Yesterday was the last Shabbat my good friend Joel spent as a rabbi at my synagogue. It was a sad morning. Sad to sit in my usual seat, going through the same order of prayers and rituals and readings – sit down, stand up, sing, listen – knowing that each predictable step in the service was bringing us that much closer to closure. I could only imagine how it was all hitting him, sitting up there in his chair beside the ark, looking out for the last time at the community that has come to love him in the four short years since he arrived.
By the time he had finished delivering his farewell sermon, half the room was in tears, including Joel.
But it was more complicated than that. Sure, the Seltzers are moving away. But they’re going to a place they know and love, and starting a new professional adventure.
They’re giving up a sure thing in order to grab a chance-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Sort of like what David and I did five years ago, when we gave up our comfortable life in Vermont to try something new in Rhode Island.
Though, in our case, we weren’t going to a place we already knew.
I remember finding my way around my new neighborhood, taking it on faith that one day each storefront and house would be so familiar I would hardly notice them. I remember how proud I was the first time I managed to drive to the mall and back without making a wrong turn. I remember seeing two women chatting in a coffee shop, and telling myself, one day that will be you.
I knew this wouldn’t happen on its own, though. Sure, we’d managed to make friends in the other places we’ve lived. But this time it would be harder, especially for me. Our kids were already out of the house, so they wouldn’t be finding other children with parents we could bond with. And I didn’t even have a job to go to. How do you become a part of the community if all you do all day is sit at home, writing? This was one big reason why we started showing up regularly at synagogue.
And it worked. I remember looking around the sanctuary, being struck by how all those strangers seemed to know each other. Within a few weeks, we were recognizing people. Driving home, we would rehearse the roster of who had been there, identifying the different Rhode Islanders according to which Vermonters we had initially mistaken them for. (It’s uncanny how many people resemble other people.)
Soon we were attaching names and salient details to the faces. I started occupying myself during services by counting the number of people I could identify. Pretty soon, I realized I wasn’t just picking out the people I recognized. I could also tell who was new, or only showed up occasionally. Around that same time, I started forgetting to count.
Five years later, I’m still a newcomer here. And I still miss Vermont and our friends there very much. But this is home in a lot of ways. How? The perennials we planted are filling out. We have favorite beaches and restaurants. I don’t patronize the Stop and Shop on Warwick Avenue because it replaced a plant nursery I loved.
Most important, this is home because the people we used to identity by a few surface traits, and were able to recognize because they looked like other people, have become our friends. They’re people we share running jokes and disputes with. People we could call in an emergency. People whose celebrations and sorrows we have shared. People who look like nobody but themselves.
And now, as we wish Joel and Eliana good luck in their next chapter, there’s this. Home is the place where you stand when you wave goodbye .