You know you live in a community when you order a book from the Community Bookstore (Dr. Jerome Groopman's Anatomy of Hope--several people recommended it after hearing about B's cancer diagnosis), walk into the store to pick it up, browse for more books to send B (Ken Druse's Planthropology and Roz Chast's Theories of Everything),and when you're done with your browsing, the Groopman book is waiting for you without a word at the cash register.
"This is you, right?" says the clerk whose name I didn't know.
"Yes," I answer, and wonder how she knew that, if she knows why I want to read it, and what else she or anyone knows about me. That's the thing about my role in all this: I choose to be public because that's a rabbi's job. But I do this while also learning to control that, to set limits, and to carve out privacy when and where it's needed.
Last week I met a couple whose wedding ceremony I'll perform later in the year. They told me that the day they got engaged, they were in Prospect Park with their dog and from a distance they saw me with my daughters and our dog, relaxing and having fun. I had yet to meet with them, had know idea who they were, and yet they talked about looking down the hill at me and my family and saying, "We have to call the rabbi next week to announce our engagement and see if he can marry us."
Extraordinary, isn't it, how the fabric of time and life are woven together, often times with us remarkably unaware of who's doing the weaving and with which cloth?
My mother's mother was a devout Christian (or "non-Jew," a distinction I always found rather hilarious) and when I was a kid, she dreamed that I would be a Minister. "But I'm a Jew, Grandma," I'd say and in her own unique, laconic way, she'd say, "A rabbi is good, too."
Grandparents weave for parents and parents weave for children and we become who we are in part because of choices that we make and in part because of choices that are made for us which at some point we choose to accept or reject. I think the point I'm trying to make here is that Community is a kind of in locus parentis at times as well. There is a structure there, and in the best of circumstances, it's meant to shore us up, both when we need it and when we don't even know we need it.
I felt taken care of today in the bookstore--anonymously--and it was a secure and kind feeling.
In B's neighborhood in Milwaukeee, her favorite local bookstore, Schwartz's, is closing after serving her area for many, many years. She's made her peace already with the grave injustice of it all and serves on the board of her local library which has been a source of great pride and gratitude for a long while now.
When I was home last week and B was in the hospital, it was very important to her that she fulfill her obligation of contributing a selection of mixed nuts to a small fundraiser the library was doing. We kids did the shopping for her and dropped them off at the board chair's house. A couple nights later, back in Brooklyn, I got a call from the chair, checking in on B's progress and thanking me for the nuts. Apparently they were a hit. "B always feels it's important to have some nuts with a drink or a glass of wine," I said. "It's one of the organizing principles of her civilized world-view."
She got a kick out of that, we had a laugh, and wished each other well. Separated by 850 miles but connected, invisibly, through the fabric of friendship and motherhood.