Sunday, September 29, 2013


I miss the ability to hop up off the floor in one-two-three. What is it about the aging body that makes it so difficult to resist gravity? I am convinced that I can feel every bone and organ in my body settle when I get out of bed in the morning and have to contend with another day of gravity.

My knees are not so great, so I have had difficulty getting up off the floor for quite a while. I remember a few years back when Ron and I stayed with a friend of ours who had a mattress on the floor in her guest room. When I woke in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, I had to crawl to it and pull myself up on the doorknob. Sad, but true.

My dad, who is 84, told me that he went on a canoe trip this past week. He and his buddies pulled out to shore for lunch. After lunch, Dad, who was sitting on the ground, said to his buddies, “We can to this the easy way or we can do this the hard way.” His buddies reached their hands out to him and pulled him up (the easy way). He could have gotten up off the ground on his own if necessary, but it would have been some work. I identify!

In July, Ron and I attended one of the free Concerts in the Park in the series offered here. We had a great time, as ever, dancing to the delicious sounds of the band. The bandleader got everyone into it. At one point, during a song, he had everyone waving their hands in the air, then doing the twist, then he said, “OK, get down on the ground.” As the young folks around us hit the grass, Ron and I backed off to the edge of the dance floor laughing. A friend standing nearby asked us why we had fled the dance floor. “We can’t get up off the ground,” I explained. “No way we’re getting down there.” We actually could get off the ground if hard-pressed, but it would not be pretty.

I am not particularly out of shape. I walk a couple of miles every day, run on a treadmill three times a week, and lift weights daily. Even so, I have trouble getting up off the ground or the floor.

My dad and I had a conversation recently about those football players who take huge hits on the field and then just bounce up off the turf. Ah, youth! I do stand amazed at the hits that football players bounce up from so easily. One of those hits would lay me flat for weeks. And last Thursday night, watching the game, I had a good laugh when a commercial for the film “Gravity” played. At the end of the commercial, the narrator said, “Experience Gravity in a theater near you.” I don’t have to go to a theater to experience gravity. At the risk of embarrassing my readers, I can say that I am experiencing gravity right this minute. Even more hilarious than the closing line of the commercial, was the announcer’s comment when they returned us to the game. He said, “Tonight’s football game is brought to you by Gravity.” Seriously, tell those football players to mind the gravity, could wreak havoc. At least they’re young enough to deal with it and bounce up off the ground.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

On Being Rabbinic + Slogging Thru the Mud

At synagogue on Friday, as we ate dinner in the succah, a friend told me a story. He had attended services for Yom Kippur at a different synagogue where the rabbi spoke to his congregation about what it was like for him to be heckled the previous week during Rosh Hashanah services. Apparently a man stood up and shouted at the rabbi in the middle of the service, calling out things like, “you’re no rabbi, you’re a fraud, you don’t belong up there, you’re not qualified to lead these people, leave now.”

In reflecting on this incident, the rabbi shared that he had found the man’s words painful and disturbing. As the man heckled him, however, he thought, “the most important thing is how I respond in this situation.” The rabbi chose to respond with compassion and forgiveness. He spoke gently and kindly to the heckler and discouraged his congregants from harming the man in any way. I do not know how the heckler was removed.

My friend related this story to me as an example of how that particular rabbi “is so rabbinic” (my friend’s words). I understood exactly what he meant by “being rabbinic.” Being thoughtful and reflective. Considering what we learn from life as it unfolds, while searching for meaning, lessons, and inspiration in our experience. Finding ways of interpreting and appreciating what we see before us rather than letting things pass us by without observing, recognizing, acknowledging, and feeling awe or wonder. Thinking before acting or speaking. I love conversing with people who are rabbinic, who live attentively, intentionally, and contemplatively. I love to hear how they find meaning in an oftentimes chaotic world and to hear their observations; their stories.

Subsequent to the incident, the rabbi learned that the heckler was mentally ill. He had just been released from a psychiatric facility and had failed to follow up on his treatment plan by taking his medication. That is where the few pieces of information I know about the situation end. I can only guess that the man either left the synagogue eventually or was removed by congregants or perhaps the police if they were called. I would guess that the heckler was experiencing hallucinations at the time of the incident. It is reasonable to surmise that many of those present might have considered the possibility that the man was anti-Semitic, violent, and/or dangerous. I wonder how many of those at the service considered that the man was struggling with mental illness. I feel certain that afterward (when he learned about the man’s illness), although shaken up, the rabbi felt gratified that he had responded with compassion rather than anger and that he had weighed his response carefully before acting.

So what does this have to do with slogging through the mud? I’m getting to that.

On Friday night, it rained the first rain of the autumn season. I woke on Saturday morning to the magnificent scent of freshly washed air, the brilliant greeny-green of damp foliage, and a sky filled with fluffy white and gray clouds. I debated whether or not to walk up behind the lake where I usually go in fair weather, because in the rainy season the path I follow dissolves into mud. The problem with the mud on the path is that it accumulates in the soles of my shoes or boots (whatever footwear I choose, doesn’t matter) and makes it difficult to walk. On Saturday I made the mistake of thinking the rain was not enough to turn the path to mud and I went up behind the lake. I had not walked far before the entire length of the bottom of my boots became weighted down with a slippery mud clot an inch thick, smooth as a surf board, dangerous to walk on. I was forced to stop frequently and clear the mud by scraping my boots on rocks, fallen trees, the edges of signposts, and anything I could find to remove the mud. My walk was hijacked by the discomfort of slogging through the mud.

I felt frustrated, but I responded by being rabbinic. I asked myself what I could learn from the experience on a deeper level. I had chosen to walk, despite the chance that there would be mud. Once made, my choice was mine to own and mine to deal with. Would I let the mud define my walk? I thought of the mud in other terms. I have made choices in my life that have provided me with a life’s journey filled with great beauty and satisfaction while at the same time causing me to slog through a lot of mud. But I chose the path, filled with the beauty along with the mud. Like the heckled rabbi, I choose to focus on my response to the mud. During my walk, I accepted the disruption and the discomfort of dealing with the mud while I enjoyed the beauty afforded by the landscape. Mud or no mud, what I value is the being rabbinic. I have been blessed with a life populated with kindred spirits who are rabbinic. 

Manzanita trees brushed with rain, that red red bark, extraordinarily beautiful.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Spring of Flowing Waters

I have had a sci-fi novel brewing in my head since 2005. Recently I started writing it, but I can’t seem to concentrate properly. I have difficulty focusing and making good use of the limited time afforded to me to write my own creative material. When my mind wanders, I drift over to the Internet and check out my favorite cyber-watering-holes. Knowing my tendency to do this, I generally steer clear of any vids that people email me or embed in Facebook posts because watching vids eats up a lot of time. Heck, anything on the Internet eats up a lot of time. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Internet. Many thoughts, inspirations, laughs, communications, and informational bites that have added value to my life have found me via the Internet. Yet, as they say, there are only so many hours in the day. My failure to apply myself to the task of getting this new novel out of my head has me contemplating adjustments I should make to rejuvenate my creative process, and one of them is to spend less time on the Internet.

Now, during the High Holidays, is the perfect time of year for such contemplation. Friday night I participated in Kol Nidre (Yom Kippur Eve) services at our small congregation’s synagogue. During the portion of the service when we specifically seek forgiveness for our transgressions (the Al-Chayt), our rabbi suggested that each person take a moment to “look inside” and identify one area for improvement that we want to especially focus on addressing in the coming year. I have a lot of things I would like to improve about myself, but the one I chose to focus on is not using my gift for words, which I cherish (and am grateful for), to the full extent of my ability.

With this in mind, I thought about changes to make in my life to create more time to write this novel and I thought about changes to make in my life to help me focus better on the task at hand, to prioritize this project and not waste so much valuable time on inessentials. At the deepest point of personal reflection in the Kol Nidre service, I reflected on these things and renewed my commitment to my calling, my profession, the passion of my truest self:  using this extraordinary gift of creativity and the ability to shape something beautiful and meaningful with words that has been bestowed upon me. I need to dig deep into the well of my imagination and do the challenging work of crafting something that touches the spirits of others and perhaps has the power to make a difference in someone’s life. Oh creativity, return to me.

As Kol Nidre came to a close, the rabbi pointed to a basket on a table by the door. She said that she had printed out various lines from the Haftorah portion from Isaiah that we would read on Yom Kippur the following day and she had put them into the basket. She invited us to take a slip of paper randomly (without reading it first) from the basket as we left the service to see what it would give us. Perhaps we would receive an insight, a message that meant something to us, embedded in the random snippet from Isaiah. As I exited, I reached into the basket, pulled out a slip of paper, and put it in my pocket. Later, at home, I took out the Isaiah quote that I had pulled and read it.

“You will become like a watered garden, a never ending spring of flowing waters.”

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Year of Living Fearlessly with Delight

Thursday was Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), which is a time to step out of my ordinary life and reflect; a time for making change -- what we call in Hebrew t’shuvah or “turning/returning.” Turning to something new, returning to our truest self. This Rosh Hashanah I resolve to live in fearless delight for one year. I can explain.

Rewind to last weekend, which found me in Chicago with Ron’s peeps at the Grant Family Reunion. From the moment we arrived, we were embraced by Ron’s large and loving family and found ourselves up to our eyeballs in an avalanche of food, laughter, and music. We stayed with one of Ron’s cousins and he and his wife and two daughters were the warmest, most generous hosts you could imagine. The night before the reunion, many relatives converged on their house to cook, eat, dance, sing, and enjoy one another’s company.

On the day of the reunion it poured rain. Undaunted, Ron’s family unloaded a sound system, BBQ grills, food, drinks, and everything needed to party at a “pavilion” (sheltered area with picnic tables) in the park. Despite the thunder, lightning, and torrential downpour, we were family, at least a hundred strong, and we were there for a good time and we sure had it. The rain cleared after a couple of hours and the day blossomed into a beauty. Once again we ate, danced, laughed, talked, joked, sang, and had a blast.

I returned home to Cali a couple of days before Rosh Hashanah. As I sat in synagogue, contemplating my life, and considering what change I wanted to make, I thought about Ron’s cousins who hosted us in Chicago. What fine and loving people they are. They are always looking for ways to help others, to do a good deed. I don’t think they focus much on the larger ills of the world, such as environmental disaster and what country the U.S. is threatening to bomb next. They don’t live under a rock, they know what goes on in the world, but their priority concerns are family, church, and adding positive value to the lives of those they touch. They are concerned with the health and wellbeing of those they love and those in their community and they are generous with their time and their resources. They are helpers and healers. They are joyful. They celebrate life. I saw this again and again in Ron’s family throughout our stay. Many of his people have very little material wealth. A lot of them are in poor health. Yet they are astonishingly grateful for the blessings they have and admirably generous.

I want to be more like them. More celebratory, less apprehensive. I have become too anxious. I didn’t used to be like this. Once upon a time I rushed forward headlong, unafraid to shoot the moon. Lately I worry. I worry about money. What if I have a health crisis and can’t work, then how will we pay our bills? How can we pay off the debt we incurred putting our children through college? How can I afford to retire? I worry about my husband’s health. Is his blood pressure to high? Blood sugar too low? Feet OK? What if his health issues escalate into a crisis? I worry about insurance, car maintenance, taxes. I worry about my children. My son lives in Oakland, one of the most dangerous cities in the country. I worry for his safety. Even with her college degree, my daughter (who has a fulltime job that does not adequately compensate her for her work) can’t land a job in her chosen profession, which is in many ways still a man’s world. I worry about the planet and about the survival of the human race, about the radiation spill at Fukushima and the poisonous glyphosates lacing our food (thanks to Monsanto). I worry that my son who lives in SoCal, and who just got engaged, will one day present me with extraordinary grandchildren who will die of thyroid cancer as the radiation from Fukushima spreads. I have worried about the destruction of our environment for as long as I can remember. Sheesh. What is wrong with me? I need to stop this. I am sure that Ron’s Chicago family does not worry about the Fukushima radiation spill.

So this is it. For one year I will decline to worry. I will live as if the world will never end, as if we are safe and secure, as if a personal financial meltdown is not even remotely possible. It will be my year of living fearlessly with delight. I will spend one year unafraid. One year committed to delight, joy, wonder, celebration. I don’t want to become oblivious to the dangers and horrors that lurk in the world so I will continue to stay informed (and to work at making good decisions about managing my life). Because I am informed, I will go forth courageously. I want to remain fearless despite what I know to be true about the fragility of life.

This is my resolution, my project, my challenge. I vow to banish my anxiety and to live from now until next Rosh Hashanah, in fearless delight and wonder. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Anniversary of the March on Wash. for Jobs and Freedom

August 28th was the 50-year anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his I Have a Dream speech. I don’t remember the first march, in 1963, when I was nine years old. My mother belonged to the NAACP so I expect we watched the march on our old black-and-white TV. Even though I don’t remember the march when it occurred, I vividly remember images from it that I saw later; and it had a lifelong impact on me. I continue to grieve for Dr. King.

I recently read an article about the making of Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech. He and his speech writers stayed up most of the night before the march crafting that speech. He began with the text they had crafted. He got to the paragraph that ended, “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair,” and he paused, overwhelmed with emotion by the weight of the moment. Before he continued, Mahalia Jackson, who stood just behind him, said, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” Dr. King picked up the speech notes, set them aside, grabbed the sides of the lectern, and continued extemporaneously with, “I say to you today my friends, though even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.” From there on out, he preached for all he was worth as only Dr. King could preach. He told it.

The dream he articulated, that even in Alabama, black children and white children would one day hold hands as sisters and brothers, touches the core of my being; for my children are in fact both those black children and those white children combined. They are the product of a multicultural marriage that would have been difficult to pursue back in 1963. In 1954, when I was born, miscegenation was illegal in 16 of the (then) 48 states. Miscegenation means “the mixing of different racial groups, that is, marrying, cohabiting, having sexual relations, and having children with a partner from outside of one’s racially or ethnically defined group.” Historically, the term miscegenation has been used in the context of laws banning interracial marriage and interracial sex, so-called “anti-miscegenation laws,” and is a derogatory term used to refer to interracial relationships. Until 1948, 30 of the (then) 48 states enforced anti-miscegenation laws. The U.S. Supreme Court finally declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional in the case Loving v. Virginia in 1967, four years after the March on Washington. Dr. King’s dream is manifested in my marriage, my family, my children.

Today, as I look back at the March, I think it is extremely important to remember the full name of that event. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. We must hear that name in the context of the obscene inequity of distribution of wealth in this country, the shameful disparity in financial security that exists between the poor and the rich, the shameful disparity in financial security that exists between the struggling, sinking Middle Class and the wealthy, and the evaporation of decent jobs for decent folks. Statisticians say the recession is ending and the unemployment rate is going down. Don’t believe it. That rate is down because so many chronically unemployed are no longer counted. So many people are wallowing in that valley of despair that King spoke of, having given up hope of ever finding a job again. So many people are wearing the shackles of inequity and continued oppression built into the system; a system that undermines the very concept of freedom by preventing people from having real control over their lives. We lack control over the food we eat; the water we drink; the work we do; the opportunity we want for our children; our safety and security; the actions of our leaders.

Mahalia knew. More than anything, we needed to hear about the dream in 1963; and we desperately need to hear about Martin’s dream again now because there remains a long struggle ahead with much work left to do. We must renew our efforts, rededicate ourselves to the task, and hope again.

I love the joy on Dr. King's face.