Life has a funny way of being completely unpredictable—not just in challenging times like this pandemic, but also with pleasant ones, the little surprises that make you believe that the world will somehow right itself and keep turning. I have joyously experienced some of these serendipitous events, thanks to Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters (JBBBS).
One day, I got a call from my dear friend Tania Gray, director of community engagement and outreach at JBBBS, who proposed that I think about becoming a friend to an older adult with disabilities in JBBBS’s Friend 2 Friend Program. Her request brought back memories of my dear cousin—my mother’s first cousin, actually—Lillian. Lillian’s cognitive level was at a 7-year-old developmentally. I loved her and spent every weekend with her at my house, or my aunt’s house, until I was well past college. I was very comfortable with this demographic, so I said yes!
I was soon paired with a woman who lived in a group home, Beth, who was very much like Lillian in developmental abilities. We met and bonded. Sadly, the home where she lived was not very good at compliance with the MAGIC (Monthly Activity Groups in the Community) Wednesday schedule and it was very frustrating. So, one morning, I went to visit Beth at her group home, and we had a lovely time. Sadly, MAGIC Wednesdays did not work, but then COVID-19 hit, making that a moot point. JBBBS felt it would be best if I were matched with someone else.
I said yes, but I did not want to give up contact with Beth, especially in this pandemic lockdown. I felt I could do both at this time and not disappoint Beth by curtailing our phone calls.
So, here is the serendipity, those forces in the universe that bring unexpected little hugs of joy into our lives.
Within a few weeks, I was told there was a woman who was waiting for a Friend. I called this new person, and in an unexpectedly long and lovely conversation, we found that we connected almost immediately! She was bright and funny, and we found we both loved the ocean and had spent many of our childhood summers at the same beach.
I had a feeling I knew this person, but I could not place her. Maybe it was just our shared love of Nantasket. But that feeling clawed at me and Susan felt it also. Then, on Facebook one day, there she was. Some of her friends were also my friends and those names brought it all back. I called her immediately!
“I know where we met! We sang together!” Several decades ago, Susan and I had sung together in the Zamir Chorale of Boston. I was a soprano; she was an alto. We shared stages and rehearsals and parties and more! Suddenly, our conversations felt like a reunion, not a new friendship.
Since then, we have spent many hours on the phone discussing those fun years, the music, the friends, the events and more. We also discuss politics, the pandemic, her love of outdoor walks even in the cold, and our joint desire to have a reunion at the beach next summer. Our conversations meander and circle and wander with no agenda. They are like long, lazy visits curled up on a couch with cups of warm tea to take off the chill of coming winter. I have come to treasure these “visits” and look forward to each one.
JBBBS has blessed me twice. I have made a friend in Beth, and although we are no longer officially matched in the program, we are still connected. The joy and excitement at hearing her voice on the phone brightens my days and reminds me of my sweet cousin Lillian. She ends each call with, “I love you, Joni.” Lillian used to do that. Serendipity! I hope when the “all clear” is sounded, I will be able to visit Beth again and perhaps enjoy a JBBBS activity together.
My calls with Susan have been the second wonderful blessing. Yes, it is sad that Susan has this condition which, someday, may get worse. Yes, sometimes we have repetitive conversations, or she forgets having told me something the day before, but that’s fine. Sometimes, in this lockdown, I can’t even remember what day it is! I remind her that none of us can know what the future holds. And, as our reconnection has shown us, serendipity, good things—not just bad—also happen when you don’t expect them. We both look forward to sharing lots of winter conversations ahead and then, maybe if the vaccine all works out, walks together in the spring.
I am grateful to JBBBS for all they do for others but, most importantly, I am grateful to them for bringing some joyous serendipity into my life, not once, but twice.
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