capacity & tears

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“Well some say life will beat you down
Break your heart, steal your crown…”

~ Tom Petty (1950-2017)

I cried at my desk today. The tears fell quietly as I was reading…

About Las Vegas.

Puerto Rico.

The Virgin Islands.

Mexico.

Houston.

Florida.

West Coast wildfires.

About the genocide against the Rohingya people in Mianmar.

The violence inflicted on innocent people by Spanish police during Catalonia’s elections for independence.

The relentless disease of racism in our country.

The brutality and militarization of American police.

The mass incarceration of black and brown people on American soil.

About our national addiction to the right to bear arms over the right to live free from the fear of violence.

The destruction of the EPA because who cares about climate change when there’s money to be made.

Last night I cried into my daughter’s belly as we listened to Tom Petty, who may have, in that moment, been breathing his final breaths. I remembered details of when I’d seen him in concert in 2009, on one of the most beautiful spring nights I have ever experienced, watching the most gorgeous sunset over the San Francisco Bay. Quite possibly the most incredible live performer I have ever seen and heard.

Last night it felt as if all of the rock stars of my childhood and teen years in the 1970s and 1980s were being taken away, one at a time. Last night I felt every single one of my years, hyper aware that when you’re in your forties, the people around you start to die more steadily. Should I be getting used to this by now?

Today I learned that a childhood friend had died of cancer in the past year. That was the piece that got me in that deepest place in my gut, and then the tears fell more quickly, less gently.

A dear friend recently told me that she thinks my “heart and mind have tremendous capacity.” Most of the time I think I can hold all this, the deep pain that is all around me.

The wounds I know my refugee clients hold from their experiences escaping war and losing everything they had known before.

The brokenness and injustice, in plain view or hidden, in every corner of my city, my state, my country, my world.

The image of the two black people who were pulled over by two white cops a few weeks ago when my family and I turned a corner in our car and we pulled over to film what was going on, just in case things went south and somebody with dark skin ended up dead. Thankfully they didn’t this time, but the imprint of the potential injustice that was happening before my eyes as the cops searched the car for what…? An excuse to lock up – or kill – two more black people for a broken tail light? For driving while black?

When I was younger I used to feel like a sponge, super sensitive to all that was around me. But I’ve learned with age that it’s possible to connect with the pain all around without being quite so absorbent. How to hold the pain without it getting stuck inside. Still, though… Last week I took Facebook off my phone, with no regrets. I needed the reminder that I am the one in charge of what information I take in, and when.

* * * *

Last Friday night and Saturday was Yom Kippur. For the first time in many years, I felt moved to actually fast completely. I still drank water so that I wouldn’t get a three-day headache, but this year it felt good not to put anything else in my body. I also powered off my phone for the day, which felt amazing. During breaks from the services I read and wrote in my journal. I walked around and talked to people. I sat with two very tiny babies and their moms whom I’d just met.

I cried a lot. Not just during the Yizkor memorial service, but at other moments too. While the most incredible cellist played the Kol Nidre melody, accompanied by organ and choir and cantor, and even more magically, when he played the melody solo. While I closed my eyes and connected with each of my relatives who have died, picturing each of their faces in my mind’s eye, feeling them close.

The veil between life and death feels thin at Yom Kippur, and I held both the humbling awe of that understanding and the comfort of feeling held by my ancestors and even my tiny baby daughter who died before me.

I don’t take any of it for granted. I’ve been through hardship, tragedy, loss and struggle. I know how incredibly lucky I am for the stability and goodness of my life. For all of the people I get to love and hold dear. For my health. For my home.

For my life.

It feels like an incredible responsibility, to hold that gratitude along with the awareness that things are so bad and so hard and so incredibly messed up in so many places outside my safe little cocoon.

The awareness that there is so much work to be done, so much light I need to summon up and magnify to help balance out the dark.

And the awareness that it is all so temporary and fleeting. And so precious and beautiful. Even the tears.

 

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for b.

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There are two trees in front of the house next door. They bloom twice a year, once in the spring along with all the other trees, and again in the fall after they have lost their leaves. I never knew trees could do that, and even though I’ve seen them bloom twice before, this year again it amazes me. It feels rebellious, audacious. Generous. These beings of nature that do their own thing but manage to give of themselves in the process.

I’ve been connecting with some very old and very dear friends the last few days, some with whom I haven’t spoken in years, following the passing of a friend we all shared. It hit me that I am at that age – when friends my age start to go. I’ve lost important people in my life – grandparents, friends, my child. I’m not new to death or loss or grief. But this hit me differently.

Life feels tenuous today. I feel hyper aware of something I know but manage most of the time to ignore: that nothing is guaranteed.

And yet here we are. We bloom when we can, we fall when we can’t stay up. And then sometimes we manage to bloom again, like those trees.

Like those trees, we reach out to each other, but sometimes not enough. Sometimes it takes a loss to remind us.

This is for you, B. Thank you for your adventurous and generous heart, for your wit and humor, and for all you gave of yourself to all of us who love you.

 

fresh spring air

I attended a funeral yesterday for someone very dear in our community. Her death was unexpected, accidental. Her time came too soon. It was a graveside funeral attended by so many. She was such a presence in the community that it’s impossible right now to imagine it without her. She was one of the first people I met here almost two years ago, instantly welcoming. She embraced my children and they loved her right back.

Hers was the third graveside funeral I have attended in my lifetime. The last one was for my baby daughter, Tikva, almost seven years ago. My most vivid imprint from that day was that her coffin was so small that the man from the funeral home carried it in his arms, without the gurney he had brought that is used for larger coffins. The first graveside funeral I went to was in Paris almost 20 years ago when I traveled with my father to be with our family as we buried a patriarch, my beloved great uncle. The other funerals I’ve attended have all been indoors, in a chapel or synagogue or church.

When I was in eighth grade, after a fierce battle with cancer, my grandmother died just a few months before my bat mitzvah. She was a Holocaust survivor and her determination and fight showed in how long she survived with pancreatic cancer. I loved her so much; being in her presence was like being enveloped in love and nurturing. She knit, she crocheted, she cooked, she baked, she hugged. It was April when she died and the grave diggers were on strike, so she wasn’t buried until a few weeks later. My mom didn’t let me go to the cemetery that day, I’m not sure why. She said it was enough that I had been at her service at the funeral home a few weeks before. It didn’t feel like enough to me. Perhaps there is some kind of closure in seeing a loved one’s body lowered into the ground, and something inside me knew I needed that. I had dreams for years afterwards that I carried my grandmother’s coffin around, looking for a place to bury it.

When I was a freshman in high school, a friend took his own life on the train tracks behind the school. I remember the cops thought a homeless person had been killed by the train, because it was 1986 and my friend wore a trench coat and dyed his hair black, and only homeless people wore trench coats, right? I remember the minister at the church service wore a belt buckle that said “BOB.” I think Pink Floyd was played.

I’ve been to two viewings at Catholic funerals, but only entered the room where the deceased lay at one of them. Viewings are unfamiliar to most Jews, whose dead are buried naked except for a muslin shroud and sometimes a prayer shawl, in a simple pine box, and caskets are always closed.

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At one point yesterday, close to the end of the service, I moved away from the crowd and looked down the hill, listening to one of the rabbis as he spoke so beautifully. I don’t know what I was thinking about exactly, but it felt as if I were holding all of the deaths I had experienced in the past and all the deaths that awaited in the future in that one present moment. I took a deep breath, then another. Cemeteries have always felt strangely peaceful to me, especially on sunny days. Birds flew overhead, a fuzzy caterpillar walked on the grass and paused for a moment next to a man’s shoe, a turtle swam in the man made lake nearby. At my feet was a headstone for a man named Sol who had died in 2002 at the age of 92. I hope I get at least 92 years.

There is so much I don’t know about what awaits me, but that doesn’t really scare me. It’s kind of freeing to accept all I do not know. I go about my days hoping I will get so many others. Then I stop to pause in moments like these – standing graveside waiting to help shovel dirt over the burial place of a friend – and I think about how precious life is, how finite, how miraculous. In Tikva I learned that some souls do all of the work of an entire lifetime in 58 days, while others need decades. From my friend who was buried yesterday, I am reminded to live fully, to love unconditionally, and to show gratitude for how precious it all is and how lucky I am to be able to take another deep breath of fresh spring air.

Rest in peace, M. I will miss you.