Dreaming

It has been a long while since I wrote about a Torah portion but…here you are.

This week’s Torah portion is about many things. Most of which I will not address. Joseph, one of Jacob’s many sons is central to the beginning and end of this parshah. Joseph’s brothers call him a dreamer, even as they prepare to murder him. Joseph, throughout all the travails he encounters – being thrown into a pit, sold to the Ishmaelites, sold to an Egyptian and finally falsely imprisoned – never gives up his dreams.

Rabbi Shefa Gold posits that Joseph knows that his troubles are sent by God and that the blessings come disguised. That somehow Joseph knows of his own radiance, that he is special and loved and has a destiny to fulfill.

This interpretation resonated with me. How many of us have troubles in our lives, failures, disappointments, tragedies? All of us. Some are larger than others, but we all have them and our feelings are much the same. We ask “why me?” “Why them?” “Why?”

And how often have we told our children that you learn more from failure than success? We all wish success. But how often do we look at our failures, our tragedies, our disappointments, and find the blessing? Rarely I think. How do we measure success? By the money or accolades earned, or the lessons learned?

A dear friend of mine was recently told her marriage was over, it was heartbreaking and sorrowful. But in this event I see her finding her own wings, her own self, maybe the fulfillment of her dreams – perhaps ones she didn’t know she had. So the blessing is wrapped up in the sorrow. But you have to look for it.

In the long months leading up to my mother’s death, we were faced with a looming necessity to place her outside of her home. Maybe she knew it was coming, I don’t know. I do know that her dream was to die in the beautiful home that she spent a lifetime creating, filled with books and art and writing. And at our moment of decision, she did. She passed peacefully in her own bed with flowers around her and music playing and her son holding her hand. So the blessing was in the sorrow and in the fulfillment of her dream. It took a minute for me to find it.

When my father struggled with dementia and had to come and live with me, I asked a friend what lesson I was supposed to learn. It was a very difficult time. Her answer was “patience”. The blessing was in the giving back. We had a very un-parental relationship. He was not a good father but an interesting, artistic and talented man who taught me many things about the world. I was not a good daughter, running off at 16 to live an eclectic life. I often dreamed of a “normal” family, it was never to be. But in the end, my service to him gave us a new and valuable relationship, an unexpected fulfillment of my dream and a blessing. But I had to look for it.

When my marriage ended there was a great deal of pain. But through that experience, I have a much better understanding of my self, my spirit, and an acceptance of the wonder of the life I have. In the sorrow and pain, there was a great blessing, but I had to look for it.

I have had many losses and many failures in my life. But like Joseph, I remain a dreamer. I am not sure that I know, as Rabbi Gold would say, my own radiance. I do know that, as she puts it, it is my mission to unmask the blessings.

Each loss has taught me how to be graceful with the loss others experience. They have taught me to listen to others’ sorrow without judgment. Each failure has taught me to be more merciful when others fail. To reach out a hand not a criticism. Each failure has taught me some lesson, has given me some tool to use for the next. In every experience of life there is some fulfillment of a dream. God often fulfills our dreams in unexpected and challenging ways. Often the blessing is hard to see, but it is there – you just have to look for it.

Joseph in this parshah goes through enormous hardships, attempted murder, slavery, prison. And yet, he never stops dreaming and never stops being kind to those he encounters. He has a natural goodness – he has his radiance and his knowledge of God’s love for him no matter what.

So may we all, like Joseph, never give up our dreams, never stop acting with kindness, see our own radiance and always unmask the blessings. You never know what comes next.

Everything New Is Old Again

I walked the streets of my childhood last week. I didn’t intend it. I was downtown and had a destination about a mile and a half away. When you are in the City that seems a reasonable walk.

But the walk found me on those very familiar streets. Where I walked home from school, where I walked to my first job, where I walked to whatever mischief I could find. And everything is changed, busier, more modern, different. Almost all the storefronts have changed but a few of the old timers remain, relics of a more peaceful time in what used to be a neighborhood.

No matter the changes, my feet found the way so very familiar. As if nothing really had changed at all. I stood in front of the first home I remember, a small apartment on West 8th street, and I could see the businesses that were on that street. There was the drugstore on the corner where my impetuous brother gashed open his eyebrow on the square metal post out front. There was the very first Orange Julius. There was Fred Braun next door and an amazing bookstore right across the street.

These are all gone but that changed street, so much remade, was once again the place of my childhood.

Then I walked past the block where we lived next and the building is gone, it appears to be the home of new condos. But the Minetta Lane theatre and the Village Vanguard are still in evidence, still holding down the fort of the old neighborhood. The White Horse Tavern and the Stonewall are still there, and a few more.

And so as new as everything is, it is still where I grew up. Walking those streets felt as familiar as they ever were. Everything new is old again, at least in my eyes and in my feet.

With a Snap of the Fingers

It is like a small miracle, you are ice and snowbound and you wake up one morning and the white is gone. It is as if God snapped her fingers and it is spring. It may be forty five degrees but nevertheless it is spring.

The bears are coming out of hibernation, the deer can find at least the dead grass to feed on, dormant insects are alive and the birds are chirping. The silent landscape of winter is now stirring, awakening, stretching. And with it’s sounds is letting us know it is time for us as well to sit up, to look around, to be aware of the waking world.

Where I live normally, the emergence of spring is a bit less obvious, the grass just barely begins to green, you start to sneeze because new leaves are starting, the flowers of summer are just beginning to form their buds. Soon the frog choir will begin as the rains come. And then in a moment it is full summer.

But here in New England, the nascent signs of spring are more obvious and at the same time more subtle. The march from winter to summer is a longer and slower process. But because it is slow it allows time for observation and consciousness of each baby step along the way.

What will be the first thing to bloom? The crocus – they usually come through the snow. The daffodils with their supremely cheerful yellow reminding us of the happy months to come? The lawn will slowly green as each flower presents itself for our admiration. Finally the star magnolia under which our pets are buried will burst into full bloom, a magnificent orb of white.

Indeed the progression of the seasons is something I miss living in the south. I don’t miss the cold and snow except in passing moments but this lovely unfolding of the reawakening of the earth is a visceral reminder of the passage of time. Each trip around the sun is something to be savored, observed, remarked, written about and remembered. And then you move on.

And with a snap of God’s fingers it is spring.

The Dying of the Light

For two months I watched the light die. Increasing confusion and memory loss became the shutters slowly closing over the remarkable woman that was my mother.

We did not have the traditional mother-daughter intimacy that seems to be the referent for many woman. We are both complicated, perhaps more so as time has gone on.

As a child I wrote her, mostly from camp or from a summer stay in Florida with my grandmother, innocent lovey letters. Sometimes funny, sometimes angry but almost always lovey. Remarkably she saved them all.

As a young adult I wrote her long newsy and personal letters about my life at the time, husbands, school, work, money. Later in life I stopped writing at all for a time, holding my personal life close as she wanted to know and use any bit of information she could come by. I was astonished to learn of her correspondences with past husbands, boyfriends and their relations long after those relationships had ended. She never let anyone go willingly until she decided it was time.

During this last phase of our relationship I mostly emailed as she could not hear on the phone unless she really wanted to. And there was very little intimate shared as she chose to hear everything as she wished it or thought it to be. And she had no boundaries about sharing what she was told with anyone and everyone.

But remarkably, during her last protracted illness, I spent weeks with her. The longest alone time we had ever spent together in my adult life, and unusually, there were very few arguments. Perhaps she knew this was our last and most precious time together, maybe I have grown up enough to let her confabulations pass. How she remembered something, or told it – it no longer mattered if it was true.

During this time we just lived, in mostly a single room, in companionable silence. Sometimes working on some project she had in mind, other times just watching the news or having a meal. She always had a project in mind, something to do next even as she knew her time was drawing to a close.

Letting go of my mother involves letting go of this also extraordinary place where she lived for over fifty years. This house, and her presence in it, became the touchstone, the lodestar, the place to return to. It is a beautiful place and a strange house full of art and books and weird found objects.

My mother found beauty in rescued birds nests, found bleached animal bones, robins eggs and a million other things. Her artist’s eye was unique. Her flower gardens, blooming from season to season were a labor of decades of love, now starting to overgrow with weeds. She never used pesticides or poisons, she shared her blueberries with the bears and her apples with the deer and raccoons, the peaches with some creature or other. My mother, never really at peace, lived in complete harmony with the natural world around her.

As we begin to remove things from the space where she and I spent her last days it feels like erasure. And then I start on the photographs and she is brilliantly brought into focus as are the stages of the building of the house.

We were not close in any traditional way but I miss my mom and I will miss this place. We had our time, hers is done, my road goes forward.

Silence is White

It took a while, but I realized what is so very different about this snowy world of white. It is the silence. There is the occasional sound of wind clacking the bare branches of the naked trees, or rounding the corner of the house. There is the occasional sound of snow sliding off the old slate roof.

But the landscape, the snowscape, now over two feet of fluffy white, is completely silent. There are no birds. Even the deer come in the night silently looking for food leaving footprints but making no noise.

Where I live the landscape is always noisy, the birds are constant, the frogs croak. And of course there are cars, sirens, trucks and people. Here, there are no cars, no sirens, no trucks, no birds, no frogs, no people. It is like living in a photograph, beautiful, still and silent.

I grew up in New York City and noise is always familiar to me. When my mother first came to this place I was afraid of the night. It was so dark and so silent and so foreign. Even in the more rural places I have lived there has always been noise, especially birds, sometimes cars and other evidence of human habitation. Less often, light. Here it feels like total isolation. Of course you can get in your car and “go into town”. But in this snowy winter, I have no place to go.

Oddly, the lack of ambient light allows me a glorious look at the night sky, filled with stars. It is rare to be where there is no light pollution, so I look for the beauty in my photograph life and in the snowy isolation. And I have learned that silence, at least for now, is white.