More than a Minyan

In my professional work, we have used the iceberg as a symbol of what is said “above” the water line and what is felt/sensed/not said “below” it.  Usually our advice has been to take what is below and get it into some form that can be shared.  Or, at least for your own self, understand the connection between the cold and dark below and what surfaces into the heat and light of the air above.  It is what is.  In my transition to daughter-without-mother, I am standing at the top of that proverbial iceberg.  Though it seems my job is not to transfix and transform the held-back to the spoken, but rather to grapple through bedrock into the freedom of the deep blue see (not sea).

It was exactly seven days since she had passed.  My mother.  Although, mathematically speaking, not until 7:11 that night.  Somehow a corner convenience store worked its way into her leaving story.  I think it was all the secret trips for Hershey bars and diet root beer, the two cancelling each other out, in the relentless effort of “being beautiful and thin again.” As a teen, in the required act of differentiation, I stridently and independently, switched it to diet coke. I will be my own person as I sip-n-snack in your shadow.

Never before have I been a Jewish mourner.  I have mourned three due to death and three due to love. The first two were Catholic, the 2nd atheist. The other three, long continuations into the next phase: without you.

A Jewish mourner (of death, though maybe we should use it for love too) is a mourner with a footpath.  First week, first month, first year.  Even every year after is a milestone marker of passage.  The guest book the funeral guys gave me comes with her yartzheit dates listed until 2036. Her last journal entries were dated 2027 or 2034 — dementia connecting her to the future of what was to be at the end.

In the squall of getting from the night she died to the Sunday afternoon memorial service, I was consumed by the constancy of detail.  Some say we do this to distract during the rawness of just-fresh- death.  I was agitated to annoyance – exhausticated. Then came Shiva.  The ritual, communal logic.

I fidgeted over “would we have a minyan”in order to say Kaddish.  Ten people, by Jewish law, makes a minyan.  Then again, we are Reform Jews.  There can be two of us or ten of us to be a minyan. If we are called to pray we do: may this mother’s soul pass through to peace/may this mourner’s heart push through to the “see” (not sea).

So one week out, this path meets me in gratitude for a more-than-a-minyan of menches (really, really good people) who came to stand, sit, eat, pray, with this mourner (and then clean up, so I didn’t have to).  You greeted me with the kindness and generosity of your wisdom: laughter takes you out of the hollow of sorrow; so do kids; and Milano cookies with red wine in bed. “There is a very real realness –  you being from her and not her…In the shadow of what she couldn’t give you, you have become who you are – the mother that you are – a good mother – a caring and loving and devoted mother – and for this we are grateful.”

So today, one week out, this minyan-mourning-shiva- path etched from some ancient text becomes the GPS of choice for my travels outside-in,  through tiny, icy crevices, to  deliver on the  promise, over time-undefined, of a greater depth –  though maybe not ease – as her memory becomes  blessing , if not joy.

© Gabriella Strecker, 2017

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Resident Essentials

These two were a whirlwind with a squeamish streak, buoyed by a bedrock of black-humor. To the outside ear they likely seemed callous – maybe even disrespectful and mean.  To their inside hearts it was a balm – this ability to turn the awful hurt into a caricature of perspective. Eleven years of institutional living bagged in less than ninety minutes.

The moment they crossed the invisible crime scene tape, yellow and slimed with debris, they could feel it.  The room was clinging.  It hadn’t been touched (like evidence).  There were towels on the floor, the bed askew, the TV turned over on its face.  Fine – the logistics of a stretcher in a small space made the corners hard to maneuver, but no one thought to right it? To restore a semblance of “home” that less than 36 hours before had been the pinnacle of care, the grace and dignity of senior living?

On the heels of her passing, “home” was a heavy-aired room, looking exactly like every other room in this Hilton of long term care (and dying).  It’s different in a hospital – some people are being born, some saved, a life turned around.  Here everyone is dying – different pace, different reason – but always the same outcome.   The hot, muggy room tells us so.  Opening the window helps a bit, but cannot remove the residue of resignation to this end result.

In the swarm of the last few days, it’s hard to remember who said it – maybe a cousin.  They know someone who runs “Death Cafes” (hand to G*d, as they say, that’s what it’s called).  People come together, I guess, at Starbucks or Peets, to talk about death.   Like the act of dying.  Like when the last gasp is heard.

This seems like something our dynamic duo would not enjoy.  The seriousness of such a subject would be discomforting. Likely not the place where saying “yuck” while holding the departed’s old, crappy shirt would be considered good process, even if it is still crusted with some kind of food-made-mush to accommodate a compromised swallow.  The cleverly designed, yet blatantly sad, “Resident Essentials” clothing line that looks like your average polyester dress with a peter pan collar, but has all the bells-and-whistle-openings-and-access of a hospital johnny – who do you give this to? You might say, “the girl next door,” but donating back is fiercely forbidden for fear of someone saying “Why is she wearing my mother’s….” I guess it happens, not that I personally would have noticed (or minded).  At this point, is ownership relevant?  The team largely leaves our two cleaners be as they rummage and reject much of the remnants:  stuffed animals and costume jewelry purchased downstairs in the “little store” – a treat amidst a monotony of days.

The parade of aides came in one by one that last night. They said good bye or prayed over the foot of the bed.  They told stories.  The irony of their sweet nostalgia for her descent (dissent?) rang awkwardly in its truth.   Eight bags of garbage to be removed when facilities does the deep clean and repaint, turning the room for the next person.  Some family, somewhere, is so relieved today because finally, finally, after so much work and worry and waiting they have found a place where their person will be safe, get good care, and have as rich a life as possible when dementia has taken the rest.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2017

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A Palliative Playlist

They tell me hearing is the last sense to go; seems plausible given the eye brows still rise and furrow at the sound of my voice.  In a more active place, like an ICU, the goal is to “turn the bed,” so it’s more like a palliative push.  In long-term care, comfort is prolonged.  So my job is to fill the time.   I rummage through drawers and old notebooks.  I read out loud until agitation (hers and mine) sets in.  Then, I turn to song.  I sing along.  I cry.  I do these two things at the same time…

As I neither want to get in your way, nor rush you out the door, “Let the light guide your way. Hold every memory as you go. And every road you take, will always lead you home1. Along the way, “Nobody can tell ya. There’s only one song worth singin’. They may try and sell ya. ‘Cause it hangs them up to see someone like you.  But you’ve gotta make your own kind of music. Sing your own special song. Even if nobody else sings along.” 2

“Just so you know,” you’d say to me when I was small, “Parents are people. People with children. When parents were little, they used to be kids…but then they grew. And now parents are grown-ups…There are a lot of things…parents can do.”3

For instance when I, “Work all night on a drink of rum,” 4 it’s because, “I’ve looked at clouds [as] rows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air.   But now they only block the sun…So many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way…it’s life’s illusions I recall. I really don’t know life at all .”5

You don’t believe in G*d, you have told, written, preached to me; a Jewish atheist like your mom.  I don’t know if I believe or not, though I know you think I know. Either way, over the years, I have tried, not always gracefully for sure, to serve yours: “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed? 6

Your love, a reformed Catholic, strummed on the guitar for you: “Come, sing a song of joy for peace shall come.”7   You answered with your full force: “I need your sweet inspiration. I need you here on my mind every hour of the day. Without your sweet inspiration, the lonely hours of the night just don’t go my way.” 8

I sort of feel that way myself right now.  Not to be crass, and obviously don’t mind me, but I’m waiting to be released from mothering you, my mother.  No rush, of course, proceed at your own pace, but know I believe we are ready.  So maybe just: “Ease on down, ease on down the road.. Don’t you carry nothin’ that might be a load. Come on, ease on down, ease on down the road. “9

And as you do, I will sing to you my favorite bedtime prayer, HashkiveinuIt will blanket you:“…Adonai, remove wrongdoing from before us and behind us, and shelter us in the shadow of your wings…You protect us in all our goings and comings for life and for now until eternity…Amen.10

  1. Wiz Khalifa, See You Again
  2. The Mamas and the Papas, Make Your Own Kind of Music
  3. Harry Belafonte and Marlo Thomas, Parents are People
  4. Harry Belafonte, Day-O, The Banana Boat Song
  5. Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now
  6. Woody Guthrie, Amazing Grace
  7. Ode to Joy
  8. Yandall Sisters, Sweet Inspiration
  9. Diana Ross, The Wiz
  10. Hashkiveinu, Jewish Prayer


©Gabriella Strecker, 2017

photo courtesy of


I don’t want to be a bad person, but I don’t want to confuse the universe.  It’s hard to keep the messages clear.  Let her go, but not because I am heartless, but because she is not happy or living really. Okay, maybe a little bit because she tortured me. She was my sadist, nightmarishly focused on reaching down my throat and grabbing the very voice within me, so at last she would know who she was…

Year after year they tell me it’s end stage.   Dementia: the slowest path to death known to man.  She’s lost everything, not even a scrap of self left.  In the end of her life so it was throughout – blocking herself from love and then yelling as if it’s our fault. She swears like a sailor. Even with her eyes closed.  Not a recognition or response in sight.

Every case management meeting I have to re review the advanced directives.  How much clearer do you want me to be? No intubation. No ER. No food. No IV fluids.  No antibiotics. Yes morphine, a double dose, and hit me with it too, would you?  I got pain that needs easing.  Even though I am deciding again and again on care and comfort, it can’t be hidden.  I am the gracious murderer, not curing, but ending.  My personal Passover – a future freedom discovered. Her personal  Easter – a historic capture ended.

I know they judge me harshly, the sing-song, nursing home aides from Haiti.  For my own sanity I don’t go visit for a few weeks. What? You question me?  After over twenty years of managing her life, being her only care taker, I can’t have a break every once in a while?  There is no one else to step in.  I have nothing but this pretty-much-already-gone-mother who tried to end herself so many times, and messed it up. So now it’s me here waiting. I mean, this could have been taken care of years ago.

“You will regret not working things through with her when she dies,”  people have told me.  Maybe.  When she goes (or if) will I cry?  Like maybe it’s going to creep up on me out of nowhere.  I am not sure.

But where will I put her?  These  ashes of a life spent loving through hating. Where do these things belong? Back to the earth seems unrighteous somehow – future generations and all.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

image courtesy of

Christmas Traditions

“Dear Dolores,” she wrote from the waiting area outside gate 10 at an airport in Korea in a town she cannot pronounce.  When in the US, she takes advantage of the jet-lagged-earned-gold-medallion-status and goes to the lounge.  But in other countries, curiosity drives her out of the quiet, soft-chaired luxury awarded to the too-much-traveled (or really wealthy traveled), so she can be in silent absorption of a different-from-her-world- view from the hard-backed seats left for the rest of us.

In this view of airport Korea, the waiting area floors are wood, and the older women seem to suck their teeth – an inhaling sigh-like spittle-y sound.   Reminds her of the space between Dolores’ top two front teeth, and how there was a pondering that space made as Dolores would lean back to assess: “phstich.”  Or something like that involving the lips, the teeth, the breath, the time to respond extenuated.  “Dear Dolores,” she writes…

It is almost Christmas.  A holiday I have little need for, but for how it reminds me of my childhood rescue by the love of a woman who never wanted kids.  You are Christmas.  It seems I have grown up (under my own nose) to be you without ever meaning to; but, of course, I must have tried:  a management consultant; a person who would give the shirt off her back; who spends money if she has it, knowing not the value of saving for a future that might be cut short; a community builder; a protector of the unprotected.

You traveled up and down the East Coast of the US. I travel zig-zag across the Globe.  And here we both are/were trying to teach kindness, ease, structured chaos and creativity, fun – even if unsustainable.   In the end, our lessons are sort of straightforward: don’t lash out.   It’s as easy as that.  Don’t hurt others on purpose.  We know how inexcusably, frequently common it is, and so we have/had job security – you and I – helping ordinary people be not so extraordinarily unkind, so ridiculously often.

Remember, Dolores?  Today, in the US it is the 22nd, we would not even be thinking about Christmas yet.  Despite the world around us taped up with lights and wreaths, we would still be in work mode.  Your small but iron-wrought -Italian- family would buy out the store of pepperoni and olives, the smelts and fried bread, the basil for pesto: Christmas Eve dinner after midnight mass.  Most years, we did not go en masse. They went.  I waited at home with you for my one present on Christmas Eve.  You would be downstairs wrapping yourself into a packaged frenzy for the morning’s openings.  When we did go, it was to the same church where we would later hold your funeral mass.  My head would rest on your shoulder as Latin passed over us in a Gregorian calm. I gave a eulogy, that day in the church just up from the channel crossing. Thirty years old in time, a scared infant orphan in mind, that day of those tears.

Christmas Eve was your day.  That was tradition.  Trees and wreaths bought only after 6pm – for the best deal.  In the snow, on a ladder, ice and wind no care, up the wreaths were put.  An A-frame house makes for 5 wreaths by the way – left and right, up and down, and one in the middle at the tip of the A.  All presents were bought after noon on the 24th – mad dash-mall time before the stores closed early.  We had lists. We split up.   We organized – me in charge of the lipstick and nail polish sets (Estee Lauder).  Deep reds, hot pinks, whatever you thought suited our Alta Kalka’s’ personalities…we matched them up.   Like you patched me up; a Christmas tradition in the making.

© Gabriella Strecker, 2016

photo courtesy of

Seoul Rain

I was totally in my, “the world is a lovely place” mode until I sat down at the “Bar Rouge,” ground floor, JW Mariott, Seoul, Korea.  And there I was met with the expatriate echo of Americans – loud.  The one Korean-American woman gets it the worst, because everyone assumes she speaks the language.  It’s its own racism  – assumptions made because you look the same.

Before their raging argument about why Aleppo is called Aleppo, and is CNN right to do so given that it is clearly the Italian name, my mind was in a soft and warm place.  The only one who didn’t seem to know it was going to rain, my hair is just-out-of-the-shower sopped.  This is not so hard to believe given the weather conditions, but amazing since, three, yes, three, whole women, walked next to me at some point in the traverse from office to hotel and included me in their umbrella.  Each time I jumped with surprise: a woman at my side with a silent nod and an askance smile.  Three-for-three they speak no English; one-for-one, I speak not a word of Korean. They share a kindness.   Three in a row – unattached to each other, separated by time, each with the same instinct. My mind boggles to compute the reasoning, so unfamiliar with this impulsive gesture of generosity.

Can you imagine in New York City or Boston or Chicago or Paris or Madrid or Lisbon or London, or any of many other places, a person sharing an umbrella with a stranger, never mind three in a row?  Walking as far as they could to escort me dry?  The first got me turned around from walking the wrong way.  She asked me in every-other-word English, “why did no map?”  I tried to explain; showed her how the phone displayed the address but not the route. Ugh with the GPS.

I am bounded by curiosity.  Is it that my curly hair stands out farther than my face to name me as “other.”  Is it the wide hips?  Is it that for once I am not wearing all black (my usual uniform)?  Ironically, by the way, because it seems this is a city center dressed entirely in black.    Or is this just the way it’s done – a city where people care for each other in simple, simple ways?

The moment I stepped off the jetway into customs, I remembered that feeling – being aware of my race.  Hadn’t felt it since Japan, but there it is. I am white and Jewish and Italian and none of that means much, tells no such rich, ethnic narrative, because I am not what is – Korean.

As an aside: I realize I have gotten inconsistent about writing this blog mostly because I was trying to save myself to write a book. Like a fighter who refuses sex before a big match for fear of weakening himself. But let’s face it, the world passes by each day.  It is of complete marvel or complete desperation.  And I feel the need to record.

For all I have for my self-regulation is this one day, this current time zone, this single sip of water, this watching my boy turn fourteen last week, this airline on time or cancelled, this departure date, this meeting that has got me completely frazzled as to how anyone manages to get from one day to another. It is a wonder.  Being human is harder than anything else I’ve ever known. The vastness of it mesmerizes me. And the next thing I know, in a country where everyone knew to bring an umbrella, I am covered by a stranger, shielded from the rain.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

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Box o’ Life

It stood standing in the corner of the dining room for weeks – an entire quarter of corporate results came, went; stock ratings changed from hold to buy and back again.  The world moved. The box did not.  It’s not that it was foreboding or even stressful.  So why leave it? Laziness?  Though that isn’t exactly Isabella’s thing.   Apathy – that’s a little it.  All the things in this box used to mean something to her, enough for her to save them anyway.  These little slivered notions of time palp a faded feeling, somewhere in her inner back corner, but barely.  It takes her this long to unpack this pack-of-life-past because she is afraid. Afraid she won’t remember. And unsure. Unsure if that is a natural aging process; a brain overloaded with daily life; or the entrance of Lady Dementia. Stage Left.

In the box are things Isabella thinks you might expect – though not totally sure – is she or is she not on the sine curve of “normal?” She wonders what would be in someone else’s box. There is a note that was passed between three eighth graders. She – being one of them – a serial of nothingness during a class that had lost their attention. There are papers written in high school and college with what to her seem like cruel jokes of teaching: “No Fragments in a Title.  This is weak.  This is not a poem.”   Isabella’s chest rises with a giggle.  Almost everything she ever writes today is fragment-full.  Huh.  Inevitability of self? Or stupidity of classroom telling and yelling?

There are many a notebook – journal after journal in this box – the bane of her existence. Isabella has learned that writing things down leads to discovery; and discovery leads to conflict; and that leads to running solo down the road towards an ending you can’t imagine; and when you get to it, you are lost.   So no.  Journals cannot stay.  Plus, who knows what things she has done wrong in her life that she wrote in there as if they were learning experiences. Now she has a child, and that child might find these scribbles upon her death if she stuffs them in a closet. And then what things would be revealed that she never planned as part of being Mama.

And that’s just the nut of it. This box – full of memories she cannot recollect – are they footprints from the past, trails to the future of finally understanding her pieced together self, or just the real-time reinforcement of what is happening? She cannot remember.  Her mind is clouding over.  Words that used to spring forward, now hang back in some recess she can’t find.  Ideas that could be come back to later, because they would still be there, now flee the scene as if not wanting to be questioned as the only witness.

What is this aging mind? Accelerated, unseeable-on-scan, but quietly  shutting down her brain section-by-section.  Sun-setting consciousness like a failing company.  Last one out, shut the lights.  Neurological fissures leaving bits and pieces unconnected.  Forever going forward without the puzzle completed.  They say in the end you are really only alone, and her mind seems committed to that goal.  Closing in on itself.  Darkening.  Shrinking its radius.  Isabella sorts the box into two. One to go the basement – let the boy find the honor roll certificate that will make him smile – and one to go to her closet to be read before thrown.  See if it jogs anything.   If in some period of time, yet to be named, she has not read the rest of that box, she will throw it.  Gone before she is…not to risk discovery.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

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Precinct 12

Looking around the room, she settles into the observer spot.  There are noses like hers. Noses that are wider.  Noses that are steeper. Babies, black and brown, white and gold.  There are older couples looking out for each other, and younger ones bickering about what to do next. Do they have time to get a Starbucks, or will that make them all the later for work?  A father takes a picture of his young yarmulke’d son, standing in front of the ballot box, thumbs up: “I voted”.

Turning out they are, these people, our people, the people who live next to us, but that we never see, but for if passing each other in the line to vote. So many people live in this square block of a precinct, and there are only a few that she recognizes. Some of them catch her eye. Some don’t. Though she tries with all of them.  At bay is how Abigail would describe how she has been facing this election.  But not now. Not today.

At one instance, a wife looks worriedly at her husband’s ballot. For some frustratingly unexplainable reason, his ballot has been spit-back-out.  Her head turns from the face of the official standing over the machine to her husband’s: won’t he count?  Turns out there’s a side door – manual as it is. Technology failed; human-conceived back up plan saved. Moment passes.

Abigail wakes the morning after. For a split second, as if in mourning, she forgets the night before, the-what- happened before she fretfully put herself to bed, hoping for a moment’s rest.  And then it rushes in.  Moms at the PTO snack table, outside the polling place at the school where her son could not thrive.  They said, “She’s going to win!  It will be momentous. Our first woman president,” misinterpreting Abigail’s tears as candidate anxiety.

In fact, she had held herself together in the sea of unknown neighbors, awakened to the anonymity that binds them.  She took in all those people, the humanity of Babel, added to it the-not-being-behind-the-PTO-table, supporting the teachers she had believed in so much, and it broke her resolve. Reliving those moments when there was no understanding for the difference of her boy, it all came crashing to tears. What if that privately-suffered, non-working-together-compassion would now sit publically in the leader’s national chair?

Standing in the election party kitchen later that night, Abigail paces.  Stomach knotted. How could this be – as blue and red shift ratios?   Even later, she and her husband fall asleep holding hands, as if together in an abyss, knowing nothing other than to connect. Imperfect solution, but reassuring.

The thing that stings the most the morning after is that Abigail has always thought herself “tuned in,” open, available to diversity.  Like she knew her country.  And clearly, she has no idea, living in the bubble of her life. Precinct 12 with all the noses and shades of skin and the PTO breakfast goodies sold, she has no concept of the nation she resides in.  Stranger feelings, greater distances, deeper fear about the meaning and make up of this country, she has not known before.  Was this what it was like in the real- life pages of history books when things were so bad, and we said, “never again”?

©Gabriella Strecker

Photo Courtesy of


She walked round and round expatriating her anxious whisperings…

Nit. Knit. Knot. Not.  I have seen that leaf before. I think it fell right before my door. So why is it here? My house should be near.  When I hear the sound but can’t match its hue, those around me go boo hoo.  But what do I care, I don’t even know the color of my own hair.

A fireman arrived. He seemed ready to fetch me my prize. What game was it that we played?  Was it only earlier today? He asks, “Are you lost?”  I say, “No, no. I had noodles and sauce. Right here. Close. Near. With my daughter who is not always a dear.”

He put his hands in the corners of my pits, as if to pick me up in a blitz.  I say, “Sir, I do you no harm.  Take your hands away. You are causing alarm.”  “Ma’m,” he says to me slowly, as if I was deaf, as he pulls up the hip of my heft, “I am worried about your knee.  You seem to have struck it against this tree.  I want to be sure you are safe and secure. Please take a moment to rest. And be assured – I came here to help in response to your yelp.  It is my job to transport you to the people who support you.”

Who are these people all around me in town? Don’t they know I wore a gown – wedding and graduation, and once at a party. I don’t need their assistance; I am quite hearty.  I live alone. My daughter is grown, and the “alte kakers” I cared for have all been sown – back to the earth, or in the case of my mother, into the waves, so her ashes could flutter. 

It is easier.  Less sound, less moving around, less reason to wonder how I can be found.   Back in my old house before I was abducted, I often played hostess to people my daughter called “the grossest.”  Peter and Allan and a guy called Scallion – vets with pets.  We all walked the marshes, rooting and looting. We drove out the louses with which war had doused-us.  “Just be around. See what you see. Don’t worry about me.  I will watch over all, you three.” 

 It rushes back –  my competence and brilliance.  I almost forgot until I look up at this officer, and see his last name is Rott:  “Excuse me. To you, I am Doctor Salvatore.  That is a name you say with a roar.  I may be lost. I may be bruised.  But that, I can tell you, is not any news.  I earned this doctorate.  Even if you think I am oh so belligerent, I can tell you that I am quite alliterate.  I live in the city, brimming with pity, for all those not privy.  It has been my ever rising comfort to stand with them, forming a tree trunk and not just a stem.

All this fuss for just a little muss.  Some skin and some scrapes.  This is such an intrusion on my personal contusion.   “Quit resistin’,” and, “Just leave me here.  Right where I fell.  My daughter will come when I yell. She knows where I live. She knows how I give.  She is the one who builds me my bridge.”

When I get home, I must remember to take the laundry out. First comes a sock, then a tee. Another one will surely get by me.  Not a matched pair. How did that get in there? No bother. The weather is nice. Won’t even think twice. At night, I leave food just to be nice. My daughter says it is un-clean. But to me those mice are my queen.  Regal and royal, sweet and loyal.  They fill my heart with a warmth, not a boil.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

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Lamedvavnik = 36 = 2×18 = Two Lives

They are both on the elevator when I get on.  He is leaning against the back windowed wall, eyes gently gazing down, off to the side, askance, as he does.  She is standing kitty-corner to him, her right cheek up against the invisible, personal boundary, as if to press on it without smudging.  She is twelve years old relative to his early sixties.  Though not really because, of course, she is old enough to be a knowledge worker, same as all of us; pushing ideas instead of boxes, around a warehouse of thought.

“Say what you want,” I comment to my imaginary audience, “but that is a man of integrity.” He talks to her. She mentions that she was part of the team that was part of a team that happened to help prepare the last meeting he attended; she was not invited being as junior as she is.  She, without saying, says that her role was influential. She worked hard.  You almost see the late-night lights bouncing off the box of Chinese takeout she ate at her desk.  He thanks her for the effort.  She is six, maybe seven layers, below him in the hierarchy, – like a cousin of a cousin of a cousin from a step child of a cousin.  No matter.  He engages – interested.

Contrasted, the business executive I work for, two levels ahead of me (so one would assume closer than her six degrees away from elevator man), has yet to even extend his hand.  Might not recognize him if I fell over him in the hallway – headshots being fuzzy and all, not always revealing the human beneath the staged head turn: “Just this way a bit. That’s it. Perfect.”

And then I remember last week – it was a big week for sermons – it being the Jewish holidays and all. The Rabbi raised her hands in the air and said, “Double chai!  Here’s to the 36 Righteous.” And I said, “Huh? Maybe I am one of them since I still, at the ripeness of 47, am unclear about where I might fit in.” Which, by the way, and of course, immediately disqualifies me, because the righteous never say that they are so.  From Wikipedia, the almighty source of all things not currently known to you, I learn:

Lamedvavnik (Yiddishלאַמעדוואַווניק‎), is the term for one of the 36 humble, righteous ones…At any given time [it is believed] there are at least 36 holy persons in the world….who are hidden; nobody knows who they are…For the sake of these 36 hidden saints, G*d preserves the world even if the rest of humanity has degenerated to the level of total barbarism…Since nobody knows who the Lamedvavniks are, not even themselves, [all] should act as if they might be one…leading a holy and humble life, [hoping for peace] for the sake of fellow human beings. The term lamedvavnik is derived from the Hebrew letters Lamed (L) and Vav (V), whose numerical value adds up to 36…twice 18…the number 18 stand[ing] for “life,” in Hebrew.  ~Adapted from

So it is – two lives (at least) – mingling in every interaction; and one (or both) can be amplified or snuffed when it’s over.  I look to this elevator executive, visible and public, criticized and ridiculed, for this decision or that lack of one; for the softness with which he speaks; and the kindness with which he rose-colored-glasses all he sees.  I used to be glass-half-empty myself, but given the world feels darkening in its spirit, I choose him. I choose the two lives he lifts up: engaging, embracing, elevating.  This man.  He is my corporate 36. I’d rather that kindness then the barge of berating brains that makes up leadership when power, not people, matter most to a person.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

Image courtesy of

Incomplete Sentences

It has been a week of incomplete sentences. Thoughts interrupted by chaos consuming the world: shootings and refugees and presidential candidates who have a thing about women, never mind my 8th grader’s science being inaccessible and tear inducing (for both of us). Then there is the young person I overheard. He says if you are from Mexico your career is limited to cleaning bathrooms. Or the security guard who didn’t flinch when he asked the African-American Dad, “Why are you here,” as his baby spits up on his Armani suit.

“I got all the way home and realized I left my sandwich on the salad bar.  I cried. I actually cried,” a new mom behind me in line at the grocery store, says.  She is with her 11-week old son.  So tired, holding tightly to the string that binds her: baby.   She tries to eat her now-retrieved sandwich. Baby fusses. She interrupts herself, holding his soft head against her warm shoulder, a pillow sewn years ago for this little body.  I say, “He is lucky to have you.”  She says nodding her head towards my boy, “He is lucky to have you.”

But is he? He is angry, tearful, emotional, and sad this week.  He doesn’t want to be Jewish he tells me.  I say – “You can’t un-choose it.  It’s like saying you don’t want to be white or human.  It just is; it’s in the bloodline.  You can choose to not practice the religion or observe the culture, but you can’t stop being Jewish.”  He knows people tried to hide their Jew-ness just for a shred of a hope to survive. Yet, he seems to be renouncing.  As if this privilege to name, to be able to tell this part of the story, is not a viable choice.  “Not only that,” I silently scream at CNN’s deaf, one-directional ear, “There are women’s locker rooms too. And I am pretty sure the topic of kissing people against their will has not come up.”

The Rabbi offers a Yom Kippur sermon in the form of a letter to his daughter, a less-than-3-month-old herself right now.  He tells the story of tending an “orchard of G*d,” teaching through action, as he and his son plant the next generation: green stalks and shady things needing water.  And what can we promise these babes as we face down the specter of today, of harshness slung against each other while we still try to hold onto that string of hope that binds us so that, “when they go low, we go high”?

I see a woman in an electric wheel chair, next to her a man, fully whitened head of hair. He is bent over, hunched at the mid back, like he sat at a desk for many hours staring closely at a problem set he was working by hand. He holds hers – hand that is, and I am struck. He appears so much more fragile than she, her feet enshrined in shiny shoes, twinkling as if by candle light. Yet she is the one we might call “disabled.”  To whom belongs this decision?

Work weaves and wraps around this week too.  Moments when my action oriented mind hits up against corporate lethargy – deadening me down to a thick, rancorous weight.  Where is the genius lurking? Where is the human humility hiding? During this week I (dare I say we?) need a healing moment to face down the sad, slimy competitive promotion turned degrading combustion.  Soothing is what we seek as we see that issues  become eye sores and thoughtlessness has an acidic aftertaste.

Over and over I say to my husband. I do believe it.  I do. The zombie apocalypse is coming. How else to explain the shameless heated fostering of public acrimony?  Is there no place to sit down and stop? Feel the heartbeat? See the smoky breath coming from open mouths?  This mess cannot be the way, so filled with no method-to-the-madness maniacal narcissistic whispering.  Can it?  I mean, who will we ever become?

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

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Yom Kippur: Open Up Our Hearts


October 4, 2014

Holy one who blessed our ancestors, open our hearts to forgiveness                                                           that we may honestly see the world around us and our place in it.

I can’t remember a Yom Kippur when I didn’t cry. Always tears. For I have sinned. The scenes and screens of the last year flicker through my mind as the melodies fill the sanctuary. The times I yelled at my son. The times I let my eyes roll back in my head.  My amygdala hijacking all possibility for reconciliation, for favor between us – whoever us is. I see the whites of my eyes. Medusa flying snake hair of fury. And I cry.

Then I think of children without parents, and parents who lost kids to drugs or death or deeply rooted patterns they can’t even discern. And nations. Nations who lost generations. And I cry. For me. For them. And I own the guilt  – personally. I own the action. I have acted. I have hurt. Them. And I have hurt. Me.

Walked out of services last night, and my friend said, “When they were doing the mourner’s kaddish I thought to myself, ‘Is Gabriella’s mother ever going to die?’” Funny, for the last three years I have written her eulogy on this day or sometime between the Rosh and Yom Kippur. But now, this year, no.

I know she still sits in her bed. I know there are nurses and aides and all sorts of other helpers who take care of her, and yet I have pocketed the pressure I have felt for so long. The pressure to show up every week, dragging my son, dragging myself. Really just wanting to sit and rest or read or think, but feeling the Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon or holiday draw. It is my duty. If not mine than whose? It is my due.

But is it? Is it my due to have the job of this mother? To have had the job of this life – the more downs than ups? The more hard than easy? There was always more risk than reward, more fear than steadiness. No. I say. No. And I forgive myself. I forgive myself for needing to have been loved when I wasn’t. For not attaching “right” as a small child to a parent that could not attach to a shoe if it were a buckle. I forgive myself for blaming myself for what wasn’t, for the sins and sicknesses, and the self-absorbed demanding of attention.  I could never  have succeeded. It was not to me. It was not due to me. It is not my due today. Nor is it any of those children’s who have believed it was theirs. It was the world around us. Not our place in it.

And so I turn my face to the sun of forgiveness. And I cry. I cry because I know I will be here again every year of my life. The frailty and imperfection of humanness leading me back; returning, always again to the forgiveness place. The place of here – the heart and belly – of TODAY.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

Image courtesy of