Thursday, December 31, 2015

What grace looks like - a happy new year tale

I could hear the quiet hum of the furnace. It's easy, at 3:00 in the morning, when the house is quiet, and the world seems to sleep.
I could hear the buzz of the highway, that unfolds in its great concrete planes and curves, not too far from my window that holds in the warmth of the furnace that hums in constant susurration at 3:00 in the morning when the house is so quiet and the world seems to sleep.
The cat is unaware of the sleeping, softly humming world . Her only concern is my changed breathing and therefore, my coming awakeness. She cares nothing for traffic or heaters or nighttime quiet. She crawls on my chest, purring her quiet and constant purr that covers the more quiet hum of the furnace, and nudges my fingers with her nose. She's looking for scratches and pets. She is the Empress of Night, Queen of Drowsy sun. She nips my scratching fingers when she's had enough. She rules with an iron fist and sharp, still-kitten teeth.
I lay in my bed, surrounded by warmth and just-below-noticing noise that I hear only in passing and send out a silent prayer of thanks for all that I have in my life, for all the wholeness and brokenness and possibilities that make up the life that I have been given, the life I have chosen. A sigh - six of one, half dozen of the other. I used to stress on the finer points and philosophical distinctions played out in the giving and the having and the choosing. These days, I'm learning to find grace just in the living.
Another reason for thanks.
I find that, in the stillness and quiet of 3:00 am, it's easier to just be, even if for just a moment. I'm grateful for those moments, and for that stillness. For those few minutes, before my head fills with the chatter of voices and relentless noise, I can breathe and be. There's just that moment, a slow inhale and steady exhale. I feel my soul slip in, returned from its dance with angels along the arc of Saturn's rings (or so I imagine), but returned nevertheless. I offer a prayer of thanks, again, for this gift of trust and faith.
Inhale. Exhale. And again - a handful or two of breaths that remind me that I'm alive, that there is a God (whatever That is), that I don't have to have an answer, not in this moment (or even the next). I am here, in this place, and I am so very grateful for all the blessings I've been given, even when I felt those blessings were curses. I have a tendency to find gratitude, and God, only in hindsight.
Funny - but they all seem to stem from the same place, those cursed blessings - or perhaps blessed curses. It surprises me, this place - so well hidden from view (yours and mine both), but I move, with what seems like excruciating slowness - away from the fear that tethers me in place to a moment of quiet stillness, an eternal moment of inhale and exhale. It's a very fragile place.
And from this vantage point, finally unbound, I look back, to count all those gifts of brokenness and grace that have been given me. Here, in the 3:00 am quiet, with the purr of a cat and the drone of distant traffic, with the gentle rhythm of my son's breathing down the hall, I offer a prayer of thanks for the kindness of strangers. And more - for the kindness given me by the people I know.
A decade or two ago, newly sober, still mostly feral, I was in awe of what we called the "fellowship." Drinking had always been such a salve, a slippery balm that maintained an invisible but solid wall between me and the humans. Every drink, every drug, every thing that I used to make me not feel merely bound me tighter, twisted into a tangled mess of fear and loathing - it all kept me safe. Kept me distant, untouchable. Invulnerable. And here were all these people, all these sober drunks with some time: sometimes only an hour or two, sometimes days or weeks or years (Really? Years? What the hell?), some who turned out to be visiting, feeling the need to don the mantle of Scout - those who went back out to test the waters (that were always 80% proof at least), and not all of them found their way back in - all these people, with names I sometimes remembered but mostly didn't, with phone numbers readily given but that I never called, they all of them, mostly, showed up. For each other. For themselves.
For me.
Even when I snarled, or whined, or pushed back as far as I could go. I felt like Harry Beaton, the character in Brigadoon who couldn't bear his grief, who wanted only for others to hurt as much as he did, who ran, as if all the hounds of hell were running through his head, skittering up an down his spine, trying desperately to leave , all the while doomed to stay in the same place. "I'm leaving Brigadoon," he cried, "The miracle is over!" That was me, too: I wanted out, I wanted the miracle - of sobriety, of AA, of something I couldn't even name - I wanted it over for everyone. And still, all those drunks, they showed up. For me.
"Be honest," they said. Be open and willing and vulnerable, a little bit every day. I scoffed at their naivete. "Keep coming back," they smiled, sipping coffee as the smoke from their cigarettes rose in delicate spirals, collecting in a haze just below the ceiling of the meeting room. I went back, again and again. One day, on a whim, or perhaps a dare to myself, I offered a truth or two, exposed the delicate skin of my secrets, just a fraction, and waited for the white hot pokers to come, seeking blood, sensing weakness. They never did, and I lived to tell the tale. I tried it again. And again. I shed my secrets like a shroud, felt their weight shift and dissolve, not all at once, but in time, over time, as I learned to trust.
"It's ok not to know," they said. "It's ok to ask for help." I laughed, I was too smart to fall for that line! I knew it all and needed nothing from anyone. I was the Fixer of Broken Things. I knew, above all else, that I would never be loved, and so decided that to be needed was almost the same. Almost enough. So I found all the broken pieces, all the broken people - and I fixed them all. And in all my fixing, I could find a whispery echo of the humanity I was so sure was just outside my grasp. I knew, without doubt, that only one person remained outside the circle of healing: me.
But those people, those glorious drunks, they showed up and they offered and they loved - freely, without any expectation of return. There were no scoreboards or scales that weighed my worth. With infinite caution and care, I crept away from the curse of people - the burden of their need and want and broken desire and slowly, almost imperceptibly, found grace in fellowship, the blessing of people who fill my life, and my heart.
So here now, a few decades later, looking back at a lifetime of wholeness and brokenness and breathless awe, I find grace - and God - in the kindness of strangers and the people I have gathered along the way, here in the quiet of 3:00 am.
Who am I kidding? "Looking back at a lifetime..." Ha! It's all well and good to talk of lessons learned - difficult, daring, skin-crawling lessons that you learn and then fold up neatly, put it away in a drawer in a locked room that lives down a long and cobwebbed hallway that is dusty with disuse. I like lessons like that, feel a smug humility that I can say, "Ah yes - that was hard, learning how to do that. Not that I'll do it again or anything, but I got that badge, thanks."
This past year has been a never-ending parade of learning that lesson, again and again, the one where I ask for help. I tried. I tried so hard to shoulder all the broken pieces, all on my own. God, I tried. And I couldn't do it. Time and again, I struggled, like Atlas. I carried every load I was handed, felt buried by the weight of it all, until I stood - motionless, breathless, defeated - until the pain of not asking for help was finally greater than the fear of reaching out. And so, skin crawling, face pink with heat and body glistening with flop sweat, I asked for help.
And without fail - without fail - every time, there it was. Offered not as an "if - then" statement, but freely, unstintingly. There were rides and loans and stronger shoulders than mine that could bear the weight of my fear. People showed up, offered their love, sometimes in the form of coffee and a willing ear, once or twice as a job that came as I stood teetering on the brink of financial disaster that threatened to swallow me whole. There was the offer of advice a time or two, but more often, a steady presence and a gentle hand to hold. I needed everything that was given.
I used to say, in the early days of my sobriety, that the only thing worse than not having friends was having them; the only thing worse than depending upon the kindness of strangers was depending upon the kindness of people you know. Now, just about a quarter of a century later, I still hesitate. I still shudder a little. I still stumble, making my solitary way to some desperately high ledge. But with every piece of brokenness that I cling to, I hesitate a little less, don't walk quite so close to the teetering edge. I am learning to shrug a little sooner, so that whatever it is that I think I must carry doesn't crush me under its weight.
A quarter of a century later, after a lifetime of steadfast fear and absolute certainty that my burdens are mine, that I am the fixer who can never be fixed, I have discovered a new conversation topic with God. These days, there's a a lot less "Why me, God?" and a helluva lot more gratitude for all the gifts I have been given. Why me? Sometimes, it's the choices I've made or the actions I've not taken that place me smack dab in the middle of something hard and fierce. Sometimes, there's no reason at all, a thing of fearsome and capricious chance that happens because it does. Even then - a conversation of thanks.
So, as we turn the corner of the year, in the quiet hum of darkening skies and the skitter of ice and sleet against my windows, in the end-of-the-year stillness of three in the afternoon, I offer this, my prayer of thanks, with humble gratitude for the presence of strangers and friends who teach me, every day, what grace looks like.
God of infinite compassion, who fills the world with quiet wonder and endless breath, thank You for the gift of not knowing, the grace of bending and the joy of asking.
Merry new year xoxo

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Havdallah with a Gun

There is a ritual in the Jewish tradition, performed in the very narrow space that separates the holiness of Shabbat from the ordinariness of the rest of the week. The short service recognizes this sacred distinction through blessings over wine and spice and the flame of a candle. I used this service, called Havdallah, as the foundation of my poem, Havdallah with a Gun.

In praise of blood--
a pulse beat furrow
hat runs royal blue to garnet,
to brown and black, but for the
space of a breath,
it is rich and sweet
and runs like wine,
like water, like life
in its pulse beat furrows,
until it pools in the cracks 
and fissures of pavement--
rubble now, rent, once
a playground
a building,
the brick and bones
of commerce
or worship
or home.

In praise of the scent of
oil and steel, the plastic
and ozone stench
that I imagine,
like musk 
and spice
that catches, in a draft
on the wind 
and carries with it--
singing and sharp--
the corruption of death.

In praise of a spark
that singular moment
of explosion, contained 
in that flash,
that spreads like 
light, that brings no warmth, 
and nothingness follows in its wake
and it offers a psalm 
of metal striking metal
that swallows sound
a single flameless spark
disappearing into the 
weighted scent of oil 
and blood.

A benediction, a 
prayer, for a 
life, for a
death, for
a gun. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Kaddish Yatom (Mourner's Kaddish)

Today surprised me--
the sun and skies of blue shading
almost translucent,
almost too bright,
studded with clouds
that wandered in stately lines
invisible to the naked eye
and the grieving heart.
It beckoned, this day
of surprises and shaded blueness.
I thought it would be warm;
It's certainly bright enough,
clear enough,
and from my window, 
there are still leaves of green
that cling to their branches,
so it could be a different day

It could be a day in spring,
where the wind still  carries
a quiet note of cold.
and you waited.
wrapped in stillness.
while I walked through 
gardens just at the bursting point,
and blossoms spilled their
scent of life,
all green and yellow and white,
making the air heavy
and light at the same time.
I collected the dew
and a spray of flowers 
for your table.
And you laughed,
and pressed a kiss upon my lips.

It could be that day,
but this day has surprised me,
its colors and leaves framed 
so neatly by my window,
but there are things carried in this 
day, invisible to the naked eye
and a grieving heart.
There are no wildflowers
to collect along the way,
and the grass is stiff with frost.
My step is much slower,
a stumbling gait, 
hesitating and halting.
Slowly, oh so slowly
with love and tender grace
 I lay a spray of flowers
upon your grave,
a surprising note of color, just
visible to my grieving heart.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

These are the Things that are Measured

I am terrified that I will not measure up.
That my best will not be best enough,
Or even close at all.
I am terrified that I will fail
Life. Or my son.
I mean, its one thing to fail me.
I've had a lot of practice at that.
I think of all the almosts,
all the near misses,
All from the comfort
of such distance,
Measured in time
and passing moments.
Or maybe seen thru
several layers of gauze,
so that the edges blur,
and the pain of all that
misplaced potential
softens, so that it is
At last,
At best,
But only from a distance


Still, I am terrified
that the scales that
rise and fall in a graceful arc,
a pendulum sweep of
Enough to Not
will find me wanting.
Though the real secret,
Of all the hidden secrets,
Swaddled so carefully
by the gauzy batting
Of time and passing moments,
the real secret is
   I do not fear at all.

I know.

There is an infinite and
Measureless chasm
Of measuring up.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Stuff of Stars and Rain

Based on Psalms 104:24:
מָה-רַבּוּ מַעֲשֶׂיךָ, יְהוָה
Mah rabu ma'asecha yah: How manifold are your works, God...
and found, among other places, in the morning liturgy  

It is all breath -
In gathering,
Almost unheard,
And yet
It is the only sound
The only one
That matters,
That slips out
And is gathered
In greatness,
Created from
The stuff
Of stars and rain
And dust,
And mingles
In invisible wonder
With the stuff of stars
And rain and dust
That gathered in
And slipped out
So quietly,
Almost unheard,
Almost unsaid.
And the sound of that
Almost whispered
Barely there sound
Was a note of
Sweet grace
that gathered in
The stuff of matter
And stars
And light
And the name of God

For Shira, who opened the door

Sunday, October 25, 2015


For the richness of my life,
And the jagged edges that cut
and draw blood,
And the glory
of the sound of rain
and silence,

I give thanks.

For the Creator of eternity
and time,
Who calls to me in darkness
and light,
In my hunger
And my want,

I give thanks.

For the fullness,
For the stones that bite
And the bedrock upon which I stand,
For the hands that lift me,
And the song that fills me,

I give thanks.

For my breath,
For my body,
For the grace of redemption,
And the blessing of separation,
So that I can taste the sweet,
The sharp,
The weary,
Holiness of this day

I give thanks.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


I stand poised -
I've used that line
before, and again
and again and
Again; there is much
comfort in my stasis.

I stand, bound to
the razor-sharpness of
this edge that holds me
my feet are bloodied.

And still I stand
longing to fall
to let go and
let be and speak my
fear, lay my shame
on altars that
are slick and slippery
with the eternity of sacrifices -
bowed and bent and broken
with desperation.
My eyes burn from
their smoke, ascending,
twisting heavenwards
to please You.

And still I stand,
and I stumble along
this narrow edge
of bloody hope
and I do not fall.
Perhaps I will get it
right this time.
Perhaps I will,

For Psalm 51

Friday, October 9, 2015

In the Beginning

For Isaac Luria - HaAri
1534 - 1572

Chapter One: in which Heaven and Earth-- and Light-- are created.  

1.  In the beginning, there was God. 

2.  God was – is – will always be - endless and forever.  There was no place that was not God.  In fact, there was no Place.  No Something or Nothing or Anywhere. Not even an Anything as finite as a Somewhere.  There was just God.

3.  And because there was no Place, there was no space into which God could bring forth Creation, and creating was God's greatest and truest desire.  So into the Infinity that was God, into that Divine Everything, God gathered in Her (His) breath, so that there could be an Emptiness into which there could be created a Somethingness. 

4.  And in that breath, into that Divine contraction, God spoke, and the World came to be.  There was Heaven, there was Earth, and into this roiling, riotous, joyous and searing Act, into this rending of the Endlessness into Somethingness, there was Light. 

5.  And God declared that it was Good.

6.  Now understand: this Light was like no light you have ever seen.  It was neither sunlight nor starlight - they would not be created for several more Days.  This was the Light of Creation itself.

7. This Light was pure and luminous and filled with Everything that God thought to speak into being.  God didn't miss a thing (as if God could!). The Light of God blazed forth and illuminated the All, growing brighter and brighter, creating shadows where once there was only God.

8.  "What a shame," God thought, "that My Light should overshadow all My other creations." 

9.  So God thought to capture His (Her) - or really, no Pronoun at all, because God is an Endlessness, defying division - so God thought to capture the Light, and contain it. 

Chapter Two: In which the Light is Contained.  

1.  God crafted ten Vessels, made of Earth and Air and Fire and Water.

2. And God is okay with inconsistency; some of these elements hadn't quite been created yet, and weren't on the docket for several more Days. God didn't let that get in the way of a good story. 

3.  Into these Vessels God placed the Light of Creation, that shone with the holiness of God - that illumined the Everything of Creation and Eternity with God's own radiance, and which contained all the sacredness and transcendence that God could gather. But this was an awful lot of holiness to occupy the same Place at the same time as Anything or Everything all at once.

4.  The Light stretched itself up and out, seeking a path in which to flow and leap and dance.  The Vessels, though, were static, being made of Earth and Air and Fire and Water.  They could not hold that holy radiance, though they tried - oh! They tried to stretch with the Light, and move with it, and so contain it all.

5.  Instead of moving with the fluid grace of that radiant Light, those Vessels, crafted by God, made beautiful and holy by God, those Vessels shattered.

Chapter Three: in which the Light, along with the Vessels, is scattered

1.  The shards of those shattered Vessels were scattered into the Everywhere.  The Light, once contained, rose and leaped and was free again. 

2.  It soared and danced and sang a psalm, a joyous hymn to God.  "Hallelujah!" cried the Light.

3.  The Light grew brighter, illuminating Heaven and Earth and All that was in between, brighter and faster and more luminous--

4.  More holy, infusing the darkness with Light--

5.  More radiant, wrapping around the Everything it touched--

6.  Over and under, everywhere and all at once: holy, holy, holy! In the space of a heartbeat (though hearts were long from being Created), in a moment of Endlessness (though there were Beginnings), the Light, with each turn and tumble and leap, left behind a Spark, nestled in the subtle curve and rough edges in each of those myriad and broken pieces.

7. And so the Vessels, though they could not contain that holy and sacred Light, could instead be sheltered by It. Could instead offer shelter to It.

8. A multitude of Broken. An Infinity of Holy, bound together, scattered to the Everywhere of Heaven and Earth.

Chapter Four: In which Things are Revealed

1.  God watched that shimmering cascade, reminding Him (Her) (God) of celestial fireflies on a clear summer night (for while there were finally fireflies, Summer was still a long way off) (But God can remember forward, so it was Good).  God saw, but was sad.

2.  Creation, by its very nature, is an Act of separation.  It is a Breaking-- glorious and breathtaking in its wondrousness to be sure-- but a Breaking nonetheless.  Creation makes a space where once there was none, separates the Not into the Is. Creation has the power to break vessels and scatter Light.

3.  So if God's greatest Desire is to Create, God's greatest yearning is to Complete and bring to Wholeness (because God is, ever and always, ok with inconsistency).  God watched that glorious, electric, magnificent display, and decided to Fix it.

4. Now God could not un-Create: what was brought into being, what now Was, could never be Not - not anymore. 

5. Just as God breathed in to make a Space for Creation, so now God exhaled, in a great and gentle rush of breath.  As with the Light, God's breath danced and leaped and rushed over the All, and those shards, those broken pieces made of Earth and Air and Fire and Water danced with God's breath, and they flowed and shifted through the Everything.

6.  But they were not yet repaired.

Chapter 5: In which a Path is Made Clear, and a Purpose made certain

1.  Into each piece of Broken that lay shimmering before Her (Him) (God), into that infinite field of possibility, God breathed a Name, a Soul, a Heart. 

2.  And with that singular, miraculous breath, God declared, into the Was and the Is and the Yet to Be: "What I broke, in My desire to Create, let My creations, in My yearning for wholeness, be charged with its repair."

3.   And into that glorious, wondrous swirling cascade, God sang out: "Heal the World." And God knew (because God is smart like that) that it would be Good.

4.  And so it is, and so it shall ever be: each of us-- every Heart, every Soul, we each of us have a piece of the Broken that is ours, to find, to heal, to bring together with all the other infinite pieces of Broken. Some infinitely small, some excruciatingly large, waiting to be found, aching to be healed. Yearning, as God yearns, to be made Whole again.

5. And so into this glorious expanse of Broken and Whole, into the endless beauty of Creation, let us say, "Amen."

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Surviving Childhood and other lost arts

I once had an argument of sorts with my son. It started when I told him he had to put on his helmet. “If it has wheels, you’re wearing a helmet,” I said. He looked at me with a mixture of pity and annoyance. He immediately dropped the handle of his scooter – the one that he couldn’t live without; the one that he had begged for, the one that would make his life complete and whole and perhaps even cure the common cold – he walked away, shaking his head in disgust and went back into the house. No helmet for him.
I did a mental double take. A helmet? Where the hell had that come from? I never wore a helmet when I was a kid. Had they even been invented then? Who the hell wore helmets, except for those dweebie, nerdy little kids whose noses ran all the time, their asthma inhalers jammed into pockets, chronically underweight and over-smart? I had my doubts that even they wore protective gear.
In that instant, it occurred to me, to ask the very air around me – how in hell did we ever survive our childhoods?
We certainly did not live in the protective bubble that seems standard for the kids of today.
When I was brought home from the hospital (after a week-long stay, where mom went into labor and woke up several hours later, presented with a clean and swaddled baby girl, the miracle (and mess) (and pain) of childbirth not even a ghostly memory), I travelled in style on my mother’s lap. In the front seat, with the little triangle window open so she could tap the ashes off her cigarette (Kool extra longs). This was the original car seat – mom’s lap. My older brother sat in the back, perched on the hump, arms dangling over the front seat, moving in frenetic jerks between mom and dad as he tried to capture their attention away from me so that it could be properly be placed on him, the Crown Prince, balancing precariously with every turn and sudden stop.
And so opened the floodgate of memory, poised on the unlikelihood of survival from an unprotected childhood.
  • No car seats, no seat belts and we fought over who got the middle seat and who got to ride in the front. It wasn’t a question of age or size that determined seating order, but pushiness and the sheer volume used in calling dibs;
  • No helmets or knee pads or wrist pads (oh, my!);
  • We walked to school. Alone or in small groups, down crowded sidewalks and across busy streets, not a crossing guard in sight. And if we were early, we played on the playground – tag and red rover and elimination and dodgeball and whatever other fiercely competitive game we could think of that involved winners and losers and outs and shame – until the bell rang and we lined up, by age and class, waiting to march and shuffle and shove our way into the building. Rain or shine, hot or cold. Every day;
  • We came home for lunch. Bozo and Ringmaster Ned and the Grand Prize Game, coupled with cream of tomato soup and tuna sandwiches, and then skipping back to languish through our afternoon classes;
  • We rode our bikes in the street, ran with the neighborhood kids till way past dark, swam in retention ponds and hidden creeks;
  • We drank out of garden hoses. Hell, we drank tap water;
  • Boys played little leagues, girls were Indian Princesses. Paths did not cross. Roles were very clearly defined – X’s went one way, Y’s the other;
  • We played with cap guns and watched violent kid shows, like Tom and Jerry or Bugs Bunny. We played cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians. We were totally politically incorrect;
  • We had Christmas Break and Easter Vacation, regardless of religious beliefs (or lack thereof). We sang Christmas carols and loved them.
And this is just the immediate stuff, the unconscious stuff. I’m sure if I really gave it some thought, I could come up with eleventy-seven more examples of how my childhood may seem so horrifying to the parents of today, me included! We seem so determined these days. So intent on protecting our children, from skinned knees to broken hearts. We want to keep our children safe and watched over. Unscathed by the reality of life.
In the same vein, we seem so much more present for our kids, more involved in their lives. Sometimes too involved, I’d venture to say. It happens: the Little League parent who gets a bit too argumentative and demanding, of the kids and the umpires and the game itself, who looks foolish and crass, a caveman visiting the 21st century. We push and prod and demand excellence, and try to temper that with humility. We over-schedule them and over-stimulate them, and wonder why they have the attention span of small flying insects. We filter where we can and hope the message and the medium don’t provide fodder for some future therapy session.
We do the best we can.
That’s the bottom line, I think. We do our best and we love them as best we know how, as fully as we can. In every generation, we find a way to love and watch and teach and sustain.
One more image, in this pool of memory and love, that I feel the need to share:
My father, like most fathers of his generation, paced nervously in the Father’s Waiting Room, smoking and drinking bitter coffee, awaiting my triumphant appearance on the the planet. My mother was unconscious, drugged to the gills, oblivious to the miracle she was about to produce.
Fast forward a thousand lifetimes, to the day of my son’s birth.
I was terrified. I was in pain. I was not drugged. I begged for drugs. I was denied. Apparently, you need to dilate to at least four centimeters to qualify for drugs. I never made it past three. An hour. Two. Five. More. More pain that I could ever imagine being in. More fear than I could ever imagine surviving. The monitors lost my son’s heart beat a couple of times. The doctors searched high and low every time it got lost, finding it just on the edge of sight, the edge of a miracle. Finally, one of the several hundred masked strangers (all claiming to be my doctor) came to my husband and me and said “We can continue this and hope for a natural childbirth, but there’s some risk to you and the baby. We’d like to do an emergency C-Section.”
“Do it,” we said. We were a team, we were united. While my husband could not bear our child, he could be as present as possible. He gained weight with me, came to our doctor’s appointments, read and trained and craved and worried and gloried right along with me. And he was with me as they wheeled me into surgery, held my hand as the spinal took hold. He turned green but did not faint or get sick. He was stoic and resolute and watchful and willing the doctors to not blow it, not make a mistake. He was there, not pacing in an antiseptic and crowded waiting room.
And then our son was born.
And here’s the extraordinary thing:
Our son was born, squalling and red faced and mottled, pale skin. He took our son from the nurse. The boy was barely cleaned of gunk and swaddled in blue, and my husband took that small boy-child, all six pounds, one ounce of him in his huge hands, so dark against the boy’s pale, pale skin. He took our son and held him high, so that God could see our son’s face all the more clearly and know him all the better, and love him all the more fiercely. My husband held him high, his hands so big that they nearly swallowed that boy. And then he brought our son to his chest, cradling him tenderly, more gently than a bubble suspended in sunlight.
And he danced.
Slow an stately, with a gaze of absolute and unconditional love, my husband waltzed around the operating room, turning and swirling with this small life, this perfect boy, this gift of love. His feet carried him close to me, his lips grazing mine. He showed me our son, our beautiful boy. And I kissed him. And all the fear, and all the questions, and all the doubt were no more, gone in an instant, quick as laughter. In its place was pure light.
We’re divorced now, my husband and I. There was a lot of pain and anger and hurt that went into the divorce. It took a long and slow time to learn to be civil with one another, to become friends again, to learn that we are family – like it or not – forever. And mostly, we like it. Even so, there was more pain than I could have imagined, a different pain than that of childbirth, more searing and vicious. It’s an effort, but I try to remember, instead, the beauty of our marriage, the joy and the glory and the absolute love that held us together. This is the image that sustains me, that reminds me that there is power and grace and forgiveness in love.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Stumbling Gait of Want

I do not sit
with comfort
in my own skin.
I do not rest
or breathe with ease,
without thinking
If or
When or
How I might
take the next one.
I prefer to fight,
except when I prefer
to flee.
And there is
familiarity in the
absolute stasis
of white-knuckled
holding on.

But the soul You
have given me
is pure.
It is whole
and it rests within
this body that
does not know
comfort or

What if I deny
it, that Gift
of grace and
completion -
my soul, that
You guard
and guide and
take and return?
What if I let it hunger?
What if I take no pleasure in touch,
and do not anoint my body
with oils and scent,
and leave my face bare
and my feet unshod,
so that i can feel the
bones of the earth
and the sharp chill of the air?

Will my soul rise then?
Will my breath rise with it,
and my spirit with my breath?
Will hunger and thirst
and the unease of my
body lift me -
and my soul,
naked now,
and pure
and whole
and lifted
and lifting -
will it all be enough?

Into the silence of my want.
and the stumbling gait
of my fear,
let there be that
instant, like a spark
of light
and hope
and give,
that my soul,
that is pure,
and my body
that is weary
of discomfort
and flight,
let me rise and
stand before your
Gate, ready
to Return.
Ready to

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Elul Day 29 - Return

I have returned again
to this place of
this place of everythingness;
and I feel empty.
I fling my sins,
all bright copper
and colored feathers,
out into the heavens -
Which is separate from the earth,
Which is separate from the waters,
and they fly
like birds,
and dance
and dazzle.
They are beautiful,
these sins of mine,
as they catch the light.
I am caught in their beauty,
racing after them.
They drift and fall
like so many crooked arrows,
and I collect them,
to turn them
back to me
before I move on
to the next

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Seven Blessings

On this day,
this holy day,
there is sweetness,
and blessing,
and love
Beyond measure,
Without end.

On this day,
this holy day,
there is created
a canopy of heaven
and sweet grass
upon which we stand -
You, who carries
the breath of God,
And I, to stand
beside you.

On this day,
this holy day,
I will bind me to you
And you to me.
Seven times bound,
to sanctify,
to celebrate
the becoming of one.

This day,
this holy day,
I bind my hands to yours.
And I will know light,
even in darkness,
In your touch,
and liquid,
like fire
or silk,
Bound together
in the ever
for always.

This day,
This holy day,
I bind my heart to yours,
To beat out
the rhythms of our lives.
This simple rhythm,
now synchopated;
Cadenced by joy
that lives in
each beat and

This day,
this holy day,
I bind my love to yours.
I feel the weight of it
settle, like cloth of gold.
And I am lifted,
and I find
and rest
and I am whole.

I bind my days to yours,
To the endlessness of
Time, and
Need, and
I bind my life
Within the bounds of yours
And there will I dwell
And know love.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Shofar's Voice

What is the voice
of the shofar?
I hear its call.
It resonates
somewhere deep
in my bones,
in my blood,
that flows through
my body,
Through my fingers
and heart and
my arms that have
Known weight
and tenderness
and empty
and weary.
And I carry its sound

In the broken notes
that stutter,
in the still air
That shatters my

For a moment,
For an endless moment,
That is the voice:
When my steps
and are caught
And I hear.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Blessing of Memory

My uncle’s English-date yahrzeit is this week. The Hebrew date anniversary was a week or so ago. But it was a year ago that we were all gathered at the hospice to offer our love, find strength in and for one another, grieve for his dying and his death. He was not conscious at the end, but that didn’t stop us from talking to him, holding his hands, holding each other.

It’s hard, saying good bye to someone you love. It is never easy, but it is certainly a more gentle good bye when everyone is there – cousins and brothers and parents and friends, most you know, some you’ve met in another life in some distant time. Many are connected to you only peripherally, the only point of intersection your uncle, who is dying.

We buried my uncle on one of those perfect late summer mornings. It was warm and the bees droned and the sounds of traffic were muffled, blunted by stately trees whose branches hung in graceful disarray. All those people who had drifted in and out of his hospice room, known and unknown, were there, or came to the shiva later that day, which was at my house. That was a first. I’m in my fifties; I have been an adult for quite some time. Having shiva, I felt the very first whispers of old.

It seemed as if he knew everyone, and they all showed up at my small house. We laughed, told stories. Ate. Reconnected with Israeli cousins and the Nashville branch of the family. There was a lot of touching those three days of shiva, as if to say “I’m here. We are here together. You are not alone in your grief, nor am I.”

Shiva ended Friday afternoon. The house was so quiet. Out-of-towners had returned to their hotels to rest for early morning flights the next day. My Israeli cousins were taking advantage of their few days in the States to reconnect with old friends and were heading into the city. I puttered around the house, which was mostly clean – some dear friends of mine had performed the “Shiva Lady” duties with loving perfection, making sure that there was a free flow of food and coffee, cleaning as they went.

And that night, as the sky grew dark and the week seemed to settle, I went to synagogue. It was, after all, Shabbat. And I prayed, and I sang, and I rose and bowed and bent in all the right places. And when it was time to say the Mourner’s Kaddish, I heard my uncle’s name said before the community for the first time, and felt the love and strength of friends who stood with me, to let me know that we do not mourn alone.

And on this Shabbat, one year after his death, I will attend services as I always do. And I will hear my beloved uncle’s name again, so that the entire community can stand with me, in strength and love, to honor with me, the memory of my uncle. This Shabbat, my community will stand with me, to let me know that we do not mourn alone.

For my Uncle Phil
Zichrono livracha

May his memory be for a blessing. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Elul Day Thirteen: Remember

There are times
I am caught by memory,
like a blanket.
warmed and wrapped
and sinking,
so that I long to stay
in its embrace.

There are times
memory catches at me,
at the sharp edges
and rusty corners.
It is not a liquid moment,
not fluid, or surging
in a noisy back and forth
and in and out
like the sea,
but ragged,
often drawing

There are times
I have no memory,
no remembrance
at all - there is
not a blank wall
upon which to draw
lines that dip and dance
and pirouette
as my fancy and
logic dictate,
but an absence,
a nothingness of
silence and cold
that swallows
and pain
and joy.

Or so I think,
I think.
So I believe,
I hope, that
perhaps the Gates
stand guard over all
that absence
that guards my pain,
my light
and joy.

Perhaps I need only
to step through.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Kaddish for an absent father

I knew you, God,
in my mother's breath,
and her sighs
that she thought I 
couldn't hear,
late at night,
and sometimes in the evening,
when she reached for 
a dish,
or a glass,
or a box 
kept on a high shelf,
and the effort
of her stretch
added to the effort 
of her days,
and Your name 
escaped her, unbidden,
hidden by the rustle
of days and time.
She thought I didn't hear.
But that is how 
I knew You first.
She taught me
effort and stretch
and the glory of Your name,
the simple in and out of
that is awe,
and fear,
and mercy,
and love. 

I knew you, God,
in my father's absence,
a hollow presence
that became
over time
and the wheeling of stars.
Stars are impossibly
beautiful and 
improbably far,
and silent,
like solitude,
or the grace
of longing.
Absence settles in,
a blanket of Almost 
and hoped-for.
And I could feel 
You there
in its folds
and tattered edges,
and the 
absence of 
my father's 

And I know you God,
in this ache
of loss 
that breathes through me,
this grief that 
began with absence 
and time,
and ends
with a single 
a last
a whisper of Your 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Elul Day Four - Understand

I have a dear friend who once said to me, "Stacey, you know a lot of words. There is no reason to use them all at the same time." It has become one of my favorite pokes at myself, gentle self-deprecation to let others know that I know that, perhaps, I have used a few too many words. Spoken or written, it doesn't matter. My personal motto continues to be "why use ten words when a hundred will do?"
You see, I am intent on helping everyone around me understand. I start with the short explanation. Stop midstream, paint the picture from a different angle. Then layer that with more commentary, circle back in some circuitous fashion to subtext A, meander along a twisty path to sub-subtext Q, offer up an alternative viewpoint that has since been laughingly disproved by all thinking peoples of the world, interrupt myself with a tangential aside, more to give depth to the explanation than to change the subject, though at this point, it really doesn't matter much, does it?

I used to laugh at my mother - lovingly, of course - when she gave directions: "You know that road we used to take, when we went to the mall?" "Yes." "Ok, go past that, and then go past the next street, the one with the Dairy Queen on the corner, remember, where you used to always get your cone dipped in that chocolate stuff, remember, like that topping we had that would harden as soon as it hit the ice cream? And then - wait - when are you going? At rush hour? Oh no - don't go that way. The traffic is horrible. Here's what you should  do..."

She wanted to give me landmarks. She wanted to make sure I didn't get lost. She was trying to be helpful. I just wanted her to tell me when to take a left; apparently, I could only take a left after I'd traveled down memory lane for a mile or two and could label every nook and cranny and crack in the sidewalk along the way.

I will grudgingly admit that my apple hasn't fallen far from her tree. While I used to wail that I wanted to be in a whole new orchard, I'm (mostly) ok laying in the soft grass of those tangled roots. And any other time of the year, I would be content, having fallen there, to rest in the drowsy air amid the lazy drone of bees. 

But this is Elul. No rest for the drowsy.

Of course I want to help you to understand. I want to help. I don't want you to get lost, literally or metaphorically. Thing is, there is a silent, invisible ending to the statement "I just want you to understand." 

Me. Understand me. 

I spend so much effort, use so many words, all in an effort to get you to understand me. I am so intent on making myself understood, I will barely hear you, as I busily plan and perfect my response to whatever it is that I think you are going to say. Listen, listen, listen, I demand. Hear me. Understand me. Do it like me.

I am Oz, the Great and Powerful. My ego - my helpful, eager-to-please, bigger than all outdoors ego - demands its just due. And like Oz, please, pay no attention to that woman behind the curtain. 

And in this moment, understanding comes at last. One of the truest things I've ever heard: "It is better to understand than to be understood." 

Talk less, listen more, see with my heart. Understanding will come, even to me.


Elul Day Three - Search

I write a seder for Passover every year. It is one of my most favorite things to do. Of course, I time it all wrong. I don't pay attention, and wham! There it is, staring me in the face, again. Daring me to cook and clean and write and cook some more, all in record time. And it's not like Pesach is a surprise. It comes, every year, at the exact same time. I know, I know - it  seems to float around the calendar, but really, the date never changes. I just live on one calendar, and Pesach lives on another. Maybe that's what lulls me into a false sense of time, and having enough of it.

Maybe it's just a matter of paying attention.

I don't do that nearly as well as I'd like to. Sometimes, I fear I don't do that nearly at all. I seem to pass through my life (no pun intended), barely touching the surfaces. Any depth only comes through hindsight. Oh! That's what was going on! I say, days or weeks or months later, when something else entirely jogs my memory (tapping me on the metaphorical shoulder, or kicking me in the slightly less metaphorical gut) and transports me back. I get it now. 

And the engines of time start up again, whisking me away to traipse through my days once more.

So I write a seder every year, and I write it for my son. I write it because I am required to tell the story to the one who is too young to even know how to ask what the heck is going on (a paraphrase, I'm sure). The seder has changed year by tear. The story is the same; the way we tell it isn't. One year was sock puppets. One year was a tale of magic and suspense, told by talking birds, and I think a butterfly. There was "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" Seder, and of course, the ever popular write-your-own-adventure seder, where we broke up the story into segments and teams were encourage to act out their section as creatively as possible.

One year, I was inspired. I wrote Game Day Seder - a series of games and quizzes and challenges to tell the story from beginning to end. There were a lot of kids that year, so it was great, good fun. That year, I started with a treasure hunt for chametz. Now, you should know: I don't get rid of chametz - bread and other rising stuff, and stuff that doesn't actually rise but gives the appearance of doing so, and rising stuff you can't even see but someone will know it's there, even if it's only you and God. I don't use it or eat it during Passover, but I also don't scour my house of it. This year I didn't, next year? Maybe.

Even so, we had a treasure hunt. I hid eighteen large croutons around the house, divided the kids into two teams, and armed each team with a feather and a flashlight. I considered a candle, but then, I knew the kids and their clumsy intentions and willingness to throw themselves into the fun. Flashlights were a good choice.

On your marks. Get set. Go.

And they midfully and intentionally went about their way, searching for hidden chametz. Piece by piece, they found all that was hidden, with enthusiasm and frustration and triumph. Every piece accounted for, eventually. All that was hidden, brought to light, then offered, all together, a flaming, smoking pyre atop my grill, sending up a pleasing odor as dusk gathered in the light from the corners of the sky and the first few stars trembled in the heavens.

I love that we are required to search for all that is hidden. I love that we are given so many hints and reminders throughout the year to do so, so that even people like me, who rip and run and race and stumble and fall through the days can still be reminded to pause, long enough to search all those hidden places, to find - with triumph and trepidation and joy - all of the stuff that was hidden.

I think of Elul as another one of those blue threads that reminds us to pay attention, a gift to allow us to bend and dive and search and find all of the things we hid away, to shine a light in the dark and murky corners and sweep it all together with a feather touch, ready to offer it all up and so be made free. And so be made whole.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Act - Elul Day Two

I do not particularly like to admit that, for this past year, I have been curiously passive. I have responded and reacted far more than I have acted. I have allowed the forces of Chance and Capriciousness to make their marks upon me more often than not. More often than was good for me.

To be honest, they've left me rather bruised and somewhat battered.

I do not like to admit that, sometimes, over this past year, it was so much easier to rack up those bruises than to decide. To pick or choose or move or act. I hate to admit that, for this past year, sometimes staying in bed sang a siren call so sweetly, lulling me into just one more Pajama Day, just one more time. What could it hurt?

Well, um, actually - me. All that battering and bruising - all the doubt and panic and passivity, all the stuckness and immobility damaged me. Every time I waited, every time I watched and let life role over and through, come what may, it became easier to let it. Most times, it didn't matter - six of one, half dozen of the other. Or, at least, close enough not to matter.

It became so easy, that when it mattered, when I really needed to act, I couldn't. Didn't.

It's one thing to do this to myself. It's quite another when my inaction - as it so inevitably did - singed so many others around me. Letters didn't get mailed, forms didn't get signed. Calls weren't returned on time.  I showed up in body, my spirit stayed somewhere locked away, passively waiting for the other shoe to drop, yet always surprised when it did. I fooled myself into believing I was showing up enough for the people I love.

Mostly, I was just hollow.

I have a lot of clean up to do. How apropos, to realize all of this now, as we enter this season of separating what I would like to believe of myself from who I really am. I don't have to dive too deep in this one. When I abdicate the need or ability to act, I don't just give up control, it is not just me who gets tossed about on the rocks. It is everyone around me, and the closer they spin to my orbit, the more scraped and skinned their knees become.

The good news - I haven't passively waited for this season to change, to realize that all the bruising and battering was not the fault of cruel and capricious chance - much as I would like to lay blame at that particular altar. No, my wounds, and the wounds I placed on the people I love and hold dear were all due to me not acting, to me merely drifting through my life.

The beauty of Elul is the freedom to say "I am weary and afraid and I have no clue at all - but still, I will act. I will err and possibly flail about, but I will act, put one foot in front of the other and show up, even imperfectly." I think, perhaps, this is the only way to heal: act. Show up, again and again, imperfections and mistakes and weary, grudging doubt.

The Gates are open, but I gotta get there to walk through.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Prepare - Day One Elul

I have to say, I got the list early. At least a month ago. More than enough time to write a few essays, draft a poem or two. More than enough time to, you know, prepare.

Don't get me wrong - I've written some in my head. I would love to say, I've really thought about a few, laid out some mental framework for a bunch. I'd love to, but it's really kinda snarky to lie now, of all times, it being Elul and all. I've thought about this essay, this prompt, none of the others.

At first, all I could think of was Boy Scouts. Obviously, I've never been one. I was a Brownie for a bit of a year, until my mother backed out of being co-leader when she realized that volunteering meant more than offer and want, that showing up was a part of it. I may have no idea what the Brownie or Girl Scott (or Campfire Girls or even Indian Princesses) motto might be, but I know the one for the Boy Scouts: Be Prepared.

Interesting that it's in the passive voice. While I'm sure the message of the motto is fraught with activity, on its face, it is, nevertheless, passive, to be acted upon rather than to be a mover of worlds.

From there, I skipped easily over to Godspell. Of course I skipped there. I can't not hear those opening notes, so pure and unadorned - "Prepare ye, the way of the Lord..." Yes, yes: I know. It is, perhaps, slightly odd to reference that particular musical in this particular context, but it is, to me, perfectly in tune with Elul. Get ready, says the song, there's a God thing about to happen! There is so much quiet joy in this song, that starts with a single voice and build and grows to many. Let's all get get ready, get moving, get mindful, because the time is now, today and then the car broke. Again. And the car needed to be towed. Again. And I had to get the loaner. And then groceries and dishes and sweeping and mopping and I had a date.and the cat needed to play, every time my fingers hit the keyboard and the boy, my beloved boy, he needed dinner and attention and time. And there was something skittering around in my head, about packing and getting ready for a trip and how that was less preparation and more taking a little bit of everything I own, just in case, and there are a few people I need to get back to dammit I forgot to pick up the prescription and

Who the hell has time to prepare?

And so I'm late. As usual. All the prep time in the world, and I come in late. Unfinished, or just barely not. A thousand thoughts swirling in my head, some of them even about Elul and Prepare and this blessed need to stop and breathe and dive in, headlong, prepared or not.

And that's it, really: ready or not, prepared or just barely, this is it. Even in those rare moments when I feel totally prepared, life can so throw me for a loop and send me spinning. This is the prep work, this month, this mindful time, being in it, living and diving and bending the light just so, allowing me to examine the year I have lived, and how I showed up for it (or didn't).

Stop. Breathe. Dive.

Rosh Chodesh Elul sameach.
(grateful for a two day rosh chodesh)
(and now onto Day Two: Act)


Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Grace of Imperfection: reflections on the 24th anniversary of my sobriety

This is the story of my twenty-fourth year of sobriety, told together and in two parts. (You'll see. There would have been columns, which is infinitely more satisfying to me, but Blogger isn't set up for such binary sophistication. So - the parts go together, even though they look - to the naked eye - separate.)

Part One, told together and at the exact same time as Part Two

This has been a crappy year. In the general scheme of all my years, there have been crappier, but not by much. It was one of those years I less lived through and more merely survived, finding too many windy, twisty paths and far too many trap-door bottoms as I stumbled through the days.

There was a time, a while back, that I lost just about everything: property, people, positions. I lost them all irrevocably. Each loss felt like an amputation, and I would get those ghost twinges and pains, as if what I had lost still existed, just out of reach, just out of sight, but still it held weight and heft enough to bring me to my knees. This past year, this past crappy year, was not one of loss, but more a long string of break ups. People, possessions, things – all the standard gathering of stuff that one accumulates over time, a simple break of here, and then not.

If I woke, all too suddenly, in the lonely and dark, night shirt clinging and twisted and drenched in sweat, it was less about loss and grief and fear, and more about a constantly-changing body, a war of hormones and time raging just beneath the surface of my skin. But, having been woken by flashes of heat at temperatures just shy of internal combustion, having stumbled to the bathroom to pee yet again, all the voices of all those people and places and things from which I had separated and severed ties (or that – more likely – all those that had broken up with me) came muttering back in, racing through my head, a cacophony of what-ifs and whys that caused no small amount of psychic whiplash as I attempted to follow each whining whisper spinning manic tales that always ended with “and that’s why you’re a horrible mother and a terrible human being!” Dawn did not defeat the monsters of my dark, but rather sent them skittering into deep folds and hidden corners, where they readied themselves for their inevitable return.

I ran out of money. I robbed Peter and Paul both, The lights flickered a time or two while I cobbled together something out of nothing, a game of smoke and mirrors and odd jobs and charity. I can barely stand the kindness of strangers; the generosity of people I know and love is worse, but I gritted my teeth and learned a grudging gratitude. I collected the mail every week or two, whether I needed to or not. Bills went into the if-you-don’t-open-it-you-don’t-owe-it pile. I hadn’t resorted to that since the early days of my sobriety. Of course, back then, I really did believe it: let them all wait while I sorted out my life and my needs and my wants, while I amassed an Enough that was never quite Enough enough to pay any creditor back. These days, as the pile of unopened bills grew with exponential speed, I cringe, remembering something I heard at a meeting long ago, “Hey – people don’t want your money; they want theirs.”  I am hemorrhaging other people’s money, desperately trying to staunch the flow that shows no sign of stopping.

I was busy learning lessons of life and faith and God this year. Relearning. Reliving those painful, poignant lessons I could have sworn I’d mastered in early(ish) sobriety. There was no less intensity in the learning, no less wondering or pain than twenty-four years ago.

Again and again during this crappy year, I found myself knee-deep in the muck of powerlessness. This damnably simple truth had, long ago, seeped into my consciousness, gotten under my skin, became as true to me as “two plus two is four,” or “the sun rises in the east.” It has been bedrock upon which the foundation of my sobriety lives and breathes. I do not ever doubt my powerlessness over alcohol (and even grudgingly accept this as a managing principle over people, places and things). It is so true that it is almost-but-not-quite invisible.

I got the crash course review this past crappy year. During that first year or three of sobriety, when I finally began to notice the shambles of my life; when finally noticing the shambles I had made of my life: the gruesome remains of relationships I had pushed past the breaking point, the tiny universe of one I lived in, desperate to avoid pain and entanglement and fear (never realizing that I had tethered and tied them all to me with knots as hard as night), when powerlessness felt draining and all-encompassing and impossibly huge, but there was something I could do, some action I could take that could relieve the absoluteness of my powerlessness. The action would not fix me or the broken pieces of my life, but I could rest easier, trudging along that weary road. I could go to a meeting, make a list, talk to my sponsor, make an amends, go to another meeting, whine for a bit and work on it and pray about it and go to sixteen more meetings and find that, at some point, the moment passed and I was out the other side: still powerless, but sitting in my own skin, crisis (real or imagined) back there somewhere, and I was still sober. 

What I didn’t get then – all those early days and middle years and long ago Thens - was that soul-sucking, weak-in-the-knees shock of powerlessness that comes when all you can do, no matter how much you pray or hope or love, all you can do is watch. There is no action you can take, no power you can summon. There is nothing you can do except witness. Hope becomes tattered and gritty, an impossibly shallow breath that cannot sustain a too-weary heart. It is so much easier to quip “I’m a human being, not a human doing!” from the comfort of ease and abundance. It is nearly impossible when the doing and the being may be on you, but the reality is all about someone else. Someone you love, who is facing demons of their own, challenges and stumbling blocks and even death itself. And all you can do is love them, because you are powerless to do anything else, and how the hell can that ever be enough?

What can I do? What can I do? Nothing. Pace. Pray. Don’t drink. Get angry. Get scared. Still don’t drink. Disconnect. Head to a meeting. Write. Don’t drink, even when that fear becomes unbearable. Still don’t drink. Talk to a friend. Rail at God. Pace. Nothing. Anything. Spin like a whirling dervish of activity – all sound and fury, signifying nothing. Cry. Sleep. Wake up. Eat a cookie. Don’t fucking drink. Sing. Hope.

Ah, yes. Hope. That gritty, rusty shriveled old thing. Hope. Don’t drink. Hope. Pray. It gets better. Maybe. It might get better. But you’ll be there. You’ll be present and sober and scared and there. Ready, when it’s time. Time to pray, or mourn, or do the next thing, whatever that thing is. You’ll be ready. You’ll be sober. Don’t drink, go to meetings. Talk. Share. Listen.

I have walked, stumbling and hesitant and with a surprising bit of grace, through twenty-four years of days. I still get scared. I still box with God. I still take it a day at a time (sometimes an hour at a time, sometimes a minute or a breath). I am still powerless. I still mostly hate that.

I’ll live – powerless and present. I’ll pray a little, pace a little. Try to hope. Sleep too little, fret too much. Feel crappy. But oh – what a gift! To be present, in this moment, to celebrate and grieve and worry and doubt and love.

Part Two - told together and at the exact same time as Part One

I’m getting a little annoyed with my editor. She keeps telling me the eBook version of my book will be available soon. She’s been saying "soon" since late June.

She is German, though. Maybe “soon” means something different to her.

Maybe I’m just impatient.

This is a real conversation that I’ve been having in my head. For weeks, I have been getting peevish that the book isn’t yet an eBook, that it’s still not available on every online platform. That I haven’t been written up in the New York Times Review of Books or been handed a Pulitzer.

The fact that I can have this imaginary conversation – imaginary in that it’s unsaid and in my head, but not that the events and situations aren’t true on the face of it – is absolutely and completely mind-boggling.

I wrote a book! I mean, an actual ink-on-paper book. Six months or so ago, I woke up to an email from some woman, the Acquisitions Editor at a small Jewish press in Germany, telling me that, while they normally publish scholarly works and textbooks, they were looking to expand their markets. She had come across my blog online and thought my writing would be perfect to help them do that. Would I be interested in doing a book with them?


Really? Someone has to ask that?

When I was newly sober, still trying on random pieces of my life, those pieces I had left along the wayside as I pursued anything that would bring on an oblivion stronger than my pain – even if only for a minute or three – and desperately trying to shed the wreckage that was threatening to bury me in a field of hidden mines and sharp, rusty edges, I would sigh every so often, saying, “I want to be a writer.”

Finally, one of my friends could take it no longer. “Stacey,” he rasped in a voice laced with too much booze, too many cigarettes, too much loneliness, “a writer writes.” Oh. That. Hmmm.

I filed that tidbit away with all the other verbs that I yearned for but couldn’t quite manage, like sing, or love, or parent, or God. So many verbs escaped me in those early days that stretched into weeks and months and years. Eventually, they came to me, not in a whoosh of perfection, but in fits and starts, all jangly dissonance and wonder. Jack of all verbs, master of none. I practice at them, do them far less than perfectly – which sets my teeth on edge and makes my skin fairly crawl often enough – but I do them anyway, and sometimes even manage to do them well. It never lasts, that, but I learned to live with that, learned to live in a world that is much more silver and gray and messiness than my black-and-white sensitivities would require.

And this year, this twenty-fourth year of my sobriety, I wrote a book! I can say, almost without giggling like a small child who is trying, but cannot quite contain the very large secret she is guarding, “I am a writer,” in answer to the question “What do you do?” I wrote a book, and someone published it and oh my God – seriously?

What a glorious gift this year has been! A few months ago, I was asked to participate in a Storytelling event. What an incredible honor, and so very humbling to be in the company of such masterful wordsmiths. I felt awkward: the story I chose was so different from the others! They were crisp and funny and bright, the perfect blend of wit and wonder. My story moved along in slow waves.

It wouldn’t have mattered if my story was exactly like theirs. I would have felt awkward regardless. No matter. I showed up – because I was asked. Because I was honored beyond belief. Because this was my community, and I am connected to them by more than words or microphones.

I did a horrible job of promoting the event. I had great intentions. Some things change with meteoric speed, others with all the pondering grace of glacial movement. Some things even slower. This was one of them. I had posters to hang, networks to harangue. I managed to put a notice or two on my Facebook page – Hey! There’s this thing! Come, if you have nothing better to do!

I was not hopeful. I had tried this before, this ask-people-to-show-up thing. It mostly hadn't worked. I was pretty confident that it would mostly not work again. I mean, really: who wants to schlep out on a Thursday night to hear a bunch of people telling stories? Ok – they’d schlep to hear them, just not you. Me, They would not come to see me.  

(Always remember: the words I say out loud are but the tip of the iceberg. I have a fascinating and very vocal internal life to fuel all the voices in my head. Trust me: the 10% rule fully applies.)

I did not do the publicity thing well, but I did something. And I showed up. And they came. Lots of people came. It was amazing. But oh my! In a breathless moment of wonder and joy, there were a few people who came just for me. They came because I asked.

This still takes my breath away and leaves me teary. I had a reading. I have an editor. I wrote a book. People came because I asked.

Part Three - the hidden track on the CD 

I joke that my son has learned every lesson I have ever taught him, whether I wanted him to or not. So, for all that he has become a champion for kindness, for all that he will act swiftly (if not always wisely) if he sees injustice, for all that he will dive into words and ideas and stories and worlds beyond and worlds that should be, it can be painfully awkward to hear the sharp edge of sarcasm coming from the mouth of a four year old. And that is infinitely more palatable than to see him throw up his hands in frustration and walk away from verbal conflict, shutting down, shutting out, wrapping himself in silence because he learned the lesson of avoidance all too well.

My continued imperfection at life continues to confound me. More, it saddens me profoundly, when I see its aftermath writ so large upon my beloved boy. He is smart and kind and willful and sarcastic and snarky and sneaky and funny and gracious. The other day, I broke down. There is only so much crap I can take at any one time, and I had reached the breaking point. So I cried, and couldn’t breathe for a minute, and had no clue for a longer time than that. I was in full panic mode, Def Con 5. I did this all in front of my son. Not necessarily the right move, but I’d rather he see me be human – emotional, imperfect, sniveling and lost more often than I care to be (and probably should be) – I’d rather he see that than something false and not real.

My beloved boy, who has learned every lesson I’ve ever taught him whether I wanted him to or not, apparently has also learned the lessons I could never quite learn myself but wanted so fiercely to teach to him. “Mom,” he said to me, “it’s ok to be vulnerable. It’s not weakness to ask for help.”

The bountiful gift of grace: to be present for one another,  in that moment - any moment, every moment - to grieve and worry and celebrate and love.

Synthesis and gleanings, told with the words I see in my heart, not my head

This was my year, my twenty fourth year of sobriety. It was crappy and glorious, both at once. It was never one or the other thing. There are things that I know to be true, like two plus two is four, or I am powerless. These are immutable facts. There are so many more: life is so very rarely one thing. It is mostly a jumble of everything, and the trick is to tease out a single thread – maybe a couple or five – to see where they lead and what they feel like before moving on to the next thread or two. This takes patience. I am quite imperfect at that. I finally know that it is more important to show up, imperfections blaring and embarrassing and feeling all too large and loud, than to wait for a perfection that can never achieve. I missed so much of my life, waiting for it – and me – to be perfect.

I am so very grateful for my sobriety. I am so very grateful for today. It’s the only day I have – to make much of or to hide from or to fritter away while I busy myself with something else entirely. I have this day because I did not drink. I have this day because there are miracles still, and grace and love. I have this day, crappy, resonant, joyous, humbling, scary, lost, magnificent, because I didn’t drink. I will go to a meeting, talk some, listen more, sing a bit, have a conversation with God, hang out with my son, write and remember to be grateful for the gifts I have been given: the gift of struggle and the grace of imperfection.