Despite the long ride ahead of us, we were all elated. It was the first time my confirmation class was going on a field trip. The plan was to take a bus from Sinai Temple, our Synagogue in Champaign, IL to a White Sox game that afternoon in Chicago. There was about ten of us, in addition to our class supervisor. As we piled on the bus, I sat with my childhood friend, Josh. Next to us, our friends Daniel and David sat together and excitedly talked about the game. A deep lover of music, Josh closed his eyes and listened to his Walkman, while I pressed my nose against the window to stare at the cornfields; well, at really nothing in particular. Already lifelong friends, Josh and I didn’t need to talk for the sake of it. Even as teenagers, we already enjoyed one another on a level where just sitting together was as good as anything.
The trip had been planned for months, and so far, everything had worked without a hitch. However, after almost two-and-a-half hours, as we approached the outskirts of Chi-Town, I was the first to notice the spoiler: rain. Not the type that makes your hair frizzy. Rather, it began to pour buckets. Think, ‘cats and dogs’ rain. Although we waited in the bus for an hour outside the stadium hoping for the clouds to break, the weather was not on our side. Eventually, it became clear that our plans to see the game were washed out. As the bus turned around to head South, we all felt deflated. Josh put his headphones back on, and I once again stared out the window. Daniel and David fell silent.
Our parents were not expecting our return to the temple for hours, so upon arrival, no one was waiting for us. Back then, there were no cell phones—and no one thought to stop the bus on the road to call our folks and report our failed adventure. Finally back at Temple Sinai, some went inside to call their parents to pick them up. I hesitated, knowing my dad was teaching a class at the U of I and my mom was at work. “Hey, Meg!” I turned around to see Josh grinning at me. It was the first I had noticed that he was wearing red sweats seemingly two sizes too big. As always, he had a smile that was contagious-something that in its own right always made me happy; like noticing an unexpected rainbow after a storm. Josh said, “My dad is teaching today too. I think everyone has already left. It’s just 5 or 6 miles down Windsor Road, what do you think? We have been sitting on this bus for hours.” I hesitated. Could I possibly walk that far? I wondered. “C’mon, Meg! The rain has stopped. Let’s try something we have never done before. It’ll be an adventure!” In that moment, I knew this would be a step out of my comfort zone, but with Josh’s encouragement, I knew my answer. With a quick jolt of excitement, I agreed.
This coming month, among some other events I am looking forward to, I am scheduled to speak to a Girl Scout Troop. I have been thinking a lot about what to cover. I was a Brownie back in 2nd grade in Islamabad, Pakistan, and so the opportunity to speak to these girls resonated well with me. Perhaps I should discuss my “Heroes” blog post from earlier this year, and focus with the girls on what a hero means to each of them. It’ll be interesting to see if any of them can include someone they actually know.
But I want to leave them with something more significant. Something that gives them an understanding of how a two-fingered girl can wind up overcoming what might otherwise seem to be a life-sentence of insurmountable challenges. The other day I was flipping channels and came across the old Kevin Costner film, “Field of Dreams” (1989). Recalling how much I had loved the film, I sat back to watch. The movie was about a farmer, Ray Kinsella (Costner), who hears a voice that whispers, “If you build it, he will come,” and creates a baseball diamond for the ghosts of baseball greats from the distant past. Beyond the plot though, the film conveyed an important message. It postulated that if you set your heart to something, you can do anything. Ah ha! And then it came to me. Although the girls probably never saw the old film, I want to share it with them, at least thematically. Let’s face it. I am who I am because my parents raised me to believe anything was possible. They allowed me to take risks, even to fail. With that type of upbringing, I explored life outside of my comfort zone. The reward for this type of attitudinal risk-taking was freedom–the freedom to try new things, and experience success within my own definition, for my own life.
There is nothing sweeter.
As Josh and I walked down the road together, we began to laugh (at ourselves) recalling that as kids, we would run out of temple services in the evening and go outside to sing Frank Sinatra’s “Stranger in the Night” together. After only a mile or so of walking toward Urbana, a white station wagon pulled up. It was Daniel’s father. “Meg, Josh—get in. I’ll give you a lift!” We took the ride. After all, it began to rain again, and sometimes even if you make the decision to take a risk, you also realize that other people might be there to support you along the way.
This post is dedicated to my dear friend, Josh Gottheil, who died of lymphoma in 1989, at the age of 19.