Roller Coasters and Merry-Go-Rounds

by Lisa Berman, Mikveh and Education Director

GrandmaThere’s a great scene from one of my very favorite movies of all time, Parenthood, with Steve Martin. At one point, seemingly out of context, the grandmother says to Steve, “You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster. Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride! I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”

Okay, I get it. If life were one long merry-go-round ride, we’d all be bored and a little bit woozy. But I don’t like roller coasters. Never have. Once, at Disney World, I spent a whole Space Mountain ride trying to reach around the seat in front of me to clutch my son and keep him from what was surely about to be certain death by unplanned ejection. Trying to seem cavalier on a date once, I went on some ridiculously unsound enormous wooden structure that teetered out over the Atlantic. I was absolutely certain we were all about to crash – people, cars, timbers and all – into the ocean. Unlike Parenthood’s Grandma, the feeling that you are about to die is not exciting or thrilling for me. It is one I wish to avoid at all costs. (Don’t get me started about turbulence on airplanes.)

And yet, there are times when our lives – on a micro level – seem more roller coaster than merry-go-round.

Here at Mayyim Hayyim, the month of September has been one of the busiest ever, with more than 200 immersions so far. Life on the “wet side” has been a whirlwind of appointment-making, welcoming, guiding, supporting, laundering, tidying, and wishing all a good year, shanah tovah. We are honored to support so many in our community who have made an immersion part of their personal holiday preparations.

But it all came to a temporary but appreciated halt this past Wednesday afternoon when we closed the mikveh doors and left to join our families and friends for Rosh Hashanah and the weekend.

For me, a bit of that roller coaster feeling prevailed.

ZeraMy family enjoyed what is now a rare occurrence, a family dinner, at a lovely little restaurant near our daughter’s new Brooklyn apartment. The next morning at Rosh Hashanah services at Congregation Beth Elohim, we had the pinnacle experience of being led in prayer by our daughter who served as cantorial intern-in-training for the parallel family service. Hearing my “child” intone the traditional Rosh Hashanah liturgical prayers, Unetaneh Tokef and Avinu Malkeinu, watching her lift up toddlers so they could see the open Torah scroll, sharing a time of quiet reflection with over 300 congregants as she sang “Olam Chesed Yibaneh” softly to them… was a surreal and memorable experience.

Hospital BedA few days later I sat in a hospital room with my elderly father as he struggled to clear the growing confusion from his thoughts, to sort out reality from delirium, knowing that a return to full clarity is not in his future.

On the way home from the hospital in Connecticut, my husband and I stopped at River Highlands State Park and walked the path through the woods to a bluff far above the Connecticut River. Through a small break in the leaves we could see the calm water reflecting the foliage – mostly green with splashes of red and gold – and hear the soft sound of small waves on the shore. Not exhilarating, not troubling, just peaceful. But a peacefulness that was surely heightened by the highs and lows of the days before. These are the highs and lows I can live with and live for. And that is the peace that I must seek out, to create the space in my soul for the highs and lows yet to come.


Lisa Berman is the Mikveh and Education Director at Mayyim Hayyim, ensuring that all immersions are facilitated with dignity, respect and modesty and supervising the Paula Brody & Family Education Center.


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