I've always thought it somehow, well, considerate when the Powers-that-Be in the universe match the weather to one's mood. It's somehow more satisfying to be depressed when it's dreary and rainy outside, or if birds are chirping in the sunshine as I skip happily along the street. There's some kind of cosmic symmetry, a symphony of symbolism and emotions, that makes me feel as if all is right in the world. Or perhaps just that everything is properly ordered -- the global-emotive equivalent of clothing in a closet arranged by color.
So it was with my re-entry to Phoenix.
The entire flight back from Philly, I was lost in thought. Of course, the truth was that everyone on the plane was lost in thought. But everyone else was wondering where the "air marshals" were sitting and if the dandruff on the person's shoulder in front of them was actually anthrax. My thoughts were elsewhere.
I was thinking about the future, and about how it is tangled up in the past: about how a door shutting in your face frequently leads to something else. At the moment, you see only a gate slammed shut, and only later is it clear to you that it was that painful closing that led you through another door, something that turns out to be, in fact, much better than what you thought you wanted behind door #1.
One door turns out to be better than what you thought you wanted behind door #1.
It's as if God beckons you to choose what, really, is just the consolation prize. And you have to learn to hope against hope that you're able to see the big picture. If only we could, I mused, if only we could see that the twists and turns of fate -- painful or confusing as they might be while we walk them -- are part of a greater plan.
When the plane approached Phoenix from Flagstaff (we oddly approached from the north, rather than from the usual east), we'd been flying in a fairly heavy cloud cover for an hour or two. The captain announced our gradual decent and then the clouds seemed to give way suddenly. Below us was spread Phoenix, twinkling in the half-light of dusk, sunlight playing itself out on the White Tanks, the McDowell Mountains, the Superstitions, South Mountain, the chain of red mountains near the zoo... all of a sudden the clouds weren't there and I had this view of an enormous sea of glimmering lights -- the city -- surrounded by the seam of purplish-looking mountains, where it seemed I could see every crag and face.
My head pressed against the window, my breath literally taken away.
I jerked my neck backward and when I looked again, I saw a more realistic view -- the city closer, the mountains less distinct.
Weather symmetry again: the vista below me was pregnant with possibility.
The view, though gone, had left a quiet place in me.
If only we were able to see our lives from above, I sighed to myself. I had spent a month moping about having no job prospects, second-guessing my decision to resign in protest, sure that the people I'd irritated at work would get me black-listed, telling any prospective employer that I was a trouble-maker/whistle-blower. And worst of all, no movie would ever be made about my courageous stand, in which Janeane Garofalo would play me.
I was sure that Swank would get me black-listed as a trouble-maker/whistle-blower.
Eleven days ago, I didn't have the faintest idea of where I'd be... in Phoenix or in Philly, with a job or without one. Everything had seemed totally up in the air, unsettled, undefined and decidedly uncomfortable.
Then, without clipping a single want ad, I'd gotten two job offers in a week -- one tailor-made to bring me home to Philadelphia and my family, and the other, seemingly too good to be true, writing and editing for the weekly women's feature section for the Arizona Review, a Phoenix daily newspaper.
My manifesto, as my dad had taken to calling my letter of resignation, resembled a shampoo commercial on TV. It had been forwarded by my sister to her friend Brenda Neuberger who forwarded it to someone else, who forwarded it someone else, who forwarded it to someone else, until it finally was forwarded to Kelly Walker, one of the features editors at the newspaper, who -- coincidentally -- couldn't find a replacement for the section's main writer, who had resigned a month before to take a job at the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
After I sent them more writing samples and spoke at length, Kelly and I had basically hashed out the details of a job that seemed all but mine.
Smiling, I reminded myself to keep note of all this the next time I felt hopeless. Just as the city looks so different from above, so do our lives. All we see is our immediate pain, and we can't see where it's all leading.
All we see is our immediate pain, and we can't see where it's all leading.
The next morning, I went to the downtown offices of the paper to meet with Kelly and another editor. They essentially offered me the job on the spot, and with the extra benefits, I even ended up making slightly more than I'd been making at my job previously.
To celebrate, I walked two blocks over to a small florist and bought two obscenely huge bouquets of liziantha, roses, Gerber daisies and delphinium -- one for me and one for Rina, who'd invited me for Shabbat dinner.
Still gliding on a sea of disbelief at my good fortune (coming on the heels of the Four Weeks of Moping), I tried to explain my airplane epiphany to Rina while we set the table. As usual, she was expecting a table-load of people -- countless invitees, and then Steve always brought home more from synagogue services.
Rina nodded seriously as I explained.
"I spent almost my whole trip brooding," I said, "which now seems so stupid. I could have been that much more present with my family."
"Do you know what else this applies to?" she asked.
I shook my head.
I wasn't sure what she meant.
"So you squandered the quality time you had with your family because you were too busy worrying about your future. Instead, you avoided people a lot of the time because you were embarrassed about not knowing what you were doing, and you felt sorry for yourself when you could have been doing things. It's the same with dating."
"So when you feel hopeless or discouraged about dating, you have to remind yourself: you didn't know where your help was coming from, but it came. If you got a letter from God tomorrow that said, ‘Okay, Jess, you are going to meet Mr. Right on such and such a date, and in the meantime, please learn all you can to be ready for him and the life you're going to build together,' you wouldn't be nearly as disheartened if you get hurt or disappointed in dating, because you know that the right one is coming. You'd be free to take advantage of the time you have now to make yourself the kind of woman you want to be."
You can take advantage of the time now to make yourself the kind of woman you want to be.
"My mother said something similar," I said, blanching a bit.
I folded the last napkin and put it under a fork just as Steve started to walk in with the hoardes of guests. Rina had already pre-chastened me for my habit of sitting silently at crowded tables or, an equal sin, hiding in the kitchen under the pretext of helping.
Ari, Rina's 5-year-old, let go of Steve's hand and ran over to me, crushing my knees in a bear hug. I bent down to hug him back. When I stood up, I found myself facing a dark-haired guy with a slightly wolfish face and startlingly green eyes.
"Jessica, this is Joel Rabkin," Steve introduced us. "Joel, this is Jessica Shaeffer, the Review's newest reporter."
"Nice to meet you," he said, somewhat shyly.
"Uh, hi..." I said, suddenly conscious of Ari wound around my leg and the half folded napkins I was clutching in one hand.
Okay, God, I thought silently. I know I'm supposed to work on this patience thing, but since I'm a quick learner, does this mean I get to fall in love with him?