I’m not interested in sharing a highlights reel this time. There are always highlights, magic to be found even in the most prosaic of moments. Eating well, for instance, is a guaranteed way to find the sacred in the mundane more often. But roses don’t separate from their thorns as easily as I once thought. I’m finding that I talk about the good things and the painful, difficult things in one breath these days. I need them both to explain who I am right now, to give context to one another.
Since the end of 2017, I’ve lost three people who were very dear to me. A dear friend, my aunt, passed away this September. A big and painful surprise. She taught me to seek beauty wherever I could find it. Through her eyes, I learned to appreciate art and dance and New York itself. Despite the stereotype that small children have no patience for shows or museums or nice food, she and my uncle exposed me to all of it, trusted that I had the capacity to take it all in.
My grandpa passed away last October followed by my grandmother in February. They lived long lives. Alzheimers, in a sense, had already claimed my grandma years before that. But her death signified an end to their story that felt hopelessly and painfully final.
At my grandma’s funeral, I looked at old photographs of her and my grandpa in their tennis whites, their tanned skin glowing orange in the Kodachrome cast. They were younger than us at that point, already with two kids, happy. They lived fully, immersed in the things they’d worked hard to enjoy: their house, children, lots of tennis, good friends.
Despite stereotypes of the Great Generation, they never pushed their path to success on us, never called us soft or entitled or extravagant for wanting what we want: adventure, spontaneity, creativity, wonder. We want to walk out our door everyday and feel interested in the world, awake. It’s the kind of life that lacks concrete milestones like theirs did.
Yet, they were open to it, in awe of our imagination even. In the last few weeks of his life, my grandpa called me from his hospital bed to tell me that he wasn’t worried about Adam or me, that we’d find our way and that he wishes for us that we’ll continue to seek more and different experiences of the world, which he thinks must be a very good approach to life (if not very different from his own).
Loss offers perspective. So does travel. We didn’t get the idea to move to New York from my aunt’s or my grandparents’ passing or from the two weeks we spent in Italy in May, but all of it restored our sense of urgency. My grandparents lived their values. My aunt, too. I know they slept well at night and that they left this world knowing they built their lives with integrity.
One life. That’s what we’re given. So why not throw away the arbitrary checklist: house in the suburbs, practical car, high-end furniture with annoying cleaning instructions. It belonged to someone else, anyway (the list, not the furniture—so we’re clear). Could we jump into another city, another life in which we could continue the adventure, regain our sense of wonder? We already knew the answer.
I’m writing to you now from my apartment in Upper Manhattan. It feels like home. For the first time in over a year, I’m sleeping well. It brings me a comforting sense of continuity knowing that my grandparents lived and played tennis just across the water from us, in Queens, and that the brownstones they grew up in are just a train ride away, in Park Slope. We’re living alongside their memory. But most of all, we’re living how they wanted us to live: according to our values. And that feels like the biggest highlight of all.