Tuesday, August 25, 2015

988. #BlogElul 2015 9: See

Seen yesterday morning from my roof. My favorite part, which took me awhile to notice, is the calm, clear sky at the very center, almost hidden by the little agitated clouds around it.

Monday, August 24, 2015

987. #BlogElul 2015 8: Hear

I currently live with two wonderful young cats, who were preceded a few years ago by two magnificent very old cats. D. was a macho alpha except when confronted by thunder or loud noises, at which time he'd run away as fast as his enormous, jiggling belly would allow. He reminded me a little of Ernest Borgnine in "Marty." He was the strong, silent type, choosing to meow only when something was really, really annoying.

Right before he died, I waited in a little exam room at the vet's office after they took him away to insert the needle that would deliver the drugs to stop his pain and suffering. I prayed that they would keep him back there forever, because it would mean he was still alive.

Then I heard it--not quite a yowl, far from a cry, but loud enough to wake the neighbors. Had I not known it emanated from a sick, frail cat, I might have thought that a crabby old man had wondered in while yelling at the noisy neighbors. How dare you! the sound exclaimed.

The vet brought D., still complaining loudly, back into the exam room. He crawled into my arms, and looked me straight in the eye. I tried to tell him that I heard him loud and clear, and I was sorry, and it would be OK. And after a minute or two he seemed to understand that he was safe and home once again, and lay down with his head against my hand to wait patiently for whatever came next.

986. #BlogElul 2015 6: Know

Here's something I do know: the moon over my dear cousins' house outside of a city is the same one I can barely see, obscured by twinkling apartment windows and myriad traffic lights, over mine. But it's the exact same moon, good to remember any time I feel far away from family, or people on the other side of the world who seem distant and disconnected from me. We have more in common than we often dare to think.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

985. #BlogElul 2015 7: Be

(So much for post scheduling--this was supposed to appear on Sat. night. Better later than never!)

I'll catch up soon with "Know," which I missed yesterday because I was feeling like I didn't know anything. It was just one of those days. But how I aspire to Be is easier. See answer at left: there is no better teacher than a kitten when it comes to enjoying the sheer pleasure of existence. Just yawn, stretch, and claim the space, and (particularly if your belly is full) revel in the goodness of being alive. And then take a nap.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

984. #BlogElul 2015 5: Accept

In junior high school I was neither super cool nor a dork, but somewhere in between. I had friends in each camp, although of course aspired to be popular--but also didn't want what came with that status, namely cigarettes and boys. The former, I concluded after one puff backstage at a school play, was disgusting, and I was in no way ready for the latter. Besides, in order to maintain my cred with the smart, nerdy, good girl camp, it would be unseemly to hang out with kids who were, you know, bad.

But there was this cute boy by the name of Eddie. He was the size of a linebacker, but soft-spoken, and with the face of a cherub. Rumor had it that he'd spent time in "juvie hall," whatever that was. We would smile shyly at each other as we passed in the hallway. I was confused, liking someone so obviously bad, and so never admitted my crush. I simultaneously hoped he'd talk to me and forget about me. The thought of me talking to him was utterly terrifying.

One day in the cafeteria at lunchtime as I was returning my tray, he came over. "Hi," he said, eyes twinkling. "This is for you." He held out a little white box. I opened it, and inside on a bed of cotton was a bracelet made of pretty plastic jewels. "Would you," he said, "go to a movie with me?"

I was astonished. "Um," I answered. "Um!" He smiled back. As if I were in a plummeting aircraft, my life flashed before my eyes. I imagined his cool friends making fun of my romantic inexperience. I imagined my nerdy friends making fun of his (I assumed) poor grades, and having to answer to my parents about dating someone not good enough for me. I saw myself in some distant future, listening to gasps from the crowd as I confessed that I once held hands with someone like him, someone bad.

"I can't accept this. I'm really sorry. I just... can't." His face fell, and then hardened, and he looked at the floor.

"OK. I understand." He turned around and walked away, and never spoke to to me again.

I wish I remembered his last name, so I could track him down and apologize for being such an ass. Yes, I can sort of blame youth and cluelessness for my rudeness, but not entirely. Those of us today who marginalize and shame the other don't have that excuse.

Who would I be now, I wonder, if I had accepted his gift?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

983. #BlogElul 2015 4: Understand

I'm in a book group where we're reading the wonderful and complex Bewilderments by Aviva Zornberg, a study of the biblical book of Bemidbar (Numbers; literally, "in the wilderness"). When the spies return from their survey mission of the Land, she writes, and offer an ambiguous message—it's all milk and honey, but populated by fearsome giants—the Israelites face a paradox: is it good or evil? Do we stay or do we go? They're stuck in a place where they have no choice but to "acknowledge life and death as inextricably interwoven [p.139]." This confusion and disruption forces them to confront "questions about themselves, the world, and God [p.146]." Their existential agony, in a way, teaches them to be better people, which gives them the strength to continue on their desert journey.

Almost exactly three years ago, a friend since childhood stopped talking to me. We were like family; we were sisters. We had an argument of the big, whopping, nasty variety, and she refused to sit down and discuss what happened. And then she simply cut me off. Complete silence. At first I tried to make contact. Then I reached out to mutual friends, and learned they'd been instructed not to talk to me, either. She was facing a serious health crisis, and I wasn't supposed to know if she was dead or alive.

Her birthday came. I didn't send a card. The next day I received an undeniably hostile message from her, just one word. I wrote back with many more words, saying that I didn't understand why she wanted to hurt me, why we couldn't just talk, and so this was goodbye. I would stop reaching out, but would always love her.

I tied myself into knots and then tore myself apart. What did I do to her? I identified a million little sins; surely it was all my fault. I also spoke to many wise people, who pointed out that her behavior over the years had been extremely and obviously dysfunctional. I knew this, of course, but it's easy to make excuses for someone you love: "She's going through a hard time." "She'll realize tomorrow how much that hurt." But it was always the same, and worse. But if course it would get better. We were special, and none of that other stuff applied.

Now I understand that mental illness can strike anyone, and there was nothing special about us at all. I mourn the person she once was and embrace who I am now, with the ability to seek out friends who have space in their lives for my life, and who make me feel good about myself. I'm still sad, sometimes. I forgive her, although can't imagine ever being able to trust her, should she return. (See this wonderful essay on that topic.) I'll send her a New Year's card like I did last year, wishing her all goodness, and will not hear back. It's OK. I'm now on the other side of the wilderness paradox, done with the worst parts of wrestling good and bad, love and not-love, and I really do understand.

Monday, August 17, 2015

982. #BlogElul 2015 3: Search

(Forgive me for another 9/11-related post, but I'm still thinking about my visit to the Memorial.) My mother, z"ll, a bookkeeper by profession, was an aspiring interior designer and architect by dream and imagination. She loved when new skyscrapers sprouted in Manhattan, and would plan excursions to visit and gawk. I remember, in particular, field trips to Citibank (with the slice missing) and AT&T (with the Chippendale top), but the World Trade Center was her favorite by far. We counted down the days to the opening, and then made multiple trips to the very top and a view that seemed to embrace the universe. On July 4, 1976, when tall ships from all over the world gathered in New York Harbor, we managed to squeeze into an elevator—security? what's that?—that landed on the top floor where TV cameras were transmitting the spectacle to the entire world. It was actually a little disappointing, because from almost a mile up the ships looked like matchstick toys. But just being there was enough to make me feel like I was helping to make history in some small way.

The towers falling—being murdered—was an assault on those memories. It was no longer possible to look up at the buildings and re-live those trips. Photos evoked only anger and sadness. I could find no space in the drawers and crevices of recall to place the good times I spent on top of the towers with my mother, and best friends, and my first boyfriend as we chastely held hands and scanned the horizon for the speck of the street where I lived in Queens. For the past fifteen years those memories have been adrift, seeking a spot to land.

When I saw the two pools yesterday that rest in the footprints of the North and South Towers, I knew I could stop searching. My mother would have loved them. I can see her leaning over the perimeter and tracing the names with her fingers, and then listening to the waterfall and smiling.

981. #BlogElul 2015 2: Act

Today a dear friend from college and her family came to visit, and I joined them on a tour of the Sept. 11 Memorial. Even though, thank God, I didn't lose anyone personally, that day was one of the worst in my life. In anticipation of this visit, I've tried to figure out exactly why. Yes, of course, it was horrible and terrible on so many levels, but the thought of that day has always made me feel like running and screaming, despairing and leaving—like punching my fist into a wall and declaring that it never happened. Like never looking down 6th Ave. to see the lack of two buildings (now replaced by one, which I also never looked at). Like avoiding all of downtown whenever possible. I've been aware that, at some point, I needed to stop running away from the memory of that day. Eventually. Not now.

I'm glad that my friend's visit forced me to act, because today was the now. It was unbearably sad, and at first I could barely look at the crushed firetruck, the slurry wall, the last column, pieces of holy things that were once ordinary. I skipped the hour-by-hour exhibits; the day's chronology is already burned into my soul. But then there was the wall of blue squares, a color that had come to signify ugliness now transformed back into its beautiful self. And the reminder of flight 93 and how they sacrificed themselves to save us all. And also the video that began with that awful, awful sound, and all the paper and a mist of almost-breathing dust, and ended with new growth, new hope, and a place for memory to rest. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

981. #BlogElul 2015 1: Prepare

Deja vu... I was here last year at this time, no? Life has continued in the usual way—some good, some (but not too much) bad, some (mostly all) in between, and here we are again. Right now: mostly good! It's a nice way to start the new year.

Today at services the rabbi invited all those who had a goal for the month of Elul to come up to the bimah for an aliyah. He gave us a minute to think about that goal, and I closed my eyes and saw a carousel of intentions, all dancing and vying to be chosen. I opened my eyes and realized I wasn't quite ready to choose, and instead offered a little prayer that Elul itself would lead me to the answer. I happened to be at the bimah already, since I was chanting, which I think was God's way of accepting a compromise. I'm preparing to prepare. It's a start, like this first day of the journey of Elul.