Temple Court is a special place in Brooklyn. Just a block long, the street terminates in a dead end which makes it feel a bit like a large courtyard. This block is lined with turn-of-the-century or pre-war framed row houses. The houses are neat and narrow, each trimmed in different colors. Since there is no throughway, it is quiet and peaceful. Neighbors amble across the street, visiting one another, gathering to chat and catch-up. “A little like Mayberry, perhaps?” we thought, a little skeptical. Hmmm, the neighbors said, “More like a cross between Mayberry and Tales of the City.” This is good.
Temple Court and surrounds will be a supportive home base for Stephen and Mooki, and the boys. There are young families and older retirees on the block; there are plenty of children who will likely become playmates and friends. Yoni’s closest friends live nearby (his buddy Rain is just around the corner) and already they have taken to the “courtyard” with their games – no worries about cars. Toby has made friends with staff of the pizza joint on Prospect Park SW – the owner (who also sports a bald pate) has invited Toby to help make pizza with him. We hope Toby can make a date to do so soon. Just a little more than a block away, Prospect Park beckons. A two minute walk brings you to Lonelyville, a coffee shop that gives independent coffee purveyors in Seattle a run for their money. Mike, who runs a grocery/deli next door (a picture of Mike with the Mayor is prominently displayed – “he’s my uncle”) creates excellent sandwiches and greets us as if we’ve been in the neighborhood forever. Wahlid and Maria, and their family of sons, run a competing grocery/deli even closer to the house – they are hardworking and kind, and we depended on them for all the basics during those first 10 days of moving in. They, too, know about Toby and are very eager to get to know him.
The Temple Court neighbors have been amazingly welcoming. Even before moving in, many had already read about Toby on the blog and all look forward to meeting him. Without exception, the neighbors offered assistance and encouragement. When we generated far too much trash in the first few days of moving in, the neighbors quickly distributed bags among themselves to ensure the sanitation crew would leave none behind. Alec and Debby next door purchased a “Haveaheart” trap for the feral cats in the yard and delivered it to us; they loaned a bike and insisted I “take a breather” in the park. Karen across the street brought bright geraniums and rich warm autumn mums for the backyard. Sheila directly opposite offered access to her ISP when Stephen needed the assist. Carmella and Riva plan to join the dinner brigade (“It will be SO easy – we don’t need to find parking; we’ll just walk dinner across the street!”). Temple Court is a community, and I fervently believe that Stephen and Mooki will gain strength from this further expansion of the universe of caring souls around them.
It was a profound experience to be with the family during the move. I was deeply affected to meet the friends who help day in, day out. Every evening, another smiling countenance arrived bearing sustenance. Since April, this gift of dinner has arrived daily. Now approaching 200 days, the community has made a tremendous contribution to the well being of the family. I am reminded that everywhere on earth, families are sustained by the “breaking of bread” together. Meals are sacrosanct in all cultures — they bond family members to one another, they make friends of strangers, they provide respite from troubles. This gift nourishes Stephen and Mooki and their family spiritually and emotionally, as well as physically. “They saw God, and they ate and drank.” (Exodus 24:11) In my experience, this support of food and drink allows the family to experience blessings even as they endure deep suffering. I know they are extremely grateful.
So many helped with the move. When I arrived, the house on Temple Court was filled with boxes and boxes and boxes of belongings – most packed and delivered by Oz Moving & Storage. This company helped tremendously – packing the bulk of their belongings carefully, delivering it safely. (How many books can one family own!!!???) The charge for doing so was deeply, deeply discounted. On the days spent at the hospital for Toby’s sixth round of chemo, Mooki’s parents, friends and supporters (some total strangers!) swept into 1st Place to pack up the last clothes, toys, bath items, dry goods, refrigerated/frozen foods and bring them home to Temple Court. I arranged to meet helpers at 1st Place, and even though we’d never met I knew who they were in an instant. I would glance at the driver as they turned onto our street, and could feel the connection – “Oh, that must be Leslie!” “Here’s Tova and all the kids she’s brought to help!” “This has to be Deb!” Others called – “How can we help?” Small gifts of aid made all the difference: Sara and Geoff arrived late one evening and tore down and bundled boxes for recycling. Doing so spared me time to work inside. All of us, the helpers, talked. We laughed, we hugged, we worked. It felt like a tremendously large and loving family – and it is.
All of this support and organization made unpacking and setting up a breeze.
Which brings me to my closing remarks about this family. Stephen is a remarkable man and Mooki is an amazing woman. It is a privilege and honor to know them; it gives me great joy to love them. I am blessed to know each of them better today than I did a month ago. I cannot begin to comprehend their pain, worry, fear, anger, and love. They suffer, they persevere, they do what they must. We all know this. But to observe all of this at close hand was a lesson for me. They put in motion the move with good organization. But it was due to their grace – the acceptance and tolerance of others mucking with the most intimate details of their lives, their home and personal effects – that they achieved a smooth transition into their new home. While burdened by lack of sleep, long daily hospital trips and acute concern about Toby’s condition after his latest surgery and chemo, they managed to direct and contribute to unpacking; to share meals together; to be affectionate; to tell tales and laugh; to be kind and thoughtful; to patiently provide Toby with hours of stories, games and diversions. Stephen often turned to work for hours late at night, focusing his remaining store of energy on service to his clients. Mooki endlessly comforted Toby during the worst of his days. There were major snafus with the move, and in no instance did these foul-ups cause Mooki or Stephen to lose their cool and composure. Perhaps they betrayed a tiny trace of disappointment, but lesser persons would have been sent over the edge by the setbacks. Stephen and Mooki are strong, strong people. They have resilience, they have tolerance. They are forbearing. They parent with huge reservoirs of love and unusually generous spirits. Toby and Yoni are lucky to have them. We are lucky to have them in our lives.
Toby had a difficult time while I was there. I am grateful that he was feeling well the first days of my visit. We had numerous pretend train rides, and I was dumbstruck by his knowledge of and passion for the NYC subway system. Mooki and I had a wonderful trip from 1st Place to Temple Court via subway, accompanying Toby as he expertly rode his tricycle to and from the subway stops. His commentary on trains, elevators, and people ranged from hilarious to sober. He was stoic in the face of surgery and the ordeal of chemo. When told that his doctors would be taking out his lymph nodes (explained more simply than that), Toby listened intently and was quiet for a moment. Then, very serious and clear, he said, “Please ask them to put the medicine in my ‘tubie’ very slowly.” Doing this would make it less painful for him. While terribly ill for days, he remained mostly good-natured. Greatly tired and in pain, he did not complain but became quiet and reserved. For such a little person he seems to understand and accept that what he is going through is necessary. He is a good patient and manages his trials with dignity.
Mooki and Stephen can also take pride in Yoni and how well he is doing under these most trying circumstances. Yoni is a straight-A student. He demonstrates excellence in everything he undertakes. After the move, Yoni quickly organized his room, while completing summer homework and preparing for the start of school. I was so happy to talk with him about a book we both read this summer – "Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder. While he could have read other books for his summer project, he picked one with a challenging story line about the selfless work of Dr. Paul Farmer among the sick and poor of Haiti. Yoni did a superb job with his homework on this book – outlining critical information on a set of index cards that described the events and people of the book and synopsized the thesis – that one person’s actions can change the world for the better. Because of what his family is going through, Yoni is growing up faster than other kids his age. But that’s okay – he is doing this well and is becoming a mature and admirable person.
Thank you for listening to me. I want to thank everyone in the New York community for your love and support of Mooki and Stephen, and their family. Back here at home in Seattle, I feel such comfort that all of you are there for them. Bless you, bless you. Even more could be said - I will come back to comment again.
After sleeping in his new house the first night, Toby awoke the next morning and was carried downstairs by his mom. As he came down the stairs he said, “Hello house! This is a nice house!” And he is right. It IS a nice house . . . and it’s home.
Greetings at Rosh Hashanah. L'shanah tovah to all!
With much love,
P.S. I have probably misspelled some names - my apologies.
Ed Clark, Christmas Guest
9 months ago