S hul places, time-honed, set in memory and tradition, if not quite in stone.

There’s a seat sale, but it’s more perfunctory than practical. Everyone knows their place: the rebbetzin at the mizrach vant, flanked by the families of the older congregants. Then a mix of younger ones, the chazzan’s family, neighbors of the shul. And some places near the doors for random appearances.

Our family is a younger one. For years we sit at a table near the mechitzah, with three other growing families.

The kids at my table are all in my school. It’s fun to meet in shul, wearing Yom Tov dresses and jewelry. In my earliest memories, we’re running around, “babysitting” younger siblings in the foyer, squeezing past shuckeling women to our mothers, The baby’s crying….

I remember swinging my feet on the maroon-backed chair, proud as punch the first time I managed the whole Rosh Hashanah Shemoneh Esreh. Soon, I stay longer, reading sticky notes in my machzor with translations and thoughts our teacher shared.

Later, I get an ArtScroll machzor. I want to understand davening in the language I know.

And then, wondrously, we’re young women. Back from sem. A girl from our table is engaged. Her finger sparkles. She’s heady; we are more serious.

The next year, she walks in breathless, heavily expectant, and now I’m the lucky kallah. I twirl the ring on my finger, davening out of a machzor with a brand new name, gilded pages, gilded dreams. My wedding is right after Yom Tov; would I be at her stage next year?

Apparently not.

Over the next year, two more from our table get married, and by Rosh Hashanah both are expecting more simchahs.

Something starts to pinch. But I’m not worried. I’ll be there soon.

Years pass, we run in different circles, my friends from school and I. The only time I see them is Yom Tov. They come just for shofar now, clutching sticky fists, one and two and three. Little girlies in frilly socks, boys with caps and oversized bow ties. They crowd in for 20 minutes of tekiyos, shushing and calming and stroking, and then head out, throwing longing glances behind them.

I don’t look back. I’m scared to cast my longing eyes out of my siddur, scared I’m going to start tearing into their wide Yom Tov smiles. I’m still on the same seat. I can stay the whole davening. I am not fighting exhaustion, divvying treats, mediating squabbles. I haven’t finagled some time here while a kind neighbor babysits, only for me to return the favor next tefillah. I can hear the lilting songs, the chazzan’s every krechtz. I am free. In a way that no one wants to be. I am unencumbered. Carrying the heaviest load of all.

Mussaf starts, the table is full, yet I feel so alone. The room has been cleansed of a whole decade of women, the twenty-plusses. You only come back in your thirties, when the children are old enough to babysit. I’m an anomaly in this shul, in this society, though there are others interspersed among the tables: an older single here, a divorced young woman there, and, out back, someone whose been facing the challenge of infertility for so long, I don’t know how she does it. I’m a lot younger, just scratching the prickly surface of this journey, and I don’t have half of her strength. How does she come time and again, bearing herself with quiet conviction, with such dignity? (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 560)