Stay Still and Buddha that Boy

He was without a helmet, wore a knit cap. I think it was a cabernet-y color or maybe black cherry cough syrup.  Dark leather gloves and a grey jacket, he rode a bike. I drove a white SUV and was turning right on my city street. I looked in the rear view. I looked over my shoulder. In the split second I wasn’t looking he appeared at the corner where I was about to clip him.

We both stopped just in time.  I held my breath – exhaling nervousness and a halting smile.  I put my two hands to the center of my chest in supplication, and mouthed, “Sorry,” opening my arms to a Please –You-Go-First-gesture.  He shook a short, clipped “No” and point-jabbed me towards the direction I was turning. I silently mouthed, “No, please, you,” and showed him the way with my open-palmed hand.

He rolled his eyes and shook his head with such disgust.  My impact on him was both real and unintended, and his on me, a set of shaky adrenaline sparks.  Maybe the grown-up thing to do would have been to roll down my window and say, “I am sorry I upset you, please go right ahead. You have the right of way.”  But I didn’t do that.  I was surprised, a little scared, I think,  his rancor written so all over his face.

He did not easily release me from the angry gaze he held. I felt assaulted by the assumptions I assumed he made: “She is so full of herself, sees no one else around her   – suburban mom in a truck too big for the city.”  He stood over the cross bar of his bike, took out his phone and started – I don’t know what – scrolling, texting, pretending to call the police, looking at pictures.  He stayed on that corner, standing his ground.

Cars behind me honked. I put mine in PARK, hazards on. Somehow I decided that waiting him out was the way to go.  Plus, from where I was sitting, his front tire was at the nose of mine. The physics seemed likely to end up hurting him which seemed untoward given we had just escaped that reality. Together.

The frames of all those horrible crashes in my head – a public awareness campaign – white bikes with plastic flowers peppering our city in the spots where cyclists had been killed by inadvertent or inattentive drivers – be they of bikes or cars.  An accident, like love, is a dance of multitudes – weather, angles, braking and breaking, timing – regret and hope cycling.  An accident, like love, is shaped by the people onsite, at that moment when the coming together happens, and the worlds smudge into each other.  I stood my ground in the face of his fury; maybe to see if I could.  Maybe to prove him wrong –  I am caring. I do see you.  I am trying to help.  “Stay still. Go Buddha on that biker boy,” I told myself.

Ten minutes in, he gave up, slowly and softly shaking his head now. He seemed tired for his young years all of a sudden. His face looked fallen – more so than when we first raised our eyebrows in shockandfearrelief – just a split second after our missed merge.  Resigned to lose this one, or maybe about to land on the wrong side of late-for-work,  he rolled forward, both hands in the air, no hands on the bike, as if to say, “You did not change me.”  It felt like a juvenile reject-the-resolution gesture.   Like deer in the headlights – fascinated and frightened – a wide-eyed savior-of-self.

© Gabriella Strecker, 2016

photo courtesy of Nancy Aronie’s bathroom 🙂

That is Just How It Is…

I stood in line, able to get you into the fast pass lane even though you didn’t have the right clearance, because the people who worked at Heathrow security were my family or my friends, the sons of other families like mine. I knew I knew them, so I knew I could get you through, but I didn’t tell you.  I wanted to impress you as if I was a diplomat or a Vegas high roller or a mobster in an Armani suit with connections.  I wanted you to be able to tell that I was your prince made from a pumpkin.  I wanted to be sure you considered us possible. So I didn’t tell you that I knew they would know me, my Pakistani brothers.

Also, I neglected to mention that I am a fundamentalist Muslim even though I kissed you on the first date which I should have indicated wasn’t a date because I am a Muslim, and you are a Jew.  When you called me from Boston I forgot to say, “That was fun, and please don’t call me again, because we are not an option. I will be married, as all my family will, through arrangement. Also, I have to go first, because I am the oldest boy. Likely she will be sent from Pakistan directly through the fast lane at Heathrow.”

When you asked me if I wanted a personal or professional relationship with you, and you told me I couldn’t have both, I didn’t tell you professional. I was proud of you for making me make the choice, but what I didn’t tell you is that I was going to try a little experiment, an experiment we’ll call “Living My Own Life.”  I pretended, years ago now, 90 days in the States, 90 days in the UK, avoiding the specter of immigration and of telling my family that I loved a single mother Jew and her son too.  I never told you I wouldn’t go through with it. And when they called you from Customs to verify my identity and your intentions to marry me, and you were waiting for me at your mother’s birthday party with the Hallal-just-for-me takeout Chinese food, I didn’t tell you the fear I experienced.  I told you I was used to it – being brown – it happens every time. I didn’t tell you that I was surprised, and then angry, that you didn’t know brown was a race.  You just saw me, you said.  I should not have had to tell you. Brown is its own color.

I left you standing in the jewelry store.  I didn’t tell you I was going to get cash out of the family’s account to buy you a ring. I didn’t tell you that the account was practically empty because we lived in government funded housing, like slums, but it’s England, so it’s nicer than the States.   I didn’t tell you where I was going when I went to the ATM, so you left the jewelry store, humiliated as if you had been left at the altar, though a Mosque doesn’t have an altar.  By the way, it dawns on me, I might have forgotten to tell you that I am first generation Pakistani born in England.  My parents are very traditional. I would lose my family if they knew about you, and my family is first.  I might have left that out when I asked if I could see you again. To be clear when you said yes, I didn’t tell you then that I would stay.

When you learned to pray with me, murmuring Hebrew yet mirroring my movements, I didn’t tell you that would never be enough of a conversion. Loving G*d, being kind, making a family, having a passion, would not be enough to keep me with you.  And when it finally ended, after so many tears and transatlantic calls, layovers in London to have just one more whiff, I didn’t tell you then…that it was over.  My sister did. I heard her: “Darling, this man is a Muslim. His children will be Muslim. That is just how it is.”

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

photo courtesy of www.visitlondon.com

Better

Her head would float among the high stalked flowers of the early-Autumn garden.  She would sit, as if in an arm chair, backed up against the railroad tie which stood on end like a flagpole.  Her prayer book opened in her lap, her knees “N’d” up to her chin or flapped down into a butterfly-release.  Hours.   And I would want to interrupt her. I would want to ask her when the holiday was to begin; when it was my turn to be involved.

I watched carefully through the window; might venture a silent walk-by – as if there was something “soooop-per” interesting to look at in the side yard or maybe an old bean to pick from the wilted-up Summer veggie patch.  But, whatever ritual this was, I knew not to cross the line.  A buttercup held  up under her chin, yellow fell forth at her feet.  The boundary was erected.  She was not to be disturbed. So I waited.

As a small one I thought this sort of magical – like my mother might be a fairy with angels’ wings.   As a twelve year old, I saw it as a psychological drama played out on a spiritual stage; or was it a spiritual drama played out on a psychological one?  Either way – the word barreled towards me as, “fake.” She put herself out to be viewed, looking for us to praise her for her prayers.  So hyperbolic and way too Heathers-of-Scotland dramatic, it was embarrassing for the twelve year old.

I never did know the words she read.  The Rosh Hashanah Machzor somehow privately stored.  Even in her house of wall-to-wall books, it made no appearance but for on her lap, in her hands, through her public meditations.  I could always find the pot pipe, why not the prayer book?  The pipe seemed hidden so as to be easily discovered.  The Machzor?  Not so much – more like hidden as if to never been found.   This was some kind of metaphoric-acrobatic flip, maybe meant more for her than for me, but it sure did seem like a message of importance.  What you find, you use.

Now my forty-seven year old self sits in Temple. I hold my own prayer book (having finally found one).   And the vivid images of my mother’s garden party makes me think about “better” – a better year, a better chance, maybe a better hold on the ups and downs of heart and mind, a better mood, love, life, lyric self.   Maybe she sat there, not reaching across to warmly embrace me with her sunshine, all in the name of better.

It was probably six or so years ago when I sat in a sundrenched office, two walls full of executive corner windows.  We were talking about change. He told me the story of a softball coach.  Every time a player hit, the coach said, “better.”  Not good, or great, or nice.   “Good is done.  Better is more to come.  It’s all about the better.”  And it left me wondering about that, never to be done, always to be better.  I look back now– not focusing on my aloneness in the shade, but rather on her sitting in the sun trying to be better.   Maybe those New Year’s rays of light flicking off of my mother warmed me.  Maybe even now, with the vividness of their memory, they could still.

That boss, who told me about better, had a scary, scary accident recently. His name must have been written in a vibrant, pulsing color in the book of life.  For so he sits now, resting, healing. Dog, and sun and loved ones around him, holding him as the year turns, and he begins again.  Better and Better.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

Image courtesy of Mishkan Hanefesh, Machzor for the Days of Awe, page 145

The Grinch Who Stole Blissness

 

Book 1 of the Series: Dr. Seuss Does Depression.  Read Aloud in Your Best Dr. Seuss Voice

So I rhymed and I reasoned, and never did tell/just how much/she felt like hell.  Her kissing and screeching and sneaking around, left me to go underground.  I hated and skated; cried while I tried not to argue or stink. No matter the muster, I did nothing but sink. Deeper and deeper into the deep of the hiding through gliding as if life was a pond, all quiet and rustic and doing no harm.

Every day I would wake in the shamelight of mother. Looking for fame, her mind was a gutter.  She swore she would write the great American story, the one that would bring all of us glory. But year after year she wore us all out, sand papering our souls to the finest of grout.

My mother myself had made me this way. Nature through nurture she gave me no sway. She told me: “You will be hurting as if you were me. She told me and told me since I was three.  You are not him, never will be. He was a swallow, and you just a wing.  He was so creamy and soft in my arms.  You squabbled and scrabbled I thought you’d do harm.  I know you know, I would never say no.  So, yes, it was me who made Daddy go.  But I will not tell you or share you the truth as you sit quietly in that damn booth.  Reading and reading as if that is proof that distance and drama can make you aloof.

She continued: You cannot know the pain I have lived; mine is far greater than any they give.  You will not ever be in my heart. I tell you right now.  Don’t even start. I have you, don’t need you. Love you, wouldn’t grieve you, so do what you want with your sad fettered life. Cut you or pee you or run out to see you.  I could care less as I dress to relieve you. Crossing and crossing because it’s my time.  No more waiting to find me the line.  Daddy at war, with me fighting too.  You no picnic, I’d have at the zoo.  I hate you. I hate you. Because you are live. Your brother was the one I wanted to thrive.”

And over and over her voice rang in my ears.  I tried and I tried to bring back the tears. In the end it was words that gave me the schemer of persistent resistance for this awful existence.  I wallow and bellow as this is my home; the linoleum carpet is easy to roam.  My daughter she visits me in the long yellow kitchen. Jello left over, it’s my favorite provision. She seems uncomfortable with the jolts through my body. It’s all very technical if a bit gaudy.

I mean who hasn’t had it, electric shock therapy?  It’s only the most common of remedy.  I hear voices in my eyes. See people listening to my ears. Coming to get me they all charge the rear. My daughter is maudlin.  She crumbles and flusters and rages about, but with others her grace just tumbles out. I wave to my grandson.  Through a small little window, cut out from the door, he can’t come in there’s only this floor for psychics and psychos and those who complain.  Geriatric psychology is its own domain.  No place for a boy so open and warm, may we all be so lucky he never weathers this storm.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

image courtesy of http://noobist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Grinch_4.jpg

Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur…A Dream

Between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, during those 10 days of Awe in 2012, I had a dream. I woke up with it so clearly in my head, not sure if I had just had it or if my brain worked hard all night to keep it front and center for me to remember. It was crisp and clear – images and audio – like I was watching a movie.

I was standing on our Temple Israel bema looking out at family and friends, eulogizing my mother. Most of the faces were blurred even though I knew who they were. I could see my cousin, Nina, very close up, maybe in the front row.  She was smiling her encouraging, “you got this” smile. Gentle and loving, nodding her head at me as if to say “keep moving forward – that’s all you have to do.”

And in the dream I said, “It took us 42 years, but I finally figured out how to be with my mother in a quieter, calmer, non angry way. A rarer thing for us I could never have predicted. It was through the structure of Shabbat Services at New Bridge on the Charles.” In that safety, the safety of repetition, ritual and Rabbi Karen,  I grew. And I met all sorts of other parent-like people who gave freely  –  blessings, advice, confidence and kindness: Lois, Alan, Doreen, Gert, Phyllis, Harry, and their children, and their children’s children in some instances. And every week, I would wait, for page 45 of the Siddur: Ahavah Rabbah – Shema Blessing #2: Revelation.

Thank  you G*d, for the loving gift of Torah

With great love have You loved us, Adonai our G*d; with great and extra tenderness You have pitied us. Our Parent, our Ruler, for the sake of our ancestors who trusted in You, and whom You taught life-giving laws, be kind to us, too, and teach us. Our merciful Parent, treat us with mercy, and help our minds to understand Your Torah and cause our hearts to hold tight to Your commandments. Unify our hearts to love and respect Your name so that we will never be ashamed. For we trust in Your holy, great and awe-inspiring Name – may we rejoice in Your saving power.

And there on Saturday mornings, in that parenting, I found mercy for her life of suffering.  It was the best we could ever hope for, these moments of compassion in the last years of her life.

There have been so many care givers, providers, doctors, therapists, case workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, behaviorists, sleep specialists, OTs, PTs, neurologists, cardiologists, orthopedic surgeons, aides and nurses – hard to thank them all by name. They have, to a person, done their patient best to make my mother’s life better, broader in its scope, more comfortable.   The communities of Hebrew Senior Life, and especially Hebrew Rehab and New Bridge on the Charles, have provided this family with a semblance of safety, consistency, and wellbeing that we could not have otherwise created.  Like  Saturday morning Shabbat Services at Newbridge, they are the people who brought us together – parent and child, a quiet, compassionate connection in the end.  It must have been written so always, even if we didn’t always know it was so.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

image courtesy of http://infullbloom.us/5345/prep-now-for-rosh-hashanah-yom-kippur-and-the-days-of-awe-5777/

You Big Bully!

I watched the debate. The thing that got me was not the lack of linguistic acumen; or the missing inspirational innovation; not even the absence of elegance in thought exchange. The thing that got me was the furious see-sawing back and forth of high-level conclusions – like a power struggle between two children.  “Yes. No. Mine. Mine. No I did not.  Yes, you did. Not true.”  We seemed low on Presidential gravitas this week.  And for this we streamed on Twitter?

I am in a belief and hope slump.  Dialogue seems to be becoming an ancient art form, replaced by large scale ram battering.  As if the ram-ier the message, the louder it’s heard.   I suspect the reverse truth could create riches: the more nuanced the message, the clearer it’s understood.

But who am I to say? I certainly could never be a career politician or a real estate tycoon.  I wouldn’t even know what it takes to grow one.  Except that I raise a child, work in a company, volunteer at foundations, where we try hard to talk about what is really there; to make decisions that will have impact on someone’s life – in a good way. We make an effort to tolerate the discomfort of disagreeing for the sake of a higher good we outlined together. If we can try to do it with our limited resources, why can’t they, with the leadership of the free world at their feet?

And let’s just say it, the last few weeks have been tough already – violence and brutality – eerily connected to skin color. Where I get lost is that I think of race as a dumb luck thing.  It’s like our given names, completely out of our control. We first receive it without negotiation or even a conscious awareness.  So how do we get to assuming it has any other meaning than the one meaning it actually has – gradations of pigment?  It’s the translations we make, slinging those high level conclusions; we give meaning to things that have none in their purest form.  Low listening.  High yelling.  Make dumb choices.  Like skin color being made synonymous with character.  I am sad and baffled.

So we see these two Presidential Candidates mud throwing big, hot pancakes of nothingness at each other, trying to one-up and win. There is no dialogue, and so there is no understanding, and therefore the future path is pond-bottom murky. So things may fall apart.  Look at Brad and Angelina or Eat-Pray-Love-Committed-oops- Divorced- Elizabeth Gilbert coupling up with her best friend, leaving her perfect husband in the dust.  This may seem like People Magazine noise not world news, but I can’t discern that much difference.  Both sets of people live their lives in public, preaching their gospel as the way forward.  Seems like the same drama to me – all character, no plot, clumsy dialogue.  I sit waiting for something recognizable to happen, something human I can identify as a shared experience, like from daily life, like a thing that makes or breaks my mood and the mood of those around me.

I used to have a beacon before I hit this slump. Her name was Meredith Grey from the TV show Grey’s Anatomy.   She was all “dark and twisty,” and gave me hope that we could allow for real-life mess, for no resolution, at the end of 60 minutes. But now, her creator has gone off and written a book called, The Year of Yes.  The deep-in-the-dirt realism was swapped out for the fake impracticality of perfection.   And so the bullies keep yelling, “It is my turn now!” Even in the face of the base-i-est of bases, the cruelest of conclusions, they push and pull, toppling each other to leave only one victor.  It may be time for a time-out for all.  Take a moment. Calm down. Learn to use our words.

©Gabriella Strecker

photo and video courtesy of https://www.tenor.co/view/stepdad-matilda-bully-man-evil-gif-4897030

Selichot in Santa Fe

Sunday afternoon in the car, radio tuned to NPR – couldn’t be more predictable, cliché or archetypal – a hockey mom carting smelly bags and forgotten pads.  The story covers, “Zozobra,” a Santa Fe, annual ritual meant to rid the city of gloom. Decades of tradition carried on, originally conceptualized by an artist, Zozobra takes its name from the Spanish word for pain or despair.  The festival includes the creation of a giant marionette, an effigy really, that gets set on fire.  It is a bit scary – the image on the NPR website.

This parade-ably towering puppet is stuffed by the people of Santa Fe with a paper trail of all the hard and bad things from the year.  Pathology reports – cancer burns to bits.  Legal documents telling an ugly story go up in smoke.  Old police reports shredded – the violations and sorrows of the wrong done and the wrong doing disintegrate.  Irreparable tragedies ended in ashes.  “The idea… is to stop for a moment and to really think about things that you regret, and how you can be a better person…[Zozobra] allows us to reflect.” http://www.npr.org/2016/09/25/495088918/long-before-burning-man-zozobra-brought-fire-and-redemption-to-the-desert

Before Zozobra became singed in my mind’s eye, leaving me uneasy, the hugeness of the blaze unsettling me, I took part in a ritual with fire too.  It was a bit less full-height and bursting with heat. It came from candles, one in every hand, more twinkling than flaming, yet its own kind of burning of the bad things from this year.  Glassed ceiling reflections brought a soft poetry to the moment.  Rumi would have been moved to write.

It was Selichot – a service of penitential prayers – in the atrium of our Temple. We ask for forgiveness and for kindness in the face of our mistakes.  Hand over heart, we pray to be relieved of the grudges, and the guilt, to find favor in our repenting reconciliation.  And so we begin this season’s cycle: the reckoning of this year’s soul.

So here I am hearing about 50, 000 people who gather every year in the desert heat, the Friday before Labor Day, to burn away the choices they pursued or defaulted.  The parallels are obvious – the timing of the Jewish Days of Awe and the story of Santa Fe’s annual burning.  Most days I struggle with the whole “we are one” thing. In the face of anger and violence, and the lady in the parking lot who gave me the finger when I waved to thank her as I pulled forward (apparently she saw it not as a “her letting me pass” but more like a “me not letting her go”).  I want to live the dream of a world of connection, but when my gratitude is met with her worn-out-weariness-turned-hostility I am daunted.

But here we are – irrefutably, in Boston, in Santa Fe – fire lighting the way to a new year, bringing us another chance at change.  I want to be idealistic, like that young woman I once was, who believed she could transform the world through the arts. The things you learn (over time) when the innocent vision twists and turns into the everyday of doing your best to face your demons, trusting that others will wrestle theirs to the ground. Or at least hoping they will try.  Today I mostly wish for a shared kindness, passed between fingers extended in reach.  Candle-to-candle, moving through the room, we pray for the sweetest of honey in the hive.  May it be so that we love harder, forgive sooner, rest easier knowing we try. Every year, we try.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

Original Zozobra photo courtesy of Santa Fe Kiwanis Club: http://www.npr.org/2016/09/25/495088918/long-before-burning-man-zozobra-brought-fire-and-redemption-to-the-desert

 

Writers’ Camp

My husband and son drop me off at the Red Roof Inn parking lot, honking as they drive away.  My sister-cousin arrives to pick me up honking too.  I wonder what the Red Roof Inn front desk person is telling herself.  I am way too old for it to be a divorced family switch spot. Two parents that can’t even see each other, never mind converse, they leave the kid in the parking lot? Fingers crossed the weather holds, and no one is late.

Why you ask am I at Writers Camp?  I have a full time job, it is true. Also true it is not as a writer. So? Truth is I am a terrible meditator.  Words creep into my head like fruit flies on a peeled apple left on the summer kitchen counter.  Even with guided this, or the soothing voice of Andy the guy from the UK who made a great app, I have no switch to throw to get beyond myself. So I write.  Otherwise it’s the Jets and the Sharks rumbling in there all day long. What a racket.

It sure does let you know a lot about a person real quick when you are in such close quarters writing, reading, pouring yourself out. Hot and humid as it is – Fall behaving like it forgot itself in the parking lot too – words cling; stories stick with sweat to our skins.

But why I ask our writing camp counselor.  Why does the universality thing matter?  You’re always saying, “Ahhh. So universal.”  Like it’s feedback.  If any of us could go to any book store and buy any book that tells any of our stories at any time, what is the point? My teen WTF is live and at large as I say this with my adolescent rolling eyes.

She says: because it is a map. And besides all anyone wants to know is that they are seen. When you hear someone else’s story, and it’s yours, you are seen.  There’s no longer shame. You are not alone. Your compassion for them becomes your compassion for you.

Huh. I start to watch my fellow writers – looking for the map. There is a woman whose laugh corners me. I feel a kinship if I could just get over her humor tick. Reminds me of awkward family moments when silence would have been richer connection than sarcastic irony. The intuitive-healer-lady has a Channel bag. The empty nester blended rum drinks, running away from home wanting to be a lesbian but turning out to be straight despite the butch haircut.  One’s timing landed her at the exact point in the road as the oncoming truck. Took the hit to the brain and has diagnosed herself with “mouseitis –quiet as a mouse.” The baker has flour behind her ear; doesn’t wear a wedding ring; has children and her mother is her rock. The newly minted widow’s phone beeps, and I want to strangle her, though I could be her because technology defies my reasoning too.  With the curly hair – he had a crazy, raging mother, shaming to paining – recognized.  Got it.  The beautiful one lived to the brink of attack, rescued by the former-track-star-teacher with narrow hips blaring obscenities: What the f*ck is going on here?

But I am not sure this is why I came to camp – to know all this beyond my control.  I wanted to be honed and sharpened.  But instead, like the divorcee next to the hyper-critical-mother said, it’s like we’re all “trapped in a state of trauma.” And that was a session I hadn’t planned on attending. Universality took me down.  My fall softened by warm bread right from the oven, at the end of each day. A buffer-bumper-pillow:  soft, crusty, melted butter with jam, a salve for the spot where we left it all on the page.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

Lev Tov

She is in sea-foam green, a mother-of-the-Shabbat-bride color.   There are a thousand people in the sanctuary – not a sight we see but for the High Holidays.  There are several wheel chairs, a therapy dog, some crutches (physical and emotional), clergy of different faiths/colors/genders, and children. Children everywhere – the adopted ones, the new born ones, the newly out gay ones, the mixed race, the Asian and the Latinas – the toddlers dance to the music.  Good hearts everywhere.

Tonight we are all Jews, one big people of the book.  We celebrate, pray, mark time.  A first-ever.  A woman takes the pulpit. She follows in her own footsteps.  She was our first ever woman Rabbi; and now she is our first ever woman Senior Rabbi.  (She told me to bring my own toilet paper to the hospital when I gave birth – only a woman Rabbi could know.)  And maybe you say, that this is no big deal (though trust her on the toilet paper), that there are women Rabbis everywhere, but her daughter tells the story of a street in Israel – heckled, judged, and threatened to be banned from prayer for showing the skin of her arms.

The daughter, she raises her voice, honoring her mother, as if rhetoric is her blood – a southern-Baptist-preacher –like-cadence, a New York City spoken word poetry jam rhythm. They say trauma can be inherited, so why not the morning light-steady regularity of sun-in-your-eyes-brilliance?  Why not spirit-moving word and a voice that demands a reach into that one something usually too high up to see in yourself?   “Mom,” she says, “Can I ask you a question? Were you ever afraid?”  A throbbing good heart.

Before tonight I had never been to an installation.  Well, there were the kitchen appliances, but that is an installation of another ilk.  (Terrible joke. The word made me do it.)  Not so different from a Bat Mitzvah – circling her to root her – she the center of our communal  compass –  as the Torah passed from generation to generation.  We proclaimed, “These are the stories of our people; and you and us, and together in this Temple, we are its keepers.”

“Yes, I am with you,” she said to us, her congregation.  “Yes, I am devoted to this place, to these teachings, to this time in our lives together.”  The little boy who used to play with the wheels of his stroller while I was huge and pregnant is there – he is now fourteen.  The little girl brought home from another country and named under the eternal light in the sanctuary is up and down from her seat a hundred times.  Her body is visibly more a woman’s then a girl’s. My own son is helping with the little ones downstairs, a Bar Mitzvah’d boy, old enough to give that which he received.

This installation – this public declaration of our faith in her leadership;  our commitment to praying with her; our recognition of the learnedness of this Rabbi, this mother, this wife, this sister, daughter, friend, boss, colleague – this declaration is a claim on our home.  We may not cook and clean and pay bills in this building, but, look.  Here is the traipsing forward of our lives – from unmarried to married to  remarried to the grocery store and then on to death, birth, high school, career;  to yesterday, tomorrow and today. What was chased is found: belonging.  These toddlers dancing, this sea-foam-Shabbat dress, they will be passed on and on and on. This home forever made up of these good hearts.

© Gabriella Strecker, 2016

photo courtesy of http://img.auctiva.com/imgdata/6/6/4/2/3/0/webimg/736515785_tp.jpg

Fought Like a Mother

I was in teacher training, 23 years old.  She had a psychotic break. It was scary, not being able to tell the difference between her self-expression and her not-being-based-in-reality.  The day before, we had shared a seat under a shady tree, munching peaches, and talking murmurs of nothingness.  Then, in the middle of the morning, the very next day, she was swooped up.  It was a stealth capture.  Ninja mental health workers.

She fought it like a mother.  Tooth and nail. Kicking and screaming. Wild animal captured and crazed with constraint.  There was a helter-skelter dragging out the side door.  I kept my eyes trained on the one person I recognized amidst the Charlie-Brown-Pig-Pen-cloud of her tumult – one of our teachers.  The story wrote itself in my mind: she is unraveled.

Later we sit on the floor, in a circle, as if revisiting the morning meeting safety of our preschool years.  And we are told – psychotic break, safe, taken to a hospital, won’t be coming back; we’ll tell you what we can when we can.  Stopped taking meds.  Parents are involved.  Don’t worry.  To this day I can’t remember her name, but the image of flailing arms and skewing hair is visibly clear.

I am writing today, because I am afraid I am going to be dragged kicking and screaming out of this meeting room, fighting like a mother, unraveled. Even its forced-soothing seascape palette does nothing to calm me.  Like her, I am a massive ball of inflicted rage, source difficult to diagnose.  My skin is porous; my nerves exposed. I fall face first into the gasping hole of organizational life – that space between what the company says it will do and what it actually does.  I breathe the air – a petri dish of undelivered promises.  It gnaws me.  The click clack train of “I like you, so you have a future here,” rolls by me, my hair flying back from my face.

We are in a lush, lush, hotel, oceanfront. It is positioned at the end of a deserted ghetto street. Boarded up stores, empty alleys, dark windows, graffiti and grit.  It is a straight shot from this poverty to that spa.  So today I am writing because my colleague said, “Are you still writing your blog?” And I realized that the story needed to be written; if only to avoid the escort out of this room when I would be unable to discern reality from my mind’s hijack.  We live a say-the-right-thing-without- doing-the-thing-that-makes- the-thing-right-cycle of anonymity in our big, organizational construct, and I am begging to know why.  Why can’t it be real and related and relational? Why only pretend, posture and pose?

Taking a breather from the non-stop corporate speak, I look around the restaurant bar situated to the left of our meeting room.  (Note the consistent and close contact between alcohol and corporate functions.) There are three or four couples.  All of them are young women in long skirts and wigs; young men with steep black hats and tzitzit, white shirt tucked into black pants.  The girl and boy sit as far apart as the booth will allow, sipping water out of plastic cups. The restaurant must not be kosher.  Turns out, a resort at the end of a ghetto street is an observant match maker’s haven, a mating ground for the next generation of Hasidic families.  And, we, corporate citizens, side-by-side with the future wedding couples, talk and talk to hear ourselves speak.

How can we all be so seemingly deaf to the needs around the corner at the intersection of this hotel’s fabricated ease and the-no-life-line down the ghetto street.  Hodge podge world. Harsh and surprising and strange. Sometimes fighting like a mother to get through is exactly the only thing that can be done in a day.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

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Meditating on Robin

Standing at the sink, I torque to the left, lifting the ubiquitous Ikea-Crate&Barrel-Pottery Barn white, ceramic bowl out of the cabinet – all so alike in their differences. Bowl to counter, cereal to bowl (raisin bran – an all time fav). Through the crisscrossed paining of the kitchen window, I see a Robin, completely still on the tippy top fence post. Delicately posed, solidly planted, micro moving without toppling. Infinitesimally small adjustments keep the stillness in place.

I am not one, so much, for things spiritual which live outside the blunted edge of my concrete understanding, but I look up “meaning of a red breasted robin,” and get this from the inter webs. Adapted from www.shamanicjourney.com:

Robin’s medicine includes…the wisdom of change, growth, renewal…Robin is a bird of divine service and a good parent…the red breast a badge of honor. Robin has the ability to nurture itself into adulthood. Robin will incite new growth in all areas of your life, areas that have become stagnant and outdated…The Robin’s eggs are powder blue. This color is…linked to heavenly inspiration…you will be lead to new beginnings without fear by restoring trust in yourself and your soul. Meditate on Robin and the right path will be shown to you. Although growth can be slow and testing, with patience, compassion and proper focus spiritual ideals will be fulfilled.

Dear Robin, (I write in a letter to the bird)

You – renewal – pressed my nose to the window sill of growth. The other side is possible, you say?   You – the good parent – wing me to the promise of a blue egg inspiration.  Breathing in.  You – the badge of honor – start new beginning’s without fear. As if it could be.  You – inciter of change – restore trust. But how?

Internal trust is a newly arrived immigrant in my town. Looked at, smelled, questioned when she doesn’t understand the modernity of this place, the rip van wrinkle of people rushing by, covering their asses, promoting their rightness.

Goodness is more critical for survival in the soul’s refugee camp. If really you are to show me the path, Robin, lonely aloneness will need to become triumphant solitude. My heart’s tyranny to become trust.  I will meditate on you, Robin, waiting to see the first step, the path from here to there.  I will meditate on you, Robin, stirring the stagnate, inviting the current’s flow.  I will inch towards you, the post you stand on, an island in the wash of anew.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

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Hustle & Flow

“It’s been 13 days since my last confession,” I chuckle at myself. I am a Jew, so there is no confession, only the super bowl Day of Atonement that comes at the end of the Days of Awe, Yom Kippur. One day a year we gather it all together in the parachute sailcloth of “I’m sorry.” I like to think of it as efficiency in practice. I do wonder who decided how long cleansing takes: once a week in a dark box of colander-windowed solitude or annually without food or water for a day; or a yearly month-long duration of sun-up to sun-down deprivation; a life of silent poverty? What is the equation that gets us to “clean” after the grit and grime.

My son’s fingers fly across the Rubik’s Cube these days. He tells me it is muscle memory now that he has learned the algorithm. Muscle memory. That’s a little like it is for me during this lead up to the Jewish New Year, the birthday of the world, as we taught him to call it when he was little. Something drops into grief at this year on/off, year anew/again, turning time. Lower than low at this point in the cycle, sinking sink hole of some nothingness.

I’ve been quiet for the past 13 days. My voice caught in the wind of a not-thick-enough skin. I find the world a harsh and hard habitat. Gusted from side to side, the hurricane of what-is wrecks me even as I stand tall and steady, quiet in the background, so the boy’s fingers can continue their route to resolution.

And some days that’s all it is between me and losing my way – the boy and his cube. The fact that every year, at this time of year, we celebrate and then we atone. We reflect and then we apologize, looking to see where we trespassed the terrain.   A year feels like a decade (or ten) when the heart is heavy with the heat of Hustle and Flow.

See… man ain’t like a dog. And when I say “man,” I’m talking about man as in mankind, not man as in men. Because men, well, we a lot like a dog…We territorial as sh*t, you know, we gonna protect our own. But man, he know about death. Got him a sense of history. Got religion. See… a dog, man, a dog don’t know sh*t about no birthdays or Christmas or Easter bunny, none of that sh*t. And one day G*d gonna come calling, so you know, they going through life carefree. But people like you and me, man, we always guessing. Wondering, “What if?” You know what I mean? So when you say to me, “Hey, I don’t think we should be doing this,” I gotta say, baby, I don’t think we should be doing this neither, but we ain’t gonna get no move on in this world, lying around in the sun, licking our[selves] all day. I mean, we man. I mean, you a woman and all, but we man. So with this said, you tell me what it is you wanna do with your life.  ~~ From the movie by Craig Brewer, Hustle and Flow, which tells the story of DJay, a Memphis pimp in a mid-life crisis, attempting to become a hip-hop artist. Paramount Pictures, 2005

To me, DJay is Torah – the impossible story  – consumption and continuity and change. Humans hanging on, even when it seems like a bad idea, because the choice to not is not a choice;  because we are, “…people like you and me, man…always guessing.  Wondering, ‘what if?'”

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

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