I leave Santiago de Compostela the next morning. I am headed next to Israel via London, which is maybe a weird summer holiday destination for the waspiest WASP in Waspdom, but some friends have invited me, and off I go.

The flight from London to Tel Aviv is about the same as flying from New York to Los Angeles. It is uneventful until an older gentleman picks a fight with a flight attendant; hits him. After some screaming, they zip-tie the man’s hands together in the aisle and he quiets. A few hours later, and without further incident, we land at Ben Gurion Airport. It is already very late, and but we wait on the tarmac for the police to come escort the old man and his wife off and into the terminal.

I make it through passport control easily and into a waiting car, and we drive the hour to Jerusalem in the slightly sticky Mediterranean night. RHJ is waiting for me on the other side.

I have come to Israel to watch RHJ and Tony compete in the Maccabi Games – the Jewish Olympics – which happen every four years. I have come to sight-see, too, but mostly to watch sport. I feel conspicuous in my non-Jewishness, which is maybe the point, but sometimes I feel that way on the Upper East Side; in Scarsdale so I don’t exactly find Israelis any more intimidating than New Yorkers. But I also realise that if we were playing a game of Spot the Shiksa, I would be a low-value target, because I am so obvious.

How was the flight? RHJ asks me as I arrive at the Mount Zion Boutique Hotel, which is neither boutique nor hotel, but seemingly a former mental hospital cum motel built into a hillside.

They took some guy off in handcuffs, I say nonchalantly, pulling on my monogrammed PJs – final confirmation that the WASP has landed. He stares at me for a moment, simultaneously believing and disbelieving that we are here, together in this place. Then we shut out the lights and retreat to our pushed-together twin beds.

The next day, we are meant to go to the Opening Ceremonies of the 20th Maccabiah; the 2017 Maccabi Games. RHJ is marching in with the American delegation (which includes former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers on the over-60 ping pong team, because senior citizen table tennis is apparently A Thing at this thing) and I am meant to attend as a spectator with RHJ’s parents.

In the early evening, I get myself to Mamilla to meet RHJ’s parents and their Israeli friends in the lobby of their hotel (RHJ has left hours earlier with his team) only to find that a party bus – replete with sparkles, spangles, and poles – has been arranged for the five of us: Four septuagenarians and me. I am introduced to the parents’ friends by my name, and discover that Meredith is not a name that rolls easily off the Israeli tongue and the friends have begun calling me something that sounds very much like Murder.

We take our party bus into the stadium, where I learn that in Israel, rules are merely suggestions around which one negotiates; the loudest voice or biggest wallet wins. And once inside Teddy Stadium, we sit in the stunning summer night and we wait. And wait. There will be hours of this. I am seated between RHJ’s parents, like a naughty schoolgirl between mummy and daddy, cheering intermittently as two sexy Israeli women in black announce each country’s delegation.  So this is the Jewish Olympics.

Eventually, the tune changes and the American flag flashes on the screens and the Americans begin walking in, so we have to stand and clap and shout. But the Americans head the direction opposite of where we are sitting, so we do not get to make eye contact with RHJ and are disappointed.

By 11pm, after nearly five hours of this fanfare, the parents, the Murder Friends (whom RHJ assures me are spies) and I all want to leave the stadium. I text RHJ, who begs me to wait for him; escapes the team crush and finds us on retreat in the parking lot.

The bus drops RHJ and me off back at our hotel and we sneak out to a late dinner at the old Jerusalem train station, which has been converted into a marketplace of shops and restaurants.

You know, I say, as I tuck into my salmon with soba noodles, It’s weird that you’re so weird with me. 

What?

It’s like, we stand there, and you greet everyone else first and you treat me like a stranger.

I see his face fall, and I am having one of those moments of watching myself in slow-motion being a complete idiot, and I cannot stop myself.

I have spent twenty years, personally and professionally, separating my heart from my head – it has been self-preservation, mostly. But I don’t need to do that now. I want to feel this. And yet here I am, at midnight, in Jerusalem, beating the shit out of this wonderful man because he kissed his mother before he kissed me. How did I get here?

This is not the time for this discussion, he says, diplomatically.

He is right; I am wrong. I know I am wrong. I am fresh from this walk – this twenty year long pilgrimage – to figure out how to be a whole person; and I felt slightly estranged in that one weird moment in the parking lot so I saw something and said something just like has been ingrained in every New Yorker, and sometimes, saying something is the wrong thing (which the signs in the subway DO NOT tell you, by the way). As we walk back to the Mount Zion Boutique Hotel and Mental Hospital in furious silence, I realise that despite my walk, my idiot head still hasn’t caught up with my heart.

A Quarterly Update on What I’ve Been Reading:

16. Janesville – Amy Goldstein (nonfiction; how the GM bankruptcy impacted a small Wisconsin town)

17. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Life and Love from Dear Sugar– Cheryl Strayed (nonfiction; I was a religious reader of the Dear Sugar column at The Rumpus for a long time; loved this)

18. Option B – Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant (nonfiction; I was at a lunch with Adam Grant and was given a free copy otherwise I wouldn’t have read this; glad I did)

19. Emotional Agility – Susan David (nonfiction; psychological look at getting “unstuck” – basically a longform version of a HBR article I enjoyed. Worth reading)

20. Moonglow – Michael Chabon (fiction; I loved this. Fictionalised memoir of “the author” and his Holocaust survivor grandparents – poignant, funny, and heartbreaking; this review in The Guardian sold me)

21. How to Be Here – Rob Bell (theology; Bell is an acquired taste for some Christians, and this book reads more Humanist than say, Velvet Elvis)

22. Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts – Regena Thomashauer (garbage; someone gave me this book as a gift when they heard I was getting divorced and I read it in an afternoon on a flight. It is horrifying, unless you are the type of person who refers to other women as “Sister Goddesses.”)

23. The Danish Way of Parenting – Jessica Joelle Alexander & Iben Dissing Sandahl (garbage; another gift; and honestly, I am pretty sure that the American author thinks that Americans are emotionally stunted idiots  and didn’t realise she had emotional problems of her own until she moved to Denmark and started seeing a therapist and this book resulted)

24. Nonsense – Jamie Holmes (nonfiction; a book about reducing cognitive dissonance and the ways we make sense of the world. Super interesting but not necessarily engaging)

25. Native Speaker – Chang-rae Lee (fiction; fascinating novel about hard grief, clashing cultures, and the secrets we keep. One of the best books I’ve read. If you read nothing else on this list – this is a good one)

26. Evicted  – Matthew Desmond (nonfiction; a sociological look at poverty in America through the lens of real estate. Fairly apolitical in nature. The author embeds himself in Milwaukee housing over a period of years and writes about it. I am fairly entrenched in some of my viewpoints on this, but Desmond was able to open my eyes to things I had never considered)

27. The Remains of the Day  – Kazuo Ishiguro (fiction; the story of a career in service. Brilliant rat-a-tat writing; crystal clear prose; in my view, Ishiguro’s best work)

28. My Promised Land – Ari Shavit (nonfiction; the story of the birth of the nation of Israel told through the lens of a left-leaning Haaretz journalist. Fascinating; repetitive; long. Worth reading if, say, you are going to Israel and know little about it)

29. The Heart – Maylis de Kerangal & Sam Taylor (fiction; a novel about the death of a young man and the story of the transplantation of his organs. Sounds grim, but some of the most beautiful, striking prose I have read – translated from the French by Sam Taylor)

Some more take aways: While I am still trying to read more writers of colour, I am mostly focused on challenging my own perceptions. I am reading things that come recommended by people from whom I wouldn’t necessarily take recs. I am reading things that sound terrible to me and finding I love them. I am trying things that work and don’t work (hence the reason you see stuff I label “garbage” in this list – I am willing to TRY something that I wouldn’t normally read, and I’m willing to SHARE it, even if I think it’s awful).

Also, I think it’s okay to think a book is “garbage.” You may disagree with me – and I think that is great, Sister Goddess. I think that’s just great.

I do not like birds, but they have become a part of my consciousness lately.

I do not care for birds because when I was growing up, my mother one day brought home a pet cockatiel. My mother, like her father before her, was once famous for randomly acquiring pets; is still the kind of woman who takes photographs of herself holding exotic animals all over the world. The pictures in question used to be displayed in my parents’ den, all in a row, on top of the big oak desk: My mother posing with koalas; Boa Constrictors; ridiculous Macaws or Cockatoos, one on each arm. I think there was even one of her holding a monkey.

I am not sure why my mother got the cockatiel, other than it being a natural outcropping of her Exotic Animal Thing. For her part, this fetish was less toxic than her father’s, because as the story goes, Bop once brought home a baby alligator, which he raised in their basement until he (the alligator) met his untimely end at on the broadside of a neighbour’s shovel. For the cockatiel’s part, though, the bird survived for a few years to holler his name (Murphy!!!!!!) into the high-ceiling’d abyss of parents’ family room, until he one day just dropped dead, either from the futility of it all, or the intemperateness of the room.

Secretly, I was glad, because, see above.

So over the last six months, I have noticed birds more; I am living out some winged metaphor, but I do not like them any better. I have become convinced they are a sign of something, but I cannot make sense of exactly what.

Perhaps this is grief. Perhaps I am just going insane.

With this background in mind, as I walked to the office the other day, I observed a bright red bird flit about from around the street trees, and then suddenly alight on my shoulder. I felt ridiculous. I kept walking, in hopes that the damn thing would startle off. But it did not. I felt like a Disney princess, except weirder.

When I arrived at the office, I quickly googled what is a cardinal a symbol of? But I didn’t know the bird was a cardinal at the time, so I was googling “robin,” until I realised what had landed on me was actually a cardinal.

…What is a cardinal a symbol of?

Would it not perhaps have been better to google, Why am I looking for symbolism in Disney Princess moments and in all of these chance encounters with birds?

The first hit was a page from California Psychics and it was then that I realised I was losing it. I had had a bird land on me and I was searching the internet for wisdom from California Psychics. Worse, this was on my work computer, so these searches were being saved to our back-end compliance system. The second hit was what looked like an early 00’s Geocities page featuring a woman in a Blossom hat, with extensive content about What Cardinal Sightings Mean In The Afterlife.

What am I searching for?

It seems like we are coping well in this era of second divorces, and widowhood, and beginning again, until these crystal clear moments of frantically searching the internet happen and I realise we are Obviously Not. I realise this is normal. I type it into that empty google search box until my browser is filled with pictures of birds.

I keep the bird stuff to myself, mostly. Because it’s weird. But it’s happening to all of us.

The week before Father’s Day, Dorota and Michael and Lady H and JRA and I decide to ride bikes along the Bronx River Parkway, which we do for hours, until I need to get back to the city for late drinks with RHJ.

As we begin our ride, there is a bird standing at the mouth of the bike trail, staring at me like the blue heron was back in January, and I want to scream What do you birds want from me? What are you trying to say?! But I don’t because that’s also weird and I have already spent an hour this week on the California Psychics webpage trying to decipher one close encounter.

But we get back to JRA’s house, and she mentions the bird, quietly at first, then she says she saw a dog she liked at a North Shore Animal League travelling event. I laugh, because she is So Not a Dog Person, then it dawns on me that when Bop died, we found piles of North Shore Animal League freebies in his things – he must have donated money – and that these animals and things have all had a message that maybe are connected and have nothing to do with some Geocities site and suddenly I say, Okay, so let’s go to the shelter event they’re hosting today!

We arrive at the parking lot event moments before it closes down for the day. JRA does not get a dog that day, but the next day she drives out to the north shore of Long Island, where the Animal League is headquartered, and comes home with the dog.

Am I a Disney Princess, I wonder? The evidence is clear: My long, blonde braid. Talking to the two dead guys I love through animals. No. It’s not that. I was convinced I was this logical lawyer, but what I realise now is that despite our best efforts, sooner or later we all turn into our mothers.

It is the Monday after the Third Sunday of Easter, and my dog, Roo, has gotten into a playful scrap with another dog. The damage at first seems minor (a bloodied ear, maybe) but by Tuesday morning, the dog is incapacitated and screaming, so I rush him to the vet.

Roo has never been seriously ill or hurt in all his seven years of life – an occasional gross stomach bug, but otherwise, nothing – and watching him in pain is excruciating. Once we arrive at the vet’s office, the doctor takes him out of the exam room, still screaming, to take a closer look at his injuries, and I fall backward into the chair, rubbing my temples, furious and terrified at my Inability To Do Anything Useful.

The depth of my Aloneness in this moment is nearly unbearable to me. Since my divorce from Andrew was final seven years ago, Roo has been my one constant companion. He has survived every crisis with me; celebrated every triumph. He has faithfully given me purpose when I felt I Could Not Go On. He sat beside me through all my surgeries; my injuries; my heartaches. He is a dog, and in his dogness has always known exactly what to do to help me when the going gets tough.

I, however, am human, and I rarely know what to do.

A prime example of my Chronic Inability To Know What To Do came early in my marriage to Andrew, when we had had to put my beloved terrier Lilly to sleep. When the critical moment came and the vet prepared to administer the permanent drugs, instead of holding on to my dog, or taking my husband’s hand, I ran from the room like a crazy person. I dashed out on to Lispenard Street; paced the block until it was all over, leaving Andrew alone with Lilly as she died.

It wasn’t that I was afraid of her dying – Lilly had been in kidney failure for months so I knew it was coming. At the Animal Medical Center, where they’d cared for her throughout the last days of her kidney failure, they had taught me to give her fluids under the skin so we’d have just a few more precious days together. In a spectacular display of desperation or denial, I had even gotten her groomed before we put her to sleep so she’d look pretty as she went to meet her maker. I think it was that I was afraid of something bigger; something emptier. I think I was afraid of grief itself.

And now here I am, with my dog who is screaming in pain, and I want to run away but I can’t because it is only me – he has only me – and I have never felt so alone in my entire life. The vet comes back and she gives me drugs for the dog, and tells me his neck is badly injured but he will recover. But it will be hard. It will take time. Everything will take time.

Later, RHJ says to me, It’s ok, I know that going through something like this with a beloved dog is hard…

And I try to explain, It’s not about the dog…but the words don’t come.

It is not about the dog at all. It is about remembering running from the vet’s office and into the street, terrified. It is about how, a week after Lilly died, the hospice called from Florida to say my grandmother was dying and my mother and I left a wedding in California; packing up and flying out the next morning to be by her bed to do the work that women do – bringing lives into the world, and shepherding them out of it.

It is about the fact that on the last night of my grandmother’s life, that Nat King Cole song, Unforgettable, was playing in the background, and I hadn’t been able to listen to it since, but inexplicably, as Paul was being fitted for his wedding suit, the Muzak screeched to a halt, and Unforgettable began to play. I took it as a sign that despite my doubts, Paul was the Right One, because I am always desperate for signs. But maybe that was the wrong sign.

I realise, as Roo recovers, that I have been waiting for signs to tell me how to be Helpful, or Right, or How to Do Things Correctly, like I am Steve Martin in L.A. Story. Symbols that indicate: How to Be Married to One Person for a Long Period of Time. How to Put the Dog Down and Not Run From the Room. How Not to Destroy Your Own Life in 200 Easy Steps.

After three weeks, Roo is walking again; acting like himself again. As I watch him lounge comfortably as I write, I am suddenly confident that there is no playbook for this. We are all just fumbling around, all of the time, blind like newborn kittens, mewling and suckling, with no earthly clue what we are doing. This revelation doesn’t make me feel any better about leaving my ex-husband alone with our dead dog in Tribeca Animal Hospital in 2006, but it at least gives me the sense that I am not nearly as alone as it sometimes feels. That everyone else is just as clueless and afraid as I am; just as prone to running screaming from the risk of loss.

We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination 
– C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

It is Holy Week, and we are changing form.

The daffodils and other flowers have begun peeking through, which eee documents obsessively. We have all suffered precious, maddening losses this Winter, and are coping in different ways as we charge into Spring. For me, it has meant a kind of forward motion at all cost; for JRA it has meant one step forward, two steps back; for eee, it has meant an effort to preserve the fleeting beauty as it emerges.

Just let me know when it gets to be a bit too…Georgia O’Keefe, she chuckles.

I had not contemplated the Enormity of Grief before this year. As a postmodern intellectual Christian, I had read C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed as a guide to the journey each time I’d encountered it, but I did not know – really know – that “grief felt so like fear” until now.

On Palm Sunday, I ask eee and Dorota to come with me to Trinity Downtown to the music service. We meet in a bar beforehand, which seems appropriate, because our group of friends was originally called “Winesday.” Conceived of in the end of 2009 as a way to decompress as we trained to volunteer as overnight social workers in the NY Presbyterian Hospital Emergency Department, we would meet every Wednesday and drink wine. The group grew and changed over the years, but the spirit remained the same.

We are different people now, but we still like to drink, I guess.

The music at Trinity is beautiful and the service is almost Humanist in form, and I feel at home again. In the years I was with Paul, he was deeply anti-religious, but culturally Catholic. I had converted to Catholicism to be with Andrew, but as a divorcee, went back to my non-Papist native form.

However, I hadn’t contemplated the complexities of being an Anglican married to an Irishman. In my American ignorance, I didn’t realise That Was a Thing, until it Was. We would find ourselves in baffling knock-down, drag-outs about Jesus, the Pope, and Santa Claus, and somehow I became a proxy for hundreds of years of Irish oppressors. It was…exhausting. I wasn’t even English.

I wouldn’t say it was our undoing, but it certainly didn’t help.

Later that week, we celebrate Passover at JRA’s house, which is different than last year.  The prior year’s Seder had been a cacophony of children and families, and this year our gathering is late and just grown-ups. We sit and we eat and we talk and we pray, and it is different and it is good, and I pop a bottle of expensive wedding-gift champagne and say drily, After all, you only get divorced for the second time once.

We finish our dinner and we search for the afikoman, which is typically an activity for the children, but which the group does with enthusiasm. I stand back and watch, marvelling at how different my life has become over the course of a year. At what we have gained; what we have lost; who we have become.

Then we sit and talk about Other Things – at which point someone suggests we should have a Group Costume for Halloween, because it is April, and there is no better time to discuss October. We bat around Group Costume Ideas. Disney Princes and Princesses? Maybe. Famous Couples? Nah. Nothing seems cohesive enough. The only way forward is as the von Trapp family, I finally declare.

Then we clean the kitchen and drive back to the city and are home before ten o’clock, and again, I marvel at the difference.

Days later, it is Easter, which I am hosting, and for which I cannot rally. Ordinarily, I love to host. But for this Easter, I cannot seem to plan the menu or cook the foods. Instead, I buy everything pre-prepared. It does not occur to me in these barren moments that this is what grief feels like – that grief is not a missing or a loss, but sometimes it is fear.

It is not that I miss Paul, but as I set out the Easter Things, I think about the table that I prepared a few years back, before we were married, when we gathered with my parents and our friends to celebrate in this same house. I think about the things we had together and the things we will never have.

It all feels…Enormous, and I am afraid. I am afraid I will never have a family; I am afraid it will always just be me and the dog; I am afraid I will continue the family tradition of being The One Old Maid in every generation which is a perfectly fine thing but it’s not the thing I want; I am afraid I will be stuck and I don’t want to be stuck.

After a celebration that takes us through the afternoon and evening, night falls, and guests begin to leave. As Dorota and Michael stand to head out, Michael recalls our discussion at the Seder and reminds us that we have promised to go as the von Trapp family for Halloween. They approach the door, and he bursts into So Long, Farewell. Soon after, Zac joins. Then, the whole room erupts into song, singing them out the door.

And I laugh, almost until I cry, because that painful, fearful place in my heart has opened up again, like a window. And every time I think I have mastered the form of this season, it changes again; grows wings; bursts out like a demented cuckoo clock; singing; rejoicing; fearless; and still, somehow, terrifying.

In my grief, I have gotten nothing I hadn’t bargained for, and also, everything, it seems.

April is National Poetry Month. In honour of that, I’m digging through my archives and posting a series of poems I’ve written over the years.

When you are mixing
Drinks
Lives
Households
Politics
Religions
There are some days when even the most
Mundane of things
Seem Remarkable.

For instance:
He is a vodka drinker;
I am Gin.
But by some Divine Intervention
Some Holy Miracle
Our many households always seem to have both.
But then there are other days
Like today
When
By grace and willpower
I manage to speak in the strange patois
Of loving other people’s children
And everyone and thing is accounted for
And then I look down
And realise
I am wearing socks
That are not mine
That are not yours
That were probably your ex wife’s

And I think God must be laughing at us.
And all of our plans
And of this mixing
Of drinks
Of lives
Of the mundane and the divine.
(April, 2017)

April is National Poetry Month. In honour of that, I’m digging through my archives and posting a series of poems I’ve written over the years.

You are Helen,
And charming,
And a paragon of what a woman
Should be.
Locked up in your ivory tower,
Lost without your worldly power,
Continue on your odyssey.

Odyssey—
Keep going.
You can never go home once
You’ve gone.
Sinking in your self-restraint,
You nurse your wounds without complaint,
And sing your silly siren song.

You are virtue,
And wonder,
And the girl you always wished
You’d be.
Would he love you violated,
How he loves the things you’ve hated;
You’re drowning in tranquility.

(May, 2006)