When my daughter was little, I often forgot the date on which she was born. To this day, I credit our amazing day care with making certain my daughter – and I – knew her birth date. It is, after all a day of wonder and blessing. But while my child lived the moment, I was unaware until the following day when the social worked called to say a little girl was available for adoption; she was mine if I wanted her. I am grateful to the young girl who at 14 years of age brought my child into the world. I give thanks to her mother for seeing the wisdom in entrusting another woman to raise this child.
Today, my daughter’s birth date is imprinted on my mind and heart for camp and school forms and the joy and celebration it invites as we mark the day on which she entered the world and began to spread her amazing light. But the date of her birth still stands alongside another day of gratitude in my life, the day on which I met my child, the day she was handed over to me and made us a family, the day we still call Gotcha Day.
On that first gotcha day, friends like family accompanied me to collect my little girl. They offered Torah, the gift of presence and presents. My parents basked in the expansion of their family, glowing with the addition of another grandchild. My sisters and their families showed up in person and by phone. Far away friends packed cartons with clothes, rushing to the post office and then rushing themselves to the airport. It was a veritable love-fest.
I mindfully put on the running shirt I purchased to commemorate my first ING NYC Marathon. I figured if I could complete that race and raise thousands of dollars for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (GO TEAM!), I could raise a child by myself. I had run marathons before. And life well lived, after all, is a marathon – you plan and prepare, nourish and hydrate, and step out onto the course, pushing through, breathing in and out, and greeting every surprise and obstacle that comes your way. You celebrate the power of your steps. You allow yourself to smile, laugh and cry. Sometimes you side-step an unaccompanied dog running across your path (true story for another blog post). You appreciate the cheers.
Ultimately, no matter who surrounds you, it is you, yourself, who has to put on your shoes and move, accomplishing the tasks of the day, the week, the month and the years. It is you who has to keep track of appointments and meetings, assignments and celebrations. It is you who takes note of the course, noticing changes in the landscape, watching out for potholes, hydrating, hydrating, hydrating, and breathing. It is you who has to adjust your plan from gotcha day to gotcha day because just as the course changes over time, so must you as the one whose arrival created that gotcha day grows into her own being. It is you who must embrace the tension of growing lives and still remember, nothing new on race day.
Each year on gotcha day, I wear that orange shirt as a reminder of my 1st marathon in my beloved NYC and the ones I’ve run since then. I wear it to remind myself of the course on which I run each day as a parent. I wear it to remind myself of that first gotcha day and the next and the next and the next. Last year, just after my daughter’s 9th birthday, we marked our 10th gotcha day, this time, out of town. For the first time, the shirt remained in the drawer as we celebrated the Bat Mitzvah of a close friend – the kind who shares and notices and serves as a role model even from 3000 miles away. As I watched my daughter on the bimah chanting Ashrei with cousins, perfectly comfortable in a space she instantly made her own, I felt the power of the day for our family. The exquisite being who fell min hashamayim/from the heavens into my arms was truly becoming the fierce, confident, kind, sparkly, loving soul I had imagined she would be. And, thank gd, I was letting it happen.
Kahlil Gibran wrote, Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. Though they are with you, they belong not to you. Each gotcha day reminds me more and more of the truth of these words. Since Z and I met one another and she settled perfectly on my chest with her tiny hands in prayer pose, I have felt she was meant to be on this earth, that she somehow burst onto the scene as an expression of the universe, a blessing for the world unfolding in those moments. How grateful I am that she is mine.
Last week, on her birthday, I asked my daughter what she wanted in this tenth year of life. Her wholehearted answer, to be eleven. Just as I am reminded to let go a little more each day, each month, each year – to give her space to grow, learn and love – so too is she yearning to move towards the future, living, loving and celebrating. Yet, as we walk to school, I find her hand reaching out for mine. We share an orange, sing songs and talk about the dogs in her future (and the ones she wants today). I give her a little squeeze as we round the corner and she strides away, setting herself free to experience the day’s course in her own way. I watch her run off to her friends and experience a mix of pride, sadness and deep love.
I’ll wear that marathon shirt again this year, as comfort and celebration, a reminder of this tremendous 10 year old gift in my life. And, still feeling the touch of those double digit fingers on mine, I will think of Z and remember, I STILL GOTCHA.
@Rabbi Lisa B. Gelber
January 19, 2020 / 22 Tevet 5780