Between Were and Are is Here and Now


I’m sitting here. Where is here? Here is “where” without the “w.” Here is my couch — a small, grey leather loveseat with a story behind it. Does every piece of furniture have a story? Probably yes. Here is the living room, in the company of Chalupa, who will be eight-months old tomorrow. She is chewing industriously on the metal sides of her platform bed, which we have permitted her to transform into a hammock of sorts. Our rational is that it keeps her busy and it’s better than eating the furniture, the furniture with stories.

Here is to the right of the kitchen, where homemade blueberry muffins are cooling, and to the left of my daughter’s room. Neither of my kids has school today. Now the puppy is chewing on her paws, which doesn’t seem good. But she’s entertaining herself and I’m not going to mess with it.

Outside, it’s raining, a cold, grey, fall rain. I am not hanging out in hopefulness today, not after what happened two years ago. But I am also not despairing. I am concerned about gerrymandering and voter suppression and intimidation. I am heartened by the people in my orbit who are doing their part. Eager, nervous. And just knowing that we have to get through this day and pray that the results are favorable and send an unequivocally clear message to those in power.

Any inspiration I have had to write has gone out of the window. It’s just not here. But I’m showing up anyway instead of falling into the binary trap of brilliant or bust.

Remember Adam? Well, yesterday, I got to spend an hour with him looking closely at some of his new poems. We drank bubble tea and ate macarons and talked about where poetry comes from and how it’s usually inconvenient in its timing. I read him this fabulous story from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, about the poet Ruth Stone running through the fields and sometimes catching a poem by its tail. He has never taken any official classes in writing poetry, but he has read a ton and it is a privilege to get to be part of his writing life, one of those things that makes me pinch myself with gratitude to make sure I’m really here.

I’m here. That’s the main phrase I’ve been coming back to for as long as I can remember, and certainly for as long as I’ve been blogging. It’s how I felt on Friday night at services, when the tears began rolling and wouldn’t stop, tears I’d been holding in without even meaning to. The familiar “I should become a rabbi” feeling surged through me. I went to the gender neutral bathroom to sob for a few minutes. I didn’t turn on the light. I just stood there against the wall in the dark and let it out.

Later, our rabbi said some profound words about facing the door. During a central prayer in the Friday evening Shabbat service, the congregation rises and faces the door. The idea is that Shabbat is the bride, and we are turning to see her entrance, to delight in her presence. The minute he said the words “open door,” the most chilling sensation tore through me. The open door to the sanctuary. The door through which we expect to see beauty, not bullets.

He also talked about the origins of leaving a door open during the Passover seder. Now, we know this tradition to be linked to the hoped-for arrival of the prophet Elijah. in the middle ages, non-Jews grew suspicious — more so than they already were — of what Jewish families were doing during Passover. In short, they accused them of things like drinking the blood of Christian babies. So the Jews, in what I imagine to be a mixture of frustration, anger, and defiance said, you’re wondering what we’re doing? Look, we will even fling open our doors. We have nothing to hide.

Now the open door to a sanctuary becomes so loaded, so symbolic, such a direct challenge to us: Can we keep our doors open, unguarded? Can we keep our hearts open, unguarded?

On this rainy election day afternoon, these questions make me want to curl up back under the covers. It’s too much. My son practices his new song on the piano before going to bake an apple pie with my mother. My daughter plays guitar behind her closed door. Now Chalupa has collapsed beneath the coffee table we won’t let her chew on. She’s snoring loudly.

Between the rain and her snoring and a fully belly, a great sleepiness comes over me and I wonder how I will possibly stay awake for the rest of the day or for the rest of my life. I flit over to the Dive Into Poetry group and read poems the way a French person might eat dessert — savoring each bite, marveling at the way the flavors and textures work together.

Then I take a breath.

The rain is so soothing. I am here, inside a warm space. I know the whereabouts of my people: My wife, my kids. I weep inside, knowing that this is not a given. Knowing that this is not the case for so many. As I wept on Friday night in the sanctuary, images of asylum seekers walking towards our border kept coming to me. We were refugees, too. We were exiled. We were ostracized. Are, are, are.

The space between ‘were and are collapses, as it did in the dream I had last night, an epic saga of racial profiling that culminated in my somehow knowing that the present had actually occurred many generations ago and that what I was seeing was, in fact, the past. We are the ancestors.

Next May, I am going to Israel for the first time, with my parents and my daughter. We will spend a week there as tourists. I keep saying maybe I will write about my history of trips not taken to Israel. Of dreams where I landed at the airport and knew exactly where I was, even driving home on some long roads through what seemed like nowhere until suddenly a city came into view and I was here, I was home. My first trip-not-taken to Israel was, or would’ve been, in 1995, then 1996, then 2001. I may still, write the story, that is.

But not today.

Today, only this. Rain. Snoring. Quiet. Waiting.

p.s. Now it’s a few hours later. I left the house! I voted! I talked to a writing client about books, and how the process is not the outcome. And now, as it begins to get dark out at 3:38pm, I follow Chupie’s lead and give myself to a wee little rest.

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