wiped the bridge of her nose, then leaned forward, pressing her arms out and putting all her weight into the stroller. It rolled forward, and a gaggle of children I couldn’t quite make out ran and pranced around her as they moved toward the nearest animal exhibit.
That’s all the dream was — a girl I’d never seen pushing a stroller — and, at the time, I knew it was important but couldn’t quite figure out how. After all, I didn’t know I was having a second girl, and this baby in my belly had a round, dimpled older sister with a head full of huge dark curls.
But now, this week, I glimpsed a shadow of this image in real life. Sammi stood in a paper gown, waiting for the pediatrician. She had tried sitting on my lap in the chair, but her legs are now finally long and gangly enough that this is uncomfortable for both of us. I offered her the chair, but it was cold against her bare thighs, and she wanted to avoid the examining table until she had no other choice. So, she stood there: petite but solid, the plastic belt of the gown forcing the beginnings of a woman’s figure into my imagination, and I thought to myself: I really never pictured her at this age.
Then she looked over at Sammi for a second and said, “You know, you had me very worried when you were little. Very worried.”
And my magnificent daughter, standing in the paper gown waiting for her “well-child” checkup, said, “Not me! I was just being a kid.”
And with that, the little girl from the dream gathered the sick baby and the carefree children around her and took them to see the nearby animal exhibit; on the wall of the pediatrician’s exam room, her eyes turned to the photos of animals and said “Hey, Dr.? Where’d you get that picture of the porcupine?”
That was Tuesday, my first day of reckoning. The signs are there if I read them right.
Wednesday, I woke late, trying to spend as little of the fast day of Yom Kippur awake as I possibly could.
Our rabbi — new to our congregation — had used the sermon the night before to talk about the concept of the divine and how we define it. She described a divine presence existing wherever we feel awe; in the face of nature or in the birth of a child, in the space between people in a powerful conversation, in love itself. It was something that resonated with me, and in my sleepy state, I settled with my husband into a seat in the balcony during Yom Kippur services and looked for the divine.
A friend reached over her husband’s lap to grab my arm. “I’m glad you’re here. I was worried about you,” she whispered, and I felt the divine in being missed and wanted.
A procession of women walked down the center aisle carrying Torahs, an honor on this holy day. In my childhood synagogue, women were forbidden to so much as touch the Torah, but now I watched one woman after the other lean in, the corners of their prayer shawls or their prayer books held out to touch these woman-borne Torahs and offer their veneration for the scrolls that define a faith that no longer marginalizes them. I felt the divine in the joy on these faces. I felt the divine in the procession that included them.
A woman spoke during the service of the loss of her husband in the last year, and I felt the divine in the way she described her rebuilding in the months after he died. I felt the divine in all the ways she has gone out in search of it. I felt it in her smile through tears.
After services, I stretched out on the couch to read, and my husband joined me. We both dozed in the late afternoon sun coming though the window, and when I woke and saw his face turned to the back of the couch, his mind at rest, I heard the divine in the evenness of his breathing. I held my hand to the top of his head, gently, and felt the divine in the warmth he radiated and in my memories of the precious few moments I’ve had to watch him at rest. I felt the divine in the ease with which I returned to sleep and the certainty that I would wake.
That was Wednesday, my second day of reckoning.
Today, Thursday, is my birthday.
I’m 42 today. It’s not a terribly auspicious birthday, but it is the age at which my grandmother died, leaving behind my twelve-year-old father and his sixteen-year-old sister. When my father turned 42, I remember him mentioning that he hoped to live longer than his mother had. My father remembers only the smallest visions of his mother. Though I know that there is nothing magical that switches on in a family as each member reaches the ages of their ancestors’ deaths, I pause now to wonder what my children would remember about me if I died this year.
It would be hazy at best for Sammi. It might be more vivid, for a few years, for her older sister.
Every day, I hope to leave them a legacy they can’t forget, even if they forget where they learned it. If that legacy is soup, or finding the beauty in the center of a flower, or something even more intangible, I just hope I am lucky enough to see them inherit these things: the realization that a hard journey is over, the divinity in a simple moment, and another year to appreciate it all.