Monday, May 02, 2005

The High Point of a Life

April 28, 2000
I hope all of you had a wonderful Pesach.

Timmi's performance went absolutely wonderfully, and she was on a high from the experience for a couple of days afterward. Happily for everyone who came only for Timmi, the play itself was also excellent and very well performed. (Timmi herself also shone, and it was extremely impressive, both for Timmi and for the other girls, how she was able to integrate into a fully finished production, which had in fact already been performed, in the space of only a couple of weeks.) I have heard only good feedback from everyone who was there. Thank all of you who came for helping to make it a truly memorable evening.

After the play was, of course, Pesach itself, and all of us enjoyed the Seder. Unfortunately, because of Timmi's health, we couldn't be sure it would go as planned so we were unable to invite guests. But our family is big enough, even without Sheila who had to stay in Boston for the holiday, to make quite a respectable group just by ourselves.

On Chol HaMoed* we went for two nights to the Holiday Inn in Haifa, and visited Caesaria, Zichron Ya’acov, Acre and the Haifa Science Museum. On the whole, Timmi enjoyed herself, but her mood was more unstable than usual during the trip, and little things annoyed her fairly easily. She and we are glad we went, though, even if it took a lot of effort to keep things going.

Altogether, Timmi's mood has been slipping somewhat. This may have a lot to do with the fact that physically, things are also getting harder for her. She has been more and more tired, and has been having significantly more pain, which we still don't know whether to attribute to her GVH or to her cancer. The decline in her mood is also aggravated, of course, by the fact that the fun things she had planned (the play and the trip) are now behind her, and so she and we need to find new things for her to look forward to. Matriculation exams are of course important, but hardly fun! Anyway, clearly it is very difficult, and in fact probably futile, to separate out the physical and psychological components of her situation.

Shabbat Shalom to all.

Much love,

*Chol HaMoed – the intermediate days of Passover.

May 2, 2005
It’s hard to believe that it’s already five years since Timmi appeared in the production that her drama class put on as their senior project. Participating in this production meant a great deal to Timmi, and she reveled in the sense of accomplishment and positive feedback that the performance brought her. The night of the production was one of the happiest of Timmi’s life. So why does looking back at that evening make me so sad?

The girls in Timmi’s high school drama program were the closest thing she had to a group of good friends, and to a source of peer support. Together with a professional playwright, the group created the ideas and script for their twelfth-grade play; Timmi participated whenever her health permitted. From the outset, the girls decided to structure the play in a way that took into account the fact that there was no way of knowing whether Timmi would be able to take part in the production. They wrote her an interesting and challenging part that could be eliminated if she was unable to appear when the play was performed.

In the event, the play was staged around Purim, while Timmi was hospitalized. As you can imagine, she was very disappointed to have missed the chance to perform. But after she regained enough of her strength to come back to school, the girls met among themselves and decided to give her that chance after all. Although they'd already come down from the high of the Purim performances, had forgotten some of their lines, and had other matriculation exams to study for, they decided to stage one more production, this time with Timmi’s part written back in. And this time, they would do it not at the school but in a commercial theater – and contribute the proceeds to the Israel Cancer Society. The girls approached the theater management and convinced them to donate the performance hall for that evening, and sold tickets to their families, friends and acquaintances (as did the members of our synagogue). Every single ticket was sold.

Timmi played the middle-aged, formerly glamorous and now-bitter owner of a cosmetics company. I can still see her in her elaborately styled platinum blond wig and sequined dress, a long cigarette holder between her fingers and a sardonic expression on her face. She performed with energy, verve and great wit, and when her turn came to take her bow, the audience gave her a standing ovation that lasted at least a full minute. They were applauding her performance, of course, but so much more – her courage, her tenacity, and her strength in the face of all that she’d been forced to go through. She drank up every second of it. It was, I believe, the high point of her life.

And where am I now, five years later?

On the first day of Passover, I found myself sitting in synagogue between two young women who had been Timmi’s friends. As I inevitably do, I began to wonder which of Timmi’s peers would be the first to marry. Just as I started to imagine how I would feel at such a wedding, the engagement of a third friend of Timmi’s was announced. So it’s started, I thought. Now will come the engagements, the weddings, the births, all those joyous occasions to which Timmi – like all young people – should rightfully have looked forward.

It’s simply not fair and not right that I know now, for a cold, hard fact, that Timmi’s performance marked the last time she was ever to feel pure joy in this world. That experience should have been only one of many high points in her life; I should not be able to look back now and say, “That was her happiest moment.” Even now, at the age of 50, I myself am looking ahead to new peaks of possible experience – studying for and working at a career that I truly love, seeing my children married, becoming a grandmother. How is it possible that by the age of 18, my daughter had already experienced her greatest happiness?

I’ve been having a very hard time the last few weeks getting myself to sit down and work on this blog. My mind simply doesn’t want to make those connections and associations between the past and the present that fuel my writing. I discard each idea I think of, until one sticks in my head long enough to develop into a post. Then, throughout the process of writing, I question whether I'm really saying something meaningful. Is it true, or am I just making it up because it sounds right? When I go back and read what I’ve posted, I see that what I’ve written does express where I am, and at least some of what I want to say. But the next time, I go through the same process over again.

I’ve told myself in the past that perhaps I’m running out of things to say, that I’m getting tired, that my creativity and insight are beginning to run dry. But now, after writing this entry, I’m quite sure the reason I’m finding it so hard to face my updates of five years ago, however upbeat they were at the time, is that the story gets progressively sadder from this point on. Timmi did experience other moments of happiness after her grand performance was behind her. But I’ve just finished writing about her very last sustained burst of joyful energy.

Still, as hard as it's becoming to write, I feel that Timmi’s story - all our family’s story – needs to be told. I pray that I will find the strength within myself to go on writing, and hope that you will not find it too difficult to go on reading, until the story of Timmi’s time on this Earth has ended.

1 comment:

torontopearl said...

re. "That experience should have been only one of many high points in her life; I should not be able to look back now and say, 'That was her happiest moment.' "

You're so right, but at least you can say she indeed had a happy moment, whether it meant being in costume, playing the role.

Sadly enough, reading this post reminded me of the phrase "performance of a lifetime." I can't recall the person's name now, but he was big in the New York Yiddish theater along with his wife; his wife is the woman who played "Bubbie" in "Crossing Delancey." In one of their Yiddish stage performances together, she was in the wings, watching and I guess waiting for her entrance, and she saw her husband collapse on-stage. She did not think anything of it at first, because her husband was such a fine actor and she just thought he was playing his role to the hilt. But that performance was to be his best...and his last.

I know that it is a depressing, yet almost a bittersweet thought that I've interjected here, and I'm not entirely sure why the Yiddish stage story popped into my head at this time, why my mind saw the need to make some kind of association.

But I believe from your post that Timmi was indeed outstanding in her performance, and although she's no doubt remembered for countless traits, she is well remembered for that stage presence, as well. And that is a wonderful thing!