Sunday, September 28, 2014

Shmita Year: Rebalancing

This year is a shmita year in the Jewish tradition; translated into English that means it’s a sabbatical year. The literal translation of shmita is “release.” The concept of a shmita year is extraordinary. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year (lunar calendar), occurred on Thursday, with Yom Kippur next weekend (together they constitute the High Holidays). Every seventh year, as mandated in the Torah, is a sabbatical year, going back and back and back to ancient times when the Hebrews lived on the land now called Israel, before our first and second holy temples were destroyed, before we were exiled from our land or returned to it centuries later under conflicted circumstances. Shmita originated as a year of rest for the land in an agricultural society.

In ancient times, in the shmita year, fields were left fallow. It was forbidden to plow, plant, or prune. Watering, weeding, and mowing was allowed for basic maintenance. Conscious, organized harvesting was not allowed. Any fruits or vegetables that grew (volunteers) were considered ownerless and could be picked and eaten by anyone, regardless of the ownership of the land on which they grew. Thus, those who had previously gone hungry were able to access food. Allowing the gardens and fields to rest every seven years is incorporated into the laws governing whether food is kosher. Those who keep strictly kosher will not eat fruits or vegetables grown in fields that have not been allowed to rest every seven years. Furthermore, all debts are to be forgiven in the shmita year. Can you imagine what our world would be like if we all lived with the understanding that all debts are to be forgiven every seven years? The nature of lending, borrowing, and indebtedness would be dramatically different. Traditionally, all slaves were freed during the shmita year. In the shmita year, the playing field is re-leveled as agricultural, environmental, and economic adjustments are made to maintain an equitable, just, and healthy society. In the sabbatical year, we rebalance.

If we are not allowed to grow food, then how do we survive? The devout believe that God will provide and so shmita is a year of faith. Here is a true story. The village of Komemiyut in Israel was one of the few villages in the country that chose to observe shmita during 1952 (the first shmita to occur after the birth of modern Israel in 1948). Komemiyut refrained from working the land that year, ate volunteer vegetables, and did not save seed. At the end of the shmita, Komemiyut farmers searching for seed to plant found only inferior seed that lay rotting in an abandoned shed. They sewed this seed anyway, even though it was three months after neighboring villages had planted their fields. That year the autumn rains came late, the day after the Komemiyut seed was sown. As a result, the neighboring villages had a  meager harvest, while Komemiyut had a bumper crop. (Source:  Mordechai Kuber, "Shmittah for the Clueless," Jewish Action Magazine, 2007.)

While tzedakah (charity/giving) is a central tenet of the High Holidays, in a shmita year it is incumbent upon us to make a stretch and find additional ways to practice tzedakah. The Talmud teaches that the highest form of tzedakah is when the individual receiving tzedakah does not even know that it was tzedakah, but rather believes it was something lucky that happened out of the blue or, even better, something that person secured on his or her own merit and/or efforts. Think back over your life. Think of a time when you made something wonderful happen for someone else in such a way that they never knew that what happened was because of you, but instead thought it was entirely because of them. That kind of stealth tzedakah is high tzedakah; it’s shmita year tzedakah. I am pondering how to practice stealth tzedakah in the shmita year.

On Rosh Hashanah I resolved to spend the shmita year rebalancing my life. I intend to fend off negative thoughts and emotions. I will use grief to build love, convert despair to hope, and step up my efforts to avoid exposure to violence. In fact, I will minimize my exposure to the media entirely because it is so violent. I have read enough about beheadings, war, destruction, hunger, the irreversible damage to our planet, corporate greed, and abused children. Enough. This year I will refuse access to my consciousness by as much of this down-down-downer material as possible. I am not sticking my head in the sand, but rather leaping above the clouds to surround my head with the stars. There will be enough time in the intervening six years before another shmita year for me to learn about the sickness and sadness of our world. This year I will reinforce my positive self so that I can withstand the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” lurking in my future.

I will remain ever hopeful for those in my life who are struggling with challenges and facing the overwhelming abyss of grief, ill health, disappointment, age, and loss. I will be strong for them. I will be a positive force of nature, a lighthouse on high beam. I will take shmita into my heart for this sabbatical year and swing the balance back to all that is good and right in the world; to all that manifests love, that proves love. In the midst of the chaos, suffering, and disaster, we still have the embrace of family, friends, community, and, here in Mendocino County, where I am so blessed and deeply grateful to live, we have beautiful open enormous land filled with tall, tall, graceful, brilliant trees. In this shmita year, I will manifest and amplify the spirit of brilliant trees.

I invite you to think about what you might choose to do to rebalance in this shmita year.

Classic Mendocino scenery, featuring our brilliant oak and fir trees, watching over a vineyard.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Wedding Bells for Akili and Tina

I won’t be blogging next Sunday because I’ll be at Akili and Tina’s wedding in SoCal. Is my son really getting married? Pinch me. I have moments when I feel like I fell down a rabbit hole.

The first time I met Tina was when Akili brought her home for Sudi’s high school graduation in 2009. From the minute I saw the two of them together, I knew this was the one for Akili. They were quite simply completely comfortable with each other. He was so much himself with her. They fit. Tina has been a part of our family ever since. In fact, it seems as though she and Akili are already married. The wedding will give those of us present a moment to step into a place outside of time where we can take a breath and formally celebrate this lifelong partnership.

As the wedding approaches, my daughter sent me a link to an amusing collection of children’s views about marriage. The children answered questions posed by an interviewer. When asked the proper age to get married, Camille, age 10, answered, “23 is the best age because you know the person forever by then.” When asked how a stranger could tell if two people were married, Derrick, age 8, answered, “You might have to guess based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids.”  In response to a question about conversations while on a date, Lynette, age 8, noted “Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough.” Ricky, age 10, gave the following advice for making a marriage work, “Tell your wife that she looks pretty, even if she looks like a truck.” I think one of the best suggestions about taking care of your wife that I have read recently was the one that recommended to men that if their wife seemed out of sorts they should hug her and tell her she’s beautiful and if she growls then they should retreat to a safe distance and throw chocolate at her. Works for me.

The word “wedding” has always felt ancient to me. It has not changed much from the Old English form “weddian” or the Middle English “wedde.” A wedding, a symbolic joining of two souls, seeing them “wed,” is an old, old ritual. Witnessing a wedding feels nearly primitive. Attending the wedding of two people who are terrific together and who have an excellent relationship is up there at the top as one of the most wonderful experiences in life. How remarkable that these two young people found each other in this crazy, mixed-up world? That alone is cause for celebration. So many people go their whole lives and never meet someone to partner with, never find that special person. I rejoice that it happened for my son; and that the woman he found comes from a family who values family above all else and cherishes its children passionately. Her family adores Tina’s little niece and nephews! It will be the same with us as well one day when we have grandchildren. Akili could not have found a finer family to join.

I have accomplished many things in this life, yet none more significant to me than raising my three children. Nothing makes me happier than being surrounded by their chatter and basking in their presence. To see my Akili wed will be one of the greatest joys of my life and will certainly undo me when I watch his beautiful bride come down the aisle. I just hope they don’t play “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof at the festivities, because I could certainly go through a box of Kleenex on that song. My daughter and soon-to-be daughter-in-law insist that I have to wear makeup, so I bought waterproof mascara at Macy’s. This will be a strong test of the waterproofness of Macy’s mascara.

Every morning when I walk, I tell the trees that my wish for my children is that they will love their lives as much as I am loving mine. My big-hearted jolly baby boy is grown and about to take a bride. The years march by so swiftly. I am filled with gratitude for all of it. More, please.

 Where is the little boy I carried?
Where is the little girl at play?
I don’t remember growing older.
When did they?
Sunrise, sunset; sunrise, sunset;
Swiftly flow the years,
One season following another,
Laden with happiness and tears.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Domino Rodeo

I’m trapped in a lineup of dominoes that will determine my fate for the near and perhaps distant future. We opened escrow on our house on Tuesday, but the sale is contingent on the buyers selling their house. They are taking aggressive measures (dramatically dropped the price) to sell in the timeframes to which we agreed. Meanwhile, we have found a house that I want to buy. Ron is lukewarm, but I think he’ll come around. Unfortunately for me, the seller of the house I want to buy will not entertain an offer from us until our buyers manage to get their house into escrow. I am the domino in the middle. Since we have nowhere else to go when we sell our house, we could end up on the street. Does anyone have a spare bedroom we can rent (with our cats) until we find a house?

When I first began blogging, a little more than six years ago, we were in the process of coming in off the Ranch. It was a traumatic time of upheaval for me. I loved my home in the forest so dearly and had no desire to leave. Ron’s health forced the issue. After I had to call 911 one night, and it took the paramedics more than 30 minutes to reach us and bail Ron out of a particularly bad hypoglycemic episode, I realized that I had to choose between my husband and my land. On the day that we moved, I cried for a full half an hour on my final drive from the Ranch to our new home here near town.

Having closed the chapter on the Ranch, and making the break, I have not felt much attached to this house. It’s lovely, but has little meaning for me. I sometimes imagine that the spirit of my mother (gone these past nine years) conspired with Ron to find and purchase this house. Ron was enthusiastic about it. It’s not me. The property I wish to buy is so much more suited to me. It’s modest, funky, has a lot of character. It has a mature overgrown yard that was put in place and tended by a woman who clearly loved to garden. She died suddenly of cancer and her son inherited the property, which he is eager to sell. I think I am playing with fire to even write about this desired plot of land since the world of real estate is so terribly fickle and dreams evaporate in an instant. Yet I am visioning a move to this house with the overgrown garden. I surprise myself with these stirrings of attachment to a property that I thought I would never feel again.

According to our realtor, the seller of the property has sent word that he will sell at the price we are offering, but not until our buyers get their house into escrow. Waiting patiently is not one of my virtues; a fact which got me in deep with one of my realtors a couple of days ago. We have two realtors, and that’s a long story. The twitter version is that the older realtor is semi-retired so we worked it out for a young woman who is a friend of our daughter's to be our back-up realtor. She has turned out to be our primary realtor. The older realtor likes to say, “if it’s meant to be then it will happen.” I finally lost my cool with her philosophy the other day and snapped, “that’s a very Christian sentiment, however I prefer to be more proactive.” I hope I didn’t hurt her feelings, but I was burning out on the passive-reliance-on-god aphorisms. Our young realtor is a go-getter and she works hard to make things happen. So do I. The realtor who helped us buy the Ranch in 1991 referred to that deal as “a house exchange rodeo.” Real estate exchanges have never come easy for us. At least they are memorable. We are in a new rodeo.

It seems that my mundane discussion of real estate has degenerated into a theological dissertation on intelligent design, chaos theory, whether or not humans have free will, and the nature of fate. I had not meant to go there. As long as I’m there, though, I might as well ask you to send good thoughts for my real estate transaction to go smoothly, with no cats dying in the making of this sale. Sigh. My philosophy at the moment is LIFE HAPPENS. I hope in this instance it happens in my favor.