This morning, I set a timer for ten minutes and wrote. Stop start stop start stop, then finally finding some flow. it came when I got to god, which became God, which became G-d. Light blue pen sliding over the white paper like a cormorant glides over the surface of the water, how it looks so effortless and what we don’t see is all of that furious action below. It takes effort to stay upright, you know? Which is to say, to keep writing.
But sometimes, it’s when I ease up on my death-grip that I start seeing the blind spots and hearing the stories of the undertow. G-d, glide, ocean moon tide pull that I never sit around thinking I need to better understand in order to live and love and grow. To be a grown-up is to be the dash in G-d’s name, held there evenly when the question of balance itself is what throws my balance, like in a yoga pose, how I can stand on one leg without thinking but the moment I think about balance, I fall.
Miracles. My girl in the school concert last night, coming onto the stage with 130 other kids. They are all dressed in black and white and she had blue mardi gras beads in her pink ponytail. I look up at her and think, wow. Miracle. Named after my grandmother. Four generations of sisters, five, four, three, two, and there she is singing, one voice among 130 others, yet it is easy to hear hers. Later, in the middle school cafeteria, her friend bounds up to me to ask how I knew all the words–she’d seen me singing along to Coldplay and Matisyahu–and I tussle her hair that’s curly and reminds me of me when I was a kid in that very school nearly 30 years ago. I’m that mom, I think to myself, as my daughter hugs me, barely an inch shorter than me now.
So. I started this post five days ago.
I keep wanting to write about the missing nun on the red dreidel our rabbi gave to Aviva. Nes Gadol Haya Sham means “A Great Miracle Happened There.” Nun, gimel, hey, and shin are the four letters on the dreidel, one on each side. Nun is the Hebrew letter for nes, the miracle part of the equation.
The nun side of Aviva’s new dreidel was blank. She wrote one in with a black sharpie.
The word for “miracle” has the same root letters as the word nesiya, or test.
And so it is that for nearly two weeks, I’ve been contemplating the missing miracle. What it means to write in our own, as if adding a name to the ballot. The inherent connection between tests and miracles.
Now that I’m finally sitting down to write about it, though, it’s lost its juice. I thought about it enough and decided not to try to make something of it; the metaphor is so obvious that it doesn’t require any further explication. Must every small thing hint at some greater, hidden meaning?
I spent much of the day with the girls, driving to the bank for them to deposit holiday gift money from grandparents, to Target, where V went off by herself to get gifts for me, Mani, and Pearl. To drop Aviva at a rehearsal and Pearl at a gingerbread-house party. To CVS to pick up an electrolyte drink for Mani, who has an appointment Monday to do diagnostic tests for Mast Cell Activation Disorder; her symptoms and prognosis fit those of this “orphan disease” to a t.
Around 4:00pm, I took a late-afternoon walk by myself to Sunset Farm, down the street from our place, literally running through the field of frozen kale to catch the light before it faded. The geese–which I’d seen, and heard, early this morning–came flying overhead from the north by the dozens. It was as if they knew that tomorrow is the first day of winter. I imagined them procrastinating, weeks behind the others.
Tonight, I cooked dinner. and then the four of us lit the menorahs in the kitchen. After dinner, Aviva got busy in her room, her new portable record player blasting a slightly warped-sounding Beatles album, and made a gift for my parents involving crayons, posterboard, and a hair dryer. Pearl, too, was in a creative mood; she made a calendar out of a calendar, cutting off the months and repositioning them all on printer paper with scotch tape.
I tried not to dwell on the weird lower-back ache that has been plaguing me for a while now, savoring instead the few minutes when Pearl put her arm tight around me while we watched the beginning of a movie, and taking extra enjoyment in reading Stuart Little and singing You Are My Sunshine to her while she sniffled and coughed and fell asleep. The child who almost never gets sick, who buys onesies for her teacher’s newborn baby and can’t wait for their visit to her class on Tuesday.
“We need a rest from ourselves that only a night like the winter solstice can give us.” This, from a beautiful piece about the Solstice in today’s New York Times.
Maybe that’s what this thinking about miracles and tests and what’s missing and what we can write in the blank amounts to: The longest night of the year. A child’s arm, reaching for me. Forgiving the fusses and accepting the unforeseen, maybe even appreciating the way the hard, scary things throw into high relief the obvious, the miracles, the blessings of us, together. Rest.
That was what occurred to me, when I first stepped outside today. I texted Mani, “It’s a good day already.”
In moments of wondering if I am shallow or selfish, I’m more likely to lose my balance Usually, these times also correspond with trying too hard–tipping the scales from doing for others because I love them and I want to, to doing more than necessary and slipping into martyr mode.
A rest from the tyranny of trying so hard to do and be enough.
This is the part where I learn that another meaning of nesiya is “journey.” A couple of days ago, there was an end-of-semester holiday lunch for the Student Life staff at Hampshire, where I work. I sat with my coworkers from the career office, along with other colleagues. At one point, a few of us were talking about walking in the woods around campus. Someone at the table said she thinks the trails actually move around. I knew exactly what she meant. I told Pearlie about it tonight, in fact, while we were snuggling. “But that’s impossible,” she said.
I agreed, it is. And yet.
Something about it made complete sense to me. There have been times I’ve set out into those trees on my lunch break, sure I knew where I was going, and ended up in a field I didn’t know existed, or so turned around I wondered if I’d ever find my way back to my office, only to emerge by the farm, or the tennis courts, totally unclear on how that had happened.
Do the trails move?
Are the tests just journeys?
Are the miracles blanks, waiting for us to get out our sharpies and participate?
Is the ache a wake-up call to pay attention?
Is illness a gateway to some stripped-down awareness of love, which over and over ends up being the only thing that matters, and everything, at that?
Do not strive for an easy life, said Liza, the director of Spiritual Life, at Thursday’s luncheon, following a presentation of Japanese archery that moved me so deeply with its silence and intention and letting go, thinking of my aunt who is in her final days of life, and of my mom’s cousin who recently died in a car accident, of the many, many people Mani is connecting with these days whose lives have been radically impacted and altered by an illness most people have never even heard of, or my kids’ boundless hearts and sass and creativity and even their moments of seeming ingratitude, that come around in spades when I am honest with them, let them see that I, too, need to feel acknowledged and appreciated.
And then, in the end, at least in the end of this long, sprawling post, the journey is this: To allow space for all of it.
Not to hide, fear, justify, or diminish emotion, or be hard on myself.
Sometimes, a poem reaches you at just the right moment. Direct, the way a good friend can be, calling bullshit and reminding you of who you are and what the miracle really is. That’s how I felt when I read “Not This” by Olena Kalytiak Davis, from a collection my dad gave me last week:
my god all the days we have lived thru
one, not this,
not yet, this week
doesn’t count, was lost, this month
was shit, what a year, it sucked,
it flew, that decade was for
what? i raised my kids, they
grew i lost two pasts–i am
not made of them and they
we forget what
each of the five
the fevered few
days we used
to fall in love.
I will not spend my life saying, “not this.” I will not lose day after week after month after year, banging around wondering what the test is and how do I pass it?
You’re the only one grading you, Mani said gently, as we talked last night.
And then, without striving, something happens: I fall in love again, as I did today with my life, my wife, and my girls and myself. May these days not be the exception, the “fevered few,” but the norm.