Making Up for Lost Time
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Making Up for Lost Time

After COVID, Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder believes simple pleasures bring great joy.

Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder
Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder

This summer in Atlanta, we are making up for lost time. For some, that means summer camp and bug spray, for others it is gathering for the simchas that we delayed. For me, it meant hugging my parents.

In November 2019, my parents came to spend Thanksgiving at my home. They live in Canada where Thanksgiving is a fairly minor holiday that takes place in October. But in 2019, my son and his girlfriend were coming to our home, and because the relationship was quite serious, we invited her mother along as well. So despite the fact that they don’t really go in for the whole turkey and sweet potatoes midday meal, my parents wanted in on this special gathering.

It was glorious but not extraordinary. A few days of cooking together, puzzles, gardening and endless eating, lots of meaningful family time.

As always, we hugged before they returned to Canada, but none of us expected 20 months to pass before it would happen again.

During COVID’s hold on life, my extended family experienced many moments that normally would have brought us together. There were several funerals; my son got engaged and married; my nephew became bar mitzvah; my daughter returned from a gap year in Israel and went off to college; there were hospitalizations; a new baby cousin; my aunt and my brother had milestones birthdays; and both my parents turned 80. But all of this was on Zoom and so there were no hugs.

Even as things began to ease up in Atlanta this past spring, the possibility of hugging my parents remained murky.

During COVID the border between the United States and Canada was closed and there was a lockdown well into the summer. For a long time, I wondered when or if I would hug them again.

I know I am fortunate; unlike many, my parents made it through the worst of the infectious plague. And I relished the frequent shared Shabbat Zoom dinners, Zoom family happy hours and even the Zoom seders. But I wanted to see them in person, not in two-dimensional, 45-minute slots.

So we took a chance that the restrictions in Canada, far more comprehensive than those in the United States, would loosen, and vaccines would be administered. We planned for a visit in July. In the end, things shifted enough to make it all possible.

So two weeks ago, we stood hugging in our foyer.

When the initial embraces ended, I asked my parents if they wanted to turn in for the night after a long day of travel.

“No,” my mother answered, “I just want to visit.”

And so we did for nearly two weeks.

I thought I might fixate on all that had been lost in nearly two years of forced separation. I thought I might focus on the changes that were inevitable when you have not seen the other for quite some time. There were changes, and recognition of loss. But for the most part my attention was on the mundane things.

Heading to the mountains, we took in glorious vistas, cooked and ate fantastic meals, photographed small animals and bright flowers. Traveling together by car, we filled our time singing Canadian sea shanties my father and I grew up on. We watched some TV, but spent many more hours drinking beer and doing word puzzles, often arguing about answers. And for no good reason whatsoever, whenever we passed through tunnels (which we did a fair bit) we yelled “weeeee” and laughed.

During the worst of COVID, I made do, despite the isolation and the Zoom. I learned that I’m more of an introvert than I had realized. I was lucky; I had a job, and my health and the health of my loved ones. Though I struggled at times, I kept my sanity by keeping a daily gratitude list that often highlighted the growth of the herbs in my planter, time spent drawing, a good workout and the myriad of other things that made up daily life.

And like all of us, there were things I missed; like my parents and the chance to do regular things together like hug and to visit.

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