The Shape

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

So many gardens live in the memories of my life journey. There was the garden of my youth in Montreal, where my mother painted a vibrant oil of me at 15, relaxing in a striped canvas chair amid the lush summer greenery. Adjacent to our garden was an empty lot where my dentist Dad planted vegetables – still a victory garden now that World War II had ended and he was back from a four-year tour in England (including hospital time for a serious injury). How we reveled in that garden! What can rival the taste of sweet peas snapped fresh from the pod? Or ripe tomatoes off the vine? Or the tallness of corn? What a change from wartime apartment living where our downstairs neighbor pounded on the ceiling with a broom if my sister and I were too noisy!

Then there were the beautiful gardens of my married life. So many of my children’s birthday parties were celebrated there in our first house on rue Capitaine Bernier (and later in the lush garden behind our Georgian-style house fronted by white-pillars in the Town of Mount Royal), complete with lollipops hanging from the willow tree, lots of delicious food, and happy splashings in the large, above-ground pool. So many loving people to share our joy as they lounged around our gardens, savoring the summer sunshine months in Canada, forming large circles the better to share their stories of pleasures past and present.

Years later, there was the lovely garden of my Toronto house. Not only did a fragrant rose garden centered in the middle of that expansive green lawn bloom every year in June and September of the decade I lived in that house with its stained glass windows, but the garden also backed onto a manicured city park dotted with walking pathways. It made my own garden seem vast. Only now my children were scattered in Montreal, Vancouver, and California. But they visited often. “It feels like home,” they would say.

Yet today, when I am asked if I miss Canada, this is what I miss: the close familial circles that marked the youth of my children, both indoors and outdoors, in the happy moments of our lives. I have recounted some of them in my book, Cryo Kid: Drawing A New Map. Many of those I wrote about in those gardens of long ago are gone from this world. My memories, however, still live on. And I am so fortunate that new memories are accumulating to augment – not replace – the remembrance of things past. I will never forget, for example, “The Shape” in my daughter’s spacious garden in Sherwood Forest, Los Angeles, where there is summer almost all year long — even when the California-born residents call it winter.  It is also the home of my grand-daughter, Samantha.

This is where The Shape has formed in the poolside patio under a canopy that shields it from the strong sun. It is composed of a large group of loving people gathered closely for ease of conversation – and just to be together — in a circle of comfortable chairs. It is a shape that has formed because they all love Samantha. The people who make up this Shape are all connected to her through the marvels of modern medicine. They are her biological family. Her natural mother is Janet. Her biological father – who, together with his wife Sara, has his own two children as well – Benjamin and Harrison — is called Jeff.  Samantha adores the young boys. (“They are my half-brothers, you know,” she is proud to tell people.) She has come to love Jeff and Sara too and the rest of the biological family. They are all part of The Shape that has formed in the poolside patio.

There is Ila, Jeff’s mother, and Allen, Jeff’s father, and Holly, his second wife. They are all Samantha’s biological grandparents. Then there is Andy, her biological aunt, and her partner, Larry. There is Bonnie, Sara’s kind mother, also thrilled to be part of The Shape, even though there is no biological connection, and Sara’s dad, Ken. Most important, there is the warmth of acceptance, of the open arms extended, and the belief that there can never be too much family, that there is lots of love to go around. And, of course, there I am too – Samantha’s natural grandmother. (Bert, Samantha’s natural grandfather, passed away two years ago.) Often too, there are Shelley, my daughter and Janet’s sister, and Ira, my son-in-law, with their two children, Joshua and Rachel. There is my daughter, Susan, also Samantha’s aunt and sometimes my daughters, Laura and Ruth, visiting from Vancouver, B.C.  We all have a good time eating and swimming and laughing together. Or just relaxing. In fact, all the people who make up The Shape are very happy to be here beside our pool in one grand circle.

The only being who is not so sure about this presence is our red-headed dog, Penny. She is a wavy Labradoodle, half poodle and half Australian Lab. Normally, with those two halves kicking in, she has enough energy to fuel a rocket ship. Now she is quivering somewhere between suspicion and caution. She has just emerged from the side door that exits our kitchen with the expectation of jumping joyously into the pool. Instead, from the other side of the garden, she spies something unfamiliar. An awesomely large, circular, closely held Shape! Its back is turned to her. She has never seen anything like it before.

What strange thing could be lurking in our garden? She can’t make it out from afar. It’s certainly not a squirrel. Much more ominous. So she surreptitiously creeps forward, step by step, her body gradually lowering closer and closer to the ground. Now she is on her belly, moving forward bit by bit like a soldier in combat. Even though she is really scared now, she will protect her family. Her green-brown eyes narrowed, emitting a low growl, she surveys The Shape.

But to Penny’s surprise, The Shape turns itself around to welcome her into its circle. Oh, these are people, after all, loving people. Penny likes people. She licks hands and faces to welcome them. In return, there are lots of loving pats and hugs. Of course, she is given some treats for being such a good guardian. Everything’s okay. Penny can jump in the pool now and splash around without any worries, and The Shape can come anytime to her sunny garden in Los Angeles. And have they seen the roses (and oranges and lemons) this year?

Wishing you all, friends old and new, much happiness in the gardens of your own lives, and in whatever pathways you choose to follow, and many blessings in the calendar year 2019!

©Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.