Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
I was out of town for a meeting of rabbis this past week, but it didn’t keep me from checking on the progress of Tropical Storm Bill. My colleagues who joined me at the meeting were concerned for the community and me. It’s in their nature to care. I was concerned for my family and the neighborhood, too. The Memorial Day floods, whether our homes were affected or not, but especially if we were displaced from home or business, created a new level of anxiety in us that wasn’t there just a few weeks ago. Let’s call it PTSD, because even the sound of rain or the threat of a storm can trigger responses in us now. We scurry to secure doors and raise the furniture, and to check the news reports and hope against hope that it passes. Though the forecast is for a mild hurricane season, the initial damage has been done and the impact lingers.
Some people cope. They forge ahead with a can-do spirit. They see the progress that comes with each passing day and the expectation that a few weeks or months will restore most of what was lost.
Some people despair. It’s just painful to see one’s life’s work and personal investments drown in high water. It seems unfair. It seems unholy. It’s not about pity; it’s about what seems like the senseless loss of so much good that was built into the places we called home and neighborhood. It wasn’t supposed to happen.
Some people can’t go back. They mourn more than others. For reasons of time, finances or age, the idea of rebuilding just isn’t in the cards for them. The floods accelerated their decision to downsize or move to a hi-rise. There was no time to remember it all. There was no chance to box up precious mementos before the movers came, and there was no opportunity to share a toast or ritual as the house was closed up for the last time. The waters washed away much more than things; the floods washed away time.
For those who are moving out of the neighborhood, never to return to the house and the home that was theirs for many years, I want to share with you a poignant message from Billy Crystal. In his book “700 Sundays” he wrote about his childhood home that belonged to another family now, and which he could never walk into again or experience the same way. Driving past it one day, he paused in front of the house and thought to himself, “It doesn’t [really] belong to new owners. I can close my eyes and go there anytime.” Isn’t that wonderful? The house will always be his because only he can see inside its living past. It’s like a game he plays with death and wins triumphantly. The old house might be occupied by new homeowners or it might be replaced by a large home set up high above impending floods, but for those who are moving on, there will always be something only they can see there, and it will always belong to them. They can go there any time.
Nonetheless, what remains in the neighborhood are all the qualities that grew up in it: the neighborly relationships that bind one household to another, the location of nearby Jewish institutions and synagogues, and the familiar stores and storeowners. The quality of the area has not diminished and for those who find their next home in the neighborhood, built new and raised higher, will find for themselves what was discovered many years ago. Futures can be built here and families can grow here. Thankfully, Tropical Storm Bill didn’t make an impression. As the hurricane season gets underway, let’s keep our wits about us and know that most material things can be replaced, and memories endure as long as we remember.