Jewish

Death and Life Entwined

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Today I attended a funeral for an aunt I never knew well.  What little I knew of her, I must say,  when my family would visit with my aunt and uncle and cousins I always admired her brash, out spoken nature. In spite of our infrequent visits I wanted to go to her funeral.  Family is family, love is love, no matter how distant.

My relatives have done very well for themselves. They live in southern Florida and exemplify the image of the Jewish family who always played their cards right and made it big. Their life is luxury, and they live it well.

The funeral was in an opulent funeral home, with large Greek pillars out front and floor to ceiling marble. The sanctuary was filled with wealthy men and women, country club goers, all with New York and Philadelphia accents. It felt foreign to my Midwestern upbringing, but very quickly all awkwardness melted away.

My cousins and uncle sat in the front row, holding each others hands, comforting each other when they broke into tears. As I watched this tenderness, heartbroken thoughts of the last funeral I had attended came to mind.

This funeral took place in Northern Florida, with a working class, non-Jewish family grieving the loss of my friend’s dear mother. She was a single mother, a strong source of love, who devoted much of her life to solely supporting her seven children. Making ends meet was never easy.

Given these two family’s backgrounds, you’d think the differences would outweigh the similarities…yet in many ways these two families, in this moment of sadness and loss were so similar, it was striking. Love, tenderness, vulnerability do not discriminate, because in the end grief is grief, love is love. No matter whether you’re living in a multi-million dollar home or just barely paying rent, sadness is still sadness. Heartbreak hurts, no matter who you are.

Today I saw my family’s humanness, their beautiful, bare tenderness, just as I saw with my friend’s family ten months before. Both share a deep love for one and other, and a devotion to family that keeps them steady in times of weakness.

There’s something so beautiful about death. In our broken moments of grief, we are at our very worst but we are also at our best. It is in these shattered times that we are in our truest form. We are not the wealthy banker, the waitress, or the homeless guy on the street corner; we are just humans, sad and broken in our loss. It’s in these moments that we become beautiful in our tenderness.

Most people I know fear vulnerability. We’re supposed to be strong, be champions of our own lives. “Never Quit” everyone says with rigid tenacity. We chant “life is good” and smile even when our heart aches. But when someone close to us dies, something happens and we can no longer hold up that front, and even if it’s just for a moment we break as we realize that we and everyone we love is fragile.

It’s during this window that our view of the world shifts in radical ways. We’re rudely awakened to the fact that most of this stuff—the things we wrap our identity around—doesn’t matter, not one bit and we’re left in this raw, vulnerable state that is both terrifying and absolutely beautiful.

As horrible and awful as these feelings of grief are, these rare moments to me are like gold, for this is the time when the heart splits open and in our bareness we are reminded who we are. It is then that we see that we are not the costumes we wear or the identities we take on, but instead we are simple, delicate beings. Human to the utmost.

There is nothing wrong with grief, there is nothing wrong with sadness and there is nothing wrong with letting your heart break open, because when you do, you expose that raw, bare piece of yourself. In that moment you have the opportunity to stand up and say “Here I am!”—not the cooperate investor, not the single mom, or the garbage collector—just YOU. Pure, simple, beautiful you.

When you celebrate who you truly are, a beautiful creature of dichotomies: strong and weak, radiant and ugly, fearful and brave—something great happens. The healing begins and suddenly there’s space for the sun to shine in.

I believe death is beautiful…because it is also life. The two are so closely intertwined that you can’t pull them apart. The more things end, the more that they begin.

Today at my aunt’s funeral I did not see that dark, ugly thing called “death” that people spend most their lives running from. All I saw was love. And although someone magnificent is missing from that picture today, my aunt is still here in her truest essence, because love does not die. Everything that she ever truly was lives on, moving outward like a ripple of golden light that spreads, touching everything in its wake.

Life is horrible, life is ugly, but it is also so exquisitely beautiful. In this world, you can’t have one without the other, in fact I think on some level they might be one and the same. Acknowledging this heart wrenching…yet astonishing truth is one of our greatest challenges we have as beings on this planet, but it is also holds one of our greatest rewards.

Do not fear your brokenness…it is your gift.

May light and love guide your path always.

Peace,

Becky

 

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Little Did I Know

 

I’m riding my motorcycle down Old Dixie Highway. The trees are arching overhead; thirty feet high. Below, the woods are thick with palmettos, gnarly oaks, and scraggly pines. The air is cool as it courses past my cheeks, across my arms. I am alive with intensity.

I am a new rider. This is the second time that I’ve ridden the historic Ormond Scenic Loop and I’m all in, focused intently on keeping up with the bike in front of me, watching my acceleration, braking when needed, turning with the curves.

As I ride, a funny tune pops into my head “ram, ram, sita ram.” It’s Sanskrit…and actually not a song at all but a chant I had been listening to the previous week, with hopes of gaining a sense of balance and calm that I have sought for a very long time.

So, as I focus intently on keeping my bike rolling and this little mantra chimes in my head, I smile. Here I am a Jewish housewife riding a motorcycle, singing a Hindu chant as I ride to Daytona Beach for a bike rally. But as absurd this may seem, in this little moment it makes perfect sense. I’m exactly where I should be. And although not in my wildest dreams could I have ever pictured myself in this situation, I’m where I always wanted to be. Simply here.

Of course, my mind still wants to rattle on. It wants to think serious, deep thoughts about my “complicated” life. My emotions want to take me on unneeded trips, egging me on with all sorts of drama, but my heart, this little thing in the center of it all, is simply present…there with the road. In this moment as everything stills the only things I know are the actions of my feet…my hands….my heart.

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I have recently taken up meditation as a daily practice…and I have to say as difficult as learning to ride a motorcycle has been for me, I think mediation is harder.

Just you try, telling this neurotic, obsessive Jewish girl to not think…to just sit and be. Ha! Preposterous.   But I’m doing it…with the help of my lovely motorcycle rides…and a dedication to end this cycle of suffering, to be the present for the people I love, and to bring joy to this world.

So, here I am, embarking on the hardest thing I have ever agreed to do… making a vow to myself to be with my heart…to no longer live in fear, greed and selfishness. I know I’m going to screw up. Of course I will! It’s part of the learning curve. There’s no exact road map for me to follow. I will make mistakes…just like I know I will probably spend many meditation sessions trying not to attach to the chatty noise in my head. I will still hurt and I will still fall, but I will try my best to do it with compassion, forgiveness and the heartfelt intent to make good in this world.

And so, I plan to write good stories, love my family, be good to my friends, ride my bike, sing goofy mantras, and mediate  all with the intent of doing what I discovered that day beneath the trees on my motorcycle…. Being here now with beauty, love, and joy.

There’s nowhere else to be.

Peace.

 

A Fallen Jew Reflects on Yom Kippur

My uncle, my dad, grandpa and grandma….dressed in itchy clothes

For me as a child the Jewish “Day of Atonement”, Yom Kippur was the lousiest holiday of the year. We were forced to fast the whole day, wear itchy clothes and sit in services for hours while our bellies churned.
 
But I’m learning we did it all wrong. Apparently to some Jews it is a celebration of forgiveness–God forgiving you for all your shortcomings, all your failures and seeing you as the perfect being you really are.
 
Back as a kid we were taught to think about all the bad things we had done and then feel really guilty for them, then promise to never do them again, then do them again anyway because we never really resolved any of our issues.
 
The Jews in my experience didn’t get a lot of breaks. Life is hard, you feel bad about it, you feel better for a little while and then it gets hard again.
 
But here it is, this little gem of a holiday, a crystal moment where we get to bear it all to God…all our ugliness and then… there it is!  Forgiveness.
 
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could carry that spirit of that into everything we do? Forgive ourselves unconditionally for our short comings? Live life like it’s Yom Kippur every day (minus the itchy clothes, of course).
I’ve fallen from my religion, but I think tomorrow I’m going to observe this one, in my own way.
 
Its time for a clean slate.
 
“Yom Kippur is the happiest day that ever existed. It’s Christmas for Jews. But instead of gifts being dropped down chimney, we ourselves rise and are turned into the gifts we always wanted to be: our true essence, our true selves, pure and holy and as real as it gets with no more illusions.”
Elad Nehorai

Many thanks to Elad Nehorai whose blog inspired me:

Yes, it’s True. I’m Part Neaderthal.

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For Christmas my husband gave me a kit from 23andMe using my genetic material to help uncover my ancestral genes. And so I spit into a little vial (it took a lot more than you’d think) and shipped my saliva across the country to a lab, where they extracted my DNA and ran it through a complex computer .

This morning I woke up to see an email in my inbox letting me know my results had arrived.

As I clicked on the email my hand shook. The thought of uncovering tens of thousands of years of personal history was exhilarating. I logged on and a beautiful chart appeared, graphing my personal story.

I’m over 95% Ashkenazi. No big surprise. I’m Jewish on both sides through and through. But there was also a little Finnish and perhaps a tinge of Japanese. Where the heck that came from I don’t know. My personal map lit up all over the world, revealing my genetic global connection: a little middle east, a lot of Europe, and some Asia thrown in.

On my mother’s side I am identified as haplotype K1a9. I learned that K’s are a broad group that include many Jews, as well as Palestinians, Kurds, and some Ethiopians. Stephen Colbert and Meryl Strepp apparently are my distant kin!

This afternoon I went to pick up the kids at school. Sitting in the school office I watched the students and teachers walk by and found myself envisioning them each as an amazing complex code…each with a unique set of markers that tells not only about who they are, but about those before them. I marveled thinking of their unique traits, a network of amazing genetic stories to tell.

At home I went online and found a discussion group of my fellow K’s. People seeking their own haplotypes sent out a call, like chauffeurs outside an airport, signs in hand. It was thrilling to see people connecting as if they were finding long lost family. I suppose some of them were!

Looking at this amazing map-of-me today, it dawned on me how truly interconnected we all are. Pieces of all of us stretch the span of the earth and although we each have our own unique signature code, we are all tied to earlier humans (and Neanderthals it turns out!) who left a gift with us.

I’ll admit it is a little creepy to think humans are being coded and classified. Many sci-fi books and movies have been written on the subject,, but I also find it all so liberating! As a person who wants to better understand herself and the world around her this seems like the perfect tool, because ultimately it’s just another way to help us understand who we truly are.

23andMe is a great service with an easy to understand website that not only shares your genetics but helps you connect with family and distant kin. The results are confidential. They do collect data for medical research; however participation is completely up to you. The service costs around $80.

And by the way, if there’s any other K1a9’s out there, let me know!

Peace,

Becky