11 things after the last Shabbat of 2018

1. The first half of today was a cinnamon roll project with Aviva. After four hours of mixing, melting, blooming, rising, kneading, spreading, rolling, cutting, and baking — we dug into what was perhaps the most delectable thing I have ever eaten in my life, not counting the white lasagna Mani made for my 40th birthday five years ago. I am talking foodgasm quality wow.

2. After that, a nap on the couch in the sun while Pearl played with our neighbors. V rested too, and Mani did some work.

3. The apartment was quiet and smelled like cinnamon, which is delicious unless you have mast cell disease, in which case you will spend hours in a different room with the doors closed because cinnamon is a mast cell destabilizer. We kept a kitchen window open for the afternoon and that did the trick.

4. Pearl and I went to the Mullins Center at UMass after my siesta. I have figure skates from a million years ago and we rented a pair for him for $5. Some friends were supposed to meet us, but they forgot, but we stayed and skated on our own for about 45 minutes. It was so fun. I need to do that more often.

5. We went over to the house of the friends who forgot to meet us and hung out for a while. They had picked up a few pizzas, so my steady diet of carbs remained uncompromised. Phew! Aren’t you relieved?

6. Aviva’s babysitting tonight and tomorrow, socking away money for her upcoming NYC trip and, a longer-term goal, a used car for next year.

7. I have fallen completely off the holiday card wagon. I feel both at peace with and a little sad about this and wonder if I’ll get back on it next year or ever. I keep thinking of the friends I’m rarely in touch with but think and care about dearly, and I worry that they don’t know it. Is this just what happens over time, or am I doing something wrong?

8. Yesterday we were talking about negative bias — that easy slide towards what wasn’t good. And we made lists of good things from 2018. I’m also reading a novel right now called “The Tattooist of Auschwitz,” and honestly, it’s such a reminder to honor life.

9. As I was waking up from napping, I watched the clouds moving swiftly from west to east outside the south-facing living room window. It was peaceful and restful.

10. More WWII moments in the news today. These two men, well over 100 years old each, leaving such legacies. May their memories be a blessing and inspire us to be courageous: cnn.it/2VdFrlB and bit.ly/2GO7WDc

11. Only three days until we change out our Frida Kahlo calendar for our Harrison Ford Bulldog calendar. Yee-haw!

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Join me in January for 11 days of writing 11 things, a practice Julie Lieberman Neale calls “a clarifying, liberating, surprisingly profound process.” Grab your spot here.

Grief Needs a Minute

Print: Erica Schultz Yakovetz

Today we saw lives taken and destroyed. Today we saw once again that anyone can walk into holy space and destroy life.

I keep thinking of the baby, whose bris (ritual circumcision) was this morning. How will this day shape his becoming?

I keep thinking of sitting in Shabbat morning services, the comfort of song and silent prayer, or looking around and meeting the eyes of those I know by name and those only whose faces I recognize, the way the light enters through the large stained glass windows of our sanctuary.

I keep thinking of the elderly people and the children and the out-of-town guests, all there to celebrate and welcome a new member of the Jewish people into his community.

I keep thinking of Charlottesville and Charleston, Ferguson and Parkland and Pulse, every black church, every public school, every grocery store, every synagogue, every planned parenthood building, every mosque, every locker room and house of learning, health care, and everyday life where it has not been safe to be a person of color, where it has not been safe to be a Jew, where it has not been safe to be a student, where it has not been safe to be a woman, where it has not been safe to be transgender, where it has not been safe to be gay, where is has not been safe, where it is not safe.

“Kill all the Jews,” the shooter yelled as he entered the building and opened fire. I am devastated for the families in that synagogue this morning, whose space will be forever a site of horror.

Just a few synonyms for Jew:

Liberal.
Media.
Globalist.

This is code

The dog whistling will not decrease. The truth-twisting and gaslighting are so staggering, it’s difficult to know where to even begin. And my words here are raw and unformed, because honestly, grief needs a minute to sink in.

They will stop at nothing, and that’s not alarmist. That’s reality.

I climbed into bed just after noon. Mani had gone out for a bit and Aviva was spending some time with my mom and Pearl’s at his dad’s. It had been a nice, quiet, rainy morning before this news; I finished reading Roxane Gay’s “Hunger,” which had been my only goal for the day. That was before Mani told me.

I took a nap. I drifted in a state of half-sleep, thinking: They want us to be scared. They want us to hide who we are. They want us to feel unsafe in our bodies, in our communities, in prayer and in protest, in our comings and goings.

I had the thought, we cannot succumb to our fear.

This afternoon, I don’t know what fighting looks like. All I know is that the midterm elections are in 10 days, and we are in a fight for our very souls. All I know is that I am with you and I am for you.

עושה שלום במרומיו
הוא יעשה שלום עלינו
ועל כל ישראל
ואמרו, ואמרו אמן

Oseh shalom bimromav
hu yaaseh shalom aleinu
v’al kol Yisrael
v’al kol yoshvei teiveil,
v’imru Amen

May the One who makes peace in the high heavens
make peace for us, for all Israel and all who inhabit the earth. Amen.

Shabbat in 11 Parts

1. Sleep. Chalupa sleeps for six hours last night, then another 90 minutes. Mani gets up with her and I sleep for three more hours after that. When I wake, it is 8:30am. I instinctively quickly scan my consciousness to identify my kids’ whereabouts (their dad’s), then make my way into the kitchen where I hear about the morning’s adventures (we have a mouse, the neighbor’s cat is stalking our puppy, pee, poop, play, nap, repeat). I reheat the coffee then make another pot, lingering at the kitchen table until late morning. I write in my journal and the words came pouring out. Later, I talk to Mani about the journaling. I recognize the impulse, always, to jump to conclusions too quickly rather than letting things unfold in time.

2. I journal in fits and starts, but my dream life is off the hook on a continuous basis. This morning, I know it’s time to start writing them down again, to make room to listen to my subconscious and see what it’s showing me. Trusting that this has everything to do with growing as a person, recognizing how easy it can be to live and work on autopilot or in reaction to things. The groundedness and return to feeling connected to myself that comes with journal writing is unlike any other kind of writing for me. For my eyes only, with no intention of sharing. This is where I get to listen to my own wisdom. This is where I get to not know. This is where I get to remember that I am capable, and whole.

3. Lunch. Leftover filling from a chicken burrito. A cold, rainy day. I close the windows, read a little, take Chalupa outside at least two times, then get back in bed at 2:00pm for a nap.

4. At 3:00pm, I hear Mani and Chalupa going outside. I surrender to another 45 minutes in bed. Such deep sleep. Naps may be the only sleep I get without epic dreaming, and the utter darkness of mind comes as a relief.

5. My nephew has a free hour and comes over to meet his new canine cousin. They hit if off immediately and it’s sweet to have him here. He’ll be 16 in two months. How is this possible?

6. My sister, niece, and brother-in-law stop by to pick him up for some dinner plans they have. My sister calls from the driveway, saying they didn’t have time to visit. He talks her into coming inside, and the whole family falls all over the puppy. Watching my brother-in-law hold her, I had such a flashback to when all of our kids were littles. The whole time thing is crazy.

7. Mani and I make our respective dinners. She tells me about a documentary she’s watching, and we talk about how our physical health and the environment are so inextricably linked. It’s disheartening, how we’ve lost this connection in a culture driven by profit, food fads, and big pharma.

8. I make myself a grilled cheese sandwich and a salad. After I finish eating, I bring my laptop into the living room and read the newest pieces in my One Story: Ten Facets group. The writing fills me with gratitude. The privilege of witnessing people’s lives and reading their innermost thoughts and stories never gets old.

9. Now it’s 6:50pm. I can hear Chalupa snoring in her bed — all that visiting tired her out. Mani’s watching “The Human Longevity Film,” the documentary she’d been telling me about earlier. Outside is wet, good for the flowers. The soil, the sky, the air we breathe, the earth itself is us. We are it. The fact that we forget this so much of the time saddens me and also feels like an invitation home.

10. When I feel myself straining for answers, as if there is surely a “right” next step, it’s a signal to stop. To stop and get really quiet, to remember how it feels to be all the way here. Getting tangled in questions about purpose and form is often a form of avoidance for me, and when I make room to really pause, I realize there is nothing to avoid. Like a puppy or a child, perhaps wisdom can sense when we’re fearful — and is much more likely to approach and give us kisses when we’re calm.

11. A deep breath. The light changing so subtly and gradually, it’s almost impossible to discern. But soon enough, it will be dark outside. We’ll sleep once more, than start all over again.

On Boundaries, Shabbat, and Not Neglecting the Soul

The soul, like the mat, never asks where the hell have you been? It just says, welcome home.

Shabbat saves my life. This is only slightly an exaggeration. I want to try to tell you why.

Let me start with a couple of rabbis (always a good idea).

In union with the divine we find release from the pain of the futile cycle of searching and disappointment. Shabbat is our refuge of acceptance, our shelter from cravings and strivings. ~ Sheila Peltz Weinberg

… our weekly struggle in the world of achievement and bustle is now at an end. We have repeated the struggles of creation and now we too are called upon to achieve the great inner quiet which is the secret of true rest. ~ Art Green

So we have been trying to go to Friday night services at our wonderful synagogue more regularly. Last night, it was so so cold out — unseasonably so for November. We went out into the dark at 6:00pm and when we arrived at the synagogue, at first we thought maybe services had been cancelled. The building was dark. The sanctuary was locked. Then we realized our mistake: Services were in the smaller space, attached to the social hall. There weren’t many people there, though more trickled in over the next 10 or so minutes.

Like many weeks, it had been a long one. I notice my impulse to qualify this, to say “mostly good stuff.” And the truth is, there was plenty of good. There were two new writing groups as well as three continuing ones, with check-ins and freewrites and stories and poems that reminded me of the magic and power of writing down and hearing each other’s stories. As one new-to-me writer remarked: “I am amazed by how the simplest of prompts and the smallest of moments can have such an enormous impact!”

My kids have both been growing in beautiful and brave ways, and so much of my purpose emanates from my role as their mama. Doing good in the world, knowing this happens from the inside out and isn’t about bravado or badges of honor but about integrity and presence and fierce protection when necessary and letting them find their own way, not influencing that beyond what is impossible to avoid completely, and let them be who they are.

Learning once again that not everyone will a) like me, b) get me, or c) be worth the time. I tend towards forgiving others and being hard on myself, and I’m seeing in profound ways that forgiving myself doesn’t mean the opposite — being hard on others — but it very well might translate into a boundary I didn’t used to know I could draw or didn’t have the confidence to keep. It feels good, to know who gets to be on the inside with me. It feels good to say here, I am entrusting you with something sacred. Or, in other cases, this sanctuary is locked.

It feels good to learn how to recognize my own voice in my head and heart and not second-guess its knowing.

Needless to say, the past week entailed a LOT of output on many levels, and by last night, I was tuckered out. Within moments of the first melody, I felt the tears wanting out. By the beginning of the second song, they were sliding down my cheeks and chin onto my neck. I closed my eyes and felt the relief of returning to myself, to my soul. I knew it had been there waiting, needing to be touched in a way that is physical, though I know logically that doesn’t make sense. But that is how it felt, like a greeting, like a landing, like a communing.

I left the room to go to the bathroom, to blow my nose and wipe my eyes. In the mirror, I saw a middle-aged woman with two dark braids and an oversized sweater. Her face was creased, like she must enjoy the sun or perhaps was once a smoker. Her eyes looked small and slightly red-rimmed from crying. I gazed at her and she looked back at me. I saw something like soul or kindness there in her eyes. I saw a mother who would go the lengths of the earth for her kids. I saw a wife who had found herself and said yes to what was required of her in order to be that person, and then had found love in a way that she swore felt like a reward, even though she didn’t believe karma works quite that neatly. She looked like someone who felt things deeply. She looked tired, yes, and also real, solid. I liked her. I gave her a tiny squint, like a signal that I saw her and we were ok, and then went back to my seat.

Whatever stresses and tension I’d brought with me into that building did not come home with me. I woke this morning to soft, warm skin that feels like home, like roots. We drank coffee in bed and lingered and talked about how love will wither if you don’t work on relationship, but when you are really in, when you choose this person, this partner, this life again and again, even though it can be work, the love is easy. The love is effortless. It thrives when we are doing our part, showing up, bringing our ideas and our silliness and our sorrows and our fears and our dorkiness and our dreams to the table. What a miracle.

Divine love is unconditional. It is available to every one of us when we fashion our lives into channels to receive and share it. ~ Art Green

What I think is important to add or emphasize is that what this fashioning looks like is so personal. Anyone who tells you they know the right way to do it or it must be done a certain way, that only certain channels contain divine love — whatever such a thing means for you — run the other way. Close the door. Block the account. Do whatever you have to do to preserve yourself. Nobody has the right to tell you what your life must be in order to be a channel for divine love.

Nobody gets to declare they know a better path for you or your children, or that you haven’t done your research or given major decisions enough thought. This is not a permission slip to act irresponsibly; it is a mirror for the fact that you are capable, thorough, intelligent, ethical, and committed not only to doing the work life asks you to do but recognizing that there will always be that which you do not and cannot see.

Being steady is not hubris, arrogance, or narcissism. In fact, it’s what makes it possible to be open to all you do not know. It’s evidence that you are a grown woman whose devotion to truth and wellbeing runs deeper than roots you watered out of obligation or fear.

It is practicing standing in your own two footprints, the only ones in the world that are perfectly your size, and knowing how to stay soft and strong at the same time. It is admitting when you don’t know what to do next. It is acknowledging that you are not the only player here, not the only voice, while not abdicating your own intuition, observations, and wisdom.

All of this relies on an ingredient both ever-present and easily neglected: The soul.

This morning in the shower, after our delicious few hours of slow waking and before the yoga class where I planned to meet my middle sister, I called to Mani, “My soul was kind of back-burnered all week. I so needed this day to tend to it.” I knew she’d know what I meant (she did).

Yoga — my first class since I can’t even remember — was a perfect continuation of this intentional touching into soul. Even though I ran and swam throughout the summer and walk an average of 2-3 miles most days just going around, I haven’t had a regular movement practice in way too long. My body soaked up the asanas like an unwatered plant, and I sank into the floor during savasana, a hint of a headache around my temples that alerted me to the need to eat.  I picked up an egg & cheese sandwich at the cafe downstairs, while my sister got a chai. We walked to the parking lot, chatted for a few minutes, and hugged goodbye. It was cold and sunny and felt more like January than November, but my body was warm from class and cozy in a sweater, coat, leggings, and warm hat.

Without this one day a week of listening to the body, not trying to keep up with anything, to responding to anyone unless I simply want to, and connecting with myself, I wonder if old patterns of discontent, restlessness, and martyrdom would flare up more than they do these days.

In his classic book, The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel writes about the soothing nature of Shabbat:

The seventh day is like a palace in time with a kingdom for all. It is not a date but an atmosphere.

It is not a different state of consciousness but a different climate; it is as if the appearance of all things somehow changed. The primary awareness is one of our being within the Sabbath rather than the Sabbath being within us. 

That’s exactly it. Taking these 24 or so hours “off” is really a chance to get quiet, to go inward, to look in the mirror, to turn away from the output and towards what is closest. The circles of what’s sacred to me are all beautiful, and when I disregard my soul in the busy mix and the caring for and focusing on others, something gets lost.

It was such a relief in the last 25 hours, to realize that my soul is here and fully intact and so very receptive to the invitation to surface. I love her. I love this life.

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The is the song that undoes me and makes me whole again; it’s from the fourth verse of Yedid Nefesh, a collection of psalms typically sung on Kabbalat Shabbat. I hope you enjoy it, too.

Higali na ofrus havivi alay et sukkat shelomecha
הִגָלֵה נָא וּפְרשׂ, חָבִיב עָלַי אֶת סֻכַת שְלומָךְ
Please, my Beloved, reveal Yourself and spread upon me your canopy of peace

A Little Bling Goes a Long Way

It has been months since we slept in past 8:00am. Today, getting up two or three hours later than usual felt downright delicious. Still wrapped in dreams and clean sheets and each other’s softness, waking slowly in our time. “I’m glad we woke up today,” she said, her profile looking timeless in the morning light. “Me too,” I said, giving her a kiss before throwing on a nightgown and going to make the coffee. Mmmmmm. Coffee.

In the afternoon, we went out for a few hours and had fun at Luxe, a consignment store in Northampton, trying on all manner of dresses and jewelry and each finding a couple of things that fit us perfectly and felt good to wear. It’s no small thing, to choose to feel pretty and sexy — not for anyone but ourselves and each other and because we enjoy it and we want to.

This was not always the case for me; in fact, the very first weekend Mani ever came to visit me, not three weeks after our supposed one-night stand in January 2012, we went through every item in my closet and I realized I’d been hiding my body for years.

Back then, I considered it an indulgence to buy things for myself and getting a new article of clothing was a big deal, an exciting event. I’m still not a huge shopper, but there is a certain joy in playing dress-up and occasionally coming across something I love. It doesn’t hurt when said something costs $11 or $16 or $23 and looks brand new. Mostly, though, it’s her company I enjoy.

“Happy Mother’s Day,” I said as she slipped on an unbelievable bracelet shaped like Ganesh and covered with pink rhinestones. I chose a bling-y ring that sparkled irresistibly. We drove home listening to Leonard Cohen and Laura Marling and the “American Honey” soundtrack.

I’m sitting in the quiet of the living room now. It’s 5:15pm. This morning, I shook out the little rug we bought at TJ Maxx to go under the coffee table, and it was so dusty we both started sneezing. Plus, it’s white and shaggy, the kind of thing that looks great when it’s new and clean but is irrecoverable a year or two later, not to mention impossible to vacuum. I cringed a little before tossing it, then swept and tidied up a bit. Now the space feels relatively peacefulas I look out at the rain. The sun never did make it out today.

When I woke up this morning, before I checked the time and saw how late it was, my mind was like a ransacked consignment store — articles of discarded thoughts, strands of song lyrics, and remnants of dreams like mismatched shoes strewn all over, not even remotely organized by size or color or style. After breakfast, we each chose a card from my Vintage Wisdom Oracle deck. Hers was “Centering.” Mine was “Protection.” Driving home from Northampton, I looked at the ring and thought, that’ll do.

Now I want to write something smart about protection, but truthfully I’m just feeling my way into what it means for me right now and have no wisdom whatsoever to impart. That’s how I feel most of the time about everything, come to think of it. We take for granted the things we know the most about; they seem obvious to us. We think, I have no special knowledge to share or story to tell. But the fact is, your whole day is special — the nature of your mind and the rhythm of your day are unlike any other and I, for one, want to hear about it.

Mani is on the phone in the other room and I hear the washing machine in the pantry. The books on the bookshelf are beckoning me and suddenly I want to take them all onto the floor along with magazines and glue and posterboard and markers, to dive deep into what wants to be found. There’s so much wrong with the world, and I am finding that a big part of how I’m dealing with that is to stay close to what is right here — my family, the spring flowers, poetry, and a little bling that goes a long way.