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I’ve Grown Accustomed to This Place

They say familiarity breeds contempt, and there is certainly some truth to that statement as it applies to relationships.  Speaking for myself, though, I almost always prefer the familiar to something new or requiring a change.  I guess when I experience a good thing, I like to stick with it. I’m definitely a creature of habit.

I’ve been thinking a lot about familiarity and change recently.  This summer my wife and I will have lived in Stamford, CT, for 40 years – that’s virtually all of my adult life.  I don’t have to tell you that we have become pretty familiar with our community, and have established a strong network of friends, professionals, and other folks who we can count on for all of life’s needs. But recently I’ve started to get a little worried.

My dentist, who I have been seeing twice a year for four decades, recently retired … and there is a new dentist and hygienist in the office now.  And boy, did it feel funny that first visit not to have the usual folks checking my teeth and gums.

I’ve gone to the same internist from the day I moved to this community until the present.  Next month my doctor and health confidant will be 80 years old – and I am dreading the day that he announces his retirement from medicine, which likely will be relatively soon.  I’m not looking forward to explaining my entire health history to a new doctor.

When we first moved here 40 years ago, we owned two old cars – and an honest and reliable auto repair shop was essential to our lives.  Fortunately, we found Tommy, who bailed us out on numerous occasions, quickly repairing our cars from various automobile ills at a fair price, for which I’ll be forever grateful. We’ve been leasing new cars for the past few years, and we haven’t needed a car repair guy like we used to.  But I did just hear that Tommy finally closed his shop, which made me a bit sad and nostalgic.

We’ve been homeowners for almost all of the four decades we’ve lived in town, and it’s really nice to have a plumber who we can call at a moment’s notice to fix a problem.  We’ve had clogged toilets over the years…and recently a frozen pipe burst in our basement. No fun. Fortunately, Ron was always there immediately to solve our plumbing problem.  The last time I saw Ron, he was talking about retiring.  I told him he can’t retire until he gives me the name of a plumber as reliable as he is.

Every six to eight weeks I get a haircut, and for as long as I’ve been living in town, Bill cut my hair.  I’d actually wait a few minutes for Bill if he was busy with someone, even if another barber was available.  He was elegant and precise in his work, and always remembered not to use a razor. Bill continued to work until he was 90 years old, at which point his arthritis forced him to retire. Shortly after that, the shop was sold to a group of Moroccans – and Rashid cuts my hair now. It’s not quite the same as Bill.  Then again, I don’t have much hair anymore, so I’m not as fussy.

How great is it to have your neighbor own a snow plow … someone you can count on to plow your driveway any time there’s a big snowstorm.  Living in the Northeast, we’ve certainly had our share of major blizzards over the years – but we never worry about our cars being trapped in the snow, as we know that Corey will always be there to clear our driveway.

I like my regular schedule.  Minyan every morning at 6:30AM, in my usual seat.  A mixed berry smoothie for breakfast. The New York Times, followed by a daily 15-minute Tanach mini-class from one of our favorite teachers.  Every Wednesday night we order out at one of our local kosher eateries.  We watch the local news after dinner each weeknight, followed by Jeopardy. My schedule is very predictable, which many would say is boring, but I would argue is comforting.

Sometimes my desire for familiarity clashes with my wife’s wishes, as she likes new experiences.  For example, my wife and I always plan a weeklong beach vacation each summer.  If it were up to me, I’d always go back to the Southern beaches in Maine (Old Orchard Beach or Ogonquit), where we vacationed several years ago and which I know I will love.  However, my wife prefers trying something new … and we end up going to a different beach each year.  Truth be told, the new beaches we have chosen have been pretty great, too, even if they are not familiar and comfortable to me at first.

Some of our contemporaries here in the New York metro area are beginning to spend several months in Florida each year.  A couple of them have relocated there permanently.  While the thought of not having to deal with bitterly cold weather three months a year is very appealing, I’m more drawn to the advantage of not having to move to an unfamiliar setting.  So we’re staying put … at least for now.

Our forefather Yitzchak was the epitome of passivity, and rarely showed any initiative. He did not choose his own wife.  He dug the same wells that his father dug.  He fought no battles.  He did not have to reject his family’s way of life.  To quote Rodney Dangerfield, he is the forefather who “gets no respect.”

Yet our commentators associate Yitzchak with the attribute of gevurah, of strength.  An odd accolade to give someone who is so passive, one might think.

But maybe not. Perhaps some of that strength Yitzchak is known for lies precisely in his passivity.  Sometimes there is great value in not making big changes, of staying the course and focusing on the familiar.  In Yitzchak’s case, he realized that the revolution his father had created required consolidation and for his generation to internalize its success.  We needed Yitzchak as a bridge between Avraham’s bold pronouncements and Yaakov’s being the ultimate father of b’nai yisrael.

Nothing lasts forever … and as I get older, it’s inevitable that I will have to deal with new people in all walks of life and make some changes – even if we remain in Stamford.  But it has been a great run, and the folks who have served us so well over the past four decades — and who have provided me with the familiarity that I crave – have been a tremendous source of strength for me.  I thank them for all that they have done.  I guess you can say that I’ve grown accustomed to this place.

About the Author
Michael Feldstein, who lives in Stamford, CT, is the founder and owner of MGF Marketing, a direct marketing consulting firm. His articles and letters have appeared in The Jewish Link, The Jewish Week, The Forward, and The Jewish Press. He can be reached at michaelgfeldstein@gmail.com
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