Malkie Grozalsky
Opinionated, post-denominational, NY Jew

How do you measure a year?

525,600 minutes
525,000 moments so dear
525,600 minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In 525,600 minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?

I’ve been thinking a lot about time these days, and the different ways that we mark its passage. I have always counted years from September to September, with the start of each new academic grade marking the end of the old year and the start of the new. When I was younger, I counted the years from Passover to Passover, while others I knew marked birthdays as beginnings and endings. The measure of a year carries weight — it is how we mark milestones, mourning, and growth. It is a significant amount of time broken down into 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8,765.82 hours, and 525,600 minutes.

Mishenichnas Adar Marbim B’Simcha

This year, I find myself marking the passage of a year from March to March, Purim to Purim — and as we celebrate Rosh Chodesh Adar today, I am torn between the feelings of happiness this holiday usually brings, and the sadness I feel as we are about to enter our second year of the Coronavirus pandemic. So much has changed this year, and yet it also feels like we have been at a standstill, living our lives while in a constant state of limbo, afraid to make any real plans for the immediate future because it seems like the rules are always changing. For some of us, this time has been bittersweet, as we have been forced to slow down, stay close, and stay home. It has allowed us to reconnect with our spouses, our preteen, teen, and adult children who, under usual circumstances would not be spending their weekends and evenings at home with their parents and siblings, and it has allowed us to reconnect with ourselves. Not spending close to four hours daily on commuting has given me the time to exercise, to expand my cooking and baking skills, and to sit down to dinner each night with my family —something that was not possible in ‘the before times’. I know that for others this pause has had the opposite effect, and instead of strengthening their relationships, the time has allowed them to see the cracks that everyone was too busy or tired to acknowledge before. However we have experienced the last year, it is clear that none of us will emerge unchanged.

It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to
Cry if I want to
Cry if I want to
You would cry too, if it happened to you

I recently celebrated my 50th birthday. It was a sweet day, and I celebrated with my family (duh!) and a Zoom get-together with some of my friends. I didn’t think I would mind having a big birthday during a global pandemic because as an introvert with some social anxiety, a big party definitely did not ever sound appealing. My spouse is turning 50 as well this year, and we had always talked about celebrating our birthdays together with a trip somewhere. I remember that while we were trying to plan a small getaway for President’s week vacation last year, we were discussing the pros/cons of a family trip to Israel vs the Iberian Peninsula. As my birthday approached this year, I told everyone that I was rescheduling the observance of our 50th birthdays to a later date when it would be possible to travel safely again and shrugged off any acknowledgment of disappointment as no big deal. It felt a bit silly to me —in a ‘first world problem’ sort of way to feel sad that I couldn’t mark this milestone the way I wanted to, when so many people would never celebrate another birthday again. And yet, as I awoke on the morning of my birthday I felt sorry for myself. My suitcases were not packed and there was none of the pre-trip anxiousness that typically accompanies any kind of travel; there was nothing different really than the day before — except that I was 50 instead of 49. My spouse really did try to make it a special day — and it was, but I can’t help feeling cheated. I feel a little guilty even writing that, as if it makes me sound ungrateful to acknowledge that I felt less than joyful when I have much for which to be thankful. It makes me wonder why we do that; why do we have a hard time acknowledging our disappointment or pain if we know that others are experiencing it ‘worse’? Why do we feel the need to justify the validity of our own feelings by making disclaimers? I find myself doing this often, “I know I don’t have Covid, but…”, “ I realize it isn’t about me, but I still feel badly”, or my ‘favorite’, “I know you’ll think I’m being silly, but…” When anyone uses any of these phrases while speaking with me I am quick to reassure them and tell them to stop making excuses for having feelings, but why am I not able to do this for myself? Perhaps it’s because we are our own worst critics, but again, why? Clearly, I don’t have the answer to this, it’s just another thing that’s been on my mind.

Facing every obstacle and every puzzle
and we still haven’t lost our hope
what will this day bring is not yet known
and for it all we say thank you

As it was, so it will be again
we survived it all, we will survive this also
we will not fail
We got this!

I’ve been staying close to home for the past year. In fact, since last March 13 I have only left Brooklyn three times. I had an appointment in Manhattan this week, and so I took the subway to the Upper East Side and walked the five blocks from the station to the Dr.’s office. In my own Brooklyn neighborhood, I’m no longer surprised by the many empty storefronts and the notes of gratitude from store owners on the doors of their shuttered shops thanking loyal patrons for their business, and saying goodbye. It’s been devastating to realize that for many, the events of one year have undone a lifetime of work, and for some there will be no second chances. I was therefore surprised that despite my familiarity with that scene, I was shocked when I walked down the stretch of Lexington Avenue to reach my destination. Store after store was empty; some windows still displayed the dusty remnants of the last tenant’s inventory, while others were wiped clean with only a “for sale” sign in the window. It was almost as if I expected the small mom & pop shops of the outer boroughs to be suffering, but not the tony boutiques that cater to the wealthy. Since we’ve been home I’ve been listening to a lot more music, particularly while I prepare dinner. I often listen to a station dedicated to songs from Broadway musicals that I found on Apple Music. I miss many of the things that we aren’t able to do these days, but seeing friends and Broadway shows are the top two on my list. Since I can’t go to the theater, I bring the theater to my kitchen each evening, where I am free to sing as loudly as my children will allow. I listen to those sort of songs so often, that the ‘favorites’ mix curated by Apple Music especially for me each week consists of only show tunes. I was listening to this week’s new mix as I traveled to my appointment. For the entirety of the subway ride the playlist contained the usual songs, and I expected it to remain that way for the duration of my commute. As I walked the last few blocks, I was surprised to hear Hebrew coming though my earbuds. The song was “Katan Aleinu” written by musical artists Static and Jordi, and sung by many of Israel’s top performers. I guess it was exactly what I needed to hear, even if I am not as convinced as the singers of this song that, “we got this.”

As we approach the one year anniversary of when everything changed, I hope that I will be able to spend some time mourning what’s been lost without losing myself in a sea of sadness. I hope that I will not feel guilty saying that this time has thankfully not been all bad for my family, while acknowledging that others have not been as fortunate. I hope that I can acknowledge the trauma that my children have experienced as the stability of ritual and routine was abruptly upended, while at the same time admiring the resilience and strength they’ve shown as they’ve navigated through the near constant changes. Last year, as on every Purim, we celebrated the topsy-turvy —“until you do not know” theme of the holiday. We have been living in a Shushan of sorts for the past year, it’s time to turn things upright once again.

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
Five hundred twenty five thousand journeys to plan.
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
How do you measure a life of a woman or a man?
In truths that she learned,
or in times that he cried?
In bridges he burned,
or the way that she died?
It’s time now to sing out,
though the story never ends.
Let’s celebrate remember a year in a life
of friends

About the Author
Malkie Grozalsky has spent all but 5.5 years of her life living in Brooklyn, NY, and is proud of both her accent and her attitude. Malkie was raised in an ultra-Orthodox home, belongs to a Conservative synagogue, and has a graduate degree from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. When Malkie is not at her job as a synagogue administrator, she can be found cooking, baking, and micro-managing her spouse and three sons.
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