Welcome to the Garden — Shalom שלום

Welcome to The Garden

haGan    the garden  הגן

You have found the garden where I share my essays, poems, thoughts and sometimes music.  A garden is a place where things grow, die, blossom, hide, surprise, struggle, comfort, and are reborn.  The garden in our yard feels like how I imagine Gan Eden (The Garden of Eden) might have felt like – a place for renewal and resourcing.  I hope you find visiting The Garden a healing place for you, too.

I will share my experiences of joy and heartbreak as I work as a hospital chaplain and rabbi, as well as love and support my partner who is one of the most amazing and interesting woman I know, and, is living with cancer.

I am moved as I accompany people as they explore their spiritual lives, grieve the death of both of my parents (Mom died January 5, 2013, Dad died January 5, 2015), offer my leadership as a rabbi taking people on a Jewish spiritual journey, love my daughter, reduce the stigma of mental illness and suicide, and enjoy the precious moments life gives us.

I will share with you what is on my heart, my anger, what moves me, and the questions that are very much alive within and often spill gently and not so gently out.

I will offer healing thoughts and prayers. I hope to hear yours.  Ultimately, this is all about healing. (You may not have access to sound files if you use Internet Explorer.  Just use a different browser if you have problems.)

You will notice that the Torah/Life Writings page includes all blogs in that category prompted by Torah text.  Torah/Life writings was inspired by  a project of Rabbi Shifrah Tobacman and myself.  To read her poems go to: https://omerteshuvah.wordpress.com/torahlife-writings/

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Counting

I

This is a time of counting: the dead, the number of cases, the number of unemployed

This is a time of counting: time from diagnosis, time until labs, time until retirement

This is a time of counting: how long we have been in the pandemic, how long we think this will go on

This is a time of counting: how many people wore masks today

This is a time of counting: how many years since he died

Let us count:

The babies born

The lovers who met for the first time

The protests speaking truth

The poems written and the gardens planted

Let us count how many tomatoes ripened in how many days

How many neighbors we spoke to

How many people survived.

There are THREE cucumbers ready to eat

Turn around.

II

When we turn around we think we know what’s going to be there

Maybe there is hope, instead of worry

Breath instead of fear

A yearning for steadfastness

Turn around:

The toilet is leaking

The bugs annoy

Turn around:

The lake is stunning

Or better yet, there is a beautiful tuna salad waiting

Turn around

Let the surprises comfort you and not startle

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I Remember How Incredible It was During the Pandemic*

 

People you hadn’t talked with in a long time, or ever, would ask you how you are holding up. “Do you need anything?”

Sewing machines came out of hiding and neighbors would leave gifts of homemade masks, or corn tortillas they bought too much of, or an extra thermometer, or matza for Passover on your porch.

People donated N95 masks to health workers during the shortage.

We got to visit friends and family from all over the world without driving or flying, or attend Shabbat services led by a cousin 500 miles away.  Such sweetness.

I walked with my daughter for almost an hour a few times a week as we discussed everything: the new developments of the virus, or theology, or the collapse of the economy, or the rage about anti-black police violence, and strategies to make change.

We ate whatever was easily available.  Sometimes that meant we had a lot of something we didn’t usually eat much of like avocados or oranges or goat cheese.

We ate homemade challah and ice cream, homemade pizza, parmesan cheese, curries, rye seeded bread.

We grew kale and tomatoes and cucumbers and peas and mint and basil and lettuce.

I started to write again almost every day and dreamt about a new way to work.

I moved my body, to the sound of the sidewalk, to music, to a pilates teacher.

We found our way to be with our dying friend and her family. We showed up. We had to, even with masks and the heat and exposure to new people.  We just had to.

I stood in the cold wind to bury our friend on the hill, singing Psalm 23 with a mask on, to nine others.

We ate Nepalese food someone lovingly brought, as we sat outside with friends to remember Annie and the day she died.

Getting food was a journey of love: each tomato or container of yogurt felt like sparkling jewels.  Each bite remembered.

I got to see my grand niece and nieces more often.

The grief of what we had lost was shared universally, there was a comfort to that.

We dreamt of vaccines and got excited when a new treatment proved promising.

We celebrated when someone in the ICU was able to go home.

Judith did her show on Zoom for a much larger audience and reached people outside our bubble.

I remember the sacred moments of a very hard time.

 

* *This is dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives, their jobs, their homes, or their loved ones during this time.  We will never forget you.

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FEAR

I’m Afraid.

I’m afraid of insects-the pincher bugs, spiders, ants, flies, wasps, moths that eat my plants and my clothes, bugs I can’t see but cause my itching, lots of itching.

I’m afraid of what erupts on my skin from the inside out, in my scalp, on my back, on my legs, in places you can’t see, big purple splotches, or itchy raised bumps, sometimes oozing.  I’m afraid I don’t know when they will leave or why they came.  Except this last time: it was my anger which caused the angry rash. No dispute over that.

I’m afraid of making mistakes, someone might die because of my mistake. I always wonder if Julie died because she called when I was on the phone?  A typical question of a 13 year old.

I’m afraid of the cold-the chill, the shivers, the shaking.

I’m afraid of the heat, the headaches, the sunburn, the fatigue.

I’m afraid of strangers, especially men who act all confident, or women who are so friendly they want to know more.

I’m afraid of being raped.

I’m afraid to sleep: the demons that don’t let me fall sleep, the wanderings at 2 a.m., at 4 a.m., the nightmares and worries that invade the bed.

I’m afraid of being so tired I can’t keep my eyes open, I’m afraid of falling asleep driving or during a meeting, my eyes closing while listening to you.

I’m afraid of losing my friends because I’m not interesting enough or too sad or too depressed. Because I don’t hide the drama when it comes.

I’m afraid of tripping, falling, cutting my hand with a knife, burning myself reaching for a hot pan without a mitt, slipping in the shower, or falling down stairs.  Taking a misstep. My life and yours, is changed with one step.

I’m afraid of getting sick, being alone in the hospital, pooping in the bed.

I’m afraid of the wind, breaking open the screen door.  Again.

I’m afraid of dogs, the growling, the way they look at you, the way they jump on you at the dog park with their muddy feet and wet face.

I’m afraid of my daughter dying before I do.

I’m afraid of the house shaking under me and collapsing on me during an earthquake. Or getting out alive and not knowing what to do next.

I’m afraid of being on a roller coaster or a Ferris wheel or those scary rides at the amusement park that take you higher than you want to go and drop you faster than you want to drop.

I’m afraid of being trapped and dying in a fire.

I’m afraid of hurting you unintentionally. I’m afraid of my desire to hurt you.

I’m afraid of being locked out and having to sleep on the street or in the garage.

I’m afraid of being hungry for more than a day.

I’m afraid of my body not working anymore.  I’m afraid of being in pain for a long time.

I’m afraid of losing my memory.

I’m afraid of surgery.

I’m afraid of being so afraid I might freeze instead of run when running would be the right choice.

I’m afraid of going into cold water or traveling to a country where I don’t know the language.

I’m afraid I’m not doing enough.

I’m afraid I wasn’t a good daughter.

I’m afraid of being alone as I age.

I’m afraid of this virus and what it’s doing to our world. I’m afraid of the suffering.

I’m afraid our world is collapsing as we know it and that not being a good thing.

I’m afraid I might have some illness we can’t fix.

I’m afraid I am not making the best decisions and will regret it later.

I’m afraid of losing things: phone, keys, jewelry, wallet, notes, chargers.

I’m afraid I’m getting confused.

I’m afraid of getting into a car accident.

I’m afraid of choking on a piece of challah or a fishbone or cornflakes.

I’m afraid of being a grown up.

I’m afraid of my computer and phone crashing.

I’m afraid of mean people who aren’t very nice to me.

I’m afraid of not knowing what to do.

I’m afraid of those in authority.

Sometimes I’m afraid of you.

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I Write Because

I don’t know how to speak the truth

My mother was so disturbed by being so disturbed

My father was so lonely you could taste it the minute you saw him

I write because the house smelled of urine and there was no place to sit

Because I can feel the anti-semitism when I open my mouth or when you turn away

Because I have no words to share the pain

Because

I have no words to share the glory.

I write because life is short and uncertain and I want my daughter to have a piece of me when I’m gone.

I write because the ice cream is spectacular and fills up the empty spaces inside of me waiting to be filled.

I write because I love you so much

I write because of the broken bones and the fevers and the cramps and the nausea and the scans and the chemo.  And the labs.

Because I don’t know how to be a grown up and put that painting back up on the wall without you.

Because it needs to be said

Because of the injustice

Because I have to

Because the voices keep me up late

I write because my parents’ grave is nearby and calls to me, “come, come, rest here”

Because walking every day is my synagogue, my food

Because solitude is my soulmate

Because I am lonely

I write because

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Prayer For

Prayer for

The people I pass cautiously on the sidewalk

The baby crying, looking around with wonder hearing a very loud, angry crow.

The tomato that turned red overnight waiting, just waiting

The water whose journey is long before it arrives at our shower

Let there be praise

Let there be thanks

Let there be wonder

Prayer for

The man in the hospital who can’t breathe, and his family who is sick, at home praying for him.  All of them.

The people who lost their jobs overnight with no hope of recovery

The bunnies dodging their natural prey

The anger and confusion and worldwide shock

Let there be wailing

Let there be grief

Let there be yearning

Prayer for

The bones breaking

The mud accumulating, accumulating

The cars on the road competing for space

The doctors waiting to go home

The rugs holding us up

The smells of food nourishing our bodies

The memories

Let there be words

Let there be touch

Let there be comfort

Prayer for

The one who lost her love

The one who lost her mother

The one who lost her daughter

Let there be wailing

Let there be grief

Prayer for

The one who lost his dog

The one who lost their community

The one who lost their home.

Let there be wailing

Let there be anger

Prayer for

The ones killed at the hands of police living while Black

The one who survived the suicide of a family member

The one who fell

Accept our prayers

Hear our anger

Be with us

Prayer for

The one who walks every day to find answers

The gardener who helps others grow

Let us pour forth the yearning, the supplication

Hear our prayers

Pray for us

And let us say amen

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Say Yes to What’s Coming

My life might be so much easier if I would say yes to what’s coming.  Given that I don’t know what’s coming, saying yes seems so much wiser than saying no.

We think we know what’s coming and then there is an earthquake, a suicide, a terminal diagnosis, a car crash, a dead baby, an unwanted pregnancy, a pandemic, a fire, a fall, a broken bone, a stroke.

We think we know what’s coming and then there is a gift that comes beautifully wrapped in the mail, a new friend or love, a great job, a graduation, a new baby, flowers sprouting forth towards the sun after several years of no blooms.

We think we know what’s coming and then a neighbor draws a smile at the bottom of your steps or brings over homemade cookies you didn’t know you were yearning for.

We think we know what’s coming and then the parsley seeds you planted turn out to be kale.

We think we know what’s coming and then the nation erupts in protests against systemic racism that may have ignited change long overdue.

We think we know what’s coming and then some words come out of your mouth and you say things that push past the “stop talking” sign you have in front of you to help you remember.

We think we know what’s coming and then suddenly the powers that be change your life overnight.

We think we know what’s coming but we never do.  So why not say yes?

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In No Particular Order  

My father’s painting from the Eldergivers art show-a child in a red coat in the New York snow-Of all of his art made in his 90s, this is his best.  This is also my brother’s favorite.  It’s on my wall.

My sister’s last piece of art painted while in the hospital, wanting out of this life-blue dancing human shadows.  Tucked above the tall bookshelf.  She was to die of her own hand soon.

Ancestors speak.  A photo collage of several generations of family members. Some I never met, only a few still alive.

Farewell to Dr. Gusfield, photo, India scholars, 1962, I am in the photo, 6 years old, with a garland on my neck.

1967 framed, posed photo, Japanese community and our family, very serious. I am 11 (ju-ichi).

A red framed-with-glass mandala over the door which just fell to the floor but didn’t crack. I don’t know where it is from.  Maybe Nepal.  I was told it was meant to be above a door.

A wooden mask.  I don’t know where it is from.  I use it often at Purim.

A frame with a photo of me and my mother (we were both young), the exquisite painting titled “passage” my father painted of a boat traveling alone after my mother died, Judith and me together in our younger years.

Hamsas around the frame of the windows.  From Turkey, Israel, Mexico and other places.

An emergency house alarm button.

Photo of my daughter and her dad.  She was ten and had braids.

An Indian bedspread in bright colors of blue with elephants.

Too many pillows, many shapes, none right.

Elephants trailing down the wall with jewelry hanging on their trunks.  Also a bandana.

Two jewelry displays overflowing with memories.

Necklaces hanging on push pins on the side of one of my tall wooden bookshelves.

Many pairs of shoes under the bed.  Rarely worn.  Saved just in case.

A robe, sweaters, shawls, scarfs, purses, hung on hooks behind doors and on the bookshelf hooks.

My childhood mirror framed in wood.  Silver and gold chains drape on the corners.

A Korean piece of furniture with drawers of essential stuff -buttons and keys and pins

Bose radio with remote control, CD box next to it filled with CDs, rarely played.

Judith’s painting hiding behind the open door.  Blues and yellows and oranges-like a sunset

Let’s not talk about the two closets and what’s in them.

Wide, glass framed piece of art from India-red and black and orange with drawings of kings.  I get lost in the stories I make up.

A desk cluttered with stuff: post-its, paper clips, glasses, pens, chargers, another remote control to the bose (just in case), instructions to the alarm clock I use every night.

Kleenex and a bottom shelf of things.  Just things.

Elmo, Forever, Pinky Lee, Cawabanga, and Raffi at the foot of the bed, used as props for a painful arm, shoulder or head.  Sometimes just as comfort.

The two tall wooden bookshelves are bolted to the walls.  Earthquake country.

Books about grief and prayer and theology and Jewish feminism.

In no particular order.

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This is What the Living Do 

Dedicated to the memory of Annie Kennedy, may her memory be a blessing

This is what the living do. They crawl on their hands and knees over broken glass to live without you.  They sleep alone knowing you will never lay beside them again.  They make brownies but they just don’t taste good anymore.  This is what the living do.  They cling.  To whatever will stick: a pair of slippers, the blankets, a plant, the sound of birds.  They cling. Maybe this will help me, maybe that smell.  They cling. Waiting, hoping for a surprise. To hear your voice again or be comforted by the memory of your smile, or will it send them into a wailing that only the living can do when they miss their kin?

This is what the living do. They find ways to honor their dead, send them off to their place of no suffering. They find ways to remember. They hold on with a grasp that even a firefighter can’t undo.  They hold onto the photos and the smells of the snickerdoodles and the ukulele sounds.

This is what the living do. Sometimes they get so angry they aren’t sure the walls of their house will continue to stand, or they get so sad they never venture out of their bed, not even into the kitchen or the aliveness of the yard beaming with hope.  This is what the living do. They look at their texts hoping for a message from beyond.  Or some days all they do is tell stories to anyone who will listen, over and over again.

This is what the living do. They get rid of narcotics and the cancer drugs in a ritual of release.  The living stumble, crawl, dream their way to the refrigerator, the couch, and out the door to the garden.  They hold their family and love up their animals.  Until there is a sign from the Great One that helps them take the next step.

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There Were Times in My Life 

There were times in my life where my sadness was forced to surrender.  I fought it for so long.  Sometimes for years, and then suddenly I laid down and said “take me”.

There was the time a cow stole one of my tennis shoes drying from the routine of its daily white polish, sitting in the outside heat in Patna, India.  I was sad.  So sad.  This five year old white Jewish American girl wanted her bright white shoes to wear to school, so she didn’t stand out.  I already stood out, at this Catholic school.  I don’t know when the moment was, but I surrendered to this sadness of the shoe loss and managed to go back to school in one piece.

There was a fifth grade moment I never accepted. To this day. I wish someone had been able to help me love myself after Robin Jackson called me “moose”, but instead there was shame. Silently crying for help. I don’t remember how I made it back to school in one piece.  Maybe I never did.

And then there was the big rip, the suicide that scarred the family forever.  For years there was sadness and worry and internal chaos woven into my body, my sadness and from the field around me.  One day, after years of seeking, there was a surrender.  Many people helped me find my way, in this multi-decade adventure.  There was a peace.

Please, show me the key to turning chaos into surrender.  I could have used it during Vickie leaving, my mother’s dementia, my father’s loneliness, my heartbreak about the worlds’ suffering.  I can use it now about racism that is killing people for living while Black.  Not a surrender of giving in or up.   A surrender into strength and breath.

What is the spice that relaxes the mind, the body, the confusion and brings a surrender of alignment and quiet knowing?

Please, send the recipe, quickly.

Posted in Grief Writings, Healing, Prayer | 2 Comments

I Promise

I promise not to try to impress you

Or God

I promise not to be the most patient listener, I pride myself in interrupting with passion

But I will hear you

I won’t run that mile or two, just walk fervently up that hill.

I can’t find the best place to donate my money, but I will do it.

I am not the best lover, the best mother, the best friend, the best ally.

but I will show up and pick you up off the floor and caress your head while you sob.

I invite you to my home where the meal is a little late, a little burned, and just a little too salty.

There are no towels in the bathroom and you have to search for tp in the cabinets.

Welcome to my home where the floors haven’t been vacuumed in months and spiders have taken up residence.

The plants are crying for water and the machines need fixing.  They sit unused in their spots, waiting patiently, feeling useless.

Welcome to our garden where the peas are dying, the kale is being eaten by the white moth, and the onions won’t show their love.

I promise not to impress you or even try

I already love you.

Posted in Healing, Reflections on Love | 3 Comments