Monday, March 30, 2015

After the Breaking

When the light broke,
When it shattered into its
infinite pieces
that drifted
in leisurely Spirals
that caught the odd
so that,
just when you thought 
you had hold of one,
it slipped -
a half-skip -
in that syncopated
downbeat to
back up

When the light broke 
in that glorious, 
that was -
is - 
will be -
there was darkness;
there was light,
There was evening
and morning.
There was day to follow 
It was all there,
in the breath taking
breaking of that glorious
first Light.

When the light broke,
When there was Now
and Yet to be,
each piece,
each jagged, holy piece
that drifted and
caught hold
and held
and drew near
and was neither
nor There
(will Be)

an echo
of Worlds
and time,
Waiting, shivering
in eager anticipation,
to be Found
and returned;
to be tethered,
piece by piece
by jagged,
to the beginning,
to the end,
and the yet to Be;

To become,
and completely whole,
a single, sacred
to illuminate
a kaleidoscope
of Then and
and endless
what has always
olam haba.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Hide - 05 Nisan

I had lunch with a Facebook friend today. We had never met before; not face-to-face, at least. In fact, we've only been "friends" for a short time - maybe six or seven months. But as it happens, on Facebook and other brands of social media, we have struck up - if not a friendship per se, then at least a conversation. One that is interesting enough to open the door, just a crack, for me to leave the comfort of my hiding place, the one that lays just in front of my computer, where I can exist as thought, as pixels and ether , armed with a huge monitor for my battered eyes and a heavily-used delete key for my battering wit and my battered heart.

I do a lot of hiding. I wear too many masks.

I hide behind my computer; I hide behind my words. I hide my heart because it's been broken and bruised once too often. I hide my desires; I hide my fears. I wear a mask of cynicism and take refuge in sarcasm. I can lose myself in self-righteousness just as easily in my self-doubt and self-deprecation. I hide in study and hide behind God.

Mind you, these hiding places are not oases of lies to dole out with capricious grace. I am honest. To a point. I am also quite guarded. I don't dole out truth; I dole out bits and pieces of me. At the first hint of danger, I retreat behind my invisible, unscalable walls, and I take out my masks - the Intellect; the Mom; the Writer; the Hell Raiser; the Snarky One; the Human. Oh, yes; the Human is a mask, too, a perfect disguise when I feel lost and clueless and outside of and less than.

All these masks. All these hiding places. All me, in bits and pieces.

And if I know a thing or two, I know that so many of us feel this need to hide. We hide our need and our doubt and our fear. We hide our faith. Our sexuality. Our talent. Our intelligence. We hide our love. We hide our anger. We put up walls to hide our selves - our heart and our spirit. We hide all the damaged bits, the hurts and the pain.

What we forget - what I forget - what is hidden cannot be healed or be whole. If I can only give bits and pieces, that is all I will ever be. I will always be incomplete. Perhaps that is the lesson of the Afikomen - the broken piece of matzoh that gets hidden and then found. Our seder is incomplete until the Afikomen is found and returned.

Perhaps this year, I will find all those broken pieces and bring them out of hiding. Perhaps I will have courage enough to find healing and wholeness, with no need to hide.

Once we were slaves, now we are free.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Grow - 04 Nisan

"Pain is the touchstone of all spiritual growth"

Ugh. If that's true, I am the Paul Bunyan and Babe, the Blue Ox of spiritual growth, combined. And with a side order of Godzilla and King Kong for those long, dark nights of the soul to spare. I have done pain - I have lived in it and feasted on it and denied it and wrapped it around me like a blanket until I fairly suffocated in it. 

I've mastered pain. 

So why is it, then, with all my experience and mastery, that I am still caught off guard by it? Why am I still surprised when it tethers me to its twin, fear, and traps me in its embrace? Why then, if pain is the touchstone of spiritual growth, do I feel so small?

I have learned so much in this almost too-examined life that I lead, and if I am honest (and, here, among the intimate anonymity of these pixels, I am), I will say that pain has not trapped me in its embrace, actually. Rather, I am the captor in this little tango; I cling to it like love or breath. It is impossible to grow, so long as I refuse to learn the lesson of my pain and let it go.

I have learned this lesson, again and again. It is so easy, so familiar, so safe to choose the path of pain. It is so easy to stay small, unchallenged. 

It is so easy to remain a slave. To stay stopped by the Sea and wait for all that pain that's there, gathering at the horizon, gaining speed and rushing headlong towards you, spears at the ready. I know. I've done that, again and again. And I've welcomed all those wicked charioteers like long lost comrades-in-arms.

But... once we were slaves; now we are free. That has to mean something. I can stand, immobile, unchanged, waiting, or, like Nachshon, I can chose to leap. I can choose to grow, to spread my spiritual wings  and soar (or stumble, or walk, or skateboard) into the unknown. I can choose to leave my pain at the shore, and dance a path towards freedom.

This is it. The time is now.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Cleaning Up

Something gets dirty, every time I clean.

I will do ten loads of laundry, and the minute I have folded the last pair of jeans and hung the last shirt (and immediately made the beds because folding a fitted sheet, no matter how many times you've asked your mother, no matter how many youtube videos and life hacks you've watched, that particular skill just escapes you even now), there suddenly appears five socks and a washcloth. I wash dishes, and as I'm drying my hands, my son slips a fork into the sink.

For all that something gets dirty every time I clean, I still have to do it. Even when I blink and find another six loads in the basket, there is something so incredibly satisfying about cleaning. I feel so accomplished like I should get a round of applause or a medal. At least a gold star, right?

So why is it that I have such a hard time getting into the Passover cleaning frenzy? So many of my friends seem to have such a healthy love-hate relationship with this ritual. I have a friend who barely does Jewish all year long, but chooses, of all our holidays and celebrations,  to keep Pesach, scouring his kitchen, cleansing it of chametz, readying his home and himself for the holiday. 

I have such a hard time wrapping my head around that. I grew up a deeply superficial Jew. In our family, holidays were less about commandment and God, and much more about the menu. They were joyous affairs, and there was even an occasional prayer that tumbled out, as if by accidental embarrassment, but as with so much else, we tended to slip over the nitty-gritty detail with nonchalant alacrity.

So, Passover meant a last minute trip to the grocery store to find an elusive shank bone, moving the bread to the other side of the shelf to make room for the matzo,  a kitchen that smelled of dill and roasting brisket and heat, and a makeshift seder plate because we were apparently surprised that Pesach came every year, and who knew you needed a Seder plate? While we managed to pull off most of a Seder while my grandparents were around (performing the ritual that I lovingly call Dueling Zaydes), once they were gone, Passover became a wonderful excuse to dust off the soup pot and overtax the refrigerator.

There was no cleaning, other than the normal cleaning done by the housekeeper before guests came to the house. We didn't switch dishes. I could mostly guarantee that we'd at least make it through the two seders without eating bread (we didn't know from chametz so I wouldn't swear by anything there).

I'd love to claim my disconnected puzzlement with the whole concept of cleaning for Pesach the result of my mostly secular upbringing. And these days, I could use my changing and challenging health stuff as an easy excuse to merely theorize about cleaning and kashering. Either reason would be awesome. Both would be wrong.  I've become more and more observant over time. I've dived into my Judaism with joy and intention. But not in this, and I really have no clue why. Passover is my favorite holiday. With its themes of redemption and freedom and faith, how could it not be? 

So why? Why not dive in here, clean my kitchen, cleanse my home, prepare, at last, for miracles and wonder? Life gets messy; it's time to clean it up.

I have no answer to these questions. I flirt with the idea, stare at my pantry, think how my newly repaired dishwasher might aid in the kashering process.  I mentally gather the dishes in my pie safe, the "good one" that I got from one of my bubbies, and the other ones, the arty ones I bought in San Francisco a thousand years ago that I love, that have gone unused post-child because they were  really expensive and I used to have a disposable income but now not so much, and I could use these for Pesach, right? And I think about hot soapy water and the smell of Pine-Sol, which always meant clean.

So really - why not dive in here? Why not be commanded, not just to tell the story, to act as if I were there, actually there, in the narrow places, being freed, seeing the wonders and the smoke and fire, but follow the commandment to prepare for it as well? Why not?

And I sigh, shrug a little, glance at my kitchen one last time and turn back to whateverthehell I was doing. This year here; next year I will clean.

Once we were slaves, now we are free.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

02 Nisan - Bless (#blogExodus)

Sometimes, I'm convinced that I am cursed. Sometimes, I'm absolutely certain that my Higher Power, whom I mostly call God, but occasionally call something more suitable for an R-18 rated essay - I am certain that S/He is, in actuality, God's evil twin, and S/He is definitely out to get me.

I know this because life can be really crappy. Not just the every day crappy of traffic jams and paper cuts. I'm talking the huge, almost insurmountable crappy that can seep into all the cracks of your life, spreading over everything, until it's just ooze, from here to infinity plus three. It's all that big stuff that tears you apart, fills you with shame, tastes like despair. And after two or three or six times you realize that the bottom you swore you had finally landed on turns out to be just another trap door - all of that crap seems to wrap around you like cotton, muffling all the sounds, and blurring all the light.

Hard to see blessings through all that cotton batting and those loose trap doors.

So I curse, from the depths of whatever sub-basement of the six kinds of hell into which I've fallen. And into that echo-y, empty space that contains no light and holds less hope, I cry and mumble and dream and yell (depending upon the day, or the phases of the moon, or just how depressed/angry/ scared I really am) a string of invective that could blister ice. I swear - really, really swear. And I curse. A helluva lot. 

There's not a blessing to be found. 

This is what I tell myself: I must be cursed, and since this must be true, I only have curses to give. And I give them all to God. That's what fills this basket I carry with me - my anger. My pain. My despair. All the broken bits and open wounds. I carry it all with me, cursing God, cursing me, over and over, again and again.

But at some point in my twisty, winding, stumbling life, I learned this one holy thing: this, too, shall pass.

It is a holy thing. Trite to be sure, but no less a holy statement for all of that. This will pass. I know this, I have experienced is time and again, yet I wrap myself in that cotton, I slog through that desert of ooze that sucks at my feet and swallows my shoes, I curse and I moan and feel lost in forever. And I am surprised, still (always), that it does. There are times when I have no idea why it passes, just that one day, I felt buried by a mound of fifty-seven things that I couldn't climb on a good day with every superhuman power anyone could ever think of, and the next I wasn't.

Don't get me wrong. The crappy stuff, from tiny and stupid and annoying to the huge stuff that crushes your spirit and sips at your soul - all that crappy stuff is still there. The job is still lost. The bills are still stacked and overdue. People you love still die. Life is still hard. 

What changes though, is not the stuff. What changes is you. Perhaps it's all the cursing. I am convinced that it doesn't ever matter what you pray, only that you pray. It is my continuing conversation with God - whatever God's name I call Her/Him, whatever mask I demand God wear - that makes a difference and changes me. 

I don't know the mechanism for this change, or the equation that solves for X, where X is my pain, traveling along the Y-axis of my doubt divided by time and intention. I have no clue, and I am, much to my surprise, okay with that. I am learning to let be, let go, breathe. And you know what? That, too - that enlightened, spiritually wonky place of serenity and being-ness - that, too will pass. No matter how tightly I hold on, they pass.

Here's what I do know - when I stumble, when I stagger under the weight of my despair, there have been people who have caught me and carried me until I found firmer ground to stand on. There have been hands to hold in the darkness, shoulders upon which to lean and hearts to shine a light on hidden paths. I have been offered kindness, I have felt love. I have seen my son smile and heard him laugh as if pain had never been invented. 

I may carry my curses with me, lugging them along as I trudge from place to place. But I carry my blessings, too. 

I am blessed beyond imaging.

Once we were slaves, now we are free.

Begin - 01 Nisan

Begin? Seriously? As if I'm ready! Thank God that we number our days from evening to evening, or I'd be behind before I'd even begun. The first blessing of the day...

Today, the first of Nisan, and the prompt is Begin. Start. Go. One foot, then the other. Gah! I am so not ready for this - not the beginning, not the journey, not the anything. There's a house to clean (seriously-for-this-holiday clean, which I've never done before, but it seems right to do so this year and I have no idea what I'm doing and I can't believe how much stuff there is to do, just to do this one thing and I'm wondering if I can just expand the scary closet (don't ask!) to house all the stuff that I just can't get to in time), and thinking that paper plates and plastic silverware are an excellent option, and the manuscript to edit and the worry about money and jobs and, you know, just plain-old stability in my life - in Nate's life. The car needs to be fixed and the groceries put away and the tutor is coming and I forgot I'm chanting Torah this morning, but there are these words rattling around in my head, begging for release, begging to float in ghostly delight on my computer screen.

There are all these tiny, little threads - some frayed, some not (some knotted beyond belief), and I run from here to there and back again, times infinity, trying to hold onto them all, trying to keep them all in order. Not that I have the slightest clue about order. Each thread, each task, each job - they all occupy the exact same space in my head: insistent and immediate. DO THIS NOW - at least, do it until the next thing, the next thread drifts into my field of vision, usurping my time and attention until the next thread. So mopping the kitchen floor and getting the breaks on the car checked hold the same urgent necessity - at least for a moment, while I see both threads peeking through clenched fingers in my fisted hand.

How in the world can I possibly begin, when all these things, all these threads, all these tasks remain?

Maybe this is why God gave the Children of Israel no time. Yes, yes - there were plenty of major hints and promises along the way, including ten rather horrific plagues and some awesome magic. And sure, there was the sheep standing in the middle of the living room, waiting. There were some really huge clues that they were getting ready to leave, and soon. Even so, there's a huge leap, sometimes, between "Getting ready" and "Go!"

There's always one more thing. There's always wait just a second. There's always ooops, I forgot, let me just run back inside, I won't be a minute. There's always tomorrow.

I will never not have a gazillion threads in my hand. If I waited to tie off each of them, finish each task, complete each job, be 100% totally ready - let's just say I would make Moshiach hold on a second, I've just got to do this one more thing...

Sometimes, no matter how much prep work I do, no matter how much still needs to be done, no matter how unready and unprepared I feel - it's time to put one foot in front of the other and begin.

For anyone who is interested in playing along, here is the list of prompts created by my friend, Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, chosen to help us bend a little more, think a little differently as we prepare for Passover and freedom. Blog daily, pick a prompt that fairly sings to you, and let the pixels come out to play on your screen. There is a lovely hashtag (#blogExodus), so that you can follow all the various threads. If pictures are more your thing, there's a hashtag for that, too (#Exodusgram)

Once we were slaves, now we are free...

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ascent and Deliberate Fall

I walk under a canopy of letters, 
half-formed words of script 
and block print.
They fly, like bees, or crows,
in a swoop and a swarm
of black and gray fire.

I walk, a basket riding 

low on my hip,
and a ceaseless flow of letters -

down, and up again,
again and again,
in delicate arcs
and deliberate angles, 
like the wings of angels 
that climb and descend,
flowing like time
or an absence of light.

They smell of water,
or maybe winter,
and they whisper stories
of love and shame
and the secret name of God -
which is no secret at all,
but is merely unpronounceable
as breath - so they say.

They can cut you
those letters -
all sharply angled
and razor thin, like wire.
My fingers come away bloody.
every time I reach into
that basket of blessing
and curse;
and I reach in,
again and again,
my blood mixing with
their black and gray fire,
and the swarming,
swooping canopy
of half-formed words
and graceful curves.

The basket chafes my hip
and I bow under the
boundless weight of canopied
letters that dance in magpie joy
just out of reach,
and my fingers grow
blistered and raw;
but I feel the butterfly kiss
of every letter in its ascent
and deliberate fall,
from down to up
and down again.

And I walk under a canopy
of letters, a basket of
blessing and
curse at my side.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


I searched for miracles,
for signs and portents
of wondrous delight.
I longed for
a pillar of fire,
or maybe a column
of dark ash,
that smelled of incense
and myrrh.

There came then
a fierce wind,
a great gust of air -
or perhaps merely a breeze
with just power enough
to lift my hair
and cool my skin.

Wonders and miracles
are counted on
the wings of angels
who dance on
the sharp end of a pin,
and whose feet come
away bloody.
They are a mighty host
of smoke and mirror
to move the heart
of God.

I searched the horizon
for a Sign,
for a portent
of Wonder.
I almost missed
my Beloved

Monday, March 9, 2015

Seasonally Deluded. Again.

I drove home with the windows rolled down today.  I even complained that the sun was way too bright.  When I got home, I turned off the heat and threw open the windows.  Well, a window, at least.

Dangerous.  There is definite danger here, in all this sun and warmth.  There is a quickening, along with a need to bask.  A contradiction, yes, but both desires fight for an outlet in this suddenly changing and warming world.
There’s more light now, and of a different kind.  Winter light is watery and weak, a pale shade of yellow that barely illuminates a world that has been leached of color.  It is all grays and browns and pale, pale yellow.  Here in March, the light seems to stretch in its intensity.  Sunsets stain the sky with peach and purple and rose-gold; a Maxfield Parrish canvas that glows from within.  There is an impatience this time of year, a hurry-up-gotta-go-gotta-move kind of feeling, a heady mix of rising temperatures, rich, loamy smells and a return of glorious color.
The orange signs are back.  They litter every roadway from here to there, and back again.  They trumpet the return of Chicago’s other season: not winter, but construction.  They promise delay in the guise of improvement.  No matter; with the return of warm weather, the roads are clogged to capacity anyway, a rush of humanity intent on breaking out of their self-imposed hibernation, intent on basking in speed and exhaust and sunlight, grateful to be anywhere that is outside, that is away, that is not layered under mounds of outerwear and cocooned in underwear.
All of a sudden, people once again fill the roads, the parks, the paths and the sidewalks.  Their thoughts turn to visions of growing things and churning rich, black soil, to open flames of gas grills and open windows in cars. They move faster, they smile more.  They talk about spring.  Incessantly.  On and on and on.  They chatter in their excitement, a steady, buzzy drone of the wonders of things to come.
The problem, and it’s one of astronomical proportions, is that it is March.  March, in the Midwest.  It is not spring.  Not here.  And no matter what the calendar says, no matter that the equinox happens on March 20 (give or take), no matter that I drove with the windows rolled down today, it is not spring, and it won’t be for months.
You heard me: months.
This thaw, this blip on the space-time continuum, is nothing more than Mother Nature’s tease.  It happens every year: a thaw, brief and intense and intoxicating as wine, that allows crocuses to bloom and barbeques to smolder, that lulls us into a sense that we have broken the back of winter at last— this thaw comes in on a breeze, leaving us hopeful and stumbling out of our dormancy.  Then, quick as breath, as warmth and light— it’s gone, leaving us once more in the grips of a lingering, bone-chilling winter.
We gasp in disbelief, year after year.  Wait, we cry, it was spring; I swear it was.  I walked without a coat!  I felt the warmth of the sun!  Where the hell did this snow come from? We midwesterners forget the lingering death of winter.  We forget that temperatures will rise and fall on a dime until long after the groundhog checks out its chubby silhouette.  The trees may bud, a thin patina of green may creep stealthily onto dormant shrubs and trees, but leaves don’t burst forth until mid-May.  Tulips and daffodils be damned: spring is still a far distant shore.
And yet: I drove home with the windows rolled down and felt the warmth of the sun on my face.  I know that winter merely plays hide and seek with its cousin spring.  I know that the cold will slither in on bitter winds off the Lake, and snow will again skitter madly down torn-up roads and pile against orange and white construction barrels.
But I’ll take this warmth, this breath of spring.  I’ll store it up, and wait, with growing impatience, like Persephone, until I am released from winter’s captivity to bask briefly in the glory of warmth and light and spring.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

To This Moment

Joy lingers,
It gets into folds of cloth
and time. It scatters,
dancing with dust motes
that drift according to some
ancient and hidden meter.
that only God
and the dust know.
it is as fine as cobwebs
and sticky -
it shocks and shivers in
unannounced wonder
on well-trodden paths,
and those not taken.

It settles like a 
kiss upon your skin,
and you carry its
sticky memory with 
every step
and whisper.

joy lingers in the last note -
     a song
     a psalm
     a sigh
that stretches into forever;
that you would follow forever;
that starts with your breath -
for how could it not begin there,
with breath, and soul,
and the very name 
of God?

Joy echoes,
and lingers,
and washes over you,
and is in you,
and carries you
from season to season,
to this moment,
this very moment of