For Allowing Us to Reach This Season

Photo: Dan Gold

Coffee. Perhaps this goes without saying, but it is always worth saying.

Chalupa, who has figured out how to sleep with awkward plastic cone head. Who ate breakfast from my cupped hands this morning. And is now snoring sweetly. (You know how much I love this pooch.)

“It takes a village.” And my layered relationship to this expression, my lived experience of it, and the profound gift of growing.

The conversation Mani and I had in the car yesterday, on our way to the vet in the afternoon. How there is no hidden meaning. Or how there may be — in that there is mystery — and also: Meaning is what we decide. We don’t have to seek or create it.

Fall. The 40-degree temperature swings. Back to school. Pearl woke up with a slight fever and a head cold. Tis the season.

Incremental change. How big decisions often come suddenly, but not out of nowhere. There is something sacred here for me — maybe it’s related to the meaning thing — about seeing this in myself and in my actual life. The subtle but profound impact of really learning how to listen.

Humility. Stands alone.

Growing up, I did not know about Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. I did not know about Shabbat or kashrut or the Shema. I did not know mitzvah from challah. I did not know Inquisition or Holocaust.

As a child, I took ASL at a school for the deaf in Buffalo. My signing partner was an elderly woman who’d lost her hearing.

I wanted to be able to speak without making a sound, like I did at the piano.

When I was 15, I spent a summer in Spain. I saw swastikas spray-painted on brick walls. I knew this was the land of my father, and the language came from an old place in me, one I didn’t have to work hard to find.

When I was 16, I went to Russia. I rode trains through dense birch forests, far north, near the Finnish border. I was never afraid of the men, though maybe I should have been. I opened my mouth to speak and surprised them. I knew this was the land of my mother, a place her grandparents fled.

Israel. I go there in dreams. I am home.

In Prague, the way the stones in the old Jewish cemetery toppled, falling over each other, felt like time itself.

This kitchen. I made pot after pot of white Carolina rice, hauled shipments of Ensure up from the porch, determined to keep her alive.

The Shehechiyanu. The blessings that says: “Thank you for allowing us to reach this season, this moment, this time.” We recite it to mark the first of something. That first may occur cyclically — like the first night of Hanukkah — or it may be a one-time thing, like the first time a child loses a tooth or the first time a certain group of people has gathered.

בְּרוּכָה אַתְּ יָהּ אֱלֹהֵינוּ רוּחַ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָתְנוּ וְקִיְּמָתְנוּ וְהִגִּיעָתְנוּ לַזְּמָן הַזֶּה
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higianu laz’man hazeh.

I learned these things by learning these things. I am not what you think but I am exactly who you believe me to be. It was not easy, discovering myself. It was 40 years of wandering. Despair and thirst and a hunger so deep it devoured me from the inside out.

But it was worth it. So very worth it. To arrive here. Here to this life. Here to this work. Here to this wife, these children, this community. Here to this moment in time, with its urgency, with its clear mandate to stand up and be counted and to know that every word, every silence, every encounter, every choice counts.

Prayer. How it has many forms. How it might be communal and it might be intensely solitary. How we all carry so many rungs, like old-growth trees.

I do not pledge allegiance to any flag. But I do bow my head before something I can only call God. Call this what you will or nothing at all. That’s why there are so many names, so many doorways, so many paths up this steep mountain.

And if you want, take my hand.