Man at midlife making second half matter

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Randomness (Finding My Religion)

As a new resident of South Carolina’s Charleston region, I am trying to find “community” and connect with people. That gave me the impetus to dial up religion.

I found an historic Reform Jewish congregation in Charleston to meet fellow Jews. As a by-product, perhaps I would also rediscover my religion.

So during Hanukkah, I went to my newly selected synagogue and attended the post-services social event. It was a challenge to meet people, as almost all congregants were KahalKadoshSynagogueengaged with family and friends. I loaded up on desserts and stuffed myself first – even if I didn’t meet anyone with whom to connect, I’d at least leave satiated, I figured. I roamed the room without finding an unattached person. Then I positioned next to an official-looking woman with a name tag hoping to squeeze in an introduction, but she never broke from her conversation.

Finally, as the crowd began to dwindle, I randomly approached a table of four who were lingering, retirees older than me, sat down uninvited and introduced myself. I got lucky. Two of the congregants lived in Summerville, where I live, about 25 miles from the downtown Charleston congregation and likely where few other congregants live. And one of those whom I met made it her mission to welcome me to the area and serve as my de-facto tour guide and social planner. She refers to herself as a Southern Jew, having grown up in Augusta, GA.

The next day, she invited me to join her at the Summerville Farmer’s Market, and for a tour of the historic downtown Summerville and the local history museum. Along the way, she introduced me to every market merchant, business owner and museum volunteer she knew.

She linked me to the loosely affiliated Jewish community in Summerville that she helps to organize and connected me with a Jewish teacher who I will soon meet. The next weekend, she invited me to join a weekly liberal political gathering at a coffee house/roastery and musical performances at a couple of funky breweries.

And she is rescuing me from a lonely Christmas by inviting me to join other local Jews, Buddhists and agnostics for the traditional Chinese restaurant Christmas Day meal.

I’m not so much of a lapsed Jew as an ambivalent Jew, at least when it comes to practicing my religion as an integral component of my life. I identify with my Jewish heritage, ancestry and culture; I haven’t with ritual, dogma, tradition and weekly devotion. I’ve interspersed my occasional efforts at integration with Jewishness with other attempts at a more faith-based life with other denominations, seeking connections, a sense of community and a deepened spirituality more than any particular religiousity.

I’ve done stints at a Unitarian congregation, which made sense during my interfaith marriage, and a progressive-minded non-denominational Christian congregation, largely because of its Men’s Fraternity, upbeat atmosphere and focus on modern-day relevance.  But each time I drifted away, from the Jewish congregation because I felt strangely detached as a “non-observant Jew,” from the Unitarian group when having young children diverted attention, and from the Christian church because I couldn’t overcome my discomfort with its emphasis on Jesus.

I’ve circled back for another as yet fledgling venture at Judaism, my natural place in the religious world. Ironically, perhaps coming to the Deep South, where Jewish congregations are scarce compared to my previous home in the Northeast, will help me find my religion and faith community.

If that does happen, my random encounter with my new Southern Jewish friend likely will be a big reason. Even if I don’t, she already has made me feel more welcome in my new community and continues to make suggestions for connections based on my interests (and even non-interests, including Carolina Shag dance classes).

Some believe nothing is random; others that everything is random. Each has merit. If nothing is random, everything has meaning. And if everything is random, it stands to reason that meaning is inherent in randomness, unless one believes that the only meaning is that there is no meaning.

Damn those philosophical brain-twisters that cause cerebral logic-center headaches! All I know is that I’ll take random good fortune any time it comes my way, and my random meeting was one of those times.



It takes a conscious effort to maintain friends. It’s not something I’m necessarily good at, and always something I say I want to do better. It’s one of those New Year’s Resolution kind of things.

You have to care for relationships, like watering a garden – friends as well as family members and intimate partners – or else they shrivel up and die, or at least lose all the energy that makes them worthwhile to maintain.

That’s why in recent years I have made occasional pilgrimages from Maryland to NewNYTrip_SneeAndBuddies York, from where I just returned for a weekend visit with old friends. Beforehand, I often go through the tired litany of reasons in my head debating whether I should make the trip: Am I too busy to spend the time? Do I want to spend the money on a train? Do I want to spend five hours traveling each way on a cheaper but cramped bus? What if we hit New Jersey or New York traffic? What a nightmare!

And then, I always decide to go. And I’m always glad I did.

Last weekend, I met my roommate from college in Manhattan for lunch and a walk to his office, re-acquainting and catching up on his family and professional life. Then I spent the rest of the weekend with my roommate from my post-college sportswriter job in Florida, bumming around the city and the suburbs, scoring some free biscotti from a student he teaches whose family owns a Greenwich Village Italian restaurant. On Sunday, we convened with another old Florida journalist roommate for another trip into the city.

It was great to see three old friends and reconnect. Spending time and surrounding ourselves with good friends, people you can confide in and care about and who support you, is one of the keys to happiness, especially as we get older and maniacal career pursuit may no longer carry the same value or satisfaction.

I’m pledging to keep in better touch with and visit friends – local and distant — more often to keep the relationships alive and healthy. The only stumbling block is excuses that don’t hold water, but I’m sure all of us make them and believe in them. It’s an easy goal to say; taking action, as in most things in life, is the challenge.

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