Lucky Latkes

images.jpg

Things are definitely different here in Washington state. If you follow the news, you will consistently read about Seattle as one of the strongest and fastest growing Jewish communities in the country. I have little reason to doubt this fact. Except that unless I’m at our wonderful new temple in North Seattle, I could swing dozens of dead cats and never hit a single member of our tribe.

We currently live about 20 minutes North of the city in a suburb at the tip of Lake Washington known as Kenmore. My kids have no Jewish friends at school, I haven’t seen a single home with a Mezuzah on the doorpost in our neighborhood, and I can’t find a decent challah within 20 miles of my front door.

I’m not exactly complaining. But it’s awfully weird for this North Shore Chicago girl who spent the last two decades in Los Angeles and Scottsdale surrounded by plenty of Jewish brethren to be living amongst all of these lovely people, most of whom have never even met a Jew. My oldest son, Levi, who is deeply entrenched in Judaism, torah and spirituality has mentioned to me several times that he feels kind of weird even telling kids at school about his Judaism because he’s always met with strange looks and  perplexed stares whenever he mentions his religious heritage.

Please understand that we have in no way met with unkindness or religious intolerance in any way.  Our neighbors are civil and have spoken to us on at least one or two occasions. But they’re not busting down our door with plates of great Aunt Sofie’s mandelbread or a sample of Grandma Sarah’s famous rugelach.

That being said, Levi loves his new High School. In part, this is due to the outstanding culinary arts program that he managed to earn a spot in as the only sophomore ever admitted. His culinary arts teacher is an amazing chef, teacher and yes, Iron Chef America winner. We’ve even talked about having her and the students cater my younger son, Eli’s, upcoming Oneg Shabbat Bar Mitzvah luncheon at the temple this March.

But the other day, Levi came home in a state of utter delight and could barely contain his excitement long enough to tell us why he was so elated. He explained that there was a new class competition in culinary. Each student would get to choose one kitchen appliance for the upcoming challenge and would have to prepare a specified dish with their appliance. Levi immediately began gunning for the food processor. But after picking numbers from a chef hat, he ended up being the last student to choose his appliance. “I knew there was no way I was going to get the food processor,” He told us sadly.

The other appliances included a blender, a Kitchen Aide, a waffle iron, a deli slicer and several other typical kitchen helpers. “But somehow,” Levi offered, “No one picked the food processor. I was absolutely last and I got it! Can you believe that?”

“No one picked the food processor?” I asked incredulously. “That’s really bizarre. That doesn’t make any sense. I would’ve thought the food processor would’ve been the first to be snatched up.” “I know,” he said with a huge smile plastered across his face. “I never knew I was this lucky. And guess what else? You will never believe what recipe I got with it.”

“What?” My husband, Mark, asked with intense curiosity. Levi cheerfully replied, “Dad, it’s our favorite thing to make in the food processor! You’ll never believe it. Guess! You have to guess.”

“Our favorite thing to make in the food processor?” repeated Mark. “Um…potato pancakes?”

“Not just potato pancakes,” chirped Levi, “But latkes! Actual latkes! That’s what the recipe said. Isn’t that amazing!”

Now comes the moment  where I regret lacking any internal editing programs to stop my mouth from speaking exactly what my brain thinks up. “Well, obviously you got the food processor because no one else even knew what a latke was.”

Both Levi and Mark looked at me in horror. “Mom,” Levi said, “That’s ridiculous. Who doesn’t know what a latke is?” Mark was smiling a knowing smile, “Yeah hon, who doesn’t know what a latke is?”

“Um…you’re right, Leves,” I stammered. “Forget I said that. You just got…lucky, incredibly lucky!

images-1

I’ve been saved!

imgres.jpg

Look, I’m Jewish. I have no identity problems. I’m not self-loathing (at least not for my religious preferences). I was raised Conservative with one set of Orthodox grandparents. We keep kosher, fervently observe all Jewish holidays and celebrate Shabbat every week.

But I have to confess something. I find tremendous comfort in Christian rock music. Whenever I say that out load, my Jewish friends, family and colleagues are shocked and dismayed. “You’re kidding, right?” is the most frequent response I encounter. But it’s the truth and I’m not afraid to say it.

Sure there are plenty of songs to which I don’t relate. I check out at the explicit Jesus references and any talk about “our father who died for our sins.” But most of it is completely aligned with our own Jewish spiritual philosophy. Songs about “hanging on,” “believing,” “never giving up,” I can’t see those as heretical or anti-Jewish in any way.

My affinity for Christian music bothers by family — a lot. I try to play it in the car sometimes when I’m shuffling the kids to and from clubs, appointments and Hebrew school. I think the positive, uplifting messages will seep into their unconsciousness and improve long term coping skills as they inevitably meet with obstacles and disappointments in life. That’s all well and good until an unsuspected reference to our savior and king surfaces. Then the jig is up. “Mom, will you stop with the Christian music. It’s just weird, OK?”

Then they inevitably remind me of my 2007 trip to Sedona when they were 7 and almost four. It was New Year’s Eve and I was driving with the boys to meet some friends for the holiday. It was cold and snowy but I had plenty of daylight and I knew it was a relatively short trip. Of course once it started to get dark, I realized I’d been driving for over three hours and that I might have made a bum turn or taken a wrong exit. 

When I finally found a safe spot to pull over, I was slightly hysterical and began sobbing into the steering wheel. As we sat there in the cold car somewhere on the side of a road, me weeping and the boys growing ever more anxious, there was a sudden tapping on my window. I looked up and saw the kindly countenance of a woman motioning to me to roll down the window. I did so and she asked me if I was okay. I admitted between whimpers that I was not. “I’m trying to get to Sedona,” I sniffled. “But we’re lost, and I have no idea where we are.”

She took my hands into hers and said, “May I pray to Jesus with you?” My boys watched with wide eyes as I emphatically said, “Yes!” Then she offered up a prayer to the big guy asking for him to help us find our way and to protect us on our journey. She pointed me towards a neighboring town which I later learned was Strawberry, AZ and with renewed hope and vitality I set out to find our path to salvation.

I was able to get us turned around and back on the road and managed to successfully make it to our cabin in the woods just slightly late for dinner. But the more people to whom I related my redemption tale, the more I was met with uncertain stares and stifled laughter. “What?” I said to friends and family whom I could tell were holding themselves back from full throttled chortling at my experience. “I got where I needed to go. That’s all I’m sayin’.”

As we move ever closer to the holiday season this year, I encourage all to count blessings, believe in miracles, and stay open to inspiration, from wherever it may come.

Matzah, Marvel and Maternal Remorse

mrvlbtlgrnd1

“Where are you going with those?” I ask Eli, my twelve year old son, as he suspiciously tries to slink out of the house for school carrying three unopened boxes of leftover Passover matzah. “Um…nowhere,” he answers. “Bye mom. Have a great day.”

“Wait just a minute, Eli,” I’m not ready to let this go. “Why are you taking three boxes of matzah to school after Passover?”

“I thought they were leftover.” He chirps.

“Yeah… So what?” I challenge.

“Alright mom,” he confides. “But if I tell you you can’t get involved. Promise?”

These are always my favorite intros to any conversation with my kids. Promising not to get involved isn’t something I’m apt to do easily.

“I promise nothing,” I say. “Now what’s with the matzah? And if you miss the bus you’re walking to school. So start talking.”

“I’m selling them to a friend.” he sheepishly confesses.

“Selling them? For how much?” I inquire.

“Fifteen dollars,” he tells me.

This is the part where I go berzerk. “Fifteen dollars? Who would buy matzah for fifteen dollars? That’s insane.” I grab the matzah and insist that it is not being sold to anyone. “If you want to give your friend the matzah that is perfectly alright. But you are not selling it to him for any amount of money.”

“But mom, we made a deal. And you always say ‘a deal is a deal.’ He wagered with me willingly. I’m just fulfilling my side of the bargain”

As I delve into this, I learn that Eli has been making money on the side selling a variety of useless items to his pals who only want Eli to play more advanced PS4 video games with them. Eli has a limited number of players, and since his mother is a meanie and wont splurge endlessly on Disney Infinity and Marvel superhero characters for the PS4, Eli has had to turn to his own ingenuity to raise the funds to support his virtual reality video habit.

“Joey begged me, mom,” Eli pleaded. “He just really wants me to be able to play with him and I don’t have the Star Wars Battlefront Seasons Pass. Can I please go now?”

Then I pulled out my ace. I was sure I had this one in the bag. “Well Eli,” I say, “If you feel that selling something like matzah, that you didn’t even pay for, to Joey, or any other friend, for way more money than it’s worth, is the right thing to do, then you go right ahead. Just make sure you feel good about yourself and what you’re choosing to do.” Ha. This was a page from any good Jewish mother’s parenting book. I felt the guilt dripping off each word as it slowly and purposely rolled off my tongue. No way Eli would collect the cash and exploit a pal with this jolt of maternal consciousness infecting his psyche.

But alas, even sure things sometimes go awry. When Eli came home from school he laid down the fifteen dollars from Joey along with all of his Chanukah and birthday money  and asked if he could use my amazon account to purchase his Star Wars Battlefront Seasons Pass. “Mom, I tried to tell Joey I didn’t want the money,” He explained. “I swear I offered to just give him the matzah for free. But he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He insisted, mom. Really.”

I reluctantly gave permission for Eli to buy the Season’s Pass and have been pondering this decision ever since. I’m plagued with guilt over taking another child’s money to pay for a game I wasn’t willing to buy for my son myself. I am deeply perplexed about where Joey so easily scored $15. Did his parents know he was subsidizing Eli’s PS4 practice? Would they think we were shameful people, taking money from their 12 year old son? Maybe they did know about it and were under the impression that we were from some sort of underserved North Scottsdale barrio. Maybe they believed their son was merely giving back to his community as they had undoubtedly modeled through their own charitable endeavors.

The more I mulled this over, the more awful I felt. But I had set this up for Eli to make his own decision and I fiercely believe in allowing your children to make choices and live with the consequences of those choices. I told him to follow his conscience and he had. Only his conscience didn’t lead him to the conclusion I had hoped it would. Now what?

“Is there anything Joey wants that his parents wont give him?” I asked after a few hours of hopeless deliberation. “Maybe we can get him something, you know like a toy or a PS4 game?”

“Mom,” Eli chastised, “Joey has everything. There’s nothing we could get him that he doesn’t already have.”

“But maybe there’s something he’d like that he might not buy for himself?” I pushed. “It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Just something to let him know we appreciate him and his friendship.”

“Well,” I could see the wheels turning in Eli’s head, “He really loves his gecko, Emily. Maybe we could get him something for her.”

“OK, that’s a good idea,” I said, “What do you think she might like?”

“Hmmm…” he looked at me coyly for an extremely long moment. “I know. How ‘bout a PS4 controller? They don’t use joysticks anymore so Emily could play with us. I know they would both love that.”

In the Disney Marvel Battleground Universe, I think I’m being set up for a gigantic Hulk smash.

Baby you can drive my …bus

images

“Why aren’t you at the bus stop?” I sleepily barked at my 15 year old son, Levi, as I pulled on a sweatshirt and emerged from another night of tossing and turning. “It’s 6:20. I can’t drive you to school. I have a breakfast meeting…”

“Mom,” he calmly reassured me, “Relax. My regular bus driver is out this week. There’s a sub taking his route. She’s not my regular driver, but she’s very nice. She has to run her own route first so she wont get to my stop until 6:42. I spoke with the dispatcher earlier this morning.”

“You spoke with the dispatcher?” I asked with complete incredulity.

“Yeah,” he said, “After waiting at the corner for 25 minutes in the cold last week, I decided to look into things and learned about the change in drivers. Apparently Ernie is out having some minor surgery. So Sheila is filling in. I expect Ernie will be back on Monday.”

“You spoke with the dispatcher?” I muttered still struggling to comprehend the reality at hand. How is it possible, I wondered,  that a child of mine could be this organized, systematic and methodical? These are not skills that I possess in any quantity. His creative spirit, sense of wonder and off the charts enthusiasm smack sharply of all things me. But this…this…unbridled resourcefulness and time management talent was his and his alone.

“Well, have a great day,” I announced as I  started my coffee, still pondering this amazing occurrence. He gave me a quick peck on the cheek, grabbed his backpack and headed out. “You too,” He said. “Hope your day is amazing.”

Two days later I had all but forgotten my son’s shrewd ingenuity and was focused instead on his typical teen boy behavior; the atrocious mess in his bedroom, his laundry littering the floor, his sassy come backs to…almost everything.

“You haven’t heard about my ridiculous morning,” he started as I annoyedly shuffled his breakfast dishes into the dishwasher at 4:30 in the afternoon. “You know, Levi,” I griped, “I’m not your maid. You know better than to leave dishes in the sink. I have more important things to do than clean up all day after you and your brother.” I was frighteningly sounding like my mother and hating myself in the process.

“Sorry,” he chirped casually, “It wont happen again.” This was a vow I had heard thousands of times before.I took a deep breath, thought about what was really important, and said, “Tell me about your ridiculous morning.”

“Well,” He began, “I was at the bus stop at 6:15 today. My regular driver was supposed to be back. But there was a big Cox truck right at the corner. There was another sub and I guess she didn’t see me behind the truck and she just drove right by me. So I immediately called the bus company and spoke with the dispatcher on duty. I told him what had happened while I was running to the final stop in the neighborhood. It was about a half mile away. But I ran hard. I told the guy to radio the driver and let her know that she’d inadvertently passed me and that she should wait for me right outside the back gate. So that’s what they did. Of course she was

irritated when I finally got there and said, ‘Next time, be out there on time.’ To which I respectfully replied that she clearly had not received full explanation of the event. I clarified that I was there on time and that she didn’t see me and drove right past me. ‘Oh,’ she reluctantly acknowledged, ‘Sorry.’”

Again I was stunned by his problem solving capabilities and take-charge attitude. I had to concede to myself that had this happened to me I would undoubtedly have headed home, woken my parents, and insisted on someone driving me to school. This was a young man, unlike any teenager I have ever known, who saw a problem and instead of turning  it into his parent’s responsibility, relied upon his own quick thinking and inventiveness to remedy the situation. This is a kid, I realized, who can make it on his own.

That thought was both empowering and crippling if truth be told. I felt a deep sense of pride and admiration for Levi’s self-reliance and strength of character. At the same time, there is a minute sense of loss when a parent recognizes that their offspring really can survive and thrive without any assistance from them.

“You’re one amazing young man,” I told Levi as he shoveled in the remainder of the last bag of cinnamon pita chips I was saving for myself. He looked a little like Cookie Monster with the crumbs carelessly cascading from his mouth. “Thanks,” he said smiling broadly. “You’re a pretty amazing mom too.”

Freedom

Image

Passover is the time of year when we Jews celebrate the Exodus from Egypt. We were slaves and then became free people. That’s pretty monumental and it took a lot of wandering, a lot of soul searching and a lot of self-doubt. There were those who yearned to go back to Egypt, because that was as least a known world, a familiar fate. Sure it was awful. But like a prisoner who recommits a crime on the eve of his parole, three hots and a cot can be pretty inviting when you’re contemplating a life of self awareness, choice and independent thinking.

We are supposed to tell the story of Passover to our children. Well, we do that — annually. By now, you’d think they’d pretty much have it down pat. But here we go, we’re gonna tell it …again and again and again. Why is that? What is to be gleaned in the story this year, this telling?

I think I might have an answer. I think this year, with all that has transpired within my world, I think maybe I finally get this Passover story. Freedom is a double edged sword. Freedom brings joy and lightness. It also brings self doubt, fear, even anguish.

This year we have found ourselves free from the constraints of a harsh, abusive work relationship. Becoming free was painful. We suffered intense betrayals, deep anguish and still find ourselves walking the halls in the wee hours of the night because self doubt and worry keep us from restful sleep. We wonder how we will survive on our own, without the punishing security we’d grown used to. How will we take care of our children? How will we maintain our standing in the community?

Freedom doesn’t come easily. It is terrifying. I’ve always wondered how my Jewish ancestors would have been anything but overjoyed as they raced away from Pharaoh and the shackles that enslaved them for decades. Yet here we stand, naked, unprotected from the elements, and we are afraid.

We spent less time preparing for Passover this year. In the scheme of things, Passover prep had to take a back seat. We are too busy struggling to get back on our feet, find solid ground and begin to remake our lives as free people. I feel guilty about my lack of focus this year. But the truth is, the rituals, the foods, the seder, they all seems less important right now. Because I get it. I get why we do all of it. We have been “gifted” with an opportunity to feel the truth of an Exodus from slavery. That’s why we eat special foods, say special prayers and thank G-d for the opportunity to experience freedom.

I think I could skip all the rituals entirely this year. But we wont. We have family to celebrate our new found freedom with. We have children to whom we must continue to tell the story. We have each other, sometimes frightened, sometimes boldly empowered, and together we will journey forward through the uncertainty and fear.

We step into a new world of freedom, choice and self direction this year. We graciously acknowledge the family and friendships that have stood by our side through our imprisonment and propped up our spirits as we reluctantly fled from our captors.

With freedom comes responsibility; the burden to live well, to offer the best of who we are to everyone we meet, to appreciate each and every kindness afforded us. And so to all of you whose kind words, thoughtful deeds and deep love and support have strengthened and sustained us this Passover season, we thank you for making our path easier to navigate and our road more clearly defined.

We admit that the uncertainty remains scary and unsettling. But like our ancestors, going back is not a choice. We must keep our eyes focused ahead, our hearts open and  our faith deeply in tact. For it is only with clear vision, love and trust, that we will emerge at the border of a promised land and will retain the insight, courage and readiness to venture into it as free souls who understand the perils of slavery and appreciate the power of liberty.

Shit happens

imagesShit happens. It’s one of those proverbial laws of nature. Given that, I’m not so sure why it always seems to knock us for a loop when it comes to pass. The truth is that we craft our lives in ways we think will allow us to bypass the shit nature inevitably is going to splatter all over us. Until we can’t. Until one day you meet the shit storm of your life and it confronts you, collides with you, commands your attention. And when that happens, you’re almost always naked, or wearing your crummiest pajamas and no make-up. But shit is not something you can ignore. There’s no room for denial on the day the facade crumbles. No euphemistic way to steer clear of the storm that threatens to destroy you and decimate your home and family.

I had a friend who used to say, “The only way through stuff like this is…through stuff like this. There’s no plane you can take to rise above it, no speeding locomotive through the beautiful countryside, not even a Vespa.” You have to walk your path, wherever it leads. I guess that’s the scariest part. Once you realize that all the planning, precision and platitudes aren’t worth a hill of beans, you can’t ever go back to the myth that you’re in control of your own destiny.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say it doesn’t matter how you play the game. It matters — a lot. But sometimes the rules change and you didn’t get a say in it. At that point, you can sit on the bench and opt out of playing altogether. But the better options seems to me to be to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, resolve to memorize the new handbook and go at life with a renewed vigor and determination to win that’ll prove to the world who you really are and just what you’re made of.

So forgive me for sparing the details in this little diatribe. Suffice to know that we are regrouping, huddled tightly together as a family, and preparing to face the challenges and uncertainties of life’s fickle finger with bold, fearless persistence, tenacity and commitment.

It’s an adventure. As one of our newly proclaimed villains used to say, “We asked for a roller coaster. Life’s never going to be boring.”

With heartfelt gratitude to all for the love, support and positive energy.
d

I can see clearly now…

Levi sans specs

Levi sans specs

The milestones are flying by me so fast I don’t know where to look first. Bar Mitzvah, overnight camp, his own set of house keys, laptop, cell phone, the list goes on seemingly endlessly. He was a toddler like two days ago. Really. But the most recent milestone affected me more than I’d anticipated. My thirteen year old son, Levi, just got his first set of contact lenses. Now Levi’s been wearing glasses for as long as I can remember. They were unobtrusive at first. But as time went on and his quirky style began to emerge, we were able to find specs that matched his personality and charm. In fact, one of my proudest mom moments was when I bought him a pair of non-returnable, retro, tortoise-shell frames without him even being in the room. They fit him perfectly in every way. “That’s how well I know my kid,” I boasted to anyone within ear shot.

But this contact lens thing has me shaken. He looks so grown up, and so…handsome suddenly. His bright, happy face is now unobscured by frames. He’s more open, more vulnerable, more himself. Can a pair of contact lenses make someone more of themselves? Not sure. I suddenly feel the pain of losing him. I’m scared that he’s growing up too fast. He talks about driving all the time. How am I ever gonna cope with that?

I’ve always insisted that I was the type of parent who welcomed each stage of development. Not one to linger in the past or lament the “good old days,” But what happens when they do grow up? When they go away? When your life isn’t about them anymore? Then who are you? Who do you become? How do you still matter?

It’s really unfair that you go through these huge identity crisis when you’re young. You struggle to figure out who you are and how you fit into the Universe. By your mid 20s you think you’ve got it nailed down. Then by 35 you realize you weren’t even close. You settle into a comfortable routine in your 40s, meaningful work or building your family and fortune. Then suddenly your kids grow up and you have to start the whole darn process all over again. It’s daunting to say the least.

My youngest son, Eli, is in 4th grade. He’s still somewhat dependent. But his stubborn individuality reminds me daily that he too will be flying the proverbial coop just as soon as his minor status terminates. He’s in the stage where everything I do embarrasses him. I remember that stage with my parents all too well. My father used to insist on holding my hand as we crossed busy streets and my heart would crumble with shame if anyone saw us. Sure wish I could hold his hand one last time today.

I think about my father a lot, about how much he taught me and how much I miss him. In my son, Eli’s, fleeting serious moments, he begs me not to die and leave him, ever. Not sure it’s right to promise him what I surely cannot deliver. But I do so anyway. Just like my dad promised me. Life is about broken promises.

In the meantime, I find myself often tearful, lost and afraid of what the future holds. I want to protect my boys from everything and everyone. I want to be able to shield their eyes from pain and stand between them and any potential heartache. The realization that I can’t do that is what’s breaking my heart. For their lives to work, they will have to see beyond my horizon, to see for themselves. I guess the whole contact lens thing signifies something a whole lot deeper than I first imagined.

Letting go

imagesI think I have completely lost it. My son’s Bar Mitzvah is in exactly one week and I just broke down sobbing in the middle of Summer Winds plant nursery while trying to select a few trees to beautify the front entry of our home. My husband, a bit taken aback by my sudden onset hysteria, asked me what seemed to be so upsetting about two Red leaf banana trees and a flat of succulents. To which my only reply was, “They’re going to die. They’re all going to die.”

You see while many may miss the logic of my distress, it is more than obvious to me what is transpiring inside my twisted psyche. My baby boy is becoming an adult, at least in Jewish terms. What does that mean? It means in 5 years he’s off to college, then grad school maybe, a job, a marriage, his own family. The cycle continues. The same will happen with my youngest, at least that’s what I hope and wish for. But it also means that my reasons for existing are only temporary and will go off to live their own miraculous lives and leave me as a distant (and likely annoying) memory. This feels unbearable to me.

I complain bitterly about never having enough time to do the things I want to do, to read the books I want to read and write the stories I want to write. The pressures to work and mother and create meaningful art overwhelm me most of the time. But the reality that in the not-too-distant future I’ll have nothing but time is the most painful acknowledgement of life’s tragic progression that I’ve ever experienced.

I am fully aware that I was somebody else once; before I was a mother. I was somebody who lived alone and went out with friends, who always cleaned up her dishes after she ate, who worked 80 hours a week and went to the gym whenever she felt like it and sometimes just laid around the house watching reruns of “Dick Van Dyke” and “I Love Lucy.” But I don’t do those things anymore, mostly because I’m too busy running errands, supervising homework detail, carpooling or doing perpetual loads of laundry. Yet suddenly it seems impossible to imagine meaning in any life that doesn’t include my eternal sorrow over dirty socks on the floor, unpicked up dog poop in the yard, or two day old breakfast dishes still sitting at the table wistfully hoping that some thoughtful child will place them neatly in the dishwasher.

I don’t enjoy every moment I have with my boys. For that I am grief-stricken. I waste the precious time we have being angry about stupid things and longing for time to be alone, with my own thoughts, my own agenda. Can it be different? Can anyone keep her eye on the essential reality that everything is fleeting, that each moment brings us closer to loss, emptiness and solitude? How can anyone live life with that kind of uber-awareness? Ernest Becker explains in The Denial of Death,“To live fully is to live with an awareness of the rumble of terror that underlies everything.” Getting caught up in the minutia is our only escape from the devastating reality before us.

I long to appreciate the fleeting moments I still have with my children. I promise to try to relish every second in this tumultuous week of family drama, party plans and Bar Mitzvah preparation. My goal is to celebrate the amazing young man my son is becoming, to love him with every ounce of my being, and to joyfully release him to become his own man and forge his own path through life.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Sniff sniff. It’s not likely to be an easy week.

Crying shame

196610339951981392_mo09zwwg_c

I am a crier. This is hardly a shocking admission to anyone who has spent more than twelve seconds with me. I cry at everything; from touching Maxwell House TV ads to tragic hit and run reports on the nightly news. I cannot seem to detach myself emotionally from anything. It’s always been a problem for me. But it’s getting worse.

I now find myself crippled with anguish as I peruse the aisles of Walgreens or CVS. I am not exaggerating. They play horrible, sad muzak everywhere I go these days. And for some reason, drug stores play the most heart wrenching songs imaginable. Why do they do that? I mean, what’s wrong with some upbeat Jazz or twangy Blue Grass? I bet they did research and found a link between devastating dirges and increased profit margins, kind of goes with the whole “retail therapy” concept. The more depressed the consumer, the bigger the buy. Well, it doesn’t work for me. I have been unable to step foot in a grocery, big box or other retail establishment in weeks since I broke down in front of the dairy case at Frys listening to John Denver singing “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”

I just can’t block it out. That’s what everyone tells me to do. “Just don’t listen.” “Think about something else.” “Turn your attention elsewhere.” But, I am mentally unable to do that. Music has a direct path to my soul. It bypasses my brain and intellect and goes right for the jugular of my internal core. It’s like my Kryptonite. A soft lilting tune, even barely audible in an elevator or as I walk to my car in a mall parking lot, can reduce me to a whimpering idiot after mere seconds of listening to it.

The other day we attended a birthday celebration for a friend’s mom who had reached the age of 90. Quite the joyous occasion. They showed a video montage of the honoree’s life. I was sobbing by the second photo. I tried biting my tongue and digging my nails into my arm to create physical pain that might distract me from the pictures and the medley of sentimental Frank Sinatra ballads. But, nothing worked to slow the flow of tears that gushed from my baby blues.

My husband offered me a napkin with embarrassment. “This isn’t even your family,” he chastised. “You don’t even know these people.” “I can’t make it stop,” I lashed back. “It’s not like I’m doing this on purpose.”

I weep at services at our synagogue every single time I go. My son’s taking bets on whether I’ll be able to make it through his Bar Mitzvah service without mascara zebra striping running down my cheeks. I’ve bought commercial grade waterproof mascara for the event. You need turpentine to remove it. But I’ve yet to find anything to address the bulbous red nose, blood-shot eyes and crackling voice that always accompanies my tearful outbursts.

About a year ago I had a play reading at a theatre in LA that happened to be connected to a church. The actors had a meeting prior to taking the stage. They concluded it with a few moments of shared prayers for people in need, asking Jesus to step in and guide the poor souls who were struggling. While everyone else seemed to manage hearing the tales of poverty, divorce and other unexpected woes that had impacted people’s lives, I became completely overcome with anguish and wept as if each story was about my very own family. Please understand, I’m not talking about a faint stream of tears inconspicuously streaming down my face. I’m talking about a waterfall of wetness, snot pouring out my nose, and hyperventilating gasps of air as I tried to compose myself unsuccessfully. “Remember, you’re Jewish,” my friend whispered as everyone held hands and thanked the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. It didn’t matter. Nothing could suppress my sobs.

How do I live? Well, basically I’m trying to avoid every person, place or event that might trigger some sort of sentimental reaction. As you might imagine, this makes living life rather tricky. No TV or radio for fear of an update on Nairobi or a reality check regarding Rwanda. No mall shopping in avoidance of sad, twenty-something break-up songs. No grocery jaunts or prescription pick-ups so as to miss those sappy Carpenter songs (It really was tragic what happened to Karen).

So, if you’re hanging around and have only good news to share, call me or shoot me an email, just don’t attach any .mp3, .wav or .aiff files. K?

What does forgiveness look like?

Tonight marks the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days. Much of the emphasis of the next ten days is on forgiveness. We ask forgiveness from those we have hurt. We ask forgiveness for ourselves for being less than we know we can be. We ask forgiveness of God for our failure to lead good and righteous lives.

I was asked to create a piece of art that illustrated what forgiveness might look like. This is what I came up with.

photo

What does forgiveness look like?

A broken vase, a treasured gift
from a father who is gone.

My grandfather’s Havdala spice jar,
dropped by a five year old’s inattentive grasp.

The Kiddush cup we got when our first son was born,
mangled in the garbage disposal
as I hurriedly tried to rush through kitchen clean-up.

Broken bits of life that used to shatter my heart.
I chastised myself for their loss.

At first I didn’t know why I saved them in that crate in the garage.
They were painful reminders of moments gone wrong and the
things and people I could never replace.

And then one day I found them and realized
that although they were not whole, as they had once been,
they could live anew, as they now were,
precious pieces of a creative expression.

Entangled within cabinets, picture frames, shelves,
these beloved mementos remind me to forgive, to let go,
to welcome the changes that come sometimes with
carelessness, hurry, and the natural course of our existence.

Forgiveness allows what is broken to become whole.
Art is the process by which those shattered shards come together
to express the imperfect beauty of life.

L’Shana Tova to all.