Category Archives: Spirituality

Why I Buy Myself Flowers Each Week: Everyday Magic, Day 813

photoOnce again, I received a gorgeous bouquet of flowers from one of the ones I love. Each Friday, I go to Dubai Dillons aka Euro Dillons aka Dapper-Not-Dirty-Anymore Dillons on 19th and Mass., and voila! I buy myself the bunch of blossoms that says, in no uncertain terms, “Take me, I’m yours.”

I didn’t always buy myself flowers each Friday, and actually, I’m not even sure when I started, but it was sometime in the last five or so years. I’ve always loved receiving flowers, but like many of us, it wasn’t as if a weekly floral offering was in my horoscope. I remember being in a play in high school, and my father, who was anything but outwardly loving (or inwardly much of the time) knocked my socks off by getting me a bunch of daisies. Many years later, I recall being in a large room where someone was giving a talk when I saw my new boyfriend, who has since become my old husband, walk in with a single black-eye Susan. I fell in love and just kept falling.

But it wasn’t really until my father-in-law that I got in my head that I should have flowers often. Whenever roses were on sale, he would go out and buy a dozen for his wife and a dozen for me. Because he always had a key to where he lived, he would go to my house, and put the flowers in a vase on the kitchen table. No note was necessary. “You left me flowers?” I asked. He just shrugged. “Well, I had to because my no-good son was going to get you some,” he joked. I was elated everyday and also blown completely away, having grown up in a family where my own dad didn’t express (or feel) affection. It also seemed, as he got older, that flowers were on sale all the time.

I do grow some of my own, and some weeks, I don’t need to pony up the $10 or so at Dillons to have a bouquet of Asian lilies or daffodils. But most weeks, I find a way to give myself these weekly messages from heaven. Having a super-sonic sense of smell (both a gift and a curse, depending on what ally I’m walking down), the scent of so many flowers brings me exquisite joy. I’m grateful to be gainfully employed enough to treat myself to these beauties each week.

For years, I beat myself up for not resting on the sabbath, truly taking a day off electronic devices (seems I can’t go for more than half a day without “needing” to check something) and other work and making a proper Shabbat. Now I realize the flowers have been bringing me Shabbat, showing me the divide between the workaday world and world waiting just under the surface, each petal a reminder that life is vastly more beautiful than I can fully comprehend.

Praying for the Peace That Surpasses All Understanding: Everyday Magic, Day 807

On Facebook, at the grocery store, and even in my own kitchen, discussions heat up about the Israeli bombing of Gaza, and the Hamas missiles into Israel. Some friends and family remind me how much Hamas started it, firing the missiles, some homemade and some with longer-than-usual range capacity, sent to the Gaza by Iran. Some friends and family point out how Israel started it long ago or baited Hamas recently, and is now killing civilians — children and adults — in mosques, disability institutions, and homes. So many of those posting or speaking their responses present strong evidence for how Hamas is actually encouraging civilians to shield bombs and other weaponry, or how Israel needs to shut down the attacks for once and for all. There are also reports on how there are no safe places for people living in the Gaza, and no support for a cease-fire.

My heart goes out to those in the Gaza, facing big losses already, and waiting for what Israel’s Haaretz’s news called “the slaughterhouse.” My heart also goes out to all who faced ongoing fear, trauma, and danger, summed up (from Israel’s point of view) in Haaretz here:

During the years of Hamas rule in Gaza, the same sickening cycle of violence has repeated itself endlessly. Rockets are fired into Israel by Hamas or its proxies, Israel’s army responds, a ceasefire is reached, quiet prevails for a limited time, and then Hamas begins the cycle all over again. In the meantime, the world becomes accustomed to a higher level of violence, Israeli civilians in the south continue to be terrorized, and Israeli children continue to be traumatized. And the reach of the rockets continues to expand, to the point where more than a third of Israel’s population is now in range.

I would add to this that often, the fight is more than lopsided, with Palestinians suffering enormous losses, such as right now with over 160 killed.

I believe in the necessity of a secure and sustainable Jewish homeland, something my study of the Holocaust reinforced tenfold. I also believe in the need for a Palestinian homeland, although I’m certainly no expert on the details to make and keep each in peace and respect for all. My beliefs, as well as most of the beliefs I encounter lately, are controversial or obvious, depending on who you’re talking to; at the same time, this is a tender time for anyone with an open heart and/or whose tribe (like mine) is involved in this.

Given that there’s no clear, feasible (at least, according to what we see in many news sources), and long-term answer to such extensive pain, loss and trauma, I don’t have an answer except to listen to each other with respect and as open a mind (and heart) as possible, read widely from diverse sources (from Haaretz to Al Jezeera to the BBC to other sources — at least, that’s what works for me), and to seek, work for, and imagine the peace that passes all understanding.

I’ll also be praying for our daughter, who is flying to Israel tonight on a Birthright trip — an educational, historic and cultural trip for Jewish youth — as she sets foot in the holy land to see for herself some of what life is like in Israel right now. And praying for all the sons and daughters who don’t have the privilege of travel and exploration.

P.S. If you share comments, please do so respectfully. I know this is a charged issue for many of us.

Welcome to the Dialogue and Friendship Dinner: With An Outstretched Hand

Thanks to Eyyup Esen, the force of friendship between this event
Thanks to Eyyup Esen, the force of friendship between this event

Tonight I was honored to give the welcome and a welcoming poem at the annual Dialogue and Friendship Dinner sponsored by the Dialogue Institute of the Southwest. This interfaith gathering brought over 200 people together for an evening of inspiration in the University of Kansas ballroom. There we shared stories of courage and change, Malika Lyon astounded us with her whirling dervish dancing, Aydin Cayir took our breath away with his stunning calligraphy on the spot, and we celebrated community leadership and social responsibility through awards to Rep. Barbara Ballard, KU Dean Danny Anderson, L.I.N.K. Director Greg Moore, Food Bank director Jeremy Farmer, and County Commissioner Mike Gaughan.

Here are my words:

When I was asked to say a few welcoming words a month ago, I had no idea how

After the whirl: Malika, Clark, Daniel and me
After the whirl: Malika, Clark, Daniel and me

welcoming each other across faiths would resonate with so much more purpose and intensity since the actions of April 13, when three people died as a result of the kind of hatred meant to divide and diminish us. Our coming together tonight is imbued with this story, in which hope, sorrow, grief and faith break our hearts open even more.

About a week ago, many of us came together for a vigil at the Lawrence Jewish Community Center, where Rabbi Moti reminded us that the killer, who had studied and plotted extensively on how to find and kill Jews ended up killing Christians. That he couldn’t tell us apart shows how much our fates are entwined — Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu, Agnostic, Buddhist, Spiritual or however our faith names us or we name our faith. The day of the shooting, I was driving home from Topeka, where I had just presented a talk on the Holocaust and my book Needle in the Bone, on the extremes of the kind of hatred that took the lives on April 13th of a man, woman, and teenager. History is alive, and its lessons wrap around us more closely during times like this, which means we need look more closely at history and wrap around each other more tightly. I felt this so fully during the vigil last week when many of you and others sang some of the songs of my traditions, my people, as if they were your own songs too — and this moved me and still moves me immensely. While I do feel more vulnerable as a Jew right now, I also feel more grateful to be part of events IMG_0020like this, in which we come together in friendship and respect to listen to and learn from each other.

Yet the real and enduring loss and pain for all who knew and loved Terri LaManno, Reat Griffin Underwood, and Dr. William Lewis Corporon is beyond our power to heal. What we can do, we must do, with an open heart. So let’s take a moment of silence to send our deepest wishes and prayers for comfort and peace to the families and friends of Terri LaManno, who her daughter calls “a beautiful soul”; Reat Griffin Underwood, a high school student who loved singing and life; and Dr. William Lewis Corporon, a beloved physician and family man.

May their memory be for blessing.

With An Outstretched Hand

 

With an outstretched hand, you turn to me, and I turn to you

at the moment we’re united by what was meant to divide us.

The night cools around us. The next day rises. Still, nothing

we know can speak comfort except the passage of time

behind us, ahead of us, and right now: the lantern that leads us

from here to where we can speak without fear or forgetting

what’s inside our roundest words. The tree of life on the corner

powers into blossom. The soft rain welcomes us home

to synagogues, mosques, churches; to clearings in the cedars

or prairies bowed low by wind; to sudden ponds round as the

rounding moon that sheds light to remind us how much is alive

and calling our true names in the darkness. We reach toward

the inexplicable in sorrow, in outrage, in shaken and strengthened

courage, and hold on tight. We hold the loss of those we love

or never got the chance to meet, and find the light shimmering

after the storm, catching our faces at dusk as we turn to each other,

love what teaches us to stretch new ways toward love. The dissolving

sky of one April day reaches out its outstretched hand to lead us

out of the desert where my outstretched heart meets yours,

yours meets mine, and we cross over in the cacophony

of our prayers: Allah, Thunder, God, Great Spirit, Jesus,

First Lily-of-the-Valley, Buddha, Krishna, Expanding Cosmos,

homecoming all to the the world held together

by our outstretched hands.

 

 

Inventorying the Pettinesses (and Trying Not To Channel Darth Vader): Everyay Magic, Day 732

There’s nothing like a convergence of the ongoing Days of Awe, when Jews are supposed to look at our shortcomings and make amends, and a bout of insomnia to catalyze awareness on steroids. So the other night, unable to sleep, I tossed and turned over my own flaws, which were many, and in the middle of night, seemed Empire-State-Building in size. Where I landed most was on my capacity to be petty.

I come by pettiness naturally. My dad was the master in this realm, able to make anything from a small offense to an actual compliment into a call to arms. One time when he was visiting me in Lawrence, while we were walking down Massachusetts Street, I high-fived a friend. Months later, I discovered my dad was convinced that the high five was a secret signal to make fun of him. A pebble of an issue would be escalated into the end of the world as we know it. When I was very young, our family and my dad’s brother’s family would meet for dinner regularly at the home of my grandparents. My dad and his brother would, sometime after dessert, argue so vigorously that each would declare the other one dead to him, only to make plans a few days later to meet for dinner next weekend. Old arguments weren’t forgotten either, just stowed away for future ammunition.

Although I haven’t declared anyone living as dead to me, I have my moments too. In the last week, I realized I responded, although seemingly politely, to a literary situation in a way I’m not ashamed of: I very daintily pulled rank. As a writer, I’ve had rank pulled on me a thousands different ways over the years, part and parcel of the craziness of some centers of the literary world. It was always something I swore I would never do, yet when the phrase, “Don’t they know who I am?” in the gravelly voice of Darth Vader, I knew I was in trouble.

I apologized, regrouped, and am trying to stay more aware, yet I know it’s likely I’ll be petty again in the future when my awareness slips and ego flares. It’s a little like my propensity to indulge in a bit of dessert after dinner when I know so clearly the next morning that sugar after 6 p.m. means the migraine the next day. Some habits die hard.

Meanwhile, I try to pay attention to the motives behind the words ticker-taping across my mind before they cross my lips, and for added reinforcement, when I catch myself in time, I’ll high-five my shadow.

When the Hooks Are on the Wind: Everyday Magic, Day 729

Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun and writer, calls it shenpa, which she defines as “….the urge, the hook, that triggers our habitual tendency to close down. We get hooked in that moment of tightening when we reach for relief. To get unhooked we begin by recognizing that moment of unease and learn to relax in that moment.” Life calls it just-being-life. I have other names for the moments the hooks are on the wind heading toward me.

Lately, I’ve had a lot of reminders about the dangers of catching hooks. I’m amazed that I can feel so calm and happy-go-lucky one moment, then trip over a hook into a caldron of spinning fear or defensiveness the next. Then again, we’re wildly vulnerable creatures, prone to easy breakage but, luckily enough, full recovery in ways we can barely grasp.

Growing up with a father who an expert hook-thrower, I learned early how to catch every hook whether I had to squat down or leap up suddenly. Then I learned how not to reach out my unprotected hand for what wouldn’t serve my spirit or actually help anyone. The art of not grabbing the hook isn’t as simple as ducking or turning away. It entails deeply considering how to respond or not respond to someone who is determined to cast you as an evil force or powerless victim in his/her fast-moving and fairly dramatic narrative. What complicates clear thinking and meeting the situation with tenderness and curiosity is the habitual going-to-the-races responses most of us have honed to perfection.

As Pema Chodron writes:

I recently saw a cartoon of three fish swimming around a hook. One fish is saying to the other, “The secret is non-attachment.” That’s a shenpa cartoon: the secret is—don’t bite that hook. If we can catch ourselves at that place where the urge to bite is strong, we can at least get a bigger perspective on what’s happening. As we practice this way, we gain confidence in our own wisdom. It begins to guide us toward the fundamental aspect of our being—spaciousness, warmth and spontaneity.

So as I swim through today, I try to not bit the hook. Fortunately, I have chicken enchiladas in my future to bit into instead.

Homing In: Everyday Magic, Day 680

downsized_0224131357aHoning and homing in are easily confused, but I recently learned that knives are honed and birds home in on where they’re heading. Definitely not the sharpest knife in or out of the drawer today, I homed in on my travel becoming a farce because farces, despite and because of everything that goes wrong, end well with marriage, homecoming and great joy in the land.

The world of travel farce is narrow and treacherous. What wouldn’t shake me much in ordinary life level me here. My burrowing animal keeps ramming itself against the rock, convinced more effort will open the rabbit hole to home. Last night, a dropped call to United, after 45 minutes of waiting for a representative and another 20 of trying to sort out the tangle of getting my Delta ticket, originally a United ticket, back to United, tipped off a long crying jag (which led to me calling Ken and asking him to take off calling the airlines to arrange for my two flights, starting at 6 a.m.). Two hours later, when Ken called on one phone while talking with Delta on the other to make sure I was cool with a direct, non-stop flight at the reasonable hour of 11 a.m., I started crying so hard I could barely say, “Yes!” as in “Yes, Fredrico, a million times yes. I will marry you!”downsized_0224131444a

Back home this afternoon, I told Ken how I tried to think of the travel challenges as akin to an intensive spiritual retreat focused on letting go. “How did you do with that?” Ken asked. “Not very well,” I told him.

Yet there were moments of almost grace when I relinquished control, particularly when parked on the tarmac in Hartford, CT in a very small plane, completely full, for three and a half hours. I was on the phone for an hour with the airline, the aisles full with a snaking line of people waiting for the bathroom. People’s butts occasionally hit my head as I said to the United rep, “Could you say that again? I couldn’t hear you.” When I hung up, I surrendered to what the women around me were saying, which included repetitions and variations of:

  • There’s nothing we do, so why worry about it?
  • It is what it is.
  • It’s better to be sitting here alive than dead.
  • Yeah, this is challenging, but we’ve got it better than a lot of people in this world.
  • And you know, if I miss my connection, it’s not the end of the world.
  • I just missed my connection, but what you gonna do?

In communal travel mishaps, people tend to take turns being the cheerful one and the freaking out one. As soon as I told people my story (up until that point), the main cheerleader among us got a little depressed, and I repeated to her some of what she said to us earlier.

Soon the pilot announced that we were ready for take-off, back for a third try to land at La Guardia, but now we had to wait until someone could drain the overflowing toilet to prevent its contents from rushing down the aisles. The whole plane laughed together, and laughed some more when we needed to get de-iced again. Right before take-off for real, the pilot said, “Ladies and Gentlement, federal regulations stipulate that we inform you that if anyone wants to get off the plane at this airport, we can let you off.” The whole plane laughed harder, then we all looked around, as if to say, “No one is leaving this plane, sucker, so stay put.”

We were homing in together, and although I did start crying so hard at La Guardia at the information desk that a young Indian man came up to ask if he could help, I was grateful for help whenever I needed it.

Travel farce turns on plans dissolving, missed connections, the kindness of strangers, taking walks down streets in cities you never expected to visit, shuttle downsized_0224131446bdrivers talking about the last big snow, tiny bags of mini-pretzels that taste remarkably good when you miss a meal, and letting go of expectations right at the point of them being met (or not). When the plane I boarded today, the seventh plane I was booked on (and only the second flight I made), the pilot announced there was a small issue to resolve before take-off. I asked the flight attendant if she thought we going to actually go, and then told her my story. Although I wished I carried around some Valium, I was glad I at least had a story.

Then of course the story took off, and from the air, the world shone with snow, roads and rivers all the way to Kansas.

Needle in the Bone Book Launch: Everyday Magic, Day 660

44700_4069537058430_72832791_n“Is this the High Holy Days?” a friend asked me as the crowd swarmed into the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation for the Needle in the Bone launch party. With over 150 people finding seats around tables, against the walls, in the lobby outside the social hall, or simply standing in corners, it looked a little like we might launch into “Kol Nidre” instead of a presentation on this book about the survival and friendship of two local men, one a Holocaust survivor and one a Polish resistance fighter.

All day leading up to the event was a combination of all-okay and all-not-okay because, as Jarek said during the launch, “This is also very sad day because two people aren’t here.” When I started this book, it was about four people — Lou and Jane Frydman, and Jarek and Maura Piekalkiewicz. With both Maura and Lou dying in recent years, and on the same date (January 24 – 2011 for Maura and 2012 for Lou), it’s both tender and heartbreaking to share their stories with the community without them here.

Community came in abundance: well over 150 people showed up, the books sold out in a flash with many orders for more, and people listened intently to the presentation. Ken told me that the power point slide show about Lou and Jarek’s lives revealed just how important family was to each, starting with the family they lost and ending with the family they made in a new land.

Jarek spoke about he had a choice as to whether to risk his life against the Nazis, but Lou and other Jews didn’t have such a choice. He pointed out that Lou’s survival aimed Lou toward a life of family and service, reforming mental health laws that were damaging to children. He also said that even if Jews didn’t have saints, Lou was a saint to him as well as to many of us because of Lou’s heart and humor.

Jane told of how Lou survived, partially because of how smart his parents, brother and he was in thinking on their feet at crucial moments, and mostly because of “dumb luck,” such as the train out of the Warsaw Ghetto not going to Treblinka, which barely anyone survived an hour, but in saving grace, going to Majdanek instead. The near misses — while hiding in Warsaw on the Aryan side, in the camps, and even on the death march — kept Lou alive, but it was also his parents’ legacy that he could think so quickly and clearly on a dime of what to do or say to save his life.

I told about the four themes of the book, which I grappled with when writing it and will always grapple with: 1) What it means to survive such trauma, and how we carry such trauma within us; 2) The relationship of Poles to Jews when it comes to both anti-Semitism and how so many Polish families risked everything to save Jews; 3) The nature of good and evil, and how such a thing could happen; and 4) How we stand or could stand in relation to atrocities such as the Holocaust. Here is an excerpt of what I read:

Both Lou and Jarek bear an obligation, based on the holocausts they each went through, to create, educate, and make a difference. Maybe it’s a Jewish thing, a need to draw nourishment from the painful memory of near-annihilation: “The ultimately Jewish statement is the Messianic statement. We say this world will be redeemed; we say that human life will ultimately be worth everything. Anne Frank wrote in her diary that if she survived the war, she understood that she would have to make something of her life. The rabbis told us that the Messianic act is achieved when, in the face of total destruction, people choose to take on the grubbiness, the difficulties, the complexities of recreating life at all costs,” writes Eli Wiesel. Or maybe this is even more a human thing.

Surely, the weight of an experience such as the Holocaust is made bearable only by what we can make out of the wreckage.

In the end, there were lines of people hugging us and having us sign books, laktes, Kelley’s cookies, Terry’s vegetarian meatballs and lots of treats to eat, lingering visits while cleaning and packing up.

As Lou was dying, I knew he didn’t believe anything happened to us after death but that we simply and completely were no more. I believe quite the opposite, that the soul lives on (and not just in the hearts of loved ones). I told Lou that if I was right and he was wrong, he should send me a sign. This morning, I woke up to realize last night was a sign as well as a high holy day of its own.

Thank you to all who helped: the Lawrence Jewish Community for passing on all the food, drinks and wine left over from the Hanukkah celebration and hosting us, the Raven Bookstore, my husband Ken who worked with me for hours to prepare for and clean up from the event (as well as set up the AV), and many who helped: Sandy Snook, Kelley Hunt and Al Berman, Eve Levin, Forest Lassman and others. Special thanks to Jane and Jarek.