Replace “anxious” with “aware”September 10, 2023
Companions in Golden Years: The Heartfelt Bond Between Our Older Selves and PetsNovember 1, 2023
As a child growing up, I attended school in a New Jersey township where there were “restricted” neighborhoods. I didn’t known what “restricted” meant. I found out that it referred to my family and me. At an early age, I developed a keen sense of what it meant to be excluded. But it was odd because I grew up with, and was good friends with, children whose parents chose to live in communities where people of certain ethnic, racial, or religious backgrounds were patently unwelcome. Pragmatically, that meant that “certain people” could not buy a house, join a club, or have their children attend the same schools as their children. Weirdly, my parents were unaware of the restrictions when they put an offer on a picturesque house sitting on the shore of one of the several lakes in the township. Apparently, as they were signing the papers, the realtor asked my father which church he planned to attend. When my dad replied that he planned to attend a synagogue in a neighboring town, abruptly, the house was no longer available. So sorry…big misunderstanding.
My parents wanted to live in the area because my father had just opened his business nearby. They bought another house — not on the lake. It was an old house in the woods and oh my, for some reason, the school that we were not supposed to attend was the school that was zoned for our new address. My sister and I ended up attending the school where we were apparently, not welcome. So sorry…big misunderstanding.
What was amazing though, was that we were welcome! We had a wonderful experience at our elementary school. Our principal and our teachers treated us well. We made good friends, hosted and were invited to parties, and our parents were active in the community, the PTA, and our mother was frequently “class mother.”
It wasn’t until I entered junior high school that I was the target of hate. The Junior High School served the entire township which meant that not just one but all three of the restricted communities’ children attended school together. I had made some good friends and had a hard time understanding why my friends’ parents didn’t want people like me and my family as neighbors. Although my family was not religious we were proud of our Judaism. My Jewish friends were children I met through our synagogue. My father served as president of the small congregation, and my closest friends were children of Holocaust survivors. Going to school and hearing prejudiced remarks while knowing what my friends’ families endured was a real life experience of cognitive dissonance.
Over the years I lost touch with many of my schoolmates. I wondered how they were and what their lives were like. Decades later, with social media, arrived a wave of renewed connections. I noticed that as people posted about their lives we all basically just looked like older versions of ourselves (and many of us resembled our parents). As I studied the photos I saw various classmates were surrounded by family members from several races and cultures. I was curious how their parents felt about the fact that this next generation challenged the old restrictions and opened their hearts and minds.
This past Rosh Hashanah, I posted a New Year’s message on FaceBook. Imagine the warm feeling in my heart when I received “Happy New Year” responses from childhood friends who, all these years later, took the time to reach out to me to acknowledge a holiday that as children, they likely had not heard of. Now, as adults, they recognize how a brief greeting of good wishes can be a much appreciated act of kindness. A few of them discovered, through genetic ancestry searches or stories held secret within their own families, that they have Jewish ancestors. Others, chose to convert or marry someone who is Jewish.
As I cringe at the meteoric rise in Anti-Semitism, bigotry, and hate during these fraught times, I recall how I felt as a young girl when I was a target. At the same time I am grateful for having grown up in an environment where I straddled two very different worlds, with close friends in both. I learned how devastating it can be to be targeted by people who feel powerful and take pride in their ability to taunt and hurt someone who looks, prays, talks, or as they see it, is “different” from them. And I learned how comforting it can be to have friends who want to learn about the ways you are both alike and different, and who challenge their parents’ way of thinking because it does not fit with they way they want to live their lives.
Mind Stretching Activities for a Brainy October
As the leaves begin to turn to autumn hues and the air begins to chill, October presents us with more than just a shift in seasons. It can offer us moments for introspection and mental rejuvenation. Just as nature readies itself for the coming winter, we can prepare our minds for whatever comes our way and hone our cognitive abilities.
Here are some tips for activities to stimulate our intellect as well as our soul this October:
- Riddles and puzzles. Riddles and brain teasers have a way of melding thought with play. Selecting puzzles for ourselves and friends and family is fun, and also sharpens our problem-solving abilities.
- Creative writing. Writing can offer an opportunity for self-exploration. We can use thought-provoking prompts and let our imagination craft stories, poems, or introspective journal entries. Beyond nurturing creativity, this exercise underscores the power of words in articulating thoughts and emotions.
- Book Reading. Reading can be an escape. It can also be an expedition for the mind. We can challenge ourselves this month by exploring an unfamiliar genre or set a reading target.
- Scientific Experiments. Science is all around us, waiting to be discovered and experienced. Why not try a couple of DIY experiments and seek to understand the underlying principles of what you are interested in. Remember, curiosity encourages questioning and learning.
- Introspective Body Work. Mindful meditation and yoga are more than exercise or practice; they can offer space for profound dialogues with the self. We can begin or continue fostering an understanding of the deep synergy of mind and body.
October can be a month of reflection and cognitive exploration. As the month unfolds, we can incorporate these or other mind-stretching activities that can serve to challenge us and perhaps be a source of joy.
Celebrating a Daily Treasure
Each evening, set aside a few minutes to reflect on the day and jot down one memory or experience that you cherish. What surprised you today? Perhaps it was a heartwarming interaction with a stranger, a moment of laughter with a close friend or family member, or simply feeling the sun on your face or a breeze on your skin. Capturing these moments can help us cultivate gratitude and find joy in the small, yet meaningful moments of life.