Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

My refrigerator may be broken.  I have said this a few times in the last handful of months, with that stomach-sinking, cold-fingered dread I seem to manifest when thinking about repairing things, replacing them and  money.  Or, more specifically, my lack thereof.

When I was growing up, Mom used to insist that we had an anti-Semitic refrigerator.  Every holiday, she would begin to cook.  And cook.  And cook some more, stuffing everything into an already over-stuffed refrigerator, performing some kabbalistic ritual that seemed to suspend the laws of physics.  Having worked her magic, whether or not the ritual actually succeeded, whether or not anything else could fit, she would shove One. More. Thing. into the waiting maw:  all of it, from oven to refrigerator in the blink of an eye.

And then the refrigerator would die.

With the last gurgle and a final consumptive gasp made before a sharp and sudden silence that signified its demise, the mad scramble would begin: neighbors would be called, words would be said (mostly with the immediate admonition that these particular words should never be said by us kids, and certainly never ever said outside the house), repairmen would be summoned, money would be spent (time-and-a-half money). Fingers would be crossed and prayers would be mumbled.

Every holiday.  Without fail.

It wasn't until years later (when the holidays weren't so frenetic, weren't so crowded with extended family, fourth cousins twice removed, the best friends of the in-laws and those random holiday orphans-- friends and acquaintances who had nowhere to go, no family to be with, and how in the world can you let anybody spend a holiday alone?) that we realized that the refrigerator died because it couldn't handle the sudden influx of hot food onto it's cold, cold shelves.  Too much, all at once.  The refrigerator didn't die so much as go into shock.

Not anti-Semitic at all; rather, too delicate to survive the onslaught of our excess.

My refrigerator does not seem to suffer from that particular ailment.  I'd love to be able to say that it is my excess causing its slow but inevitable death.  Oh sure, I can keep the door open way too long while I put away the groceries, and apparently, the coils need to be cleaned more than once in, oh, ever.  But when all is said and done, my dependable workhorse of a refrigerator is getting old.  It may linger for a while, but really, it's just time.

I think I could take the whole refrigerator situation if it weren't for the dishwasher issue.  It is less a dishwasher and more a dishrinser at this point.  Sad to think that I have to wash the dishes before the dishes get washed by machine.

And don't get me started on the plumbing.  Bad pipes.  Bad water.  It seeps and gurgles way too slowly down the drain, lingering and swirling a bit malevolently, teasing me.  It lets me think that this time it may prefer, in fact, to stand at watery opaque attention rather than join its brother and sister hydrogen and oxygen molecules that go racing through drains and sewers and whatnot, racing through a complex underground network on its way to wherever it is that water drains.

What else?  Given world enough and time, I could find a thousand  grievances and glitches, all those minor annoyances that set my teeth on edge and my blood to simmer and make me twitch just a bit.  I can forget to breathe, because it's always just one more thing.  One more thing in an endless procession of things that tumble end over end and gather all together, piling in a tangled jumble of One-More-Thingness, an insurmountable, overwhelming mass of Mess.

The house.
The bills.
The car.
My job.
The bills.
The money.
Lack of money.
The holidays.
Did I mention bills?

The list is endless.  Eternal.  There is always one more thing that needs attention.  Every petty and not so petty thing on my list fights for supremacy--- notice me!  fix me!  I am drowning in this clamoring sea of minor demons.

I know, I know--- it's not as if this were an apocalypse of woe.  It's a garden-variety list.  It's the stuff of life.  No klaxon-call, no cacophony of noise, just the constant murmur, like the tide: a steady in and out, back and forth motion without rest or pause.  I tell myself I cannot breathe. I don't know where to start, which to start.  In the immortal words of Roseanne Roseannadanna: "It's always something!"

And just when it threatens to consume me, this List of all Lists, just when I think I have reached the edge and feel the vertigo pull before toppling into the chasm of tedium and pettiness, a whisper: "You have some pretty high class problems there."

It stops me cold.

I want to argue with that voice (and I suspect it is my own, an echo of some wisdom heard in the hallowed halls of AA.  Dammit).  I want to rail against the sentiment, and wallow in the pure drama of my litany.  It's bad!  Yes it is!  My life is hard!  I have issues!  I have problems!

What I have is a roof over my head.  Heat in the winter, food on the table.
I have a son I love, a job I adore, a life that is immensely and wonderfully full.
I have people in my life who give me the courage to soar.
I have a God in whose I hand I can rest when I let myself.

My mother's favorite saying comes back to me: I used to cry because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.

I have blessings beyond measure.  Family.  Love.  Life.  Yeah, it's been a tough year or three.  I have mourned much, lost much.  I still miss my brother more than I can say.  It's been a couple years of tough, sure: but there's been a lot of good, too.  There has been sweetness and celebration woven into the the corners, inching toward the center.  There have been sudden moments of grace.  

I am surrounded by light, when I remember.  I can live my life as a prayer, when I remember.  I can share the blessings I have been given, when I remember.

And so, as Thanksgiving approaches, I remember that I am grateful for all the gifts that are part of my life.  The good stuff and the bad.  The people, the problems, the glitches and all the glittery, dancing hidden blessings that flit like butterflies and fill me with wonder.  All the delight, all the amazement and awe: it is there for the asking.  Even without asking, those blessings are there, waiting for me to catch up.

A final thought, as we enter this season of hope and thanks: of all the things I've been given, all the things I have, I am astoundingly grateful that I have a sky filled with sky, not bombs and missiles.  The world now is quite broken, and the bridges are all so narrow.  May we find the courage to join hands and hearts wherever we can, to find peace and shine a light into the darkness.

Happy Thanksgiving to all I hold dear.  I am grateful for the lessons you have brought me, the gifts you have given, and the grace you have shown is possible, even for me.  You have made my life richer and my heart more full. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Night of Fire and Glass

Seventy-five years ago, the Nazis marched through the streets of Germany and Austria, attacking Jews, smashing windows of Jewish-owned stores, destroying synagogues, ransacking homes and hospitals, burning books and Torahs.  For two days, Jews were terrorized, beaten and arrested and sent to concentration camps while the government looked on.  When it was over, 91 people had been murdered, 30,000 had been arrested and sent to camps, more than 1000 synagogues had been burned and more than 7,000 Jewish businesses had been destroyed.  After two days of rioting, the Jewish community was fined $1 billion reichsmarks.

How can we possibly speak of such unspeakable horrors, of such hatred and violence and inhumanity, that happened so long ago?  How can we possibly find the words?

How can we not?

We can, because we must.  We find the words, we tell the story, and we remember.

We do, because this must never happen again, to anyone, to any people, in any land.  We find the words, and so we say: amen

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 their nsoles 
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

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Desperate Act of Love

I voted this morning.

I almost didn't.  For a split second or three, I actually considered not voting.  Because it was out of the way.  Because I was running late.  Because really, what would my one vote not cast cost?

And I went and voted anyway, because really-- if I didn't, what the hell?  Would it really matter?  (Never mind that I couldn't think of what I would say to my son, what excuse or lie I might offer him.  At thirteen, he is becoming keenly interested in the whole democratic process that is unfolding before him.  History in the making.  Democracy in action.  We talk politics all the time, my son and I, and seriously, my heart swells several sizes when we do, and i can see him get the issues, when he makes the connections and connects the dots, even if his opinion is not always a parroted version of mine.  Especially when his opinion is not a parroted version of mine.  I could have fibbed, told him I'd voted, but that lie sounded hollow, even to me, so-- what the hell; might as well vote.  Get it over with.)

As I drove to my polling place, really not so much out of the way, a name popped into my head: Mickey Schwerner. And then, almost immediately: Goodman.  I couldn't think of his first name (dammit), and it bothered me, teased my brain.  What the hell is his first name?  And the other guy?  Dammit; I can't ever remember the other guy's name.  But for some reason, I always remember Mickey Schwerner.

So I voted, and drove to my office, and went about my day, and started to write during some of the blank spaces in my crazy busy day.

Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman.  

In 1964, they joined with so many others -- members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) the NAACP and a bunch of college kids, the twenty-somethings of their day, and created Freedom Summer.  Their goal: register African- American voters in Mississippi.  Well over a thousand people, white, black, Christian, Jew, young old -- it didn't matter.  What mattered was that these people saw a broken world, filled with violence and ignorance and hatred, and they believed it was their obligation-- their responsibility; their right; their joy and purpose-- to heal it.

In mid-June of that year, Schwerner and Goodman headed south from New York to Mississippi, filled with passion and hope.  They met up with Chaney, a native of Meridian, Mississippi and fellow civil rights worker.  They believed that every person, regardless of the color of their skin, had the right to vote.  

So they started registering voters: men and women who had been kept from the polls by fear and intimidation and law all their lives.  That's it: registering voters-- black voters in the deep South -- during the Freedom Summer of 1964 -- that's what they did.  On June 21, the three of them went to investigate the burning of a black church in Philadelphia, Nashoba County, Mississippi.  In addition to believing all people had a right to vote, they believed all people had a right to worship and pray as they believed, safe from harm.  They were arrested by the police on trumped up charges, held for several hours, and then released, after dark, into the hands of the Ku Klux Klan.  They were beaten there, somewhere in the dark, beaten and terrorized and murdered by a group of 18 men (though only seven were eventually convicted of conspiracy, eight eventually were acquitted by an all-white jury and three cases ended in mistrials).  

Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman were beaten and murdered that night by savages who were rooted in hatred and violence and fear.  They were murdered, in the dark, alone, because they believed they could heal a broken world. 

The world is still broken.  We see evidence of that every day:  people in desperate need, driven by poverty or illness or hunger or hatred; a planet that is being choked and starved.  There is greed and ignorance, intolerance and indifference.  Even now, access to the polls is being threatened, and there are many who are being deprived of their right to vote.  In 2012.  Not 1964, not 1865-- this year, this week, this day, there are people who are being disenfranchised.  There are a thousand thousand ills that plague us-- that can break our hearts and cripple our souls.  And yet, in the midst of this desperate need, there is light.  Kindness.  Healing.  Small acts-- great acts, even-- but acts of desperate love that stem the tide and bring grace and healing.

They changed the world, those murdered men.  All of them, all of the bright and brave and hopeful men and women from that Freedom Summer.  Not just them, but all them, all of the bright and brave men and women who have fought so valiantly, with courage and conviction and commitment, all of them, from every age-- they gave their lives to change the world.   And I?  I thought about not voting this morning, because it was inconvenient.  Because I was late and it was one vote among millions and really: what would be missed?  

What would be missed?  What would be missed would be my own desperate act of love, to heal a broken world.  One person.  One vote.  One voice. To heal and change and bring light to the darkness.  Do I care how you vote, for whom you vote?  Of course I do.  I have my own ideas and visions and beliefs on what is right, what is good (for the community, for the broken, for those who cannot speak, for those I love and those I don't).  What is more important, though, to me, is that you vote.  That matters.  Exercise your voice.  Make a choice.  Demand that you be heard.  Your voice, your vote- that desperate act of love matters.

People have died for the belief that voting matters.  People continue to die, every day, for their acts of desperate love and courage and faith, for their belief that they can heal a broken world.  And here's the tough part: we may never see the work complete, our world healed.  But (and this is the big part, the harder part): we are not excused from starting the work, from committing those desperate acts of love.  Our Jewish sages have been teaching this for centuries: Lo alecha ham'lecha ligmor v'lo atah ben chorin l'hitabel mimena.  It is not your duty to complete the work; neither are you free to desist from it.  (Pirke Avot 2:16)

Schwerner and Goodman and Chaney.  They were murdered in darkness, surrounded by hatred and fear.  They were killed for their belief that the world needed healing and their lives-- their voices, their ideas, their actions-- could heal.  The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King once said "If you haven't found a cause to die for, you haven't found a reason to live."  These three men, and the countless, nameless hundreds before and after who were murdered and tortured for their own desperate acts of love-- from Tienanmen Square to the Berlin Wall, from Tahrir Square in Cairo to any trackless, endless place where there are men and women who demand that they be heard, that their voice-- all our voices -- be heard, they found their reason to live.  And let us say: zichronam liv'rcha (may their memories be for a blessing).

Let us celebrate their lives.  Let us take courage from their faith.  Let us vote -- and argue and debate and learn and disagree and demand that our voices be heard.  Let us commit acts of desperate love, because we can heal our broken world-- one voice, one act, one vote at a time.