Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Lives We Touch

photo by Diana Karchevsky
Do you ever find that everything you encounter seems to be pointing the same direction? My theme song of late seems to be aging and with that its corollary, purpose. Now that should not be a surprise as this is the year of a milestone birthday. It is a reminder that time is limited and the need to use it well. With both parents gone, I have a marker on my age, a likely timespan that seems relatively short when I measure it against the time that has passed. 

My birthday early this month was also a reminder of both the limits of our time on earth and the richness of memory. I began my day being serenaded by my late parents. They had called me on a past birthday and sang Happy Birthday to my voicemail which in turn sent me the recorded message. My father died just three months later. For the past seven years my birthday has begun with their birthday song. What once contained sadness has now faded into a happy memory and their voices raised in song warm my heart and make me smile.

I was reminded of raw loss, untempered by time, when later that day I attended a funeral for a very talented man with whom I had worked through a volunteer engagement. Over a decade younger than me, he had died quite unexpectedly. As I watched his young family, I reminded myself to be grateful for the extra time I’ve been given. There are no guarantees. The priest talked about the fabric of the community that we touch and that touches us, how it sustains us and contributes to who we are. I thought about that later in the day as we awaited guests at an open studio weekend. It is often through artwork and storytelling that I have an opportunity to touch others in ways I often don’t always realize. 

That was driven home later in the month when twenty teens gathered in my studio to learn about my journey and my work. They were the children of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union and part of the RAJMN Teen Fellowship. I was struck by their genuine affection for each other and the energy that entered the room with them. Much of my artwork relates to Jewish themes and my interview series and book deal with the stories of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. My interviewees had been of the generations of these teens’ grandparents and great-grandparents. Here before me was the reason they came and we are richer for it.

So what could I impart that would have meaning for them? In addition to my artwork I talked about reinvention, how we reinvent ourselves throughout our life. They were at an age where they are beginning to think about career paths. After dramatic changes in my own life from where I began, that choice seems far more temporary. I encouraged them to think less about specific careers and more about the things that excite them which can be found in many disparate careers. Telling stories and solving puzzles were my gateways to many interesting directions. 

One of the things I’ve found in public speaking is how important it is to let your authenticity show. That means sharing the moments of vulnerability that make us human and relatable.So often we only talk about our successes, but not about our path which may be littered with things that didn’t happen as we hoped. We step out with uncertainty in new directions, we figure out alternate paths when things don’t work as planned. We finish one project and have to figure out how to begin anew. How do we start in a new direction? Take a risk that might not pan out?  Those are the questions and challenges that shape our life. We don’t have to have all the answers. Much of my story is about saying yes and then figuring it out, stepping out of my comfort zone and having opportunities open up. 

The following day I got one of my favorite kinds of notes. The director of the program reported that she had gotten quite a few phone calls from kids’ parents with rave reviews. Apparently some of what I said stuck and they continued to discuss it with family. You never know for sure who you touch and how, but sometimes you get hints.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving with gratitude for those who have touched your life.