I’m in New York for my cousin’s wedding. I was nervous about coming to a family event, which has be stressful and trying in the past. I’ve noticed that has been changing in the last few years. The biggest difference is now the next generation are young adults. They’ve grown up with me and accept me as I am in a way my generation, and more so the older generation cannot, because of their ideas of who I should be. This is incredibly liberating.

It turns out my Great Aunt S. is buried not from from the hotel I’m staying in. I was very close to her. I used to always hang out with her at these family events, so since she’s gone, they’ve were less fun for several years. My cousin D. drove me to the cemetery to see her, which was closed for shabbat. We went in anyway. It was strange to see her grave, and I didn’t expect to, but I cried. Also near her is buried my Uncle Abey who died when I was 14. He was a lot of fun, I remember him very well, and I had no idea it was the same cemetery and I had been there before. All of this was not fun but was that kind of thing that touches a part of me inside, a part that says, this is real, this is important.

Soon after that my brother & family showed up with my Mom and Stepdad. Of course, I’m always happy to be with my awesome Stepdad but the treat was my nieces. They are really different now, as young adults and not kids or teens, and really want to hang out with me. This wasn’t always true, and certainly wasn’t when they were awkward middle school kids. They are 18 and 22 and both gorgeous too. I had a great conversation with E. (22) who is thinking of being a field scientist. She just spent some time in the last few weeks in North Carolina trapping and taking data on alligators.

We all went out for a family dinner, the first cousins and offspring, and afterwards I joined my stepdad for a Manhattan at the hotel. He told bad jokes and tales of his various adventures. My Mom was actually convinced to have a drink and then she was kind of fun. I wish she’d drink more. A lot more.

Then my nieces and I went to the pool. It was about 9:30 at night. Some guys were gawking at them through the glass door. C.’s suit is very skimpy and she is very curvaceous, so there was a lot to see. Suddenly E. went to the door, opened it and said, “DO YOU WANT TO COME IN?”. Man, did that scare them off. I was impressed with her cleverness.

So, there’s a new dimension to the family thing which is, as long as my nieces are around, it’s a pretty good time.

People often say things at these events about “The Family” and “How we are” and sometimes “How us Jews are” and I think, you people don’t know. I am nothing like you. I can barely relate to you. I relate the best to my non-Jewish nieces and my Irish stepdad. How is that, when I am so Jewish? When Jewishness is so important to me?

I’ve been back in the U.S. long enough to readjust to my home environment. I’ve gotten used to some of the niceties of home. The spaciousness of things is a big one. The fact that I live on a city, but still on a wide tree-lined street, is very pleasant and something that doesn’t exist in Japan.

The human interactions in the U.S., especially with strangers, still is a source of stress because it’s so unpredictable. People can be friendly, hostile, funny, bitter — you have no idea what you’ll get. I notice that I, and quite a few people I know, dispel the uncertainty with humor. But even though everyone is not going to be kind a pleasant as in Japan, sometimes you have an interaction that is so creative and funny that it’s notable and memorable. This fits into the concept that in a country where everything is pleasant and calm, creativity takes a hit.

I have noticed that the calmness I felt in Japan is still with me. All that sitting in temples and visiting fox shrines has had a lingering effect. I feel less agitated in situations that usually send me through the roof. When I start to become tense, I tell myself it’s no big deal, take a deep breath, and think of Nishi Hongaji or Fushimi-inari. I seem to be able to release the tension in my body much more easily than I could before Japan. I hope this ability will remain withe me.