Monday, October 09, 2017

1018. #BlogElul 28: Give

(Written two weeks ago, before Yom Kippur.)

This prompt brings up two two ideas: what I’ve been given, and what I can give. That my body never forgot the ability to swim, even after decades away, continues to be one of the most amazing and mystifying gifts I’ve received this year. Each time I go to the pool I feel my body stretching, getting stronger, rising to the challenge. I never imagined such a thing would be possible, especially at my age and relative lack of athletic skill. Best of all, it’s like flying. When I look through the clear blue and glide to the wall buttressed by water, safe and free, I remember that I can do this in life, too—if only I remember to open my eyes and look for friends and family waiting on the other side.

I can give this gift, too, with the help of God to remind me. I hope that the coming 25 hours will give me greater strength and understanding of how to reach this goal.

1017. #BlogElul 27: Bless

As I write this, we’re just a few hours away from Kol Nidre. I’m lucky to get to listen, imbibe, and absorb those notes, and hear a voice beyond description—and even luckier to be singing two services, tomorrow morning and afternoon. I hope and pray that my voice will fully express my heart. I hope that God will bless me to do my best, and that I will feel those blessings magnified through the kahal and be able to reflect some of them back, as well.

1016. #BlogElul 26: Create

(Written two weeks ago, before Yom Kippur.)

I used to think—why? It makes no sense—that creativity dissipated with age. This year has been one of my most creative in a long time. I decided to make tallitot, an idea that came to me one day during services but that had been brewing and bubbling for a few years. I learned and taught myself to sew. I’m getting ready for the next creative challenge, executing and marketing my ideas. I hope and pray for the continued ability to create, and for the strength to not give up when inevitable obstacles appear. I need to remember to be constantly and fully grateful for this and so many other gifts.

1015. #BlogElul 25: Change

(Written two weeks ago, before Yom Kippur.)

This prompt brings to mind a different meaning of the word than I think was intended: those silver and copper pieces that roll and clink in our pockets. As I write this, we’re on the other side of Rosh Hashanah, the final marathon just a day away. I’ve spent this past week ping-ponging between great happiness, great insecurity, renewed self-awareness, frustration, gratitude, exhaustion, and boundless energy. Life, in other words, but somewhat compressed and magnified to fit within a few days of deep reckoning. I reached no conclusions, but perhaps a little more understanding of myself and my weaknesses.

One thing I observed: I rarely carry change any more. Most of the time I pay for coffee, groceries, whatever, with a debit card, which makes it easier to track my expenses. All fine and good, but I never have anything to offer those who ask for money on the street. I will admit that I’ve rarely given that money—nor considered it as requirement for being a good person—but now there’s never an option. I’ve been doing my best to respond to those requests so with a smile and an apology.

This awareness will not change my habits. I will continue to give tzedakah in other ways, and try to exceed what I think is my limit. What I have been thinking about, more and more, is how grateful I am to not need to be in the street asking for change. At times I’ve felt financially stretched, but I still always had a roof over my head. I am very, very lucky in so many ways, and must never forget that.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

1019. #BlogElul 29: Return

I know I'm skipping ahead—I still have to finish 25 through 28 (all begun, or at least considered!). But since I've actually written and posted more of these this year than ever before, I want to officially conclude, for now, with the last one. The other four will appear before Yom Kippur, a fine time to continue to be circumspect. As Pirkei Avot says, starting the task is the most important part.

By #BloggingElul, I've fulfilled my goal of returning to writing after some time away. I stopped blogging because other creative pursuits took up too much of that kind of energy, and they will continue to do so. But I'm glad to have proven to myself that I didn't forget how to string words together, and still have a great deal to say. A metaphor for my life, in general: I need to to not be timid or afraid to use my voice. Oh my goodness, that lesson applies to so many different thing right now.

Whomever may be reading this, I wish you and the entire Internet a good, sweet, happy, and healthy year ahead. May our our country return to some semblance of sanity very soon, and may the world be filled with peace even sooner.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

1014. #BlogElul 24: Hope

There's just too much to hope for at this particular moment in the world, and in our country. Writing these hopes, in some ways, feels like writing a bad science fiction story.

I hope we all don't annihilate each other any time soon. North Korea, please chill out and put away those nuclear warheads.
I hope our "president" doesn't manage to degrade the character of the presidency to a degree from which we can't recover.

I hope our Constitution, and the lawmakers sworn too uphold it, can remain strong.
I hope that the relentless tide of natural and social disasters won't claim so many lives and hearts as to wear us all down beyond repair.

I hope that this entire country doesn't get so depressed about all the above that we never want to leave our homes ever again.
I hope that the refrain so often invoked these surreal days, "We've been through this before, and we survived," really is the case. Every time is unique, but this time more so. I know I have the narrow perspective of having lived in only one time—but humanity has never before been so easily able to destroy the world with a misguided push of a button.
I hope 5778 brings us hope, and a great deal of wisdom.

1013. #BlogElul 23: Begin

As I write this, I'm drinking wonderful coffee and hoping it does its magic so I can wake up after a late night of Selihot. This is the beginning. We studied prayers, we sang beautiful piyutim, we listened, for the first time this season, to the melody that will bookmark each service and help set this time apart from ordinary time. I sang loudly and with complete abandon some songs that I will be singing into a mic over the coming days, a very different experience—equally intense and meaningful, but by necessity more measured.

High Holy Days rehearsals have been completed. The beginning is really here.

Monday, September 18, 2017

1012. #BlogElul 22: End

The first thing this prompt brings to mind is that what may seen to be the end can also be the beginning. The challenge is to reframe and try to see the situation from a radically different point of view, which can yield amazing discoveries. I think this is the hardest thing to do in life, period.

I have a dear friend who was the victim of a horrific crime. The physical aftermath of the assault altered her life completely, with challenges she never imagined having to confront. And she scaled those unexpected mountains—not without painful stumbles, but also with a great deal of love both given and received. Her life now, many years afterward, is good, full, challenging, rewarding, and truly happy. She's my hero and teacher in so many ways, the best example of finding new paths even when the end of the road is all you think you can see.

1011. #BlogElul 21: Love

My Hebrew name, I was always told, is Ahuva, "beloved." I love my Hebrew name even more than my somewhat archaic English one, which I'm fine with now but was an uncool burden as a kid. Ahuva begins with the same letter, aleph, as my grandfather's Hebrew name, Asher; there's no one better after whom to be named. I grew up hearing so many stories about him that sometimes he seemed to be just hiding around the corner, waiting for the right moment to jump out and say hello. No one ever uttered a bad word about Pops; he was kind, sweet, smart, and ethical, the one you'd always go to for advice and a smile. "Asher" means "happy," and in photos his face is gentle and welcoming, and (within the technological constraints of the era, when you had to sit as still as a stone) clearly, calmly joyful.

But last week I finally had time to looked at a CD of photos and scanned documents from my father's side of the family, painstakingly compiled by a relative. Included were images of yellowed, creased pieces of paper with family records in both my parents' handwriting. I found my paternal grandparents' yahrzeits, the dates they died, which I had never before known. And on another was the record of my birth, with the date and my name written in careful caps in my mother's distinctive slanted hand. Above it was my Hebrew name, in my father's scrawl. But, wait: there were 2 names, Ahuva Rahel, in both Hebrew and English. Rahel? Who?

No one ever told me I  had a Hebrew middle name. I stared at it, and read it over and over. I vaguely recalled my mother telling me I was almost named Rachel, and getting a little angry at the time that I was denied such a beautiful name. Maybe this was a compromise? I don't know of any past Rachels among my ancestors, but there are few existing records on either side. My father's grandmother, perhaps?

So my Hebrew name is now bigger and better than ever before, and I will be using it whenever I'm lucky enough to be called to the Torah for an aliyah. (I consulted with my rabbi, who agreed that this discovery is quite legit.) What better time of year to stumble upon such a bounty? I think it means that my task ahead is to try to understand this unexpected gift, this cryptic dispatch from my parents' souls, and live the life that Rachel z"l (zikhroná liv'rakhá, may her memory be for a blessing,) as well as my grandfather z'l, might want me to lead.

1010. #BlogElul 20: Fill (in remembrance of 9/11)

Last Monday was the 16th anniversary, which much of this country seems to have overlooked. I did, too, to some degree—there's so much else to worry about right now.

When I think of important dates in my life, birth, graduation, and so forth, and then count back 16 years, the distance feels like another era. Things that happened even a year or two before I was born are firmly entombed in my mind's history. But 9/11, in many ways, still seems like yesterday. What helps fill the gaping chasm in my soul is to look at this installation at the 9/11 Museum:

"Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning" by Spencer Finch

Somewhat reluctantly, I visited the museum two years ago at the invitation of a visiting friend who wanted her children to experience it. I'd done my best to avoid even having to go to that part of the city. Although I had to skip the graphic exhibits that were too close to my nightmares, others—photos of first responders, salvaged steel posts covered with marker scrawls of love and hope—were good to see, and reminded me that we humans can be great at times. The tour guide was calm and respectful, as if we were at a memorial service.

And then we reached this artwork, in front of a wall behind which unidentified remains still sleep. I thought of earlier that morning, when I went running in the park and marveled at the impossible color of the sky. Keeping that blue in my mind's eye, to retrieve when blackness was all I could imagine, filled me with strength and hope throughout the day and unreal weeks and followed. It still does.

Friday, September 15, 2017

1009. #BlogElul 19: Speak

Nothing came to mind for this one, which tells me a lot. I'm not so great at speaking my mind. I have many strong opinions, and often do act on them, but am more likely to do so in private. The downside of this approach is that my actions usually don't beget more action, nor energize me to continue to act. Stoking a fire in one's belly requires a community to fan the flames. It's all well and good to volunteer quietly, but every once in awhile a loud announcement is required to demonstrate that we all have the power to prod along change. Volume is not my strong suit. I hope I can figure out a better way to raise my voice this year, and speak what needs to be said, without going too far beyond my comfort zone. (A little beyond, though, is just fine.)

1008. #BlogElul 18: Ask

What dare I ask God for at this time of year? My heart wants so much, so much of which is too petty to voice. I need to remember that God knows this, and so my job is to prioritize and push the really important questions to the fore so that God (meaning, the part of God mirrored in me) can try to make them come true.

1007. #BlogElul 17: Awaken

Since I mostly work for myself, there are days when I have to sit in front of the computer for hours on end. Unless I go out of my way to make it happen, on those days I may well not see another human being. Luckily, a wonderful little coffee shop opened in the lobby of my building, practically in my living room. I stumble in almost every morning as soon as they open, along with an equally ragged crew of regulars: The prim and proper young woman who works for a non-profit, always typing intently on her laptop. The garrulous, friendly man in his 60s of unknown profession, who pays for his cappuccino from a massive wad of bills. (I don't want to know.) The German musician, whose friendship with the other German-speaking guy with the dog I watched blossom. The cable TV producer who occasionally talks about her famous boss. A few impossibly fit trainers on the way to early appointments, who sometimes stay for awhile and have deep conversations about working out. We all smile and acknowledge each other's presence, and unlike the usual custom, make room at our tiny tables. Sometimes there are animated conversations; mostly we remain in our own little worlds and fulfill early-morning obligations (like writing in this blog) over the best coffee in the city.

I love waking up in the company of this eclectic group, who help me feel connected to all those other New Yorkers I don't really know. No matter what, we're in this together. And caffeine really helps.

1006. #BlogElul 16: Pray

I really do love to pray. As a kid, as I've written somewhere before in this blog, I never understood what the whole business was about. Adults murmured words to themselves in a strange language; then they sat down, mumbled some more, and did it all over again for a few hours. My father (and, I assumed, all men) engaged in this exercise at home before work, a tallit-draped silhouette standing by the window in my parents' Wedgwood-blue bedroom.

Whenever I tried the mumbling, or followed along with the English thees and thous, they were just words. God didn't answer. When I needed to talk to God, I did so in my heart and soul, with no hoary paragraphs getting in the way. I concluded that praying was an ability that people acquired as they became adults, like how to pay taxes or know when the eggs were about to run out.
Then I became an actual adult, and still couldn't do it. Singling in a choir felt like I was getting close, but the God I was addressing in the words of Bach and Brahms was, most of the time, a Christian one, which was very, very confusing.

When I stumbled upon my synagogue, and learned that my own tradition also had music and beautiful poetic translations that made a great deal of sense, prayer began to work. I hope and pray that I never stop learning.

1005. #BlogElul 15: Intend

Rosh Hashanah is in less than a week; the sleepy summer really is over. Last week I began teaching a design classes at a local college, tackling very many more work deadlines and meetings, and going to High Holy Days rehearsals. This is also the week when I traditionally start praying that no one sneezes on me in the subway.

From now until Sept. 20, I intend:
  • to get a lot of sleep (or at least more than usual)
  • to remember, every single day, how lucky I am
  • to go running at least once or twice (the pool where I swim is closed for cleaning until the end of the month, which I know is necessary to do once a year, but I just wish it weren't this month)
  • to enjoy the practicing part as much as the real thing, which won't be hard
  • to be patient with myself and others, and remember that we are all flawed human beings, and are trying our best
  • to do whatever I can to fulfill these intentions during all the months after Tishrei, as well.