Today is Groundhog Day, in a month short on days but long on holidays. This year we even have an extra one, “Leap Day” on February 29.
Next week is Tu B’Shevat, an obscure Jewish holiday that was used in ancient times to determine when tree-bearing fruit became “kosher” (fit to be eaten) and, in modern times, marks a day for planting trees in Israel. It’s the Jewish equivalent of Arbor Day, which falls on April 27 this year (in case you wondered). I remember my father telling me, around the time the State of Israel was established in 1948, that we should plant trees there.
I recently went to visit a friend of mine who is recovering from some health setbacks. He is living temporarily in a downtown Boston apartment building that specializes in short-term rentals. I couldn’t get the first elevator to move, so I switched to another and made my way to the 38th floor.
I enjoyed seeing my friend. After the visit, I pushed the down button, and the elevator arrived carrying two people, a man and woman. “This is my first time in this building,” I said, as if that information would somehow be of interest to two total strangers. The woman replied, “It’s nice here. People are very friendly.”
As we slowly descended, we continued to talk, just casual conversation. I assumed they were from out of town and asked where they were from. They said New York state. They’re just living in Boston temporarily.
“We don’t know how long we will be here,” the woman told me. The man explained, “My sons are getting new hearts.”
As we stepped into the building lobby, I wanted to know more. “Where are they?” I asked. “How old are they?” The father told me that the two boys, ages 18 and 15, are at Children’s Hospital. The older one plays soccer and already has his new heart. The younger one is waiting for his. The father added, “It’s a congenital problem.”
I thought to myself, This is really something. I get on an elevator, make a meaningless comment, and now I’m in the middle of a conversation that’s about as meaningful as it gets. “How are you holding up?” I asked. The woman replied. “We’re doing ok. He’s the father, I’m the stepmom.”
After meeting the husband and wife in the elevator, I decided to observe Tu B’Shevat this year by planting two trees in Israel in honor of the boys. You can have them planted in different forests – I picked the Children’s Forest.
The week after next it’s Valentine’s Day. According to the U.S. Greeting Card Association, approximately 190 million valentines are sent every year, and that doesn’t include e-valentines. If you add the ones made in school, the number goes up to a billion.
Make that one more. The heart is the symbol of the holiday, and even though I don’t know the boys’ names, this is my valentine to them.