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.

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.

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.

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.