|John Nichols and his "big sister"|
Simple. In the late 1960s, when I launched my first career as an early childhood educator, in Cambridge, MA, I met John, his ten siblings, and their parents, Joe and Stella Nichols. And I immediately claimed them as mine. Since then, neither time, distance, life, nor death has changed this belonging. So, I rearranged my schedule on short notice to catch up with my brother-visitor on his East Coast tour seeking galleries, institutions, festivals, and marketplaces to show his art.
Karen, John's youngest sibling, was among my first beautiful and brilliant Head Start preschool students. When Karen arrived on the first day of school with her slightly older sisters Esther and Linda, the elder sisters' expressions read: "What kind of place is this? Who is this child-woman who calls herself teacher?" Today, Karen, who has earned a degree in education from Gallaudet College where she met, then married a fellow student from Nigeria (now, a professor at their alma mater) is mom to three beautiful and brilliant kids.
Esther, John's eldest sibling, raised her family in the home where her parents raised their own family, then sold it and retired to Mashpee, on Cape Cod.
|Joe and Stella Nichols in their Cape Cod garden|
(during my visit, spring 2004)
The night before Yom Kippur we spoke, among other topics, about Unetaneh Tokef, a signature Hebrew prayer in the High Holy Day liturgy, and then Joe asked me to read it aloud in English translation. We spoke our usual brief time — more than an hour, and only ending the call because of my bedtime!
Stella, the woman whom I called "Inspiration" since our meeting that first Head Start year for Karen and for me, died 21 months ago, at age 83. She remains a tree of life — many roots, many branches, and my beloved surrogate parent, adored sister, treasured friend — a permanent force for good.
Family. Tracing blood lines is one way to define family. Marriage confers a family status, too. And then, there is a family of choice, the one we populate with people whom we claim and who claim us. It is easy to accomplish. Just reach across artificial divides. Remain open. And, only connect.
Josh Gomes is scoring points for Israel