A New Moon

It is a Friday night and I am driving home. It is not early and it is not late. Although it is not a long drive I am enjoying the night, jazz on the radio. What I see is people in a terrific rush, passing me at high speeds – well above the speed limit.

Am I just enjoying the drive or am I getting old? We identify slow drivers as old or drunk. I am not driving particularly slowly, just not racing. It is a beautiful night, a night to be enjoyed. A night to roll the windows down and feel the wind on your face. I have always done this, since the time I started driving. Now it makes me feel young and beautiful.

All these people in a terrible rush. Are they getting home from work? Are they headed for a party, a date? What catastrophe will befall them if they don’t hurry? The older I get the less I understand that rush – unless I am late for an appointment of course. There are moments to be savored in this life and driving on a beautiful new moon night is one of them for me.

Stop and smell the roses, isn’t that what we have heard? So this is my version. Watching all those people missing the moment; perhaps they are headed for their own special moments and can’t wait to get there. Maybe what they don’t understand is that the moment, the experience, will still be there when they are – it will still be a moment. But the journey is it’s own special moment. Every moment is the now. If you are rushing toward another moment, you will always miss the one you are in.

So for me, it was a beautiful new moon Friday night, the windows down, the wind in my face, soft jazz playing and the now is always a wonderful thing.

Find Your Joy

Find your joy they tell me. But where are the instructions? Is it outside, inside? External, internal? Both? I am literal and need a road map. But I have referents.

Looking into the face of my child, both as a baby and a grown man, that is joy. But sometimes when I look at the grown man I also see the pain of that growing and my heart hurts even with the joy I feel. There is nothing that compares to how happy I am to be a mother to a remarkable man, that is a joy I will take to the end of my life – it is always there.

Cooking for people I love and knowing that they love me back, that is joy. Even with cut fingers and oven rack burns, their enjoyment of my food is joy, no matter the pain.

Reading something beautifully written that evokes emotion, that is joy despite my slight feeling of envy around the talent that created it. Once in a while writing something that I think is beautiful and resonant makes me very happy.

Looking up at the moon and stars on a very clear and beautiful night and thinking love and dreams are still possible. That is joy, despite the fact that I am alone and sometimes it is painful.

Wandering through a museum in an exhibit that is new to you, seeing what others have created and how they were inspired. That is it’s own kind of joy. Going back to a familiar museum and artists that you know and love, that is a comfortable kind of joy.

The sacred act of making music. Now that is a pure joy. How do you describe the feeling of blending your voice with other voices to make a cohesive whole, a round and beautiful sound. How to communicate the joyfulness of losing yourself in beating a drum, a tambourine or a woodblock. A simple morning walk is made joyful with music in your ears, the unexpected shuffling of songs. Making music is the act of creation; and joy. And what is odd is that it is fleeting. Unlike other art forms it is not concrete (yes it can be recorded), you sing and it is gone. You hear it, it resonates, and it is over. That is the only pain – it is over.

Sometimes a clear blue sky, a sun shiny day, puffy clouds, blooming flowers and gratitude to be alive. That is joy although it often does not endure. But it comes again another day with any luck and an open heart.

Isn’t that what joy is like?  Both internal and external. You create it, you feel it, it resonates and then it is gone. Until the next time.

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.