Monthly Archives: February 2024


My friend Joan died this morning.

She was 86.

Eighty-six. That’s seven dozen plus two. Which is roughly the size of the batches of cookies she’d bake.

If you knew Joan, you knew her cookies. Not one type in particular, but that array of sweets for every, any, and no occasion that was uniquely, immediately recognizable as a plate from Joan.

Joan created sweetness, and she shared it freely. 

For a woman who loved chocolate, she was surprisingly facile with walnut, almond, apricot, lemon, vanilla, and butterscotch. For Joan, there was no one way to be a perfect cookie – she appreciated each confection for its own innate delightfulness.

Which is how she approached people, as well.

There was no one way to be a perfect person for Joan. She appreciated each individual lucky enough to be in her sphere for their own innate self. 

There’s an old joke – when two Jews are having a conversation, one of them is talking and the other one is waiting. Joan never waited when she talked to you. She was not formulating in her head what she was going to say while she waited for her turn to speak. She listened. Fully. And then she responded. Her attention was on you. She was fully present – listening, hearing, and remembering what you said. 

We became friends twenty years ago, when my sons were seven, six, and three. The math is easy – they are now twenty-seven, twenty-six, and twenty-three. She watched up-close as they went from boys to men. And I had the good fortune to watch so many of her interactions with them along the way. And those interactions stayed fundamentally the same – a simple, respectful, thoughtful curiosity and appreciation for the children, then the teenagers, then the men in front of her. She showed them, even as little, loud, somewhat messy people, the same regard for their person-ness that she showed me and my husband and the other grown-ups in her life. 

Joan understood that we’re all a little messy. That we all adjust our flavorings or chocolate chip content from time to time. That we all do better when we know we’re valued for who we are. 

Did I mention that she used to be a kindergarten teacher? I can’t imagine anyone more suited to launch a roomful of five-year-olds into the world.

Joan didn’t use cookie cutters. Her confections were dropped, rolled, broken into brittle. They were never shoved into a mold or forced into a rigid shape. They were not even, uniform morsels, but were relatively free-form in their shapes and sizes, and fillings would frequently overflow.

Before our lives intertwined, she and her husband had raised their own two men. If you know them, you know that it looks like Joan used two different recipes, but you can tell that she used the same technique, the same baking sheets, the same respect for their individual essences. Her eyes lit up every single time she spoke of them. And that same radiation of joy emanated from those eyes every time you asked about her brilliant grandchildren. 

Joan did not skimp on sugar or butter. She wanted the full richness of life. She was devastated by the loss of her husband a decade ago, but she didn’t allow that to stop a different sweetness from developing when she found a companion some time later. A different cookie. A different texture. But Joan knew quality ingredients when she saw them.

For years and years, I would get an annual birthday delivery from my dear friend – a heaping plate of apricot-filled nuggets of deliciousness. I do not know what was in them. I can’t even really describe them – I just know that they were rich and sweet and they made me smile and my smile made Joan smile. Part of me wants to ask her sons for permission to search her recipes so I can try to recreate this nectar of the gods. And most of me knows that I would never be able to recreate it. I know I would look at the recipe and decide that it’d be fine with half as much sugar, with a third less butter, with low-fat cream cheese. I would be too careful with how much apricot preserve I added to each one – I wouldn’t want to overdo it. 

But maybe I will ask to raid her recipes anyway. I know a few guys in their 20s who know their way around a kitchen and spent enough time in Joan’s kitchen to do her recipes justice.

Joan brought sweetness and richness to all of us. She brought her presence fully to every interaction. She loved. She was loved. She made the world a better place. Her memory is indeed a blessing.

Through the Eyes of the Beholder

A picture. A thousand words.

The viewer’s interpretation. The artist’s intent. The evocation. The inspiration.

The emotions. The feelings. The thoughts.

The gestalt. The detail. The distance. The closeness.

My friend is an artist who creates glass tile mosaics. Her pieces are stunning. They have depth. They have soul. They have light. They speak.

My friend is stunning. She has depth. She has soul. She has light. She speaks.

She and her husband have three adult sons, the eldest of whom lives with his wife in Israel. They are very much in harm’s way.

Since the October 7 atrocities, the stress in my friend’s life has been unbearable. Yet she’s bearing it. Because what choice is there other than to do so?

She has “sketched” out her next piece as a painting. The painting is beautiful. And haunting. This is what my artistically untrained eyes see:

A dark, stormy sky over a churning ocean. A thin tightrope stretches across the painting. There is a dark, shadowy silhouette of a person on the tightrope, left knee bent, left foot and right hand on the rope, right leg hanging down, left arm up at the level of the figure’s head. I can hear the wind and the surf in the picture. Although there is no lightning depicted, I can hear a low, rumbling thunder.

I look at the figure on the rope. Are they falling? Are they tired? Have they just lost their footing and caught themselves? Are they in the process of pulling themselves back up? Are they edging the entire way along with their hand on the rope for balance? What is on the side they are coming from? What awaits at their destination? Is their left arm up for balance? Or is it shielding their head from something?

Is what lies beneath actually an ocean? Or is it a view of the world from so high up that clouds obscure land and coastline and inlets?

The painting is dark. It’s frightening. It’s turbulent. And yet it is inspiring in its determination, courage, and grit.

There is tumult and darkness all around. There is a fine line of support through the violence above and below. But the support of that fine line is strong. There are anchors where the line originates and where it ends that I can’t see, but that the figure on the rope knows or trusts are there. Is there someone calling to that figure?

Part of the cloud cover towards the top is white. Is the sun attempting to peek through? The sky is darkest at the horizon – is the sun setting behind us? Or is it rising?

The rope walker is tired. But still going.

They are alone in the painting. But I see them. I feel them. And others do, too.

Who is the figure? Is it my friend? Is it her son? Someone else? 

What will the final mosaic piece show in its texture and reflections? 

May all of us have strong anchors on our own tightropes. May we reach our hands out to others on theirs. May others reach their hands out to us. May we be lifelines. May we have lifelines. May those lines be plentiful and interweave among us to form the strongest, most beautiful fabric.

May we persevere and find our balance and find our strength and know that we are seen, even when we think we’re the only ones in the picture.