Every couple of months, teenagers indulge in a routine “Awww! Remember that?” session, at which all individuals present recall moments from the past and proceed to coo at their cute childhood memories of adorable Disney Channel shows. This typically spirals into some dramatic renditions of “This is Me” from Camp Rock, Hannah Montana’s “Nobody’s Perfect,” and some other songs that I just can’t remember. And while all this goes down, poor Talmidah Y just sits there because Parents S (if you know, you know) never let her watch Disney Channel. (Or Arthur, for that matter. Apparently DW said “shut up” too often. I wouldn’t know.)
Because of my lack of “education” (as my friends like to call it), I had ample amounts of time to sit in my family room and explore random topics that piqued my interest. Thus ensued a years-long addiction to Ellen DeGeneres soldier homecoming videos.
I became particularly fond of one specific reunion: between Jen Lackey, a pretty blonde mother of two, and her husband, who was deployed in Kuwait. Something about her just resonated with me. It could have been that she had two adorable daughters who reminded me of my big sister and me. For whatever reason, I was hooked. Every time I watched the video, I cried. As I watched Mike Lackey walk through the blue-paneled doors of the studio, sometimes I imagined myself as his youngest daughter, frozen in disbelief from the teary reunion. Other times, I would feel young Yaakov Mordechai Gerstner’s emotional words of “Daddy Come Home” (consider this my Rosh Chodesh Kislev connection) reverberate through my bones; he joined the corps, fighting the wars, somewhere far away. Something about the family reunion felt so personal and yet so tangible all at once, allowing my young self to feel the pain and rejoicing of the unfamiliar couple.
Over the years, I forgot about the Lackey family. I began to busy myself with other things (see last article for the detailed history of my gymnastics-gone-piano career), and re-watching the six-minute clip got a little old. It wasn’t until this week that I once again confronted emotions related to Mike’s pre-holiday homecoming.
The past week has been a whirlwind of emotions. Last week’s terror incident, coupled with being apart from my family for Thanksgiving, led to a few ups and downs. In addition to all that, every day has felt like a nonstop Ellen-style homecoming. I walk into the beis midrash and there is another smiling parent, eager to learn b’chavruta with his or her thriving child. On Ben Yehudah, there are moms everywhere walking happily with girls in three-tiered black skirts, holding Aroma coffees in one hand and Mr. Green bags in the other. And then there are those who watch. We’re so happy to see our friends’ parents and even happier to see our friends happy, but there’s that small inkling of sadness, of “I just want a hug from my parents.”
Thank G-d, the hard feelings passed pretty quickly for me, and I actually enjoyed my Thanksgiving. My friends and I cooked (that was a first), and while my pies paled in comparison to my aunt’s gourmet Thanksgiving feast, they provided me with some taste of home. (Although, apparently, different types of squash taste different; needless to say, my pie didn’t taste exactly like home…) But more important than filling my orange-food quota, this Thanksgiving provided me with a major paradigm shift. You see, when I used to watch the Lackey family reunion video, I was only focused on the feelings of the immediate members of the family. Mike’s comfort. Jen’s pride. Their daughters’ security. However, until I re-watched the video today as prep for this article, I never focused on the inevitable sadness of some other audience member who (statistically) must have had a husband/wife/child in the military. How did that person feel as the couple joined in an emotional embrace with their children close by, while this person’s loved one was still stationed far away with no hope of returning for the holidays? Probably an intense mixture of happiness and sadness and confusion and hope. I never would have been attuned to that mixture of emotions if not for my roller-coaster of a week.
I feel that the last 10 days contained a breakthrough. From moments that were downright difficult, I found new nuances in a story that seemed so familiar. But really, no story is too told, no feelings too felt to find anew. I just need to keep looking. Eyes wide. Heart open.