About Me

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I write, mostly to keep my head from exploding. It threatens to do that a lot. My blog is the pixelated version of all the voices in my head. I tend to dive into what connects me to God, my community, my family and my doubt. I do a lot of searching, not as much finding. I’m good with that. I have learned, finally, to live comfortably in the gray. In the meantime, I wrestle with God, and my doubt and my joy.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My Father's Music

My father can play three songs on the piano. One is Debussey's Clare de Lune. The other two are also classical pieces. I have no idea which ones. But I would love when we would go to my Aunt Laurie's house-- immense and modern, with huge rooms and (to my eye) impossibly high ceilings, her baby grand sat in sharp relief against the white walls and white shag carpet of her white living room-- and my dad would play.

I sat next to him on the piano bench, almost too eager to breathe, barely containing myself for the length of his short repertoire. He didn't know the entirety of any of the three works, but he knew enough to keep us all transfixed. Before the last note died, I would burst out "Again, daddy! Play it again!"

And he would. He would bring his large hands-- so much more comfortable holding a golf club or a cup of coffee-- he would bring his hands up and  begin to play. And for those few minutes, I was mesmerized by his hands, fluid and graceful, saying everything that mattered, everything that he couldn't say: Of course I'll it play again. I love you.

Dad wasn't much for words. Used to make me crazy. Read this, Dad; can you believe what it says? Watch this, Dad; what'd'ya think? Listen to this, Dad-- what do you say?

That's nice.
I guess so.
I don't know.

I was like a puppy all during my childhood and adolescense, jumping and wagging and slightly desperate for his attention. Notice me, Dad. Engage. Talk. Debate. Argue. Something. Anything. And mostly, I would skid head first into the wall of his quiet.

But when I asked, he would lift his strong hands to the keyboard and play for me, one more time.

Years later, long after I had moved out of their house into my own, we would joke about it (well, "joke" in the very-few-words-but-still-shared-sentiment of my dad's world). After I had talked to my mother for however long she would grant me, after the obligatory how-are-you-what's-new-are-you-dating-anyone back and forth of our conversations, she would invariably end our call with "Here. Your father wants to talk to you," and she would hand the phone to my father.

"Hey Dad."


"Poor Morry," I would say, laughing. Morry was my grandfather, my mother's stepfather. Her mother would do the same thing, every time. Whenever she was done with her part of the conversation (always in some weirdly truncated shorthand, so worried was she about the toll charges that she was sure would bankrupt her or us), she would shove the phone in Morry's hand, insisting that he wanted to talk to us. After a painfully uncomfortable and mostly silent minute or so, peppered with pat questions and unheard answers ("How are you, Papa?" "Fine, fine.") that trailed off into gentle sighs that filled up the remaining space, until we could all (thankfully) hang up.

"How's it going, Morry?" I would tease my father.
"Fine, fine," he would say. I could hear his distracted smile loud and clear.
"You don't wanna talk, do you, Dad?"
"Not particularly. Everything ok?"
"All good, Dad. I release you-- you can hang up now. Love you."

And so it went. I understood the why of his reluctance at some point, finally. He made his living with his words. If he wasn't talking to a client, he was arguing their cases in court. He spent his days talking, so by the time we picked him up at the train station at 5:45 every night, Monday through Friday, week after week after month after year, he was done talking.

Dad lived in a world that merely shadowed our own, intersecting it in the background and the in-between times-- early morning just before leaving for the train or the golf course; dusk and dinner, sitting at the head of the table, inhaling whatever meat-and-potatoes dinner Mom had made. My brothers were lucky. They had Indian Guides and Little League, smaller and infinitely more tender points of intersection. I was always so jealous that they had found this private, boy-language that engaged our father in a way that I never could.

For me, almost always, he was a silent, bread-winning presence, a not-quite stranger who came and went according to his own rhythms. Every so often, I would find the bridge between our worlds and be filled with the music he coaxed from the piano, a language all our own.

We grew comfortable in our every-so-often conversations. They rarely veered from the gentle paths we had carved for them. "How's it going?" "Fine, dad. Go ahead, Morry-- you are released." What more needed to be said? Love was wrapped around every letter, every vowel in those short sentences.

My story would end here, in that gentle back and forth game of verbal shorthand at which we had become so adept. It would - it should - but doesn't. Apparently, those warnings they slap on the side of a pack of cigarettes are true: smoking is dangerous for your health. For Dad, it became true in spades: throat and tongue cancer. When he was diagnosed, we were told that if he had to get cancer, this was certainly the best one to get, since it was mostly curable and survival rates are quite high. Of course, an 89% survival rate is high until it's used in connection with your dad. Then it's impossibly small, while 11% looms larger than mountains and sky together.

After a year of chemo and radiation and hope and prayer (not necessarily in that order), the doctors found that while the tongue cancer had been eradicated, the throat cancer seemed to have snagged on his vocal chords, wrapping them in strands of ugly, deathly cells. There was no choice but to remove the voice box. And so, on September 10, 2012, dad underwent a trachyectomy.

I went to visit him, shortly after his surgery. He was still raw and tender, still a little lost and unsure.  Always a man of small conversations and few words-- he was wrapped in silence. We had gotten him a white board to write on. We wanted to get him an iPad or Tablet. He refused them all. He was too impatient, too used to the rhythms of talking and vocalizing. He would start to write, and then his fingers and thoughts would tangle, and he'd push the board to the side, waiting mutely for us to fill in the blanks.

And then he would bring up his large hands, swirling them through the air between us, fluid punctuation to whatever he was trying to say. Impassioned, expressive, swooping movement meant to be his voice:

Ferris wheel, ferris wheel, fireworks!

Or something to that effect. I read his hands about as well as I read his lips. I realized, though, that the words didn't matter. Or didn't matter much. I was transfixed, once again, by his hands, saying everything that ever needed to be said-- everything he had always said-- I love you.

Love you back, Dad. 
Happy father's day. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

When is Enough Enough?

This was a post I wrote yesterday, on Facebook:

Dear God! We are a nation under siege. When is enough enough? How many more people must die or be maimed by gun violence?!
The answer is NOT to put more guns on the streets! Don't quote the 2nd amendment to me - it calls for a well regulated militia. These terrorists - the white men who believe they are acting for God or race or political bent - who carry semi-automatic rifles that can strafe a plaza - or a baseball field or a church or a business or (pick a place, any place) - and mow down human beings to show their might and power and hatred - these terrorists can pick up their guns and bullets without a care! It is more difficult to get a driver's license than a gun license.
Dear God - when will enough be enough?

Someone I don't know commented on it - "The criminals will get their guns one way or another," implying this was a good reason why gun control won't work and shouldn't be pursued.

Here's the thing - of *course* criminals will always get their guns! I'M NOT WORRIED ABOUT THE FUCKING CRIMINALS!

- I'm worried about the mentally ill person who can readily buy a gun.
- I'm worried about the white supremacist skinhead who can legally buy a gun.
- I'm worried about the nice parents down the block who buy a gun to protect their family whose child ends up dead because said child found the gun - or MY child getting killed by their gun because he was over playing at their house and someone found the gun
- I'm worried about the guy whose pissed off at his wife or his girlfriend or boss or co-worker or the world who decides to do something about it

Of course the criminals will get their guns. We have law enforcement to deal with that, and it's by no means perfect or even relatively effective. But gun control laws were never meant to deal with that issue!

Good God people! We created this battlefield all by ourselves. This blood is on our hands. Somehow, we deified the NRA and the 2nd amendment, and we build altars to their godhood daily. And you know - it's all of us. We are all culpable in this passion play.

We wring our hands and offer thoughts and prayers as if that were enough. We shake our heads in sorrow, in anger, in bewilderment - and then we go on with our lives, until the next time, and the next time, and the time after that. Because there will always be a next time. And we will be just as culpable and just as sad and bewildered and angry.

Here are some cold hard facts, gleaned from the Center for Disease Control
  • On an average day, 93 Americans will be killed with guns
  • Those 93 deaths daily? Seven of them will be kids or teens.
  • Nearly 12,000 people will die. victims of gun homicide, annually
  • For every one person killed by a gun, two more will be injured
  • Every month, 50 women will be shot by their intimate partner
  • When a gun is present in a situation of domestic violence, the risk of the woman being killed increases fivefold
  • The American gun homicide rate is 25 times higher, on average, than other high income countries. The US makes up 42% of the population of that group, but accounts for 82% of the gun deaths.
What will it take?

We thought Columbine would do it, didnt we. I could have sworn we did.So I went searching, to find out how many mass shootings there had been since that deadly, horrifying kick-you-in-the-gut-and-take-your-breath-away massacre at Columbine High School in April, 1999. Funny thing - my research took me back to 1984 (a prescient year, to be sure; I'm sure I could have gone further - I chose to stop there). That was the year a man walked into a McDonald's in San Ysidro, California and opened fire, killing 21 and wounding 19.

Between San Ysidro (1984) and Columbine (1999), there were nine other mass shootings - a total of 11 shootings in all at that time. The total number of dead iwas 112. One hundred twelve lives snuffed out, and one hundred fifty-nine wounded - physically. God only knows the countless others whose wounds are not visible to the eye. Angry men. Hurt and damaged boys. Empty people who wanted to punish, who wanted to hurt, who wanted to kill. Who wanted to die. They grabbed a gun - a rifle, a shotgun, a handgun, a semiautomatic rifle - and sprayed bullets and pain and death all around them.

Columbine hit us like a wave of frigid water. It shocked us all. It sickened us all. We wept with all of the families whose worlds were destroyed that day in April. And we swore it would never happen again. Didn't we? Of course we did! We had to have. I mean, this wasn't some gangland war on the mean streets of some city. This wasn't some pissed off guy with a chip on his shoulder who shot up his girlfriend's office in an effort to show her just how much he loved her and what lengths he'd go to make her stay.

This wasn't supposed to happen - not here! This was middle class suburbia, mostly white America. This was a couple of kids! White kids, who, seemingly out of nowhere, walked into their school and opened fire on classmates and teachers alike. It wasn't until later that we found out they had an arsenal of guns at their fingertips, all legally owned by their parents. It wasn't until later that we learned they were Outsiders, bullied and marginalized and unstable.

So we learned, We learned from the harshest teacher, this most brutal lesson. We learned, and so we declared it wouldn't happen again.

Until it did. Three months later, in Atlanta. Two months after that, in Fort Hood. And two more months. And then the next month. Again and again. Over and over. The killings never stopped. People who'd been fired, or passed over, or left - they took it out on the people they worked with or loved or hated or feared. Who the fuck knows?

From Columbine to Virginia Tech - the next of the "big" ones, the shootings that really shook us up. that seem to have a more permanent status in our heads (except, of course, if your world was rocked by one of the "minor" shootings, the ones that faded more quickly from public view) - from April, 1999 - April 2007: 13 mass shootings. Ninety-seven dead, seventy-four walking wounded.

We learned. We learned how to use social media to notify students and faculty that there was a potential madman on the loose. It would have been nice to learn how to keep guns out of the hands of the madmen. Almost a year later (with only one other mass shooting and eight dead along the way), Northern Illinois University was hit by its own disgruntled student. Again, we activated the notification system, keeping those kids not in the lecture hall on lockdown and safe. We lost only five souls that day. It could have been so much worse.

But we learned. And it won't happen again. We won't let it happen again.

Binghamton, NY: April 2009, 13 dead, 4 wounded
Fort Hood, TX: November 2009, 13 dead, 32 wounded
Huntsville, AL: February 2010, 3 dead, 3 wounded
Manchester, CT: August 2010, 8 dead, 2 wounded
Tucson, AZ: August 2011, 6 dead, 11 wounded
Seal Beach, CA: October 2011, 8 dead, 1 wounded
Oakland, CA: April 2012, 7 dead, 3 wounded

Aurora, CO: July 2012 - another one of the "big names" in mass killings. This was the madman who shot up the midnight showing of a Batman movie, killing 12 and wounding 58.

Oak Creak, WI: 6 killed, 3 wounded in a Sikh temple where people were at worship
Minneapolis, MN: September 2012, 6 killed, 2 wounded
Brookfield, WI: October 2012, 3 killed, 4 wounded

Newton, CT: December 2012, Sandy Hook Elementary School. This brought a nation to its knees. Stories of courage beyond what anyone could have imagined. The faces of those sweet, sweet kids, getting ready for the holidays. The teachers and administrators who did all that they could, and then did more. The parents whose children died. In all, 27 people - adults and kids - died. Were murdered.

And we declared we had had enough. We declared that this madness would end. We shouted "never again!" to anyone who would listen, and to many who wouldn't. We were done learning these lessons. We got it. Surely Congress would listen now! Surely Congress would no longer bow to the pressure of the NRA and other pro-gun lobbyists, not with all we had been through. Right?

Between Sandy Hook and the Charleston Church shooting almost exactly three years later, there were five gun mass murders, a mere 36 deaths. I mean, really - they should barely count, right?

Except they do count. As do the 13 other mass shootings that happened between then and yesterday, June 14, 2017. On that day, we saw two mass shootings, a continent apart. One in Virginia in, in the shadow of the capitol -where thank God no one was killed! - and San Francisco, where three were killed and two wounded.

In all, from what I thought would be five or six notorious cases of brutality and murder (because who can keep all of that death front and center? Life refuses to stop, or even slow down long enough to process these atrocities in their moments, and after a while, they seem to melt and fuse into one another, because how different are they, when it comes right down to it?) turned into 56 separate incidents of some guy (ok; there were two women who made it on the list; still...), some guy, some kid, some bruised and battered and broken person took out a gun and opened fire to assuage some inner demon.

From 1984 - 2017, 404 people have been killed in a mass shooting. I can't even start on those who've been killed individually. In Chicago alone, there were 762 homicides in 2016; 90% were a result of gun violence. Overall, there were 4,368 shootings here last year. We're almost at 1,000 this year, and we haven't even hit summer yet, which is when the temperature and the assault rates rise almost exponentially.

Let me remind you where all of this started: I don't give a flying fuck about criminals and their gins. In almost every single case of these mass shootings, the guns these mass murderers used were purchased legally, owned legally. Could very well have been concealed legally. In the blink of an eye, these sick individuals to their guns and ended the lives of so many.

The blink of an eye.

Do you really think that arming everybody would have stopped these murders? Even in those cases where the Authorities (whomever They may be) had an inkling that something might not be quite right in the head with these murderers, everyone was caught off guard. And no, I don't want to debate how many may have been saved in the seconds that someone on the battlefield may have had a gun, may have had the presence of mind to whip it out in the next blink of an eye, may have known how to use said gun, may have hit their target (the gunman) and not some other innocent who happened to be standing in the way (or close enough to it).

Arming everyone to the teeth is a recipe for disaster. 

We here in America seem to be the jumpy, hair-trigger gun-toting murder capital o the world. Remember that statistic, way up there? The American gun homicide rate is 25 times higher than other high income nations. Last year, the rate of death by gun violence in the US (per 100,000) was 10.2; in the UK, it was .2, 1.1 in Germany, 2.3 in Canada, 2.8 in France (according to a CBS news story).

It's the guns. It's the ease of access to the guns. It's the people who can get the guns, in all their angry, crazy, messed up lives. It's the inconsistencies from state to state. It's the loopholes and work-arounds that make what little control we have immaterial. It's the fucking NRA and their chokehold on Congress. It's the lobbyists and spineless politicians who put money before constituents. It's greed. It's short-sightedness and expediency. It's poverty and lack of education and gangs and ignorance and stupidity and arrogance.

It's death. Ugly, painful, nasty, brutish murder by bullet, and it knows no race, no socio-economic bracket, no gender, no religion, no political party. WE have created this battlefield. WE have condoned this culture. OUR hands are bloody. We cannot point a finger if we do not include ourselves, because we wring our hands and weep and keep these nameless, faceless victims and their families in our thoughts and prayers, and then we go on and live our lives, shifting a bit uncomfortably when we listen to the news, and we shake our heads when we hear about the latest atrocity, and we raise our voices, demanding change.

And nothing really seems to have changed.

And so we have 404 people gunned down, their blood soaking into the ground that rises up in horror. Have we had enough yet?

Every man's death diminishes me. I fear I have almost disappeared under the weight of all this death.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

I Know the Heart of a Stranger

I know the heart of the stranger.
It beats
And bleeds
And breaks.
I know this heart;
It is my own.

But this I do not know -
this hatred,
this tearing
and rending.
I do not know this
this strangled
heart of

The stench from
this sacrifice is not pleasing.
it is a desolation.
There is no delight in this,
only death and a heart of stone.

I do not know that heart.

Will you bring a rain
of scarlet hyssop petals
to flutter and fall
against the broken bodies
piled against altars
slick with blood?

I would know You, God!
I would know the heart of a stranger.
I would sing of Your glory
and teach Your ways with joy.

But this heart -
this heart of death
and desecration -
I cannot know this heart.
I will not know this heart.

If I knew that heart
I fear it would be mine.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Omer. Day 41 (give or take)

This is my favorite question: what do you carry with you, and what do you leave behind? Sometimes I change up the verbs, just a little, to bringing and taking away, respectively. A subtle shift, to be sure, but all part of the grand scheme just who the hell am I,  and just who the hell to I want to become?

I am the sum of all my baggage - carried, dragged, dropped. left behind and taken back.

Sometimes the weight of it all is crushing. And sometimes, when the wind is just right, and the scent of green is in the air, and I am feeling brave and grateful daring and fierce and bold (or any combination thereof; you get the point), there's no weight at all. I freely offer much of my baggage, all the weighted measures of stuff and ideas and hurts and pains; lost loves and lost jobs, missed opportunities and failed connections - all of the stuff that binds me, tethers me to a present I can only see through the funhouse mirror of my past (so not really a present at all) - and I let it all go, leaving it lie in a muddled heap.

This is my altar. I'm pretty sure, when I drop it all in that heap, and I set it on fire, it makes a pleasing odor to God. I'm just as sure, when it's time to move on, every single thing that went up in smoke, that released me from the bondage of my self, and my past, it's all there, ready for me to pick up again, just as bright and shiny and unscathed as it was before my metaphorical sacrifice.

It's mine, to carry it all again until the next holy bonfire.

Of course, there's a whole bunch of other stuff I can choose to pick up and carry away - things like faith, or courage, or joy. And yes, there are infinite variations of despair and anger and sundry slings and arrows of cruel misfortune that can be distracting and enticing. And yes, I have gone that route more often than I care to admit. There are times I swear I didn't do the picking, that these nasty little packages leaped up and stuck themselves to me of their own accord, really they did.

If I'm honest - and now's a good time to cop to honesty - I did the picking and the plucking and the sticking, all by myself. Ugh.

Still, there are times I go against type, and I choose the weightlessness of joy!

Things is - this carrying and leaving and taking away - this is a thing I can do every single day. It knows no season. It is unbounded by time. In every moment, I can choose, again and again and again. These days, the counting-of-the-omer days, it is a mindful trudge, a careful inspection and collection of the junk I lug around with me. I am grateful for the mindfulness. Messy as I am, I like frames, and this is a particularly good one.

So. What is it that I carry with me? What will I leave behind? What will I carry with me as I walk to the next altar, the next mountain? Today - just for this moment, this breath, I will sit for a moment, my treasures laid out before me, a sky of pewter and pearl above me, casting dull shadows on the lot. I will sit, and rest, and hope - hope that when I move on from here, I remember to let slip the boxes of pain and fear, so that I have room for a bit of joy, a bit of beauty, a bit of grace.

PS - I've written a couple of poems in the past, that relate to this post. You may want to check them out here:

What I Brought: https://staceyzrobinson.blogspot.com/2013/05/what-i-brought_13.html
And Fly:L https://staceyzrobinson.blogspot.com/2015/04/and-fly.html
To This Momenthttps://staceyzrobinson.blogspot.com/2015/03/to-this-moment.html

Friday, May 19, 2017

Omer. Staring at 40 from the land of the 30s

This is a week of abundance and lying fallow,  of blessings and curses.

Here's my confession,  realized just now: I rarely know the difference between these seeming opposites. There are times I cling to the things I *know* are abundant blessings, only to find, somewhere down a twisting road, they are the very things that hold me in place, that drain me,  leave me barren.

And there are times that I run from what I know are curses and find out just how wrong my suppositions (and actions based on those) are.

And sometimes, I happen to be right at all - blessings are blessings, curses are curses, all's right with the world.

It's a crap shoot.

And here, on this leg of the journey, nearing the end, so close you can almost taste it, almost kiss it, it is Shabbat again.

And maybe,  just maybe, everything I *know* about that holy, sacred place - is wrong. Maybe what I bring to it, because of what I know, changes it, makes it something it's not. And maybe,  if I let it be, let it come and wash over me as it will, rather than grasping for it, pulling it close,  holding it in motionless place -

I have no idea how to finish that, except perhaps to give thanks for the blessing of not knowing and letting be.

Shabbat shalom to all I love and hold dear xo

#counting the omer

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Humility is a Blue Flame - for the counting of the Omer

Humility is a blue flame,
dipping into indigo
and edged in black,
It is cool water
that flows in small
ripples and puddles
at my feet.
It is balm
for a weary soul,
and a heart that
cannot find its
rhythm, that is
lost a bit,
that is chipped
a bit.

It is blue flame,

And when I stand
too close to that flame,
and the waters rise
like a torrent,
and I am battered
and beaten
in the wake of
my weakness,
compassion comes,
a grace of blessing,
lifting me from
my humiliation
to stand

near the blue flames
and cool waters;
the balm of humility,
the breath of compassion,

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Omer. Day 25, Shabbat

I am watching Shabbat fill my window. It's beautiful, watching the sky go from pale blue grey to a deep and deliberate indigo. There's a string of street lights horizonward. I would prefer stars.

The view is quite unfamiliar. The situation is quite unfamiliar. It is completely out of my choosing. My comfort zone is a million miles away. Any pretense of control I have is with the comfort zone -long ago and far away.

I'm not comfortable, being without a net. I like my illusion of control - especially when I can fool even myself and pretend that I've given it up, my sense of control. I am very brave, very sage in those moments. I can close my eyes then,  and whirl like a dervish on s tight rope, because I know, in my secret heart, I cannot fall because there is no rope.

I forget, in those mad and twirling moments,  it's not rope that is the danger; it's the ground.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Omer. Day 24

I write a lot about breath.I am made breathless, I say. Breathe, I remind myself. I am a creature of metaphor, I guess.

And this - not sure if it's partial metaphor or maybe mostly concrete, but I was taught, along about the time I started writing about breath, that that very breath that moves me and lifts me and separates me (even as it connects me) from (to) you, is, in fact, the truest pronunciation of the name of God.

I like to think that every breath I take is a prayer, a hymn made up of God's very name.

Truth be told, I love that idea.

So you will understand how odd it is that I sit here in the hospital, breathing with no small amount of difficulty. I have asthma. It's not the wheezy kind; I cough. Not just a delicate, puffed "ahem," but a full-on,scare the little kiddies (and myself), hacking, gasping, will-she-make-it kind of cough.

I wonder, if my breath is the name of God, when I struggle to take the next one, when I can't take the next one, have I lost God in that moment? Is that the physical manifestation of my struggle with God, a counterpoint to my metaphoric wrestling match with the Divine? Maybe.

But you know, when I can finally take in the breath that has eluded me, a great, gawping whoosh of air - oh, there is benediction in that, truer and more pure than any prayer I have ever offered.

And with that one great breath, I am filled.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Omer. Day 23 (and a few toes, maybe an ankle's worth into Day 24)

I found an old Facebook post, written a couple years ago, a reflection for the Omer, Day 26. I love to see the drift of days and counts over the years, that odd dance the Jewish and American calendars do. For this day alone, Facebook tells me I've written on Days 19 and 39. Today I'm contemplating Day 23 (which is all to quickly slipping into Day 24).

The post started with a phone call from a friend. For the life of me, I cannot remember which. How horrible, to have been so moved by connection with a friend that I felt compelled to write about it, and now, just a couple of years later - nothing. I have guesses, but they are hopefully imaginary at best (so wishing to know, I can almost see a face through that fog, grasping at anything that feels reasonable, knowing full well I'm provable wrong).

The gift is still true, still real and powerful. It feels both heavy and light at the sane time. I am bowed, not bent, with the grace of it, still. And so I offer it again, a reminder to me to pay attention to the gift of kindness and love,

Last night ended with a phone call. An old friend. We've drifted, and our relationship has morphed pretty significantly over the past decade or so. Still, we are connected in ways that are profound and forever. I am amazed that I am in a place to be able to name it thus.
His question, when you translate it into its base components, was "Who am I? Have I always been this, or have I changed?" He told me, after asking his question in a little more PG-rated version than I've written here "This is hard. I'm asking for honesty. I trust you."
I cannot imagine a more important question. It is the heart, I think of everything I seek, every word I've ever written: who the hell am I? And then the cascade, all flowing from that single point, reflected and refracted to infinity, each one catching the light and bursting with hope (and desire, and fear). Have I changed? Where do I fit? Do you love me? Am I ok? What will happen? What will be? How can I-- ? When will I-- ? What if I-- ?
I cannot imagine a more treasured gift. "I trust you." There was a time not many would have (could have) said that to me with any real honesty. But here was this person saying "I give you the power to hurt me; I trust that you will be gentle and kind."
I bowed under the weight of that. Was silent for a moment, to honor that gift and give thanks for it. Someone asked me once to define "love." I cannot think of anything more true than "I give you the power to hurt me, and trust that you will not."

This is the gift, the truth, the weight and the grace of it. I am so very grateful for this drift of time and ritual that has reminded me of it once again.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Omer. Days 11 through 22

I have not forgotten the count.

I swear I have not (or, as my mother would always say when making a sacred promise or needed to emphasize the truth she was about to utter, "Shma.")

Every day, from Day 11 through today, Day 22, I have stopped for a minute or two to be mindful of the day. I have counted it: Today is Day (whatever), which is X weeks and y days of the Omer. Not exactly what the rabbis (and maybe even God) had in mind, but I counted every one of them.

The writing, on the other hand, that's a different story of over-laden plates and procrastination and stubborn perfectionism and even more stubborn paralysis. It's a progression. It's annoying, mostly because I can feel it coming on: first the running of the wheel like a hamster, faster and faster, getting nowhere except winded and slightly sweaty, then on to the horsehair shirt of shame and should, and going full on to staring at the train racing for me as I stand immobile on the tracks, waiting for the crash and juggling all the metaphors with inevitability and aplomb

What's most annoying is that I know this progression. I have been through enough therapy, sat through a one too many AA meetings to be able to identify the exact moment that I get onto the wheel. No. Correction: I can identify with pinpoint accuracy the exact moment that I drag the wheel into place and give it a test spin or three, dust it off and shine it up. Yay me.

And like Scheherazade, I have a thousand and one stories of just why I can't seem to get out of the way of that frikkin train. Some even seem quite reasonable. And, I'd say that 98% of them are even true. But in this stupid drama of mine, truth really isn't the issue.

What is at issue is my fear. Sure, there's a huge dash of perfectionism that goes into it. My use of the delete key and backspace are testament to that. It's not just the essay. It's not just the poem. It's not the paragraph or verse or sentence or grammatical stop. My perfectionism boils down to the word. Every word must be perfect, in look, in sound (out loud and in my head), and the feel of it as I roll it around on my tongue, and taste it on my breath. Which, of course, means that there are a thousand million things that never get written.

And all of this masks the real fear of what if I write something bad? As if I haven't! Trust me, Whatever critique or criticism any of you (whomever you are, and thank you for reading!) may have of my work, trust me: I have ripped every word, and all the spaces between all the words, to shreds, several times over. Every. Single. Piece. Even the ones I secretly really love. They are all grist for the mill of my perfectionism.

And so I don't write (or I write and delete and write and delete in some kind of insane two-step). and the days pile up, and the writing becomes a weight of a thousand years, and the more I don't write, the harder it is to get back to it, and the easier it is to play in the mud of my shame. And at some point, I wait, with no small shred of gratitude, for the train to come.

At least there will be movement then.

Ugh. I am so tired of this little dance. And I know better, that's the stupid thing! I know that it doesn't have to be like this, I know that I can choose another path. I know that I can just sit down and write and let the voices in my head have at it while I play with the pixels. And yet, I choose, again and again, way more often than I care to admit, to trudge that weary path of perfectionism, procrastination and paralysis.

So maybe, as I both trudge that tired old path, and make my way to Sinai, maybe this boulder that I have so willingly and lovingly carried with me all this weary way, perhaps I can leave it by the roadside, so that I come to Sinai lighter and freer and ready.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Rise - a poem to commemorate the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

There is so much sky!
Funny, but i never knew.
It's beautiful,
and many hued;
perhaps this is what Jacob knew
when he ordered that coat,
the one of many colors,
the one that tore apart
his sons, made them think
of murder,
of slavery,
and lies.

Joseph said, "It's ok.
God put me here,
so that I might serve
and forgive.

Did God put me here
in this crush of
people and hunger
and never enough?
What do I serve?
Whom shall I forgive
in this fetid, unrecognizable
 place that once was home?

Is there a plan for me
to raise me up?
To raise us all?
To let us rise?

There is so much sky
in which God can hide.
but I think God is here,
in the crush
and the dirt -
and God is urging us
to rise.

Written for the United Jewish Community of the Virginia Peninsula

Friday, April 21, 2017

Omer. Day 10

Every so often, I am stopped, almost literally in my tracks, with the deep and sure understanding of just how blessed I am. Most days, I traipse about through my life, oblivious to grace in that take-it-for-granted, life-is-what-it-is, happy-mad-sad-glad, blah blah blah kind of way.

You know, that glide through days that are filled with all the living that gets done. There are bills to pay (or avoid until the notices get slightly nasty). There's the boy, part adult, part locust, part lost at that oh-so-difficult stepping off place, the one that promises dreams and nightmares, adventure and drudgery, a mysterious new world that 18 years of training still has not produced a map for easy navigation. There's the job, and the study, and the writing and the groceries and the dinner-making and wishing you still made enough money to have a housekeeper again. These days, there's the continual flabbergastedness over the insanity that has infected the world, and what the hell - Trump? REALLY?

It's the minutiae of life, all the little pieces that, sure, sometimes morph into medium pieces, and sometimes become unwieldy, but it's all just mostly unnoticed, really just barely under the surface stuff that you move through to get to the next piece, and the piece after that. And maybe I've compartmentalized a lot of it. And maybe there's a wall that's barely visible, almost not there at all really, but the wall has been in place
Ace longer than you can remember, and mostly you just forget it's there and it's so much easier to leave it just where it is than dismantle the thing. I mean, it's not hurting anyone, is It?

You just do your life. Get on with it, and there are some days that seem to shine a bit more than others, moments that sparkle or maybe tear at your heart. They are days that roll into weeks and months and while it sounds a little awful, laid out so badly here, it's not. It's a whole bunch of everything.

It's just, mostly, you don't stop to notice any one thing. You just move.

So, those moments when you are literally stopped - feet planted, eyes open, breathing deeply, and you notice each breath, and you suddenly hear all this sound that certainly had to have been there all along, but now you hear it, it's richness and brash dissonance that fits just so with all those other notes of the day, and you feel this fullness welling up within you, and you know, absolutely know that you are blessed.

And in that exact moment, you can do nothing but drink it in and give thanks,

And so we count 10.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Omer. Day Nine

I'm a bit all over the board to day. Some might say that's a step up for me. I have no idea when I became so discombobulated by life. I used to think I was organized. I am awesome at creating systems. I can color code and categorize with the  best. When I was in grad school, I had a 500 page binder of note cards, all with headers, dub-headers and timeline - for a 20 page paper. So what that the actual writing of the paper got away from me: I was on top of all the tiny, tiny little pieces.

When did I go from keeping on top of all minutiae to making piles that meld into the other piles that have long since toppled into one another, waiting only for me to grow annoyed enough with all the piles to attack them one afternoon, and create brand new, totally separate piles with a bag of paper and other office litter that is too heavy for me to lift. Bonus: I usually do my battle on bright and sunny days, when the air is sweet and the humidity low. My subconscious works overtime to add one more to my list of inanimate object resentment. My sub-subconscious is trickier, and gives itself a high five at finding an appropriate punishment for my procrastination.

I always feel better after these battles - lighter, cooler, able to breathe a bit easier. There is a sense of accomplishment: Ta da! I did it! I vanquished all that paper and mail and evil... Oh wait. It's just paper. There will be no parade in my honor, no confetti (that will remain on mt floor until the next dust up with the enemy). Dammit.

I could promise to change. Have promised to change. To keep the piles low, to set up a schedule, to make a plan. And stick to it. Really I will! But (wait for it) I don't. It is all a piece of the controlled chaos that is my life. Which really, when I lay it out like that, is kinda crappy. Who wants to live a life of chaos - and pretend that it's controlled in any way?

So I write notes and make files. I but boxes and accordion folders in awesome colors. And there's e-calendars and timers and reminders. And I throw most of the junk mail out as soon as I get it. And I at least fold the laundry these days, and mainly hang up the stuff that needs hanging. And the bills get paid mostly before I get passive aggressive robo-call reminders. And there's food on the table and a roof over our heads - and yeah - it sounds as if I'm justifying my crappy behavior. Maybe I am. Or maybe, just maybe, all those piles - even the tumbling ones, are a little smaller than they were a year or three ago. And the chaos is a little less chaotic than it used to be. And the time between doing fierce battle with all the mess (physical, mental, spiritual - pick one) grows a little shorter.

It's progress, not perfection. And I think that, these days, I have chosen to dismantle the biggest of the piles - the most threatening, dangerous and twisty pile: the one I've kept hidden, that holds all the nasty little voices that tell me I am less than, and broken, and beyond repair. It hides the fun house mirror of distortion and lies. I think I'm ready to walk away and finally leave that pile behind.

So, if you ask me, on this omer-journey what do I carry, what will I leave behind, I think the answer is not as mysterious as I once thought.

And so we count nine/

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Omer. Day Eight

Ok - so, the cereal post. I swear this one is about cereal.

I was at a yizcor service the other day. I know - it sounds hauntingly familiar, doesn't it? Still, a promise is a promise. Anyway...

I was at a yizcor service the other day. It was lovely. Many of the smaller North Shore Reform synagogues find it a bit of a stretch to gather a minyan on festival days, so a bunch of us have banded together to make sure there are enough of us to pray and sing and mourn. We take turns hosting (though these days, it seems as if there are only two of us who host - though to be fair, one of the synagogues is buildingless (as is my shul), which makes it a little more problematic to play host).

I like the synagogue who hosted us all this round. There's a lot of natural light that spills through the sanctuary. We sit in creaky theater-style seats, and the rabbis and cantors eschew the formality of the bima and sit just in front of us. Some of them (and some of us) wear tallitot. My rabbi always brings his guitar. It is close and intimate. Each of them takes turns, as do the cantors. It's unscripted; as best I can tell, when whomever is "done" with his/her turn, points to a colleague with a "Do you wanna" shrug.

And so it goes. A little Hebrew, a little (bit more) English, a little music, all to fill the soul. We all take a moment to honor the commandment, to set this day apart.

I know, I know - you're still waiting for the cereal. I'm getting to it.

The host rabbi welcomed us all to his synagogue, He is kind and smart and for some reason, I know that his favorite verse is from Psalm 118 - The stone which the builders rejected is become the chief cornerstone. He pointed at the small row of cereal boxes in the corner of the bima. "I suppose you're wondering why there's cereal on the bima, especially since it's still Pesach." He smiled at us, almost daring us to guess. He told us that their tradition was to collect cereal during the Counting of the Omer, one additional box each day. Thus, the first day was one box, the second two, and so on, for all 49 days of the count. "At the end, we'll have collected 1225 boxes."

That's an awful lot of cereal. They donate all the boxes to local food banks. What better way to honor the doing of this commandment - counting out a measure of grain, every day for 49 days, days that are laced with fragility and unsurety? 

I think about our ancestors, who were still getting their feet wet (so to speak) with all the freedom and walking and where's the next meal coming from, not to mention where are we going and when will we get there? So much uncertainty! So much fear. 

For all that, I gotta believe that they would have loved Rabbi Ike's omer counting/cereal collection thing. 

And so we count eight.

Omer. Day Seven

I was at a yizcor service yesterday. It was sweet. Here on the North Shore, there's not always a guarantee that we'll get a minyan, so a handful of synagogues band together on these festival celebrations. Each of the synagogues plays host in some kind of rotation, but all of the rabbis and cantors show up, and we congregants (those who can, those who need). We get a decent showing, all of us together.

I like that: all of us, together.

We rise, we pray, we sing. Probably less davening than in my Zayde's day, but there are more women than in his day as well. At least - more women praying and singing and being, right along with the men. Here, we women count. Here, our voices are heard. We are all a community, and we carry one another. And so there are enough of us all, to ensure that no one mourns alone. I like that, too.

This was the 26th yizcor service since my brother died. I didn't realize just how huge that number is until I typed it out just now. Twenty-six times, not counting all the kaddishes I chanted during the first year after his death.

Twenty-six festivals have passed. In the beginning, I wasn't sure I would get through one. Not that I thought I would die! Not that, no - but I didn't think I could make it through a memorial service without my knees buckling and my throat tightening and my sorrow threatening to dissolve me. And in the beginning, all those things happened, knees and throat and sorrow huger than anything I could bare. And every time - every single time - no matter where I was, there were hands that reached out to hold me, arms that wrapped around me.

I stuttered out the words of the mourner's kaddish - harsh, foreign, not even Hebrew, but Aramaic, so that I almost knew what they meant, almost could say them with ease - and I would hear all around me, the answering amen.

Amen - a word that has its roots in both faith and truth. The rabbis attach considerable power to this tiny (and, alas, often thrown away) little word. Rav Meir believed a child immediately earned his/her place in the world to come upon saying it for the first time. Rashi believed that all the gates of heaven open to one who says "amen" with all his strength. Most of those rabbis agree that no benediction should be orphaned. no prayer should go unanswered or unframed, as it were.

We have a lot of rules about "amen" - when to say it, when not to say it, who can say it and who can't. Of course; we're Jewish. Why wouldn't there be a host of rules? I don't know them all. I know some, mostly in the way we all know a lot of rules - I observed, someone told me some stuff and I think I read something somewhere along the way, and no one is telling me I'm wrong, so I must be right, right? That kind of way.

So, I'm not too sure of the "why" of it, but I think I have the mechanics of it down. The words of the Mourner's Kaddish are said by the mourners; the congregation responds amen - so be it (in faith, in truth, let those words be a testament).

Yit'gadal v'yit'kadash shmei rabba - Glorified and sanctified be God's great name.There can't be silence here. This phrase must be answered. And so the congregation responds, as we have been taught: amen.

And so it went, from festival to festival: I would recite the words of praise to God (because that is the essence of the Mourner's Kaddish - not about death, but the glory of God), and the congregation around me would hold me up, and hold up the words of my prayer, and they would say "amen." Or, at least, if not "they," then someone. My relationship to the prayer changed over the years. How could it not? I went from raw and desperate grief to various shades of sadness.

Then there was a time, not too long ago, when there was no answering "amen." A space of silence before everyone continued on. What? Where was it? Why didn't everyone - anyone - stop and wait and offer? Why didn't I? I'm in mourning, dammit! I have grief. My brother died. Isn't the congregation duty bound, to be present for the mourners, so that no one grieves alone? I was carrying the dead, all of them, and they were getting heavy. I deserved at least that tiny amen to lighten the load, at least long enough to get to the next festival, the next yizcor. Right?

Yeah - I heard it: that whiny, screechy voice that demands constant attention and worship. I so love my self-righteous narcissism. It's attractive, isn't it? That shook my world, more than a little. Who the hell am I, to think I am the one, the only one, to carry the dead? Who even said I had to carry them?

That's the moment it all changed for me. I can carry memory, without having to carry the dead. I can carry those in my community, lift them and lend them strength in their grief, even as I am lifted. I love those who have died no less. I don't need to prove it to them, to myself, to the world around me. I can be kind and generous, just as there were so very many who offered me kindness and generosity. I can be one within my community, no more, no less.

I can answer a benediction. And so let us say

In honor of my brother, Randy (z"l)
If you'd like to read about my journey through the first year after his death, saying kaddish, read my essay, Joy in the Empty Spaces)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Omer. Days Five and Six

What is it about intimacy that makes my spine stiffen, just a little.

And who am I kidding - there are times when my spine is so stiff that my body would crack in half at a gentle puff of air in my general direction, 

I've been thinking about this since I chanted Torah last week - the part where Moshe stands naked before God, after all the calf and the murderous rage and the towering anger, after the breath of forgiveness and the work of second chances - Moshe stands and pleads: let me know you; let me know I have found grace.

Such power in those simple words. Such intimacy in the cry.

Let me know you.

I once hear that "intimacy" can be read "into me see." Normally, I eschew those trite and sacchariney pronouncements. Trust me - if you stick around a 12 step program long enough, you will hear some kind of anagrammatic saying for just about anything. Most of them are cute, maybe even thought-provoking once. Sadly, they get bandied about far too often, so that they lose their meaning. For me. I'm sure that, for many, they are veritable life preservers, and many cling to them through the storms and rough waters of recovery. I'm sure I've treaded water with one or two of them myself. 

See into me. Know me, warts and all. See me - and don't head for the hills, appalled at what you find. 

So I stand, a little breathless, a little scared, like a deer in the proverbial headlights - so ready to flee, to hide. But for this, for the fragility and openness of these days of counting, I stand before you and ask to know you, to know that I have found grace.

For the omer, days five and six

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Omer. Day Four

The first shabbos in the wild lands.

I cannot imagine grappling with the enormity of That! I mean, really - first the fleeing, then the Sea, finally on dry land - but with, as I do imagine it (and I'm OK with my own contradictions, thank you) a thousand questions of who and what and where and why. And the kids being kids, and there are animals to be calmed and cared for, and tents to be set up and thank God for the manna - that's one load off the plate! There are creaky joints and calloused feet and tired bodies that really just want to plop down on some ground and sleep for a year or two.


A couple of years ago, someone sent me a video - the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. It was April 20, erev Shabbat. The dead had not all been buried. There were still people dying "in broad daylight" says the narrator. But shabbos was nearing. The British chaplain organized a kabbalat Shabbat service - and for the first time, in perhaps a decade, it could be celebrated without fear. 

At the end of the service, the people there sang Hatikva - The Hope. After all they had been through, all they had suffered and lost, even they could sing about hope and celebrate Shabbat. Amidst all of the horrors of the camp, they could stop - even for a moment, even for a day - to find space within themselves to welcome the Bride. Even then, they could sing.

Once we were slaves. Now we are free.

And so we count four. Shabbat shalom. 

If you'd like to hear this amazing recording, follow this link. https://youtu.be/syUSmEbGLs4

Friday, April 14, 2017

Omer. Day Three

There are a few rules when it comes to counting the omer. There's a prayer, and a time, and rabbinic rules about what happens if you forget.  If you're into kabbalah, there are daily and weekly themes and meditations. For example, Day Three of the omer is Tiferet of Chesed- the beauty of love, loving kindness.

I wonder what our ancestors, those original omer counters, the refugees who fled the narrow places and actually witnessed the Signs and Wonders, who were stopped by a Sea and followed a woman with a tambourine, who were afraid and lost faith and were forgiven and were bound, this time to God in the desert, at (maybe under) the mountain - I wonder what our blessed ancestors would think of our more modern practice of counting.

For them (as I imagine it must have been, from my presumptuous and privileged position of 21st century modernity), this time really was a time of fragility, of unknowingness. They faced a huge void of unknown! They'd been slaves for generations. They were dependent on an unseen God, and maybe they remembered their vaunted  relationship, but - c'mon, who could blame them if they didn't? Their leader had been a Prince and a shephard - what the hell did he know about leadership, or the wilderness or survival? What would they eat? How would they drink? Where were they going?

How lovely, that, these days,  we can go on a spiritual odyssey. We can wrestle with beauty and love and God. We can dream of fragility and plenty and loss. We can put one foot in front of the other, on this journey from slavery to freedom, binding to binding and open ourselves to revelation and light. 

But in this time, in this place, on this third day of counting, I can't help but think of those who must journey, those who must flee, those for whom the entire world is fragile and fractured, so that the very ground is unsure and tomorrow is a million miles away. 

I think, perhaps, we may still be mired in the Wilderness. 

And so we count three. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Omer. Day 2

Whatever else it was that I was going to write about for Day 2 (that is, if I had any plan besides seeing what order the pixels fell into when I sat down to write this) - all of that became irrelevant at some point yesterday. This is a story of failing.

I fail at many, many things. I fail at breathing. I fail at bending. I fail at metabolizing. The list goes on, and I have the host of medications to prove it. Somewhere in that list is an almost fail, or, more truthfully, a sometimes-fail. I have crappy eyes. Really, really, really crappy eyes.

I've worn glasses since the fifth grade, mostly because of my left eye. These days, my right eye seems to be catching up (ratcheting down?). You know it's a bad sign when your retina specialist (yeah; they're crappy enough that I have one) send you to the Lighthouse for the Blind, because they are the best at whatever magic it is that they do when fitting someone for glasses. The good news is that I fail at the Lighthouse for the Blind - my eyes aren't quite crappy enough for them. Huzzah.

I had some weird close calls, a couple of times I could have sworn (and believe me, the swears coming out of my mouth were often and loud and tinged with sheer panic) I was going blind. At the ripe old age of 35, I failed at down. At first, it was the crossword puzzle. Then books. These days, it's the dashboard of my car. It is amazing how much I need to see down - and how miraculously this is cured by bifocals. There was iritis at 45. While I didn't fear going blind, I did want to gouge my eyes out with an ice pick; my eye doctor countered with a couple of kinds of eye. Overall, his suggestion worked out better.

Proliferative retinopathy (say that ten times fast) is the companion of my 50s. There were a couple of times I swore - literally and figuratively - that blindness was imminent, and while this condition is certainly dicier than the others, it, too, can be managed and treated. And has been. I even got to be a pirate for a day three times because of it. True, the eye patch was clunky plastic, and I had no parrot for my shoulder; still, I could believe, even if just for a day. Yay me (who knew I was such an optimist?).

After such dramatic build-up, you'd think I had a tale of dire straits and a deus ex machina or two to share. Sorry. Perhaps I fail at story construction as well.

Yesterday had nothing to do with any of this. Not even the crappiness of my eyes, except, perhaps, peripherally. Still, I'm particularly sensitive about all things eye, and am secretly convinced that some day I really will go blind, though my docs and specialists assure me that the chance of that is mostly remote (and believe me: any remote is too much remote for the person who is (you should excuse the turn of phrase)  staring the remote in the face).

Yesterday was a total fail at Spring. And because I fail at Spring, I could not see. And I could not see because I could not open my eyes. What a surprise - I don't just get hay fever; I get assaulted by it. It started in the morning with itchy eyes, that progressed to scratchy, that morphed into burning. that finally, by late afternoon, slid into stabbing - light, any light - seemed to stab at my eyes, blinding me (if only figuratively). Ugh.

There I was, after a long day spent squinting at my computer (whose pixels kept getting smaller as the day wore on), wandering the aisles of the Jewel, lids half-open, pushing my grocery cart up and down aisles of food that I knew more through sense memory than actually being able to see anything. I stared at the cottage cheese sell by date almost long enough for it to go out of date. I could barely open my eyes. A fail at seeing. A fail at spring.

Fail, fail, fail. Lots of fail and this is the story of fail. But all these fails - of breathing and bending and seeing and seasons, they're all physical. They are all manageable and treatable. I take a handful of pills in the morning and another at night. It takes 45 minutes to put all the little pills in all the little slots in the twin weekly pill minder thingies. There's a supply of alcohol swabs and pen needles in the top drawer of my nightstand and insulin in the fridge.

I call these fails - or the physical realities of my failures. But they're not. It's my body, which doesn't work quite as well as it did 20 - 30 years ago. Still, it's just a body, and so is flawed - sometimes way more than I would like. But for all the flaws and pseudo fails, it works.

That is, perhaps, a story for another day. Today, Day Two of the Omer, this was all a prelude to the real story of fail:

As I stumbled somewhat blindly through the grocery store, annoyed that I couldn't read the writing on the walls (quite literally), annoyed that I couldn't make my body function the way I wanted it to, there was a real note of panic as I considered the ride home. That would be all of two or three blocks, but it would be in broad daylight. Even with the clouds and the onset of evening, there was enough light to make me want to weep.

How in hell was I going to be able to drive with my crappy, crappy, springtime eyes?

That was my fail. I was in a quandary. Very real, this one. I could barely open my eyes. I thought of calling my son to walk the couple of blocks to the store so that he could drive us home. But I didn't. With almost 56 years under my belt - and almost 25 of them sober - I still haven't learned the most important lesson of all: I don't know how to ask for help.

I know how to panic. I know how to cling to my fear until my knuckles are white. I know how to hide behind the facade of my strength, my independence, while I am buckling at the knee, drowning in my intractability. I know how to wait until the situation is at a crisis point, so that I have no choice but to flail about and cry out for help. But I do not know how to ask, with love and humility and hope.

Yesterday was a silly example. I called my son from the car, asking him to meet me in the garage - asking for his help. He unloaded the groceries. He put them away. He turned off all the lights in my room and told me to lie down. He made dinner. He helped. He helped because I asked, because he is my son. Because I taught him the importance of helping and need and love.

A silly example, but pretty profound. I know, without fail, that when I ask for help, it comes. Just like that. It may not come in the form I expect, but it comes. No matter how convinced I am that this time will be the time that the cavalry gets lost, that Snidley Whiplash will prevail, that I will founder and surely drown - help comes.

I've learned this lesson a time or two before. Probably a few more than just two. I'm guessing, if past experience is any indication, I will need to learn it a time or three more. Still, in this moment, there is a bit of grace - I asked for help. I got it. And I lived to tell the tale.

And so, I ask your help in the counting - for today, we count two of the Omer.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Omer, Day One

Tonight is One.

First steps are hard for me. It is so much easier to stay stuck in one place, unmoving. Even the pain of that - the pain of stuckness, the pain of sameness and stasis - all that seems so much easier than change.

I see infinity with every step, and it terrifies me, overwhelms until I can't move. I wait. I watch. I fear.

You get the picture.

Here's the thing that saved my life, heard at a time I needed it, when I was so mired in my infinity that I was drowning in it and I could barely breathe - I am not responsible for infinity. I am not even responsible for the Whole Picture, the Everythingness of my actions, the sum total of all the rest of my life, here at the starting line of whatever journey of change or discovery or unknown leap of fucking faith: Pray to God, and row towards shore.

One step. That's all I need do. One. The infinity, the everythingness that I hold so tightly - so that my back is bent and my fingers cramp with the strain of seeing that first step turn into that first mile into that first day into that first misstep into that muddy quagmire of mistakes and the unknown - 

All of that is (as a dear friend once told with, with all the love in her heart) is none of my damned business. All I have, all I can ever do, is take one step, the one that is right in front of me.

What happens from there? No idea. That's the deal - one step, whether I am inching along or racing by in my seven league boots - that One is filled with my faith (and my fear) - faith that I will be able to face whatever it is that stares me down in hat moment, faith that I know I will be ok - not that everything will magically go my way whenever I take that one step, but that I will survive it, with as much grace as I allow.

Some days I am more graceful than others. But it only happens when I put one foot in front of the other.

So tonight begins the Counting of the Omer. Whatever the ancients did with it, I choose to honor this mitzvah, this commandment, by taking a spiritual journey through these next 49 days, to discover what it is that I carry and hold on to as we all move from the Narrow Places of our slavery to the wide open spaces of the Wilderness and freedom - and binding, and grace, and community and revelation.

It's an awesome journey - literally - but however awesome, however rich and difficult and energizing this journey may be, it all begins with 


Tonight we count One of the Omer.

#countingthe omer #passover #journeytofreedom

Friday, April 7, 2017

Eleventh Nisan - Celebrate

My Bubbie’s Brisket
(with translation)

Passover is coming. I am, once again, contemplating kashering my kitchen (making it ready for Passover and the clearing away of “chametz” - anything with leavening). I am also thinking about brisket, probably because it is almost Pesach. In my family, which managed to show its devotion to God mainly through food and only peripherally through prayer and ritual, brisket meant holiday and celebration. It was, for us, the 11th commandment.

I got this recipe from my bubbie. I’m sure she got it from hers, who got it from hers, who got it from hers – you get the idea: a long, forever line of amazing and strong and devoted women who cooked and fed and made sure that, no matter what was going on in the world, she would make sure that there was enough, and then some. Genug! Enough!

The Recipe
The translation, with commentary
Get a brisket, ½ a pound to a pound per person. Top cut is more expensive, but my bubbie swore by it.
The range is big because brisket has a magical shrinking quality. One year, you plan for ½ a pound per person (because last year, there was so much left over!), and the brisket shrinks enough that you contemplate only having soup for dinner, to make sure there is enough. Or, if you’re my mother, you buy a second brisket, just to be sure.
Rinse and pat dry.
Remember the movie “There Will Be Blood”? Do this part in the sink. Trust me.
A few yellow onions, sliced
Use a mandolin if you want to be fancy. Otherwise, cut away, until you have enough to layer the bottom of the pan, and then enough to layer the top of the brisket.
Place a layer of sliced onions in the bottom of your roasting pan.
No translation necessary – just throw ‘em in the roasting pan and be done.
The Dry Rub:
Garlic Salt
Salt and Pepper
Please don’t ask for exact amounts; no self-respecting bubbie of mine would deign to measure an ingredient if her life depended on it. These are things you’re just supposed to know. So – the brisket should be covered with the paprika. The other dry ingredients – “enough” is as specific as I can get here. As my bubbie would say, “You’ll know.” Reminder: all seasonings should be on top and bottom of the brisket.
The Other Rub:
Yup – ketchup. Slather this all over the brisket. It’s a messy job. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Top brisket with more onions and sprinkle a packet of dry onion soup mix
Depending on the size of the brisket, you might want to use 2 packets. Again, this is cooking by sight.
Last Step: mix about ¼ to ½ cup of ketchup with about a cup of water. Pour this over and around brisket. Cover pan tightly with foil and roast at 350 for several hours.
So, you finally get to measure something! You only need to actually measure the first time or three until this, too, is cooking by sight. As for how long – what? You thought my bubbie would provide some exactness at this point in our cooking adventure? I usually cook the brisket for 4 or 5 hours. This is something that cannot be overcooked! You know when it’s done? When it smells like brisket, when it smells like it’s done.
Take it out of the oven. Let cool. Refrigerate at least overnight.
Remember to open the foil away from your face! There will be steam. (This is a bubbie quote, akin to “Blow on the soup; it’s hot." Behind all the words though, is the sentiment “I love you.” Bubbie spoke many languages - Yiddish, English, food. I miss them all)
Slice the brisket while cold
I can’t stress this enough. No self-respecting bubbie of mine would deign to use an electric carving knife. Cut it cold - but before you do, remove the hard orange shell (the polite way to say “fat.”) Dispose. Taste a piece (or two). This is the “testing for poison” phase. This is a critical step. Do not over-test however; you do have guests arriving soon. Replace sliced brisket in the pan with all the onions and the juice (and assorted vegetables, as desired) and cover tightly with foil.
Place in oven heated to between 325 - 350 degrees.
A lower heat won’t hurt. Again, this is cooking by additional senses. I usually keep the brisket in the oven for another 2 - 3 hours. The desired doneness is when the meat “fels’n part,” Yiddish-ish for “falls apart.” Brisket should be fork-tender; no knives required (just as matzoh balls should be hard as rocks - but that’s a different essay entirely).
On a huge platter. It is totally ok to forget the gravy, which is really just the pan juices poured into a gravy boat; this creates additional opportunity to apologize for the meal, and for the guests to show their love, and tell you how amazing the food is.  If you've planned it correctly, you will have made too much, the exactly right amount.  

The onions can stay with the brisket; the other veggies, if any, can be placed around the meat or in a separate serving dish. Your call. Bubbie often forgot to serve these, but had enough other vegetables (all of which, for some reason, included things like honey, raisins, marshmallow and pineapple). The salad never came out until five bites before everyone was ready to burst, with cries of “Oy! The salad!” Wine and juice got poured and drunk and spilled. Matzoh crumbs littered the table and more than a few laps and the carpet.

The kids fidgeted, their parents split their attention between the kids (allowing them some semblance of freedom until there was inevitable escalation from happy-to-see-the-cousins exuberance to a true-to-life demonstration of Moses masking an example of the Egyptian taskmaster and the events of the seder and silently pleading with the seder leader to speed it up and do we really have to talk about what the rabbi's said on their sleepover?

And all around you is the happy chaos of a family celebration, in whatever iteration your family settles into - family by birth, by the beloved family you find along the way, by the orphans, acquaintances and disparate others who may have had no other place to spend the holiday - and you sort of get a sense of that original Pesach meal, all jumbled and joyous and not quite perfect as you rushed around, stretching your legs on the slippery new place of Freedom, and maybe no one knew everyone around, so you all just garnered together, to eat and remember and thank and hope and pray and love.
So, this is the recipe - the pared down, out-loud version that was given to me, handed down much as the Torah went from God to Moses to Joshua to a thousand generations of our people, to your niece who chanted so beautifully at her bat mitzvah not too long ago, or your son who is struggling with its ideas (much as you did - and still do) and perhaps this recipe goes back to  Sinai as well. Perhaps.

And every time I make it, I remember, and give thanks and feel love. And then we gather, the chaos of family and friends and kids and love - and we remember, just like we were there, and we tell the story of our redemption, and we tell the story of our family, and we celebrate wroth brisket and matzoh and stories and love.

Thank you to my bubbies, both of them. Your memories have been a blessing to us all. Chag pesach sameach!