Skeleton Dances

Snow, Night, Moon, Cold, Winter, Trees, Landscape

The moon was so bright over the untouched snowscape that I thought I had left a light on downstairs to reflect out. I was half asleep at midnight and it took a moment to turn and look out the window in the other direction and there was the bright moon. The bare trees cast stark and beautiful shadows like skeleton dancers in the night.

The angle of rise of the moon was just right at that moment and it was captured perfectly in my mind. Later the skeletons were gone as the moon evolved and the dance was over.

The winter weather has its own majesty when you are out of the urban or suburban sprawl. Here on this rural New England hilltop there is nothing but us and snow and the skeleton trees. The morning shows us the footprints of our night visitors, raccoons and small wild cats perhaps.

This bitter weather confines all but the hardiest souls, like being in a hurricane or other outdoor disaster. You know it is bigger than yourself and that you are powerless in its wake except now perhaps with a shovel. In the presence of illness we are imprisoned here, hunkered down and warm enough.

The snowfield is beautiful both day and night in different ways. The brilliant moon reflects on the icy crust which glitters like diamonds in the moonglow. The sun brings a different kind of shine. But the sun is a rare thing, only occasionally breaking the shroud like grey of every winter day, giving the illusion of warmth on a 1° morning.

The windows give me a view of the world outside where there are none of the familiar sights, just gleaming white. The inner world is a bit like the trees at night – skeleton dances.

Small Change

There is a certain beauty in small changes. When we think of change we often think of the great changes of habit or behavior; dieting, quitting smoking, stopping buying too much on Amazon. But life is full of the opportunity for small changes. And they can be very satisfying.

During this pandemic time, I looked around my house and thought about what I had been wanting to change. What I could afford to do. I didn’t know at the beginning how long I would be mostly restricted to my home.

The walls, I was tired of the beigeness, the tan. The entire interior common spaces of my home are connected so changing the walls is a big job. I had previously painted the bedrooms and bathrooms; but now the sheer size of the job was intimidating. And then I said to myself “self, you don’t have to do it all at once.” There’s an epiphany.

And so, I vowed to do only what I could at any one time. At first I thought a wall at a time, but it became clear that I could do a room at a time. Enlisting the help of my tall son to paint above tall kitchen cabinets for instance, I finished the entire house.

Starting is the hard part. But then watching the color change, section by section, is inspiring and wonderful. The satisfaction of completing a room is visceral for me, I love my home. Once you start it is easy to keep going, swish of brush, smush of roller and stroke by stroke change happens.

As part of the process I overcame my fear of the tall ladder (I have tall ceilings), learned the limits of my shoulders and didn’t spill any paint on rugs or valuables.

Small changes. I re-covered my dining room chairs with something colorful and far less formal. I hung curtains where there were vertical blinds (ask me about the very cool hack.)

And then I started on organizing, making small changes in closets and drawers and cabinets; projects I have put off forever. And in the process have donated bags and bags of things I don’t need but others might be able to use.

And then I thought about my habits, my routines. I started yoga online maybe three times a week. I started piano lessons twice a month. I added regular zoom contact with people I love and respect. I made a few financial changes to make life a little simpler. I bought a lawnmower.

The ultimate beauty of small changes is that they add up to something important. A beautiful and satisfying home, new routines, doing good for the community, the possibilities are pretty endless. So don’t think that small changes are small change, they add up, they matter.

Tupac and the Foo Fighters

As I go about my daily tasks, or turn on the television, I often wonder at the extent to which the music of my youth, my life, has become the soundtrack of commercials and elevators. I think I have written about this before but currently there is a whole crop of commercials that is using music that informed my younger days.

Of course every generation has a catalogue of music that is defining for them. Now we, the baby boomers, are the target audience for so many things because the world of big business assumes that we are the ones with the money. So it makes sense to use the music that speaks to us but it is still weird to hear it bastardized and monetized in a these ways.

I went to see the movie All Eyez on Me several years back; a biopic about Tupac Shakur. I went alone, as I often do. I found it interesting as a musician as I did not know all that much about the history of rap and the east-west competition with Big. I did not know that Tupac was an extraordinary musical engineer, doing his own mixes and orchestrating all of his stuff himself. That is big talent in my book.

Most startling about this experience was how many people were astounded that I went to see the movie at all. I am a sixty something white woman and apparently I didn’t fit the stereotype of who should go see, let alone enjoy, this movie. While the movie may not have been the best or most accurate, it was an interesting window into a subculture and a form of music that I was not all that familiar with.

My best friend is a lover of punky stuff. And while we feel the same way about music, and find some intersections, generally we do not listen to the same kind of music. She was talking music with her granddaughter who was amazed that my friend wanted to see the Foo Fighters in person. What? Grandma wants to see the Foo Fighters?

Her grandma is definitely not my grandma. Old is not as old as it used to be. But my grandma taught me the single most important of my life – never judge a book (person) by its cover. This is what she lived by, and how we all should live; rappers, punkers, folkies, classical audiophiles and jazz lovers all walking hand in hand. Sam Cooke got it right: what a wonderful world that would be.

Sorry Enough?

It is that season. The Jewish New Year. I love the cycle of the holidays, from S’lichot to Simchat Torah. It is a journey forward and a journey back. And this is a very personal journey, not one to be taken on social media. Blanket apologies, as I have often said, are not really apologies.

We move forward in repentance, in forgiveness and in self analysis and reflection. This month of Elul that brings us forward to ourselves is a special time. We each have our own way of taking stock, inventory, of our lives and our behavior. In this, we journey back over the past year. Could we have done better, have we hurt anyone, do we need to say we are sorry? And being human, we could always have done better, there is always something, or someone to whom we owe a debt, an apology.

But this journey back brings us forward, it brings us to our better selves, to our better lives. We go forward into the new year renewed in our repentance, in our desire and intention to live with even more integrity and charity.

For me, this process also brings me closer to those who have walked the path of this journey before me. I particularly remember my grandmother, my aunt and uncle and those whose ashes I trod at the camps. This ritual of self improvement is inspired by them and how they lived and died. I feel this most deeply on Yom Kippur when all worldly pursuits are set aside and the day is intended for prayer, meditation, remembrance and repentance.

The beautiful thing is that we are brought, at the  last, to forgiveness. It is in forgiveness that we can truly move forward. And having taken stock, made our amends, repented and been forgiven. As we hear the last blast of the shofar, we are called to take all that we have contemplated and be moved to action.  And then we dance, with the Torah, with each other, with God. Finally, on to action-action to repair our lives, repair our hearts, repair our world.

Shanah Tovah U’metekah – A sweet and wonderful new year.

What Is Brave

When we hear the word brave the first thing that comes to mind is a very traditional picture. I think we all think of soldiers, of police, of first responders. And they are indeed brave, most of them, most of the time.

And then we perhaps think of those amazing civilians that we read about that step up in the face of danger. The teachers that sacrifice themselves for students in an active shooter situation. Folks that jump in to save someone drowning, in or out of a sinking car. Just watch the news for the rare good story.

These days we think of the medical people who continue to go to work despite the widespread nature of the COVID 19 virus. They put themselves at risk and often are separated from their families. And the teachers, again, who have adjusted as best they can and try to keep our children on track through virtual means.

There is a much quieter version of brave that we often don’t think of and don’t acknowledge. There is the single mom with three children struggling to make ends meet. There is the student that stands up for a bullied friend. There is a group of teens that go to Haiti to help rebuild. There are doctors that provide low cost or free healthcare to the under served. There are the volunteers in soup kitchens and homeless shelters. There are folks that bring meals to seniors, shut ins, who can’t get out for food.  And there are so many others.

I found it odd that when I made the decision to become single at sixty three a vast number of people told me how brave I was. As if growing old alone is an act of courage. I didn’t feel it that way. It was just necessary. And being single is not a state of being that should invoke pity. Doing what is right for your life and your spirit shouldn’t be an act of bravery but in today’s world where complacency and mediocrity is the norm, I suppose it can seem that way.

These days there are some renewed kinds of brave. Young people facing anonymous armed forces, marching to be heard. People banning the confederate flag even where it has been revered. While it is only leveling the field in a way, it still takes brave. In the same way that it took brave for the first professional athletes to come out as gay, it was only leveling but it took brave. These days, it feels brave to go to the grocery store. A small thing and you aren’t likely to be tear gassed. But it feels like brave.

The world is full of brave if you just look around. There are those smallest acts of kindness and bravery, and there are the big things where hope to change the world lives. Be brave, start small and work up to it. And one day it will be the norm and won’t seem quite so extraordinary.

Let the memory and spirit of John Lewis be an inspiration to bravery, march on.