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.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

In the Space of Tekiyah - a reflection on the birthday of the world

It seems I have been writing this particular essay every day for the last seven years. Some days, I merely rearrange a comma or two; others, I'm excising whole paragraphs or creating something completely new and brilliant. If I'm to be honest, I know I cannot rewrite my brother's life or his death. I cannot rewrite my search for God, nor my constant hope for redemption, even when I'm sure I deserve it least.

I fear there are too many words, too many ideas and things to say, floating around in my head. I know, somewhere, somewhen, that they connect.  I can feel that, feel them all jostling for position, taking up residence in some little known and cobwebbed corner of my head, leaving a faint pattern in the dust and clutter.

Except, when I poke around, to find which of the eleventy-seven stories running around loose in my head is whispering "start here..." I get lost.  That internal torch gutters, sending bizarre fun-house shadows to distort my visions, and then they all go skittering about, playing hide-and-seek with the shadows and light.

And, since I can't find the beginning of this thread, can't seem to be able to tease and coax the end out from the tangled ball of string it has become, I thought about starting at the end. I could, but I don't know what that is yet either. So, I will pick one bright and shiny things to start with, and see where that leads. It may be a beginning, though more likely, it will be a middle. There are many more middles than beginnings. I will pick one thing, and see what happens.  I'm pretty sure I'll at least recognize the end, whenever we get to that.

So. First - redemption.  It's all about redemption.  My redemption, to be exact, and my quest for it.  And my fear that I will never find it. Or receive it. And it's about God. It's all about God, too. Always. And my quest for God. And my fear that I will never find God or forgiveness. And that I will never be able to forgive God. The pain of this fear is almost unbearable.

I spent a couple of decades denying God and redemption both. That pain was unimaginable. I am reminded of the midrash of King David and the origins of the Adonai S'fatai, which is the prayer we say at the beginning of the Amidah. David, the rabbis tell us, had sent a man to his certain death for the sake of satisfying his own selfish need. The man, Uriah, was a man of honor. He would not be  dissuaded when David had a sudden change of heart. He was killed in battle, along with most of his troops. David got word of Uriah's death just before eveing prayers.

What was he to do? He knew that he would have to talk to God, to ask forgiveness. But-- and here's the hard part-- David's fear: what if God said no? What if God refused?David ran into the fields, running from himself, from his fear, from God, until he could run no farther. How could he ask God for forgiveness, when he couldn't forgive himself? He stopped, just as the setting sun hit the horizon, staining the sky with crimson and gold and purple, and he cried out, in his fear and longing "Adonai s'fatai tiftach ufid yagid t'hilatecha..."

God, open my lips, that I may declare your praise...

And with that prayer-- filled to its very edges with pain and humility and hope and despair, David was forgiven.

Well sure, the voices in my head whisper, God can forgive David. Let's face it: he's, well, David. His very name means "beloved..." And you're not. You're... you. All bet's are off.

It is my greatest longing, my unrequited quest-- to be redeemed. To be forgiven. To dance in the palm of God's hand. To believe, if even for an instant, that though I may not be David, though I may not be Beloved, I may find a small piece of it, and that that may be enough.

Today is Rosh Hashanah. A new year, and already such a busy, joyous one! The Book of Life and Death is opened and the Gates of Justice swing wide. It's the birthday of the world. Today, we stand with awe and trepidation as we undertake the breathtaking majesty of diving inwards, a deep and long and solitary dive, into murky waters that make us gasp and shiver with cold. But eventually, the water warms and the silt and grit settle and we learn to see, to shine a light on the inside, all the beauty, all the pain, all the hope and need.

It is all about redemption.

Today is redemption and majesty and reflection and God. It is joy and celebration and hope and...

Whatever today is, whatever the ritual and tradition that surrounds this day may be, what today is, what today will ever and always be, is my brother's yahrzeit. For all the pomp and circumstance of Rosh HaShanah, for all my desperate yearning for redemption and God, drowning out the music and prayer and the triumphant sounding of the shofar that opened the Book and flung wide the Gate - all I can hear is the steady cadence of "This is the anniversary of his death."

This is one of those days that I am less forgiving of God.  This is the second thing.

I know - absolutely know - that God is not at fault in this. God didn't set the butterfly's wings to flapping that ended in the hurricane of my brother's death. There was no Divine Plan here. Randy smoked four packs of cigarettes a day, existed on caffeine and nicotine. He was diagnosed with stage four metastatic lung cancer when he was 45, and died when he was 47. Not a day goes by that I don't miss him, though I don't think of him every day like I did. Stretches of time go by-- a handful of days, a week, some small length of time, and I will suddenly stop, feeling the ache of his loss like a stitch in my side, sharp and hot, receding into a dull throb until it is more memory than real. My breath doesn't  catch in my throat when I think of him. Mostly. I say kaddish at every yizcor service, and I do not weep.  Mostly.

He died because he smoked. He died because he got cancer. But he died today, seven years ago. On Rosh HaShanah, the day of pomp and circumstance and joy and celebration. I was with him in the hospital when he died, literally as the shofar sounded down the hall from his room, And so the Book was laid open and the Gates swung wide and my brother died, all in the space of tekiyah. And so today has suddenly become hard. And I am suddenly less forgiving of God.

And for all of that, when I stood in prayer and my knees began to buckle from the weight of my sorrow, when I was filled with an ocean of pain and loss, when I wanted to curse God-- when I did curse God-- there were hands that reached out to hold me steady, and strong arms to carry me through to firm ground. When I demanded of God, to God-- where the hell are You?  I was answered: here.  No farther than the nearest heartbeat, in the still small voices of all those around me, who showed me, again and again, that I was not alone. Even in my pain, even in my doubt and despair, I was not alone.

And so, the third thing: Redemption.

I started there, I know. Perhaps my ball of string, with its jumble of tangled threads and hopeless mess, was less eleventy-seven different things and more a giant mobius strip of one. Perhaps it is all reflections and variations on a single strand. Perhaps, at least for me, it is all about redemption.  And God.  Ever and always.

I have spent a lifetime yearning for redemption. I have spent an eternity of lifetimes searching for God. I have declared my disbelief in God even as I feared that God didn't believe in me. I have shouted my rage and demanded answers and whispered my praise. And the thing I come back to, again and again, like a gift of impossible and breathless wonder--

It is not what I pray that matters.  It is that I pray.

For all my yearning, for all my longing, what I don't ever realize is that I am redeemed.  I have not been abandoned by God. Neither have I been forgotten. David had it right in his psalms: we cry out to God and we are healed. He didn't tell us "God only hears the pretty words. Speak only of love and praise, only then will you be heard." No, it's pretty clear: we find healing and redemption because we cry out in our anger and our fear.

I do not believe in a Santa Claus god, who bestows presents on the deserving: God does not provide parking spaces or jobs, nor do we win wars or sporting events as the result of our faith and prayers. Good people will die, evil people will prosper, the sun will continue to blaze in the noonday sky. world without end, amen amen.

In my faith, in my prayer, what I find, again and again - what I am given, again and again, is grace. What I get is strength and courage to face what life has placed in front of me in that moment - even if that thing is the death of my beloved brother. My faith is not a guarantee that I will never know fear, or that only good and happy things will happen. My faith, my prayer, allows me to put one foot in front of the other and know that I will be carried through. And in that exact moment,  the moment I take that step, I am enough and I am redeemed. And in that moment, I dance in the palm of God's hand.

For my brother, Randy (z"l)
May we all dance in the palm of God's hand

L'shana tova u'metukah
May you have a good and sweet year

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Jacob's Ladder

David's harp urges me
and the horns of Abraham's
dilemma push me,
and Jacob's ladder is crowded
with angels. They move aside,
not without some attitude,
so I may stumble up those
narrow rungs; still -
elevated though I am,
there is only dust
and a blaze of Glory
in the far distance.

I am meant to follow,
with open hands
and open heart,
to feel the quickening
of my blood
that moves in equal time
with my shame
and my joy, my fear and
love, my grief and my ecstasy,
So that I may claim them all,
as they have claimed me -
and once claimed,
I may again stand at the gates
and ask to enter.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

To God, who divides the waters

I think of Nachshon
who walked into the waters
until they almost swallowed him.
Past his chin they came,
but he didn't stop.

He walked, they rose.
And then they parted.

Just like that,
a miracle of divine order.
They say the angels flew about,
singing sweet psalms
and cheering the marchers on,
until God reined them in,
showering them with shame.

The waters now are rising
and we desperately need
a ribbon of dry land.
People are wading through
chest-high currents
that eddy and ripple and 
drag at their sodden feet
and leaden hearts, 
threatening again to
swallow them whole.

Dear God, who moves 
upon the water's face;
who divided the waters 
and makes the rain;
Who sends the storms
and attends the tides -
do You wait again for Nachshon,
wrapped in his faith 
and in his folly,
to walk, and show You
once more, where the waters 
need to part?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Open the Gates

An alternative reading for Psalm 118

Open the gates of justice.
They are rusted shut
and chained.
Weeds  and brambles
choke the path
that leads there.

Open the gates
and let all enter -
the orphan and the widow,
the poor;
the stranger,
whose heart you know,
for you were once a stranger
in a strange and narrow land.

You were tortured and
enslaved, hunted,
stripped of your humanity
and your lives,

because you were
differently skinned,
otherly colored,
your faith
your ideas
and clothes
and loves
were not the same.

Open the gates
for the despairing and desperate,
for those whose
hope has been stolen.

Oh, My children!
Open the gates that
you have nailed shut.
I beseech you -
I beg you!
Open the gates.
Let the light of justice
shine; let all of
My children. rejoice.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Elul, Day 1 - Nothing Hidden

I have several friends who blog Elul. There are lists of prompts. The prompts are awesome. For today, I have seen the prompt "act" and "repent" on this, the first day of Elul. Two completely different lists, two completely different people. I could have a field day spinning a tale of connection between those two verbs.

I love spinning tales between seemingly disparate things. One of these days, I swear I will do a study of what I meant to type on my phone vs. what the gods of typing think I meant.

Of course there's no small god living in my phone, playing a game of mystical tomfoolery and revelation.  So what if I type (or mean to type) "easy" and "Esau" shows up. That may not be the best example, but its the one that springs to mind (perhaps because it happened just a few hours ago). Every so often, i am riveted by what shows up on my screen; I know,absolutely, that any supposed connection that I see is circumstantial, but I am so caught by that circumstance, and I start wondering and spinning tales. They are my private flights of fancy. There's no deeper meaning to be ferreted out of pure chance.

There's nothing hidden.

Now there's a word fraught with meaning. Potentially fraught. Potential meaning. Hidden. The cascade begins.

It starts with God. What doesn't start with God? They say (some of Them, those mystical Them mostly; still, it is said) they say that God hides from us. A theological game of hide-and-seek? But God is everywhere, in everything - there can be no place that God is not, so how is it that God can hide? What does God hide, anyway? What secrets does She savor? I can't get my head aroound it.

And even as I think about God and hiding and what lies hidden, my thoughts start sliding, skittering this way and that, knowing (oh God, knowing!) the important stuff I want to avoid, the things I'd really rather stay hidden, from God, from you. From me.

And I think maybe, during this holy month of Elul, where we are called on to dive a little deeper, bend the light a little more, search some and reflect some and reveal some - this year, rather than jump on the amazing lists of prompts that dear friends have created so lovingly and mindfully, I will instead blog Elul a bit differently this year. This year I will try to find what is hidden within me.

I don't believe that God hides. I believe, with all my heart, that God is present always, in the everwhere. God needs no gates. No doors. No secret codes. Perhaps we humans do. God does not. God wants (and demands) love. with everything we have: heart and soul and "m'odecha," which I translate as our everythingness, our veryness. I have no idea what that means, but I try to comply anyway. Most days.

So. Nothing hidden. I will dive as deeply as I can, to find all the hidden places - fear and anger and beauty and love - gifts unimaginable, to be sure. I am afraid of what I will find. I think I am more afraid of finding the gifts and the grace. The other stuff is old home week for me. It's always the good stuff that floors me just a bit.

So welcome to this year's adventure. I invite you to share it with me. What do you hide? What do you reveal? If you're brave - share it. Leave a comment or two in the space you'll find below. My goal is to post some every day. Like I said - I have no idea what all will find light this month. Still, it's an adventure, right?

To quote a purely fictional character (and who doesn't feel a bit fictional every now and then?) -

"Oh! What larks!"

Friday, August 18, 2017

Hope is an Action

I sent my hope out into the Universe.
Whispered and weightless,
I waited.

I waited to be struck whole,
made happy and healed.
I waited for peace to come.

But hope is an action.
It doesn't wait,
or come when called.
You will never save me
or bring me hope,
lying pure and clean
on platters of silver.

I hope with my feet,
not my head or my heart.
My heart will lie,
broken and bruised,
waiting for hope,
wishing for peace to come.

But hope is an action,
and peace is a verb -
to lift me,
to fill me,
allow me to soar.
When I hope with my feet
I am saved.
I am healed.
I am made holy once more.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

If Not Now - a poem for Charlottesville

Who would have strength
to stand, truth to power -
a tightrope walk
against the wind,
with no net below
except for the hand of God?

Who would walk the road
less traveled, the one of
rocky crags and razor wire?
That curves into a
perilous wood and
still look up with hope?

Who would sing the song
of dissonance when it
is easier - far easier!
to slip into the stream
and be carried
by its current?

Who would dare
to demand justice,
show mercy,
offer comfort
shout defiantly -
who would love
in the face
of hate?

Who will stand
now, if not for me?
who will rise
now and march
now and sing a song
of freedom's call
now? Who,
if not for me?

Once more, and yet again
if not now, then

In response to the terrorist attack by Nazis and white supremacists at Charlottesville.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Nine thousand one hundred thirty one days: a lesson in counting

It has been, by my rough calculations, 16,450 some-odd days since the first time I got drunk. I don’t have an exact date. I remember I was with my best friend, Missy. She had moved in just before we entered junior high. Because it was summer, I was her almost only friend by default. She was my pretty much only friend because I was the weird, nerdy, geeky, awkward, too smart, too outside of, too much kid who just never got the hang of people.

We were perfect for each other.

One Saturday afternoon, when my whole family was gone, for one reason or another, and Missy and I were hanging out, I said, apropos of nothing at all, “I wonder what it would be like to be drunk?” I don’t know what she was thinking, but the idea had been rolling around like a ghost, popping up unannounced at odd times, part mournful, always wistfully fleeting. 

Everything changed on that day. Everything. It didn’t matter that we mixed vodka with grape Kool-Aid. It didn’t matter that I hated the taste, regardless of the concentrations we used – mostly Kool-Aid with a dollop of vodka to begin our (my) experiment, to mostly vodka with a tinge of purple by the end. It didn’t matter that I drank Missy under the table and would have kept drinking were it not for the knock on the door that turned out to be my grandparents of all people, who sensed that something was up with me, but even then, I was pretty expert at hiding in plain sight.

What mattered was the feeling of power and peace that I felt. What mattered was that, for the first time in my life, I felt as if I could breathe, finally, after holding in my breath for 11 long years. What mattered was that all those ghostly voices in my head, that whispered to me how lost and alone and wrong I was, they all quieted until I could almost believe I was okay. What mattered was the conviction that I wanted this feeling to last forever. 

 For the next 7,000+ days, give or take a month or three, nothing about me changed. I remained geeky and gawky. I was too smart and I used my intelligence like a fine edged sword, lashing out, showing off, drawing blood, to make you hurt as much as I did. I stood on the edges, observing the life around me unable to step inside. Inside was too noisy. Inside was too unknown. Inside was too uncontrollable. Inside would chew me up and spit me out and find me wanting.

Somewhere in the first 1,000 of those 7,000 or so days, I had my first blackout; I learned to drink at my hurt; I learned to drink at my fear. I learned to chase that singular moment of intoxicated power and peace no matter how just out of my grasp that moment was. 

Somewhere in the next 2,000 or so of those 7000+ days, I learned that would never fit. I learned that I would always be alone. I learned that if I drank, it was easier to pretend to fit, to not care so much that I didn’t. 

Somewhere in the next 3,000 or so days of those 7,000+ days, I lost God. Well, not lost really; more like cut my ties and walked away. I knew it would be easier to do this than wait for God to do it to me. I learned that I was a fraud, that whatever it was that everyone else seemed to see in me – talent and skill and goodness and honesty – they were all masks that I wore, thin fa├žades between me and the rest of the world, and the rest of the world was clamoring and clawing to rip the masks apart and expose me. I learned that drinking filled all the holes that God the people I’d left behind made. 

Those last 1,000 or so days of those 7,000+ days were a bit of a blur. I learned to be ice. To be steel. To crawl into a tiny boxed in universe of one that kept everything out, that kept me safe. I learned to run and hide and disappear. I learned to burn bridges and cut my losses. I learned to dodge bills and avoid landlords. I learned to crawl into a bottle and live in the land of Forever – where time stopped and pain and hurt and fear clung to me like flop sweat. I learned that drinking was killing me, and I didn’t really care. 

Nine thousand one hundred and thirty days ago, I learned that no matter how many bottles I crawled into, I would always find myself back in the outside, and whatever problem I’d been running from was now crisis, was now exploding, was now atomic waste. I learned that ice melts and pain leaks and facades crumble, and at some point, I was raw and exposed and desperately sad. I learned that next time will never be different. I learned I had no ability to not drink, and that scared the shit out of me.

Nine thousand one hundred and thirty one days ago, I crawled into an AA meeting, and I learned that I never had to drink again. I did not know how to do that. They told me, all those people with their days and their weeks and months and years, and their coins that marked their time, they told me to not drink, go to meetings. They told me to find God, find a sponsor – not necessarily in that order. They told me to get books and go to meetings and collect phone numbers (and use them). They told me to change everything and work the steps and go to more meetings and read and write and give it away and service. They said to keep coming back, to work it all, because it works if you work it. 

This may not all have been said to me 9,131 days ago. By the time 3 more days had passed, and I kept going to those meetings, looking haunted and feeling as if I had crawled out of my skin because I hadn’t picked up a drink and what the hell – was it going to feel like this forever, I had heard it all. Every single platitude of hope and love and sobriety and faith – I’d heard them all. It took me longer than I care to recount to learn these lessons.

They promised it would get better. 

And that was the first couple of days – me, desperate and raw and terrified – that I’d drink, that I couldn’t, that I was weak and vulnerable and less than. It was all I could do to get through the next measurement of time: breath, minute, cup of coffee, meeting, hour, the dark of night filled with shadows and silence and the voices in my own head screaming for release, for that one sip, those thirty seven seconds of liquid fire that would take my pain and doubt away.

I had learned nothing in those first few days, but I did not drink. And because I didn’t drink those couple of days, there were a couple few more days, strung together while I dried out in the meeting rooms and coffee houses. And those days slipped into more days, slipped into 30 that fell into 90. Every day a meeting. Every day a prayer – please God, don’t let me drink. Every day silence and shadows and hanging on for dear life, and desperate hope that they were telling me the truth, that I never had to drink again. That I never had to be alone. That it would get better.

Some days were easy, even in those first handful of weeks and months. Some felt like a walk on a tightrope of barbed wire that hung suspended over an abyss as deep as night. In the last 9,131 days, here’s what I’ve learned (mostly pretty slowly, by fits and false starts), by God’s great grace. Some of these lessons I am still learning – also by God’s great grace. There’s a lot of stumbling around, a lot of hairpin turns and switchbacks that return me to some beginning point I could barely remember. For all of that – by the grace of God and the fellowship of AA, I have not picked up a drink in 9,131 days. For the past 25 years, I have been sober. They were right, those AA friends:  life got better. They would often add “It isn’t easy,” an epitaph of sorts. They were right about that as well.

Around about around about 8,500 hundred days ago, I learned, just before my best-friend-in-sobriety, the woman I talked to every day, a couple of times a day, and saw every night at our 8:00 meeting, and had coffee with every night after the meeting, rain or shine, hell or high water, she went out. Just like that, sober one minute, using the next. And while she had done the drinking thing before, and the coke thing, too (it was the 80s then, after all, now she was sticking needles in her arm, doing the heroin thing.

So I learned there were no guarantees. Not even for people I loved. And the other thing all those AA people talked about – how our disease was doing push ups all the time we weren’t using, weren’t practicing our addictions – they weren’t lying about that, either.  Even harder to learn: nothing I say will make an alcoholic stop using, not a goddamned thing. Of course, nothing I say will keep an alcoholic sober either. Still, the first proposition – that was a bitter pill to swallow.

Somewhere around 7,000 days ago, I learned God. I didn’t find God. I didn’t create a God of my understanding. I learned God. I was about three and a half years sober, and I wanted to use. Planned it, actually. I was sober, mostly in name only. I wasn’t using, but I wanted to so badly I could almost taste the gin slipping down my throat. At three and a half years, I still couldn’t figure the God thing out. They told me to find one, as if God were an inflatable toy, to be blown up when needed and then folded and packed away when I was done. I saw everyone getting it, finding a God of their own understanding, and I was happy that they had. I wasn’t completely convinced that I ever would myself, and took secret pride in my uniqueness. 

Around about 6,000 days ago, I learned God, and I learned to pray – simply, humbly, with everything of my heart and soul in the words. Desperate to drink, I had learned to listen to a few friends in the program, and one of them suggested that before I drank, at least try praying. “At least,” my Jewish friend said to me, “get down on your knees one time, and ask for help.” I sank to my knees, there in my living room that was filled with shadows and silence and I said, :I give. I can’t be so alone. I need help.”

That was my prayer exactly. And in the exact moment of my prayer, there was God, neither lost nor misplaced nor imaginary. Just there. And I didn’t drink. And I slept. And the next day, nothing had changed. The earth still spun on its axis, day followed night followed day. I went to work and ate and fed the cat and I didn’t drink. And whatever crisis I had clung to, whatever hurt I had nursed, whatever plan to the contrary, I didn’t drink. 

A bit more than 7,000  days ago, I learned that I could be loved. In fact, I could love and be loved enough to marry. I had spent a lifetime believing I was unlovable, that I was missing something, that I was a tiny little bit off, almost human enough to pass, but lacking enough to be doomed to a lonely and solitary existence. No way in hell would I ever get vulnerable or intimate enough to let someone see inside – because then they’d see just how wrong I was. But I stood under the chuppah and declared I love. I am loved. 

Nine months later, to the day, 6,747 days ago, I had learned enough of love and God and faith and hope that there was my son, a whole new kind of love, a whole new host of terrors. More grace than I could ever have imagined, learned as I held him, cradled against my heart, sweet as forever, filled with the music of God.

Fifty-eight hundred days ago, I saw the world change. We all did. And I wept and wondered and learned none of us is safe, life isn’t a guarantee and hope can be more powerful than fear. 

Forty-seven hundred days ago, I found my voice again. I had lost singing much as I had lost God, deliberately, because it brought me joy. When I sang, all those voices that plagued me, all the doubt that tethered me in place, they lifted and I could feel light and God. And there, 4,700 days ago, I found music again, and I learned to let joy flow through me like honey.

Almost 3,900 days ago, I learned that love doesn’t always last. It changes and grows and shrinks and skips about. Love can be hard; it always means work. And sometimes, no matter how hard you work, love dies. And love that is dead can be ugly – as ugly as sin and indifference. As ugly as hate. It is noisy and dissonant and jarring and lonely.

A bit over 3,000 days ago, hatred and indifference smoothed out, turned to a stiff and fragile civility. With the stroke of a pen we were done. Love wasn’t forever – but neither was hatred. And slowly, that forced civility gave way itself to a different kind of love, an easier love born of shared obligation, not to each other, but to our son. 

Twenty-six hundred days ago, give or take, I learned hell. I learned it’s possible to lose just about everything – houses, jobs, friends, faith. I learned that sometimes, you find the trap door rather than the bottom. There is always a bottom; there is always a trap door. Exactly 2,526 days ago, on a day of joy and celebration, the birthday of the world, I lost my brother. I learned that even in the searing pain of that, there is grace: we were with my brother all those last weeks, and in the final hours, when he wasn’t conscious, we stayed with him, and talked to him and held his hand. He was not alone. I carry that moment with me still, sweet and sharp.

Twenty-four hundred days ago, I learned the absolute zero of numbness. I learned that sadness lingers, clinging to my skin like a cloak, and grief has its own timetable. I learned that even with so many days, drinking has a siren call that is almost impossible to resist. Even knowing that, at best, I’d get a minute or three of release by drinking, sometimes the pain that seeps through the numbness is great enough that it seems worth it, to lose everything. Almost. 

Fifteen hundred days ago, I got paid for a story. It was a tiny check, as checks go, but I could barely contain the immensity of it. I had a voice – different from singing and it flowed through me like music, like honey.

Twelve hundred days ago, bitter and sweet twined again, a letting go and a leaping towards. Fear and joy and desire and need. It was another round of losing, another round of gaining. Perhaps not so desperate as the last, but difficult and demanding nonetheless.

The last thousand days or so have been a blur, mostly. I have learned the true meaning or powerless, in watching people I love slog through hell and be unable to do anything except witness with them, be present with them. I chafe at being a human being, and would much prefer to be a human doing. There is something that feels much more satisfying in that. I have learned to live a life beyond my wildest dreams, to accept that it’s not a false-bottomed boat and won’t be snatched away in the blink of an eye. I have learned, almost too slowly, to ask for help. My skin doesn’t crawl quite so much when I do, and I’ve been assured that, with practice and humility, I might not cringe at all. I can admit to not knowing, even on a bad day. This is actually the softer easier way. 

For the past 9,131 days, I have learned to live rather than exist. This hasn’t always been easy, and I have more than a few scars to prove it. In and around and between all those days, there was love and pain and jobs and fear and money and joy and death and bills and grief and triumph and boredom and danger and grace – always grace – a gift unlooked for, perhaps underserved, but, like love, unconditional. In and around and between all these days, I didn’t drink – even when I wanted to , even when I longed to sink back into a bottle, I didn’t drink. 

In all of these days, there has been faith that breathes and changes and shrinks and blossoms, and is sometimes just enough to allow me to put one foot in front of the other. In all these days, there has been God, though I had my eyes closed and my arms crossed for a fair number of those days. I like to think, at times, that God waited patiently for me to look up and see. Sometimes we wrestle, me and God; sometimes we dance.

Those AA people were right, the ones with the days and the hours and the months and years of their own: don’t drink, go to meetings, it gets better.

For the grace of God and the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, for all those who have walked this path before, who’ve set the torches up and left the maps with the dragons and quicksand clearly marked, I give thanks. To all of my sponsors who put up with me, my sponsees who taught me more that they perhaps suspected, I give thanks. To my son, who taught me about God and love, I give thanks,

To God, who offers me grace and waits for me to dance,,,

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.