People stay close in everyday ways


A friend was at my house on the fourth of July, and we were talking in the kitchen while I made a salad. As I started peeling a vegetable over the trashcan, her face lit up. She told me that ever since a particular Passover seder years ago, she thinks of me when she uses a peeler. Back when I lived with my husband and brother we had a couple of memorable seders in our apartment, and before one of them this friend had spent time with me in the kitchen as I peeled countless potatoes for a savory kugel. In her mind, the memory has paired me with the peeler since then.

This made me think about the things I see and do, day in and day out, that remind me of people I care about. The more I thought about it, the more there were. A friend of mine once showed me how she throws the plastic cup in the washer along with the laundry detergent, to make sure all the soap gets used – I started doing that shortly after, and every time I do laundry I think of her. My grandmother made countless jars of jam from her beloved strawberries, and pretty much any strawberry calls her and her love-infused cooking to mind. In college, when I was even less assertive than I am now, a friend came up with a personalized "assertiveness training" that he put me through at random moments. I think of him every time I find myself handling a situation with the kind of strength and control I aspire to.

So many day-to-day things bring my brother to mind. Not long after we moved into our Manhattan apartment together I went to put a plastic tumbler of his in the sink and he stopped me by calling “SCAD,” explaining that this means “Same Cup All Day.” From that point on SCAD was a signal to leave a cup where it was, and in an effort to reduce dishwashing I still operate under SCAD rules. I think of Frank when I cross New York streets, because he and I both shared a (gene-linked?) obsession with minimizing the time spent waiting at a street corner. We used what we called “efficient crossing” to analyze whether an East-West or North-South cross was the best choice at any intersection, given stoplight status, traffic volume, and final destination. When I use a paper towel, I think of Frank’s paper towel philosophy – one day at his house he told me that when it came to wiping things up in the kitchen, his need for convenient cleaning trumped his desire to conserve resources. I do buy the half-sheet kind, but in Frank’s honor I use them liberally.

If I continued to list things that call a person I love to my mind, I would be typing for days. The beautiful skirt given to me by a friend who was overhauling her closet. Sitting in the chair that went with my grandfather’s desk. The poem that a friend sent in the mail, peeking out from within a pile of bills. Folding pillowcases the way my mother does. Little pockets of energy lie in wait within things and actions and I rediscover them, some every day, sometimes unexpectedly, even if the discovery has happened many times over.

Years ago I had a brilliant acting teacher named Mark Hammer. He guided us in an exercise where we walked in a random pattern around the room and imagined photographs continually appearing behind us, still photos of every instant of what was happening as we walked, connected to form an ever-lengthening string of images chronicling each moment of our lives. That exercise stuck with me, and I think about it often. It speaks to the idea that our actions leave energy behind that continues to exist, that changes where we’ve been and leads to where we’re going, that radiates meaning. The reminders that I encounter every day are like particular photos that peek out at odd angles from my string of images, calling attention to themselves in a way that leads me to pull them out and paste them on a strawberry pitcher, a folded pillowcase, a paper towel roll. They hover there like fuzzy-edged holograms, more energy than image. They bring the spirit of a person into the space and the moment.

Here’s something that makes me especially happy: This experience is the same whether the person I’m reminded of is living or dead. My brother is as alive in one hovering energy hologram as a neighborhood friend is in another; my late grandmother is as real and present as my mother is.

Look for the little glow of your energy holograms around you, especially when the day is tough and you aren’t quite sure how you will get through it. See if these reminders of special people give you a lift. Bright moments pulled from your ever-growing string of images can strengthen your connection to people near and far, alive and not, and keep them close.

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