Thursday, December 22, 2011


The ribbon---
Now cut;

A neat snip of black cloth
On black cloth.
It disappears
Against a background of grief.

The ribbon---
Now cut;
It used to be torn.
A whole tapestry,
A whole life.
Ripped and frayed,
Separate from itself.
No neat edges
Or symmetry,
No patchwork grace.
Just tangled threads,
Broken strands,
Dark on darker still,
Seasoned with salt and ash.

That ribbon of black---
Now cut;
Threaded through with light
That dances on hard edges
And skims along soft folds,
Offering a pale benediction,
And a sacred comfort,
A holy silence---
In a ribbon of black
Shot through with light
And cut---
Now cut,
Now broken
And frayed
And ragged-edged,
Woven in grief and praise.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday Night Kitchen

In the center
Surrounded by the sizzle
and the hiss and the

Surrounded by voices and
Steam and flicker flames

A prayer of thanks.

We prepared the banquet
Laid the harvest in fragrant baskets there
Lingered among the sweet and
Liquid smells as the air

As the sun lowered
And the windows darkened
And the day quieted.

We lingered there
Nestled there
Around that center
Around that heart
And we rested.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Night of Fire and Glass

Words for Kristalnacht
09-10 November 1938

Stars littered the ground
Crystal fire
Shards of ice

The smoke of a thousand thousand years
Coiling upwards, twisted
With the memory of a People
Chosen once in light
Chosen again
In darkness
In ashes and in blood

Pounding rhythms shout out
Felt through soles 
Driving forward, driving onward
Faster and faster and faster, and pulled forward
Pulled ever onward
In a rush, at a run, rippling in shadow
It invades your blood,
That rhythm,
That pulse,
That pull and push
That wraps ‘round your heart
In pounding and pulsing rhythms
That cradle your source
Your soul

The darkness swallows the cries
Of a thousand thousand lights
A thousand thousand years
A thousand thousand sighs
Of love
Of hope
Of God

Leaving only broken glass
And crystal fire
And glistening stars to lead us

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Joy in the Empty Spaces

31 August 2011/01 Elul 5771

I miss my brother.  It has been almost a year now, and still, there are times when missing him threatens to swallow me whole.  In an instant, grief comes racing in from nowhere, and I am wrapped in solitary and breathless sorrow.  Mostly though, it is a gentle missing, filled with love and soft regret-- that he is gone, that my hand is halfway to the phone before I remember that he won't answer, that he will not see his nephew make that sometimes graceful, sometimes gawky leap from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, that there is a small emptiness where he once stood.

And what if he suddenly appeared, filling that empty space?  What would I say?

I have no idea.

I'd like to think that I managed, through grace and luck, to say everything I needed to say before he died.  Words like I miss you and I love you skitter through my head, fleeting as a summer shower.  All our words, all our thoughts:  spoken and unspoken, whispered and trumpeted in our pain and our hope, they were all woven together into the tight space of his hospital room, connecting him to us to God in some eternal tapestry of unutterable and awesome beauty.

I think.  I hope.

I pray.

I've prayed a lot this last almost-year.  I stumbled into that sacred dance of mourning, a stutter step of hesitation, growing in surety and ease, reciting such ancient words to the exaltation of a God who seems both near and far, present and not, just and merciful and cruel.  In the beginning, I wept-- great wracking sobs that stole my voice and my exaltation.  I wept-- and there were hands that reached out, in comfort and with grace.  And when I could not pray, could barely manage to say my brother's name, there were other voices to carry me, to lift me and sustain me and let me find my way.

Reciting Kaddish is no longer a staccato pulse, insistent and harsh and pounding.  Now there is a quiet grace note, starting low, gaining in depth and richness as I stand with eyes closed and fingers laced around my prayer book.  There is such power in this prayer!  I can feel my brother, close as light, as heat or love.  My sorrow washes over me like water over stone, clean and pure, no longer pooling, dank and cold at my feet.  I can feel God again, holy and waiting for me to start the dance, ready to catch me should I falter.

Just about a year.  It has taken me just about a year to find my way to this place of-- if not exaltation, then certainly of celebration-- of my brother, of God.  Even of God.

And now it's time to let my brother go.

Not his memory, or my love for him.  Not even of my sadness.  All this time-- of sorrow and grief and learning to find laughter and joy and hope again, I thought this was his last gift to me, a last lesson: learning to find joy in the empty spaces.  Every day, for eleven months, I have recited Kaddish.  I have stumbled and stammered my way through these words to honor my brother and his memory, to find grace and healing, to rest again in the palm of God's hand. 

Almost a year later, and I finally get that this has been about his journey, not mine.

For these eleven months, our mourning has allowed us to share in his soul’s journey, to help him find his way.  Now he must find that last bit of eternity on his own.   This is about his soul's journey-- to God perhaps, or to Home, or Heaven.  Perhaps everywhere all at once.  But it is his way to find.  We release him, in love and faith, into the sacred space of remembrance.  

We say zichrono liv'rachah: may his memory be for a blessing. He touched the hearts and lives of so many, and the world is different-- better-- because he was in it.  His memory will surely be a blessing.

But there is one other thing.  More than a blessing, let his memory be for a prayer: zichrono li't'filla.  Let his memory teach us to reach and strive and praise and celebrate and hope and love.  Every day.  Even as we mourn, perhaps because we mourn, let his memory be for a prayer--- of comfort, whole and holy.  

What would I say to my brother, if he appeared, if he paused for a moment just before he soars and leaps and dances with God?  I would say I love you; I miss you. And finally--

Let your soul find peace on your journey.
Let your memory shine as blessing and prayer.
And let us say: amen.

Zichrono liv'rachah v'li't'filla

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fear, Faith and a Really Big Sea: reflections on life, one year later

I originally wrote this post about a year ago.  The themes, for me, still ring true:  It's about fear.  It's about faith in the face of that fear.  It's about staring at the vast and implacable sea (of life, of the future, of the past-- pick a metaphor, any metaphor; they're all good, all true) and being stuck and being afraid and having faith.  It's about being forgiven, at last, and forgiving, all in the same breath.

The intervening year has been... interesting (in the Chinese curse sense of the word, their proverb (ie., curse) running something like "May you live in interesting times!")  It has been an interesting year of loss and grief and grieving.  I have camped along the barren shores of despair for much longer than I care to admit, and certainly much longer than friends have cared to hear.  Let's face it: I knew there was trouble when even I was bored with my recitation of woe.  

I was bored with it, and disgusted with it, and done with it, but apparently powerless to get out of it.  To move along, get over it, take down the tent and move to balmier climes.  

How could I not be sad?  How could I walk through a day and not feel as if my life were being ripped from my hands, my fingers flayed and bloodied as I tried so desperately to hold on?  How the hell was I supposed to let go?  Every time I convinced myself I had hit bottom at last, that I could not possibly sink any lower, I managed to find the trap door.  

There is always a trap door.  There is always lower.


I grieved for everything.  I grieved for nothing.  There was lost stuff, and much of that stuff was big and huge--- but stuff nonetheless.  There was the loss of people, friends who drifted away, some for no reason that I could discern.  They were in my life one day, gone the next, and I still feel their loss keenly.  I watched someone I love disintegrate into madness, and find (eventually) a path to healing and wholeness.  I witnessed my brother's death, a long, slow, courageous and transcendent journey that still leaves me breathless and uplifted and sad beyond words.

Like I said: it's been an interesting year or three.  

So the year turns, as it always does, and time flows in some holy and sacred river, and it is, once again, Passover.  There is beauty in that cyclical passage of time.  There is grace in getting to this season, again, of God's redemption.  Once we wandered a dark and empty desert, and then were brought home.  Once we were slaves, now we are free.  

Here's what I wrote a year ago:
I'm in one of those places: stuck, prickly, at the very edge of letting go, trembling with the effort to not tip over the edge into the abyss of the unknown, desperate to take that final leap of faith and soar towards light and wholeness. I am astounded, as always, when I think how inextricably intertwined my fear and my faith have become. I have heard (more times than I care to remember) that Fear (always pronounced with a capital F) is an absence of Faith. No. I think not. I demand Not. I am too intelligent--- God is too intelligent-- to demand unthinking blind faith like that, to insist that faith is a guard against fear.

Faith does not shield me from fear. Rather, it is a guard against Inaction. Fear is quite real. There are Monsters, real and scary. Always have been. They hide under beds and around corners, just out of sight. Barely glimpsed, more smoke and mirrors, but present nonetheless. Some are visible, some not so much. Some shout me down in the dark, loud and raucous and dissonant. Some whisper in my ear, sibilant and soothing, urging me to wander paths best left untraveled. Fear keeps the lights on at night and smells of sweat and tension and anxiety-- sharp and unpleasant. If the fear is great enough, it can keep me rooted and curled in on myself, covers pulled tightly over my head, unmoving. Paralyzed. Stuck. Tentative. Invisible.

But my faith: sweet and sure and graceful. It wraps around me like light, like breath, like life. It sometimes moves mountains. More often than not, it is just enough. Enough, not to beat back the darkness or vanquish the demons, but enough to put one foot in front of the other, to walk, however falteringly, forward. To know that, no matter what, I am enough, I will be ok.

And so, faith and grace being what they are, I think of my fear, and my stuckness, and I am reminded that it is Pesach (Passover). And in the midst of all of this darkness, there is also redemption, and release.

I got to tell the story of Nachshon at assembly a few Sundays ago at my synagogue. It is my favorite midrash, I think. (For those of you reading this who are now totally lost in the tangle of my narrative, a midrash is a rabbinic story, a device used to fill in some of the blanks and the holes in the Torah. Kinda folkloric, they are the stories behind the stories.) So, Nachshon-- he was a slave with all the other Israelites who found redemption at the hand of God. He was Let Go, with a capital L and a capital G, brought out with a Mighty Hand. He packed and didn't let the dough rise and ran, breathless and scared and grateful, away from the land of Pharaohs and pyramids and crocodiles and slavery--- ran into freedom.

And then he got to the sea. He and 600,000 other un-slaved people. Stopped cold by the Red Sea. It was huge, and liquid and deep. You couldn't see the other side. It was so big you couldn't see any sides. Just wet from here to... forever.

And behind him, when he (and 600,000 others) dared to peek: Pharaoh and his army of men and horses and chariots. And spears and swords and assorted sharp pointy things. We really can't forget the sharp pointy things. Even at a distance, the sharp pointy things loomed quite large in the eyes of Nachshon and his recently-freed brethren. Caught between the original rock anda hard place. Well, ok: between water and pointy metal stuff. At this point, I don't think anyone involved cared much about getting the metaphor exactly right. What they cared about was getting out from that perilous middle. Fast.

So Moses, because it was his job, went to have a chat with God. And just like that, Moses got an answer--- a Divine Instant Message. All that the Children of Israel needed to do: walk forward, into the Sea, that big, wet, deep forever sea. God would provide a way. "Trust Me," God seemed to say. "I got you this far, didn't I? I wouldn't let you fall now!"

And Nachshon and the 600,000 stood at the shivery edge of that Sea, staring at that infinite horizon in front and the pointy, roiling chaos of death and slavery behind them. And they stood. Planted. And let's face it: not just planted, but rooted in their fear and mistrust and doubt. They may have felt reassured by the image of God as a pillar of smoke or fire--- impressive pyrotechnics to be sure--- but the soldiers and the Sea were so there, so present, so much more real.

And then, in the midst of that fear and doubt, something changed. Nachshon, lately freed, trapped between death by water and death by bleeding, Nachshon leapt. He did the miraculous: he put one foot in front of the other and walked into the sea.  And the 600,000 held their collective breath, watching the scene unfold before them. Nachshon did what 600,000 could not  (or would not; that may be another blog altogether): he decided to believe, to have faith. To leap. And tho the water covered first his ankles, then knees, then chest, then kept rising, until he was almost swallowed whole, he kept walking, kept believing. And just when it seemed that Nachshon was a fool for his faith, would surely drown in that infinite forever sea, another miracle:

The waters parted.

The Sea split and Nachshon, so recently in over his head, he walked on dry land. And the 600,000 breathed again, in one relieved whoosh of air, and they found their own faith and followed Nachshon into and across the dry Sea to the other side.  And then the journey truly began...

I pray to have faith enough to walk into my own Sea--- of doubt and fear and darkness. I want to walk and feel the waters part, to be released from the tangled web of thought that holds me immobile and disconnected. I have learned, again and again, without fail: when I take that step, when I find the grace and the faith to put one foot in front of the other, to trust, as Nachshon did, I am carried forward, I am freed from my self-imposed bondage. I am enough, and I can walk again on dry land to freedom.

I think I am finally letting go, finally leaving the desert, stumbling at last along the narrow bridge to light and hope.  There is fear; yes.  But there is also faith and grace and redemption.  Even for me, there is redemption.

Once we were slaves, now we are free.

Chag Pesach Sameach.  Happy Passover.

19 April 2011

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

God of the Ocean

There was a time that I doubted the existence of God.

Hard to believe, I know. To be totally honest, it was less that I didn't believe in God and more that I wasn't quite sure that God believed in me. I wanted the God of Infinite Compassion. What I got instead was God's Evil Twin Brother. While I had little evidence of God's mercy and love as it played out in my life, I had ample evidence of how God (or His Evil Twin) was really trying to fuck with me. I knew, from an early age, that I was lost and alone, slightly broken and beyond repair. 

It was all God's fault. Truly, it was so much easier to deny God than to face the idea that I had been abandoned, so much easier to defy God than hunger for a redemption that never came.

And I defied God with a vengeance. I thumbed my nose at Him, ignored Her, talked trash whenever I could. Talked loudly, and with passion. I wanted to hurt God, just as God  had hurt me.  I vowed to never sing again - the one thing I had that had brought me any sense of peace and wholeness, the one thing that had led me on a shining and sure path to God and grace.  

I gave it up in a heartbeat. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I drank too much, in order to drown out the silence of God. And if not alcohol, anything would do: drugs, shopping, food, sex. I used everything I could to bolster my doubt, to delight in my heresy.

That'll teach Him.  Ha!

I spun through my life like a whirling dervish.  It was a mad dance, and I careened off people and places with equal abandon. I reveled in my dance, ratcheted up the speed.  I became a ghost in my own life, untouched and disconnected. Empty.

I carried that little pocket of emptiness with me everywhere. It was so comfortable familiar, like a worn old robe that slips on so easily, that drapes just right against the contours of your body - covering and concealing. I could forget about my war with God and just move faster into the empty, all sensation, devoid of meaning. One night, one day, again and again, stretching into eternity, pure and empty. And it was good.

I drank my way, stumbling and frenetic, with brief forays into over-indulgence of every kind, from Chicago to California. Fueled by the passion of social justice, I flirted with the belief that if I acted with integrity, that integrity would transfer to me, by osmosis or proximity or luck. I would feel unbroken at last. I hungered for wholeness, drowned it with alcohol, prayed to a God I was convinced was an illusion, who could not hear and who would refuse me at every turn.

And then I stood in the ocean.

We had taken an Adventure Day, we rabble-rousers, we agitated agitators. We took a day off from saving the world and drove down the coast from our offices in San Francisco to Santa Cruz, to play and cavort and drink.  We basked in the sun, let the salt breeze caress our pale skin, wandered the boardwalk without thought or care. We laughed easily, and teased mercilessly. We were released at last from the social and political battles that we had used to define us, and that had given us purpose for so long. We devoured the day and wandered into the mist of evening almost spent.

We ended where the earth ends, where earth and mist and water come together in ceaseless susurration and motion. No one had ever told me, this Midwestern child, how noisy the ocean could be. No one had told me how the ocean could excite every one of my senses, make them tingle and feel alive as if for the first time.  

I wandered away from my friends, drawn to the edge of the sea. )I stood there, the water lapping against my ankles, licking up my calves, the salt drenching my skin and tangling in my hair, the moon - huge and round, its golden light skipping along the waves in a path to eternity - the moon rising like a promise, surrounded by the laughing roar of water and sky. I stood there, in that vast and endless sea, in the gathering night, and met God, at last.

My God, at last, the God of Infinite Compassion, of light and sound and forgiveness. God of the Ocean.  

It was all so huge, so boundless! No one had ever told me. No one told me that, in the face of all that holiness, the truest prayer is not spoken but heard. And for the first time, I listened. I quieted and calmed my heart and my fear, and I listened my prayer, a whisper of moonlight and a shout of the tide. I was so very small against that moon-kissed horizon, and I felt comfort and peace and whole.  

I listened, and my prayer was forgiveness, my prayer was redemption. My prayer was love. I stood motionless, exhausted and enthralled. Empty still, but ready to be filled.  Broken still, but ready to be healed.  I listened a prayer again, and at last, there was love, and there was God.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Happy birthday to my beloved boy: a Mother's Love Song

My son turned twelve the other day.


A dozen years.  I stand in awe that he reached this milestone unscathed.  Just before his first birthday, my mother called, wondering what the theme of his party was going to be?  Theme?  One year olds have themed parties?  Really?  My suggestion of "one year no breaks, yay!" did not go over well.  We settled on football, a manly endeavor, appropriate enough for a boy.  The one year old boy who was a little freaked by the candle flame but really enjoyed smearing chocolate cake all over his face (after the candle was blown out, of course).  (I may struggle with my maternal instincts (or lack thereof), but I knew enough to not let the baby play with a lighted candle). He may actually have gotten some of the cake into his mouth, just before he passed out from a combination of sugar overload and the fever caused by the flu that apparently struck at the tail end of his birthday party.

Happy, cranky, cake-smeared, sated, snuffly and fevered.  One.  One year, no breaks.  What a miracle.

I was terrified the day he was born. After nine months of pregnancy (that felt like a thousand years), I was still not convinced that I had any maternal instincts.  At all.  Even as a little girl, I looked at the prospect of motherhood with some trepidation.  I never played with dolls.  In fact, I thought they were silly toys.  They did nothing, said nothing, fell over if you didn't hold onto them.  I saw no difference between the dolls of my girlhood and an actual baby.

Babies speak a language all their own, and there is no handy Rosetta Stone providing a key for translation.      How can any person have the capacity to distinguish all the subtle variations of their cries--- pitch and strength and length and whine and wail and squalling, wordless need?

They need to be fed.  Every day.  Many times a day.  They need to be cleaned, since they tend to drip fluids out of several different orifices, sometimes all at once.  I saw that green, bulbous sucky thing that was designed to vacuum mucous from the nose.  Eewwww.  Really: eewwww.  Let's face it: babies are bundles of endless and infinite need.

Dolls are one thing.  If they break, if a dress gets torn or a head gets pulled off, you can fix it.  Or get a new one.  Or send it to the island of toys we don't like anymore.  If they fall, it's no big deal.  Those eggs that they use these days in High School health classes, to teach kids about the awesome responsibilities of parenthood?  If you don't fake feed the fake baby, you get ten points taken off your grade.  That's it.  And then you go to your next class and move on with your day.  This does not flow with actual babies

Babies are small and defenseless and helpless and fragile beyond belief.  What if I broke him?

There were complications enough.  Given my vivid imagination, my somewhat dark personality, I had no trouble being the What If Awful-izer.  I spent hours thinking up worst case scenarios: what if this, what if that, what if what if what if, until I wanted to scream.  Delivery was no picnic.  More complications, and no drugs.  Dammit.  I begged for the epidural.  The only legal high I was going to qualify for, and I failed.  There was pain, and fear, and more pain, and hovering doctors and a hovering mother and a slightly green hovering husband and pain beyond belief and fear that filled me with ice and more hovering doctors and an emergency C-Section.

And then: my son.  My beautiful, beloved son.  Squalling and crying and covered in fluids that I don't want to  think about, even now.

He sounded like I imagine Heaven sounds, on a really good day.

And now he is twelve.  Relatively unscathed.  He is not quite as fragile as he was, not quite as defenseless.  I have not broken him.

I am far from a perfect mother.  I snap at him.  I yell and nag.  I am inconsistent.  My follow-through could use some work.  He watches too much television, doesn't eat enough vegetables and plays way too many video games.  He can recite all eleventy seven thousand Pokemon but can't remember if he brushed his teeth. He learns all the lessons I teach him.  All of them, including the not-so-good ones.  He is funny and smart and kind and loving and annoying and needy.

Yes, he needs me still.  He's no longer a baby, but he is still needy.  Needs to be fed, to be clothed and cared for. To be loved.  And I have managed to do this one perfect thing: to love my son unconditionally, without question or reserve.  Ever and always, as he finds his way and walks his own path through this world, he will find shelter in my arms and know, without doubt, that he is loved.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Feelings. Nothing more than feelings...

I have deleted about a hundred opening statements for this essay to date.  That I started it only a few minutes ago will give you some perspective on how freaking difficult I find this particular exercise.


Gah.  Blank stare into the middle distance.  Slight rise in heart rate (the physical heart, not the lumpy, squishy metaphorical, poetic version that gets all ooey-gooey, that skips a beat, that breaks, that sings, that does all those feeling things).  No, the elevated heart rate and thin patina of cold sweat come from the slightly panicky sensation that washes over me when I think about feeling.  My feelings, to be exact.  Yours are all well and good, honest, forthright, uncomplicated.  Mild.  Gentle, even.

Me?  I have to remind myself that, although I can feel mostly disconnected and disjointed and off-kilter and sad and lost and broke and a few thousand other things, the miracle is that I can "feel" at all.  I went for decades honestly believing that I didn't.  Or that my feelings went in a straight line between "fine" and "tired."  I spent a few eternities believing that my emotions were so powerful that if I allowed myself to actually feel them, they would, most likely, kill me.  They were Leviathan, a maelstrom of churning energy, an endless and infinite whirlpool that would suck me down and swallow me whole.  I invested in them all the power and capriciousness of an avenging God, waiting to strike out and smite me.

Talk about shut down!  It took me years to admit that "tired" is not an emotion.  Then it took me a few more years to figure out that I might actually have to learn how to feel something, anything.  As numb as I was, that gaping hole inside--- the one that tried to keep God out and trapped me in a tiny universe of one, the one that housed my self-loathing and self-doubt, the one that kept me enraptured with self-destruction and addicted to More, that blanketed me with isolation and whispered that I might as well drink, because alcohol at least smudged the lines of pain and left in its wake the slow burn of abject surrender--- that hole was leaking my stiff control into the real world and I just couldn't do it anymore.  I couldn't even stay numb.  

I had had glimpses of real joy, even amidst my pain.  I had allowed myself a few moments to hope that it could be-- would be-- better, and the gods did not come to crush me for my bit of presumption.  And so began my quest: to learn how to feel, how to be present and sit comfortably in my own skin.  I approached the task like I approach a still pond on a hot summer day:  toe outstretched, skimming the surface and testing the waters.  I splashed in the shallows for a while, water to my ankles, getting acclimated, getting wet, venturing out a bit farther in fits and starts, depending upon how brave I might be at any given moment.  

And so I learned.  In fits and starts, I learned.  Mostly.  I get happy and sad and mad and glad--- the basics, so I've discovered.  And I get wistful and silly and frustrated and bored and joyful and distracted and a thousand other things.  Sometimes singly, sometimes in weird pastiches that cycle a hundred feelings in an instant and leave me breathless.  I get to feel all that stuff, every day.  I stuck my toe in that dark and murky pool, eyes screwed shut, until I could bear to leap.  And I leaped.  And I was not devoured.  I lived to tell the tale.

So why is it, so many years later, that just when I think my head is above water, that my toes have found something solid upon which to stand, everything seems to have shifted, and that solid ground is nothing more than quicksand, sucking me under?  When the hell did this happen?  

I swear to God--- I am a strong and capable woman.  I am successful, frighteningly intelligent, witty as hell.  Why do I suddenly feel as if I'm mired in a bog, unable to function?  The worst part--- I can see myself holding the compass, the road  map, clearly marked with "Here be dragons" and "Beware the Swamps of Doom".  I am holding the damned instruction manual in my hands, dammit.  I know I have all the tools, right at my fingertips, and yet I seem so incapable of navigating my way through my life.

I know a lot of things, actually.  I know that this, too, shall pass.  I know that God is with me always.  That my only job, really, is to love my son and help him find his own path.  That there's nothing so bad that a drink won't make worse.  I know that I have been whole but now feel broken.  I know I have been caught, redeemed, loved, and now feel lost.  I know I still stutter and stumble and avoid the phrases "I don't know" and "I need help."

I know that the longest journey I've ever had to make is the one from my head to my heart.  It seems like an endless journey through a trackless, cold and lonely desert.

I've been here before.  In a thousand different iterations, I have stood in this spot, lost and lonely and afraid. And I am tired of this introspection.  Tired of this interminable quest to figure out what the hell is going on in my life, how I can feel happy in my life, where is God in my life, on and on, ad nauseum.At some point, it becomes self-indulgent, and I come off as a pampered prima donna (feel free to protest this point, eloquently (yet vehemently), that nothing could be further from the truth).  I am so tired of feeling like a tightly wound spring.  I don't know how to change this, so I avoid it and go numb.  I disconnect: one more piece of pain that I have to confront, and I just can't do it.  Not today.  I can only pretend to be brave for so long.

I hate having to admit this.  I am too old to dance with these ghosts again, too old for this bout of existential angst and self doubt.  I want to do it differently, to fix it, and it feels as if I have slammed into a mountain of glass.  I can't find a handhold, my feet slip and slide out from under me, leaving me prostrate and bruised.

But here's the difference:  all impotence aside, all quivery, fearful drowning-while-immobile, breathless and clueless and broken, I know one more thing:  in the face of everything, act.

And so I do.  In fits and starts, sometimes with feet dragging, I act; I move.  And then, I dive.  Dive inward, to find God and grace.  Leap upward, light the torch, search for a hand to hold in the darkness.  I ask for help to find a soft spot upon which to land.  How much more miraculous, more holy can it get?  How astounding, that in the space between breaths, I find peace and the world changes.  This is all holy space.  It is measured in the space between you and me.  It's all there, the sacred, the holy, surrounding us, connecting us, keeping us whole.  Keeping me whole.  If I can just commit, just trust, just forgive, just love, then I would know I was in the presence of God.

Life is not what I expected.  Life is.  That's the deal.  It's bumpy and messy and scary and happy and joyous and annoying and surprising, in infinite variety and subtlety. And most of all: changing.  I get to participate in that.  I get to do it well, fuck it up, find moments of grace.  In the midst of pain or doubt or joy, or hope, it is not so dark; I am not so alone, as long as I put one foot in front of the other.  I get to find God, every day.  I can be made whole, every day.  I can be healed, every day.  None of this comes naturally.  It is still easier, at times, to disconnect than to willingly open up my heart.  But, I have known God's grace, and I have felt joy and love, and so I struggle gladly to be human, every day.

God is here, in this place with me, and I----

Today, I know it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Epiphany at the Gas Station

Tis the season, I guess, to talk of epiphanies.  I am in need of one.  Of course, when I talk of epiphanies, I always think in terms of angels dancing on the head of a pin, thunder and lightening, heavenly hosts singing hosanna to the Most High.  I want the drama, the wonders and portents.  I crave drama.  It feels more real, for some inexplicable reason, when I am snatched back from the very brink of despair and dire straits.

I want the earthquake, God as a Pillar of Fire.  What I mostly get is the still small voice.

Apparently, I get what I need.  Apparently, what I needed was the quiet voice of a stranger to give me that moment of clarity that allows me to hear the voice of God.

This was years ago.  Couple of decades at best guess.  I was breaking into Corporate America through a side door.  Having worked for a national poor people's organization for several years, whose unspoken guiding principle seemed to be "to organize the poor you have to be poor," and not being a trust fund baby like so many of my long-term colleagues, I was ready to actually explore the borders of capitalism in all its glory.  Don't get me wrong: I wasn't interested in becoming a capitalist.  No, I wanted to exploit the system for all it was worth.

I was approaching thirty, and everything I owned fit in the trunk of my car.  I had moved back and forth across the country about fifteen times in four or five years. It got to be that I knew, anytime I bought something that wouldn't quite fit in my car, my boss would fly into town and tell me where the next adventure would be.  It was never around the corner.  Mostly, it involved uprooting my rather tenuous life and driving several hundred miles, fueled by caffeine and the fervent, clear-eyed zeal of the True Believer in social justice.

After years of this nomadic existence, I was finally back in Chicago.  It was winter.  It was cold.  Really, really cold.  After a few months, the fateful phone call.  Not even a visit this time: time to pack up again, this time for the balmy climes of Minneapolis.  In January.  I couldn't do it.  Just couldn't start over one more time.  I was tired.  I was done.  I quit.  Now what?

Seriously: now what?  What could I possibly do, career-wise?  I had a degree in history and experience rousing the rabble, as it were.  What the hell was I going to do with the rest of my life?  Honestly, the prospect of living on my parents' floor did not fill me with whelm.  I remember reading a want ad for the CIA.  They were looking for spies, wanted someone smart, who spoke two or more languages and offered good benefits, including on-site daycare.  Talk about early indoctrination.  Sadly, I fit the bill.  Instead of leaping at my chance to dabble in covert affairs, I drifted towards something else equally suspect in my mind, and sidled into the halls of Corporate America through the time-honored tradition of nepotism.  My brother had a gig and gave me a job.  From community organizer to insurance salesperson in one easy step.  I held my nose and jumped, trying hard not to look back.

Trouble was, my life didn't change quite as much as I thought it would.  I was still broke--- or as close to broke so that it made no real difference.  My adherence to Democratic Socialism still rested firmly on the shoulders of my father's very capitalistic law practice (as my parents were so quick to point out).  My wardrobe still consisted mainly of loose, comfortable black, although every so often, I threw in a belt to give my clothes some shape.  I still slept on the floor of my parents' home.  Everything I owned still fit in the trunk of my car.

My car.

My car was becoming quite the issue.  It was old and tired.  My knowledge of all things auto was severely lacking.  I knew to put gas in it.  I was vaguely aware that oil was involved in some way.  Even with my singular lack of expertise, I knew something was amiss.  The car was complaining to me, softly at first, then with increasing stridency: grinding and squeaking, all the while hesitating a bit, chugging a bit more, begging for rest and respite in its car-like, pitiful way.  With every passing day, I could feel it poised for total failure.  Tires.  Exhaust.  Heating.  Cooling.  I'm sure that Newton's Laws of Motion were in question in regards to my car, especially as they relate to acceleration, which my car did only after I said please and thank you and left small gifts and other automotive sacrifices on the hood. The issues loomed larger.

And me?  I just kept driving, eyes straight ahead, all willful defiance and determined nonchalance.  If I refused to acknowledge impending doom, I reasoned, then there could, by definition, be no doom.  That I took my life in my hands (and, by extension, the rest of the driving public) every time I got behind the wheel was something that entered my mind only when it got very, very quiet.  Since my method of car repair involved intensive use of the volume control knob on my radio, quiet was never a reality.  Loud goes a long way in all things repair.  If you don't hear the grinding, squeaking, gasping, rattling, coughing knocks and noises, then they don't exist.  Right?

This state of plausible deniability went on for months.  With every new noise, every new stutter, every desperate twist of the volume knob, my shoulders hunched just a bit more, my breathing strained and got more shallow.  Everything wrong with the car got all tangled and twisted and enmeshed.  It was fast becoming like that giant ball of string that gets lost in the junk drawer: no beginning, no end, no real hope to unravel it.  I was broke.  I was lost.  I was facing a solid, impenetrable wall of Broken, all-encompassing and infinite in its looming menace, and had no resources to face it or fix it.  Like Atlas, I carried this weight on my shoulders, and all I wanted to do was shrug.  And me, being me, just piled on each new problem more precariously, higher and higher, until the pile threatened to topple and bury me under its weight.

Months into this insane dance, I stopped at a gas station.  Gas I could handle.  Mostly.  While I was there, filling my tank, one of the mechanics came out.  "One of your headlights is out," he said, nodding at the offending lamp.

I laughed, and I think some of my bitterness slipped just a bit.  "One more piece of Broken," I said.

And that's when it happened.  That's when the guy transformed (transcended? ascended? transmogrified?) from mechanic to avatar of God.  Or at least God's messenger.  Or something equally holy.  I sat in my car, that shivering, sputtering lump of metal, held together with nothing more than hope, and the waters of all that was broken and heavy parted, separated before me, to show a clear, dry, smooth path to the other side.

The mechanic/avatar/messenger said: "You know, we could run a diagnostic on the car, figure out everything that's wrong, and then fix them one by one."

One by one?  Wait.  What?

My brain spluttered at the thought: one by one?  Nonononono, I shouted loudly into my silent internal landscape. It is a lonely and wind-torn place, a black hole of forever where I go and set up camp, hunkering down for the long dark nights of my soul.  It's a bad neighborhood and I wander its tumbledown streets alone with some regularity, mugging myself and my psyche every so often.  My car is a giant ball of tangled messy string, a mobius strip of problems, an eternal quagmire of broken, with no beginning and no end.

And not just my car (though how simple if that were the case).  I ran my life like this: collected stray bits of problems and hurts and slights and sadnesses and fears and doubts and rolled them all into a ball and hid them all away, ashamed and overwhelmed and convinced that if I ignored them all long enough, they would just all melt away, leaving me whole and pure and happy once again.  There was so much, and they all just festered and rotted and melted together until they became one, a leviathan of Bad, immense and hungry and devouring.

And here, unasked for, was grace: get it all down and act, one by one.

I cannot do forever, no matter how hard I try.

I can do one.

And then another. And another.  And again.  However many ones it takes, I can do that.

I take my miracles where I find them.  As much as I would appreciate those miracles to be accompanied with flashes of lightening and blaring thunder, choirs of angels singing and doing the tango on the head of a pin, my life-altering truths tend to be much quieter.  They certainly help to get me right-sized and breathing. They slow the patter of my heart, quiet the chittering of old voices that whisper lies in sibilant hisses somewhere in my head.

So.  I can do one.  Then another.  I can give thanks for the small miracles and an avatar of God.  I can breathe. I can sing with angels, and then I can do one.