The prevailing belief among today’s scientists—astronomers, physicists, geologists—holds that all matter existing in the universe, in the past, the present and the future, was created at the exact instant the singularity that would become the universe decided to become—popularly called the big bang.
A consequence of this belief is the presumption that all we know and have known—will ever know—has always existed and will exist always, albeit in ever changing forms. It has been said we are made of the stuff of stars. It is staggering to realize that trillions of atoms have traveled billions of light years through countless star systems to arrive at the instant when they miraculously assembled to create the entity you know as you. Upon the death of anything—a flower, a bird, a person, a star—the essence disbands to a pile of atomic dust, until the atoms are called upon for their next assignment. Matter may not be created or destroyed. That which comprises you is scattered to the winds, one day to join other atoms assembling as something altogether different—a boulder, a fish, a molecule of water, a maple leaf.
That we are comprised of atoms both so numerous and enduring leads to speculation that we all share a bit of the essence of those created before us. We consist of bits and pieces of a great and noble heritage–Moses, Jesus, Plato, Shakespeare, Mozart, Jefferson, Dickens—and awful, horrible figures as well, Genghis Khan, Torquamada, Jack the Ripper. Mercifully, the angels of our better nature govern the overwhelming majority of us.
We are profoundly fortunate and blessed beyond comprehension. In a universe that undoubtedly hosts life in many other venues, and in inestimable forms and on a myriad of levels, we have come to be on this glorious blue-green sphere in space.
We are alive at a time when the superstitious fears of our ancestors have yielded to serious investigation that has just begun to broach the threshold of elementary understanding. Still, in our world pestilence and poverty, hatred and xenophobia, are yet to be defeated. Too many children still dig in dirt to find bugs to eat. Here are we, born and still standing in the United States of America, free to become all we are capable of being. Our children and our freedom wonderfully guarded by what may well be the greatest work of mankind—a constitution that remains not a document, words on parchment—but is in fact a living breathing vibrant entity.
How amazing, then, to realize that our parents, or their parents before them, were drawn to this land like a bee to honey, pursuing the promise of freedom and prosperity. If they discovered the former, too often the latter was determined to be beyond their reach—their fortitude satisfied to patience at the prospect of seeing their progeny attain levels of success of which they could only dream.
New to this land, and shoehorned into teeming tenements and cold water railroad flats, they pursued in summer a vision that brought bittersweet memories of the “old country.” Less than a hundred miles to the northwest, in the counties of Sullivan and Orange and Ulster, they found an untouched paradise. What might have struck them first at the blessed sight of pristine streams, bountiful fruit orchards, endless green meadows and mountains of birch and pine? How they must have delighted to the crisp, clean air, and the cool snap of the summer evenings that were awash with a million stars that were invisible beneath the lights of the city.
Some of these “greenies” decided to stay. They bought hardscrabble farms—both produce and dairy farms—and worked long hours the year round. A few of these families owned the names that would one day adorn the great dowager hotels of the Catskill’s—Grossinger, Brown, and Kutsher. Others slowly built upon their farmhouses—adding a few shacks or “bungalows” each year, until they’d sufficiently expanded to justify the building of a casino, a handball court, a swimming pool. These families gradually surrendered their pursuit of chickens, dairy and produce, and evolved into “hosts”—the owners of the more than one thousand bungalow colonies that would exist in the summer world that would become known as the “Borscht Belt.”
That these pioneers arrived together and in short time were able to recreate a fair but improved replica of their old world—the shtetl—here in America is nothing short of a miracle. For what else was a bungalow colony than a duplication of the shtetl, a small community where everyone knew everyone else, and all shared the bonds of support, love and caring (of course, with a bit of loshen hora for spice)?
The inestimable joys and dramas that played out through those many Catskill summers are mostly lost to us now, save for the wistful memories that visit us still each time we see a fresh bowl of summer fruit, or hear a child splash in a swimming pool, or see the crack of lightening just before a summer thunderclap. Yet, I take a special solace in the incontrovertible evidence that tells us we will all someday be a part of something else, something other than what we have been. We will recycle and rebuild and exist, in some shape or form. It is unexpectedly comforting if a trifle daunting to contemplate this vision of eternity. Yet, consider this—old friends from our long absent youth will gather again, each sharing a part of the other. The essence of loved ones will return, and mingle with the molecules of those who have long yearned for their warm smile and soft touch, coming together to be born anew in this remarkable universe of ours. Is it too wistful to believe we may yet be granted our most heartfelt desires? We might then reform and recreate those magic paradises of our youth—and we all be together once again—not in a parallel universe that forever eludes our touch, but in a very real world. Yet, this time around we will be all that we had beheld and loved and cherished and lost—a part of each of us in every apple tree, in each droplet of sweet summer rain, in every salamander scurrying along the blacktop after a Catskill storm. We will be the lawn and the fruit and the ball field and the swings. We will comprise the casino and the flowers and the stars that so brilliantly illuminate the nights. Our atoms will gather and blend to be the birds and the jasmine and the smooth rocks that a child will skim across the perfect surface of a mountain lake. And in this God given orchestration of rebirth and renewal we will all live forever.
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