Bar Mitzvahed!

The weekend was a wheel of people and joy turning through our time. We began with a pie-making party Thursday night — the Weedle Caviness Memorial Pie-Making Party — to try to replace what can’t be replaced: Weedle’s amazing pies she made for Daniel’s and Natalie’s Bar Mitzvahs. The joy, however, and humor were there in full-force as about a dozen friends and family came over to mix and roll dough, cut fruit, and gingerly lift the pie crusts into the pans.

On Friday night, we had regular Friday night services at the Lawrence Jewish Community Center with a twist. Instead of just doing the normal candle-lighting prayer, Ken called up six other men important in Forest’s life — his uncles, Mark and Brian; family friends, Jerry, Jack, Herb; and his brother Daniel — to join Ken in honoring Forest’s crossing over into adulthood. Each man lit a dark green candle in a blue glass candle holder and said his wish for Forest as a man. It was moving, gentle, strong and beautiful.

Saturday was Bar Mitzvah central — the actual event began at 10 a.m. at the LJCC, filled with over 130 of our friends and family. So much was moving about the ceremony, but what stands out for me and what others told me they loved include the blessings of both his Grandmothers, Alice and Barbara; our family carrying around the torah while all of us singing; Forest’s wonderful speech about the importance of kindness and listening when it comes to living a holy life; Ken and my talks (mine is below); the gorgeous duet sung by Susan Elkins and Natalie, our daughter; the throwing of the candy and how, just beforehand, Daniel and the torah scooted off to one side of the Bema and the rabbi to the other side to miss the onslaught of Tootsie Rolls.

In the evening, about 80 friends and family came out here for a pie party — 15 pizza pies and 16 fruit pies, plus all the other dishes people brought. People spilled out onto the newly-finished front porch, and the back deck, in the drive and throughout the house, visiting, laughing, eating, telling stories. About 9ish I got suddenly tired and actually took a 10 minute nap, then found myself rejuvenated until 11 when the last people, dear friends we had a blast visiting with, left.

Now it’s quiet and peaceful as I type this on the front porch, all the cats and the dog out here with me, focused on the singing of a bird nearby.
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Dear Forest,

Here it is the night before your Bar Mitzvah, and I can’t help thinking of the night before your birth. It was a windy, rainy May night as I sat in your grandfather’s heated car at 2 a.m. while your dad ran back and forth from house to car to load up everything, including the other kids. Throughout contractions and the all-too-short-space between, I was held in the most beautiful choral music playing on the radio, women’s voices entwined in multiple harmonies that poured through me like the wind poured through the trees I watched in the dark.

The next afternoon, you were born, and the first look on your face – just like the first look of total intensity on Daniel’s face and total joy on Natalie’s – conveyed your temperament. You simply looked around casually and seemed to shrug. If you could have talked, I think you would have said, “So this is life? Oh, well.” You were present, accepting and interested in all your encountered.

Since that time, you’ve brought the most amazing enthusiasm and whimsical curiosity to whatever you find – whether it’s basketball follies, the economic crisis’ latest flurry of bankruptcies, or the cat sleeping in a basket. When I pick you up from school or downtown, you always both ask me about the news – “Mom, what happened with the Dow today?” and your trademark question, “What’s the plan?” You follow music, film, news, sports, and all manner of quirky information widely and deeply, telling me something you found on The Washington Post site or Rotten Tomatoes. You listen to radio, television, read papers and magazines, updating your acute sense of where we are as a country. This world is interesting to you, and you bring to it a wonderful ability to take it all in, apply critical thinking to evaluate and integrate what you really believe, and then tell us about it.

You’ve also brought your big heart, always present and always accepting, to all you encounter, which over your life, has been full of fierce challenges – the car accident you survived, in part due to the love and support of this community; my cancer; and some difficult-to-shake illnesses you’re enduring – and heartbreaking losses, mostly in the last year, of both your grandfathers, your namesake, and a good friend. In all of this, you’ve shown up – in all senses of that term – to learn, mourn, find, and carry on as well as to share your wide pool of kindness with whoever else is hurting. You know well what it is to just be with someone going through a hard time, how to listen, and how to listen for what would really help. It’s no suprise that the words you wrote in your speech about how to live a holy life came so easy to you – they are words you live everyday.

What’s the plan? The plan – I hope and believe – is for you to simply keep being who you are. For all of us who know you, you’re a shining light of all these qualities: kindness, presence, curiousity, enthusiam, patience, earnestness, and many times, joy. For a long time, I’ve believed we become more of who we always were as we grow older, but you were born that way, and already, you live guided by your desire – besides to play the wii and watch countless episodes of “The Simpsons” – to help others and celebrate the amazing gift of life.

That night, nearly 14 years ago, before your birth, I was about to receive one of the greatest gifts of my life. Of course I’m proud of you for all you’ve done at this Bar Mitzvah, but I’m even more proud of you everyday for how you live. I love you with all my heart forever.
Love, Mom