I apologize from the get-go. I wrote something like this message in one of my earlier columns, but I promise, from the bottom of my heart, to take you on a much different journey this time.
This is our eleventh month living in beautiful Bend, Oregon. A lot has happened during our time here...and a lot has not. I'll start first with what hasn't and then I can finish up with all the good stuff.
The first one that didn't happen is sad for me.
We arrived mid-December, 2020 in the middle of all the COVID-19 insanity. I am old and significantly immunocompromised and want to live as least as long as I can. Wendy and I were very cautious. We didn't hug our own family for a few months after we arrived—two little grand-girls and our daughter and son-in-law. We love them dearly. I am crying hard now as I write this. So many of you were doing the same thing. There was no way our grandkids could understand us not hugging them. The looks on their faces when we greeted them but couldn't touch them was so awkward, painful, wrong, you name it. Looking back, I now realize we were too busy making sure we were doing all the right things and adjusting to our new lives, to be feeling very much of anything. It was a hard way to begin.
Then there was all of our extended family we avoided. I don't think avoided is the wrong word. That's what we did to the people we truly loved most in Bend. Not for a bad reason—only trying to be careful. Blessedly, we got to go to the outdoor funeral for Granddad, truly one of the greatest humans I've ever met. Every family member's personal brand was burned into his pine coffin and Granddad made every one of the branding irons. After the funeral Wendy and I went home and continued to socially distance. We missed a lot.
Now the stuff we didn't miss that was truly incredible.
We haven't missed our grandkids running down the hill to our house nearly every day since we've been vaccinated—often with their hands held out wide to hug us when they arrived at our back porch. Hugging them daily has been beyond anything either of us has ever experienced. A sheer joy! Back to the back porch—that was our savior last winter. We celebrated Christmas and every other holiday and birthday there. Our very first purchase was an outdoor gas heater to make it bearable in the freezing evenings. We even took our TV out there and had a winterized Super Bowl party.
We've also had memorable cross-country skiing at the Virginia Meissner Sno-Park. Tons of well-groomed trails, excellent snow conditions and friendly fellow skiers. Truly one of the best cross-country skiing venues I've skied in my 50-years plus of enjoying this heavenly sport. And it's only a 30-minute drive from home!
I've also biked on many of the bike trails in the area. They will keep me busy and happy for as long as I'll be riding. And kayaking, too! Lakes and more lakes and rivers. We are in outdoor sports heaven.
And then recently, something way beyond our expectations happened.
We live in a small cul-de-sac in the southern part of town; just six homes. Arriving during the pandemic was weird—and perfectly understandable. We are used to friendly welcomes, cookies, "so glad you are heres" from everyone. None of that. I did have some fun with Bill out in the middle of our street a few times, but that was about it. No, there were a few hellos and waves, but hardly enough. I think it's been a combination of wanting to be careful, not wanting to offend anyone and I think this may also be a habit so many of us have taken on. Being outgoing and social is not part of what has been happening for nearly two years.
Then a miracle.
A young man moved in next door. One day he saw us on our porch and walked down to say hello—smiling all the way.
"Hi, I'm Nick." That was the beginning of a lifetime friendship. We all felt it. Nick is 24 years old and recently arrived from San Diego. In just the few months he's been here, he's met most of the neighbors and was already organizing a neighborhood gathering. This new, young guy from San Diego was about to change our little world. He organized (sort of) a neighborhood gathering. A date was set (sort of) and on that date (a bit overwhelmed) he asked if we'd host the party on our back porch.
People we have never met arrived—15 of them. Food was not well organized, either. We had Nick's wonderful potatoes, my famous Israeli salad and enough beer. That was it and it was magical. We sat around the fire, told stories, laughed a lot and truly had a neighborhood-changing evening. So many thank yous and hugs. All because of Nick!
As I look out my window into the back yard, Nick is out there finishing up the wood shed he's making for us. It will hold four cords of firewood that will help to keep us warm this winter.
We are so blessed to be here!
—Burt Gershater is a counselor, leadership trainer, speaker and writer. He can be reached at [email protected]