Monday, October 31, 2005

Am I a Racist?

I’ve been thinking about this idea that I could be a racist ever since yesterday. This came up in a discussion with Rebecca where I said that I resented it when African Americans played the slavery card and asked for special consideration because of their past. I pointed out that Asians and Hispanics are faced with many of the same obstacles to their advancement and they aren’t crying out about what happened over a century ago in this country. She reminded me that they weren't the slaves.

Rebecca seems to think that black people are entitled to fall back on this dark time of American history and call it up whenever they choose to do so. She feels that denying this right would be like telling Jews not to dwell on the Holocaust. WHEW! Put in that light, I have to think about this.

I grew up in a family that was unique in our small town in northern Florida. My parents were from the north. We supported integration, while virtually everybody around us for miles was ready to draw blood to keep segregation in place. In the Sears & Roebuck store we had three bathrooms – men, women, and colored (as if there were not colored men and women) and we had two water fountains – white and colored. I remember always wanting to drink from the colored water fountain, thinking that they might have something different to drink. I liked to think of myself as being unencumbered by the baggage that conveyed from the Old South to the descendants of the slaveholders.

I must confess that the only black people I knew growing up were those who came to clean our house. My mother was often chastised by her friends for allowing our maids to sit in the front seat of our car instead of being relegated to the back seat.

In my job I have always thought of myself as color-blind. I would look at a person’s credentials and experience without factoring in the color of his/her skin. But if I used Rebecca’s logic, perhaps I should have been adding some extra weight to the resumes of black applicants.

In issues of affirmative action, I have always thought that everyone should have an equal shot at whatever it was – job, college admission, whatever.

But the real question here is whether we must continue to pay back the present generation of black people in this country for the wrongs that were committed against their ancestors in the past. I suppose it is something akin to the German reparation policy, whereby the German government continues to pay out to the survivors of the Holocaust. However, those payments stop upon the death of the survivors. At that point, the German government considers them paid in full, not owing a cent to the descendants or spouses of the survivors, even though those persons are inevitably scarred as well.

When will we feel that the wounds of slavery have been sufficiently salved in this country? How many generations?

I have tried to put myself in the position of a black woman my age in the US today. Would I have been denied an education or a job based on the color of my skin? Would I have been singled out in a security interview while waiting to board a plane in Israel because no one could believe I could be both black and Jewish (as happened to my friend Sabrina)? Would I have had trouble buying a house in the neighborhood of my choice? I suppose as long as the answer to any of these questions is even “possibly”, then we owe something more to the black population of this country.

Maybe this is a wake-up call to at least pay attention to the plight of African Americans in this country. Maybe I need to feel sympathy instead of anger the next time someone plays the race card. I don’t like thinking of myself as a racist.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Close to Perfect Day

This was one of those picture-perfect days where it is cool but not so cool that you need a jacket in the sun, where there is not a cloud in the perfectly blue sky, where there is no humidity, where you finally see some leaves blushing and others fluttering to the ground. As I rolled out of bed after falling forward, the sun was already up – we’re once again saving daylight, whatever that means.

I worked out in our basement gym, thinking about the hundreds of calories I had consumed last night in our Hungarian dinner at a friend’s house, extending my time on the elliptical machine just a few more minutes. Then I downed my Cheerios and headed off to see Rebecca, mindful of the Marine Marathon which was in full tilt across the city.

My weekly appointment with Rebecca is so relaxed and familiar these days – familiar because Rebecca has become like family to me, sort of like the sister I never had. After we exchange all the gossip we can muster up and go through the hit parade of new recipes and restaurants while drinking our morning tea, I head upstairs to that beautiful front room that is so perfect for massage because it collects sunlight in its irregular shape. There’s now a white blanket on the carefully tucked sheets. The ceiling fan has been traded in for heat which feels good on my bare feet.

What is so wonderful about a massage with Rebecca is that it is never the same. Her spirit guides – Esther, Michael, and Isis – advise her as she decides just what is needed. Today was a mixture of long periods of silence interspersed with animated conversation, in which Rebecca decided that I am definitely a racist – ME, can you imagine that? The massage itself was especially good today, as she applied lavender to my temples to banish my headache and then used shiatsu on my legs and hips to try to add mobility to my creaky joints. Rebecca never watches the clock, simply working through all exposed body parts until she is satisfied that her work for the day is completed.

Feeling like a new person, I headed over to Temple Micah to join David, Bill, Kris, and hundreds of Micah-ites for a walk for the homeless – to benefit Micah House, our home for transitioning women. We donned colorful Tee shirts donated by Fannie Mae and walked in solidarity along the planned route. Afterwards we found a delightful outdoor café for lunch in the sun.

Mid-afternoon I went over to Deborah’s house for our weekly practice session. She had practically OD-ed on music yesterday, but tuned up her bass anyway for some more music. Our time together is always nice because it’s not preparation for a performance, but simply a time to luxuriate in the sounds of our two instruments. We’ve come so far in the six months since we started playing. I now know how to get started on a piece just by listening to Deborah breathe. We invariably start any new piece with “Don’t take it too fast.” If we tossed pennies in a jar for mistakes, there would be about the same number from each of us. At then end we treated ourselves to playing some jazz. There are infinite possibilities for what we might play next year at Chautauqua.

Then I came home for a movie and dinner with David. The movie was an Israeli film with English subtitles, which had a happy-ever-after ending but was lacking in some other ways. Dinner was recycled pea soup (which gets better with age) and a fresh apple-pear crisp, seems to be my specialty of the week, now that I finally know how to make it. (That’s for another post.)

What a busy day – filled with so many of the things and people I like best in this world!

Neighborhoods of the World

I’m two thirds of the way through “The World Is Flat” by Tom Friedman. I think the following page just says it all for me:

What if the regions of the world were like the neighborhoods of a city? What would the world look like? I’d describe it like this: Western Europe would be an assisted-living facility with an aging population lavishly attended to by Turkish nurses. The United States would be a gated community, with a metal detector at the front gate and a lot of people sitting in their front yards complaining about how lazy everyone else was, even though out back there was a small opening in the fence for Mexican labor and other energetic immigrants who helped to make the gated community function. Latin America would be the fun part of town, the club district, where the workday doesn’t begin until ten p.m. and everyone sleeps until midmorning. It’s definitely the place to hang out, but in between the clubs, you don’t see a lot of new businesses opening up, except on the street where the Chileans live. The landlords in this neighborhood almost never reinvest their profits here, but keep them in a bank across town. The Arab street would be a dark alley where outsiders fear to tread, except for a few streets called Dubai, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, and Morocco. The only new businesses are gas stations, whose owners, like the elites in the Latin neighborhood, rarely reinvest their funds in the neighborhood. Many people on the Arab street have their curtains closed, their shutters drawn, and signs on their front lawn that say, “No trespassing. Beware of dog..” India, China, and East Asia would be “the other side of the tracks.” Their neighborhood is a big teeming market, made up of small shops and one-room factories, interspersed with Stanley Kaplan SAT prep schools and engineering colleges. Nobody ever sleeps in this neighborhood, everyone lives in extended families, and everyone is working and saving to get to “the right side of the tracks.” On the Chinese streets, there’s no rule of law, but the roads are all well paved; there are no potholes, and the streetlights all work. On the Indian streets, by contrast, no one ever repairs the streetlights, the roads are full of ruts, but the police are sticklers for the rules. You needs a license to open a lemonade stand on the Indian streets. Luckily, the local cops can be bribed, and the successful entrepreneurs all have their own generators to run their factories and the latest cell phones to get around the fact that the telephone poles are all down. Africa, sadly, is that part of town where the businesses are boarded up, life expectancy is declining, and the only new buildings are health-care clinics.

WOW! Does this guy ever get it.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

In the Beginning

Today we started once again at the beginning of the Torah – at Genesis – B’rei Sheit. This is the story of creation. Actually there are two different versions of the creation story. I don’t think most intelligent humans think for a minute that either of the stories describes what really happened. But each year we read them and accept the symbolic meaning of creation they represent.

Our new associate rabbi Toby told an interesting story from the Mishnah concerning the creation of humankind:

We are all conceived with the full knowledge of the Torah. It is only upon our birth that God breathes into each of us a soul and removes the knowledge of the Torah, because there simply is not room for both. God leaves behind the small cleft in our upper lip, just the shape of a fingerprint, as a reminder of how we receive our soul.

I find that this is as good an explanation as any for how we come to have that inner presence that we come to know as our soul. As I sit here with my index finger seeking out that little cleft in my upper lip, I contemplate the beginning of humanity and what I believe to be the eternal nature of my soul.

Two Claudias

As on every Shabbat morning service, we recognize the arrival of new life – new babies – and the anniversary of those who have died in past years. This morning was the yahrzeit of Claudia Cairo Resnick and the birth of Claudia Schecter Torres.

Claudia Resnick was a favorite teacher at Burgundy Farm Country Day School, where our children went through the 8th grade. Born in Argentina, she was a fluent Spanish teacher as well as a demanding English teacher. She made sure both Daniel and Rachel knew how to write before they left Burgundy. Claudia succumbed to cancer at a relatively young age after raising two brilliant children and turning out countless students who loved to read and write.

Young Claudia Torres was born just 3 weeks ago. She has been to services every week since her birth, swaddled in a sling over her mother Julie’s shoulder. She is the perfect combination of Julie and her husband Mauricio, who is from El Salvador. She was obviously born into a loving family.
I hope she grows up to be proficient in the English skills that Claudia Resnick imparted.

Two Claudias – one a memory and the other a promise of the future.

Friday, October 28, 2005

My BLOG as a Legacy

I recently read about the case of a young soldier who died in Iraq (among the now 2,000 who have died) and whose family tried to gain rights to his e-mail account to find out what had been happening in his life prior to his death. YAHOO! refused to provide them access to his account. I suppose YAHOO! did what was legally correct. But how many times have you asked yourself just what your parent, grandparent, or friend was really like – what made that person happy, sad, angry?

What better legacy than your BLOG to someone who wants to know what you were really like? So if my children are reading this, I can assure you that most of what you will ever want to know about me is in this BLOG. It has become my medium for recording myself, just as I am.

I have come to realize that every person who writes a BLOG starts with the same blank canvas and chooses to fill it in different ways. There are people like who are obviously very clever at combining photographs and text into incredible masterpieces. Obviously a lot of other people think so too because people like this woman have a huge following – note the number of comments. Then there is, who introduced me to BLOGging. Hers is a magical blend of Washington, DC, her unique approach to shamanism, a chronicling of her energy level (which bounces around a lot), interspersed with romantic interludes (like how you physically remember a kiss). In comparison to these two BLOGgers extraordinaire, my diary-style recounting of my life seems pretty lame.

As I was working out this morning, I was thinking about what cool pictures I could include in today’s post just to spice it up a little. What did I do today? I cooked homemade pea soup and apple-pear crisp for my 75-year-old ex-secretary, who is still my wonderful friend and confidant. So I could include photos of all the colorful chopped up ingredients, the simmering soup in the brown enamel pot that I always use for soup, and the nicely browned crisp as it came out of the oven. In terms of art appeal, that would hardly match up to a barfing pumpkin or any of Washingtoncube’s other photos. But then, photographing an obviously staged barfing pumpkin would probably never occur to me. I am starting to like the idea of including photos, even if they are as mundane as cooking shots!

The biggest surprise was news that my daughter called late last night to say that one of her friends had found my BLOG. Of course, my first reaction was “How could that be possible?” Then I realized that my full name is at the top of this BLOG. There must be a BLOG-search engine of some sort. My second reaction was “Is this person going to think I am totally crazy?” But then that’s the chance you take by putting yourself online. Interestingly enough, I have never been able to interest Rachel in reading my BLOG. Perhaps if her friend recommends it, I will have a new reader. (The number of my serious readers is still easily counted on one hand.)

I have accepted the fact that I will never have a following like Washintoncube’s or be able to offer the entertainment of Goldpoppy’s dreams or magic. But I will leave behind a record of who I really was to anyone who dares to read it.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

A Visit with Ted

I decided to visit Ted after work today before I went to choir rehearsal tonight. I’m always a little afraid of what I will find because I know that he is deteriorating. ALS is a disease that doesn’t offer remission or improvement. It is just a steady decline.

When I called to find out if it was OK to stop by, his caretaker answered the phone with a lot of loud music in the background – not the type of music Ted listens to. But she said I could come, so I didn’t care.

I was met at the door by Fatima, yet another large African woman (from Sierra Leone) who is taking care of Ted. She showed me to where he was sitting on a couch, with the breathing machine running to help him breathe. Fatima helped him get unhooked so we could have a conversation and then quickly ducked out of the room. I could tell that he doesn’t like her very much.

Poor Ted. He is so thin now and his breathing is so difficult. He was wearing maroon pajamas and slippers.

Ted labored to tell me about his experience last weekend going to Allentown, PA, to his granddaughter’s bat mitzvah. She had moved it up by 6 months to give him a chance to attend. He almost decided not to go because it is such an effort to do anything these days, but he knew that this would probably be his last chance to see lots of friends and family. As taxing as the trip was, he was glad that he had made the effort.

What I admire most about Ted is his honesty as he faces this horrible disease. He proceeded to tell me the many ways his life has changed as a result of getting sick. He had to forego a vacation to Provence and Tuscany. For the first year, he missed the winter trip of the Temple Micah ski club, which he had organized many years ago. His relationship with his beautiful wife Suzanne has been permanently altered. He never cries, he just tells it like it is.

After about half an hour, I couldn’t bear to keep Ted from getting the benefit of the machine that helps him breathe. So I gave him a kiss and told him we all loved him.

Before I left, he made sure that he had the phone right next to his hand, just in case. I think he is always afraid of being abandoned by his caretakers. It is so sad that they will never know him as the brilliant, witty, talented guy that he has always been.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Seeing Clearly

I finally had my vision checked after about 10 years with the same glasses. Part of my reluctance was probably the memory of the last time I changed glasses and how very long it took to get them right. It turned out that the ophthalmologist had given me the wrong prescription that time. Three pairs of glasses later I was fine.

It all seemed to simple this time. I got my new glasses at a local optician at a much lower cost than the last time in downtown DC. I have had them for maybe 3 weeks. I just recently realized that my eyes were feeling strained, just stressed out. Then I started thinking about the headaches I have been attributing to allergies. Maybe the new glasses aren’t so right after all. They are progressive lenses and it is difficult to fit them.

So I went back and the guy adjusted the frames. Initially I breathed a sigh of relief and said they seemed fine. However, two days later I am still having eyestrain. It is absolutely the worst when I am trying to play the piano. That won’t do.

As I am sitting here at my desk today, I started checking things out on my own. I can look straight ahead and cover up my left eye. Everything is clear with my right eye. But when I cover up my right eye, looking through my left eye is blurry. This tells me that something is wrong with the centering of the left lens.

I made an appointment for tomorrow with the ophthalmologist to get his opinion of how well my new glasses match my prescription. Meanwhile, I called the optician's office. The guy I have been dealing with is already acting defensive and trying to make this MY problem. I am going into today at lunchtime for him to check it out. I think I will just ask him to put my old lenses back in because I know they were at least comfortable, even if the prescription was not totally current.

You never appreciate things like your eyes enough until they become a problem. The best of all worlds is when you don’t have to think about your body parts, they just do what they are supposed to do!

Postscript: The optician agreed that I wasn't crazy, adjusted the nosepiece on my current glassed to make the problem less noticable, and ordered new lenses which will be here early next week. Today was a big improvement!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The World Isn't Round, It's Flat!

According to Tom Friedman, in his new book “The World Is Flat.” I’m only about halfway through this long book, with a subtitle of “A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century”, but what I have read is fascinating. It’s like connecting all the dots in today’s very complicated world. So this is just a preview; I’m sure I will have a lot more to say when I finish the book.

Here are the 10 forces that flattened the world:
(1) 11/9/89: When the walls came down and the Windows went up (fall of the Berlin Wall)
(2) 8/9/95: When Netscape went public
(3) Work flow software: Let’s do lunch – have your application talk to my application
(4) Open-sourcing: Self-organizing collaborative communities
(5) Outsourcing: Y2K
(6) Offshoring: Running with gazelles, eating with lions
(7) Supply-chaining: Eating sushi in Arkansas
(8) Insourcing: What the guys in the funny brown shorts are really doing
(9) In-forming: Google, Yahoo!, MSN Web Search
(10) The steroids: Digital, Mobile, Personal, and Virtual

Today’s lesson from Friedman:

My advice to my daughters in this flat world is very brief and very blunt: “Girls, when I was growing up, my parents used to say to me, ‘Tom, finish your dinner – people in China and India are starving.’ My advice to you is: Girls, finish your homework – people in China and India are starving for your jobs.”

Hmmmm..... More to come.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Therapy Is Not Over Yet

I had a long (free) talk with Kathryn today, spilling my guts about how unhappy I was that money was coming between us as we tried to deal with what is going on in my head and heart. I wasn’t sure how this would go. I never made apologies for my feelings or my solution to the problem which was the following:

I recognize that I need to be in a weekly therapy session to get the most out of our work together. Therefore I will make every effort to be there weekly. But there will be times when I am on vacation or out of town for work or when I am just too sick to benefit from therapy. I will not be coming on those days, nor will I be willing to reschedule or pay, if I have given at least 48 hours of notice. I also stressed that I NEVER again wanted to discuss this during a therapy session.

What did she say? See you Thursday at 7 AM. I guess she decided she could still do a considerable amount of landscaping with the money I paid her, even if I missed 10 weeks a year! She was actually quite reasonable about the whole thing and earned my respect for her willingness to back down on what seemed to be a hard-and-fast policy last week. Maybe I am learning to be assertive when I really believe in my position.

My Very Own Coffee Klatch

I have become a regular at the Starbucks on Penn & 8th on Capitol Hill. At least 3 mornings a week I stop in for my (now decaf) short skim latte. They know what I want when I walk in the door. (That’s what it means to be a regular.)

All summer long I noticed a group of 3 women about my age who would meet at the same time each day for coffee outside. They sometimes wore warm-up suits, but didn’t really look like serious joggers. However, they did look like serious coffee drinkers.

This morning I noticed one of them staking out a table inside. I comments to her that it looked like they had moved in for the winter. To my surprise, she invited me to join them. My initial response was that I needed to get on to work (and I was parked illegally out front.) But then I said, “What the hell?” and pulled up a chair. I quickly met Gail, Janet, and MaryLou and we realized how many people we all know on Capitol Hill. They were bemoaning the loss of their treasured massage therapist who recently retired. I said, “I know her. That’s my friend Barbara.” I promptly told them about my massage therapist at Healing Arts, (providing her phone number on an old appt card) and they were eternally grateful, talking about how great it is to look forward to a monthly massage. I didn’t tell them I go every week!

So now I have a coffee klatch, something that formed a big part of my mother’s social life when I was growing up. These are women who get together to gossip and bitch and moan and even be happy more often than not. The coffee is really just the excuse to get together.

I expect I will have a 4th place at their table any time I choose. Their parting words to me today were, “You should really think about moving to Capitol Hill!” Who would have ever dreamed how easy it is to make friends!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Sukkot: The Festival of Booths

Six months ago my friend Judith and I offered a Sukkot dinner at the Micah auction. When these things are just on paper and people are bidding lots of money to attend, you feel like you’ve done something wonderful, not for a moment thinking about how much work it is to make dinner for 35 people!

First of all, what is sukkot? It’s a minor celebration in the Jewish calendar, occurring each fall. It uses the symbols of the harvest to commemorate the time when the Jews lived in booths or tents in the desert. It involves building a structure that is open to the stars, in which people can conceivably live and eat for a week. Whereas the orthodox go for the real thing, our sukkah is usually much more symbolic.

Today was our day of reckoning. Judith and I had divided up the food responsibilities a week or so ago. I was responsible for appetizers, vegetables, and dessert. She had everything else. Her husband Merv and David were in charge of building the sukkah. We really got off easy because it was at their house on 7 acres in Clifton, VA, which seems like totally rural countryside.

What to cook for all those people? I still have a hard time figuring out how to cook for a crowd, coming from my small family. My two labor-intensive things were ratatouille and apple crisp. I thought about Rebecca’s recent comments about the therapy of chopping as I chopped up tons of vegetables for the ratatouille and what seemed to be dozens of apples for the crisp yesterday. But my reward for a morning of serious cooking was my weekly time to play chamber music with my friend Deborah yesterday afternoon. (Deborah suggested that we offer ourselves up to play dinner music in next year's auction. We'll see...)

All the aches and pains from those hours of chopping disappeared during my massage this morning. I picked up French bread and a beautiful chocolate royale cake on my way home. We loaded up our car with all of our food contributions and with our friend Mollie and headed off to Clifton.

Merv and David finished off the sukkah construction, which turned out to be an area under their deck. It was decorated with leaves and gourds and small lights. It was actually very earthy. Merv made a lulav of several kinds of greenery, which we took turns shaking to the north, south, east, and west, probably reminiscent of a pagan ritual of earlier times. We passed the lulav (palm branch in Hebrew)and etrog (acutally a lemon masquerading as an etrog) around. They asked me to light the candles before a brief reading by Merv. I always panic when there is a Jewish ritual for which I am unprepared. I must have had that “What in the hell am I supposed to say?” look on my face, so everyone started the familiar candle-lighting prayer that has a different ending for every occasion and I just faked it. I still sometimes worry that my ignorance will belie my non-Jewish origins!

Then we ate and ate and ate some more. Everyone raved about David’s hummous with ground lamb and toasted pine nuts on top. The children chased each other around the yard and around the house. We sat in small groups as we ate and talked. We were fortunate to be in a group with someone who knows the Clintons quite well and who works for the Democratic National Party in some capacity. He actually sounds both realistic and positive about the next election. Hope springs eternal!

After an evening of being satiated by good food and good company, we divided up the leftovers and piled Mollie and our other friend Florence (age 90) into our car for the trip home. Our auction commitment was finally satisfied, and despite the work, it was really a lot of fun to be with people I like so much on one of the last really beautiful fall days.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Complementary Pieces

Deborah and I get together with our music coach Bill every so often. Bill is so phenomenal because he can play both of our instruments well. He recently gave us four new pieces to play.

I can’t say that I was bowled over by my part of any of the four. It seemed uniformly dull and uninteresting. When I got together with Deborah to play today, she said the same thing of her part. But then we actually played the four pieces and were simply blown away by how beautiful they are. It was as though putting the two parts together worked some sort of magic. So for us the big dilemma is now what gets priority. There is a limit to how much anyone can work on at one time.

Maybe this idea of complementary pieces extends to relationships as well. Danny (Temple Micah’s principal rabbi) recently said that he and Toby (our new female rabbi) find strength in their differences. Although David and I think alike about many things, our complementary taste in things like music results in a much greater variety.

The Haftarah reading for Sukkot is from Ecclesiates. One verse says, “Two are better than one.” A good lesson for many aspects of our lives.

Welcoming Toby

We went to Toby's installation last night. First question was why she really needed to be installed since she was already legitimately a rabbi. But it was a nice way to formalize our relationship -- sort of like a couple getting married after living together for a while. Anyway, she was witty, brilliant, compassionate, add a bunch of other positive adjectives. I realized that she talks with her eyes a lot, which was a good thing because she was losing her voice. No partner in evidence. So who knows? But more importantly, who cares? I hope she knows that this congregation would welcome her significant other of any sex (if there is one.) We are gender neutal in all senses of the word! I am sooo excited about taking a class from this woman. Our first class is Nov. 1.

Only at Temple Micah would a serious service of installation end with a MAGIC trick! The Great Loudini gave a preview of his performance at the Sukkot yard sale (tomorrow). His trick starred our new associate rabbi. It was really good magic. I think it was a harbinger of the great magic Toby is going to work on this congregation. Only at Micah...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Therapy on Shaky Ground

Some time ago, when Kathryn and I decided we had a viable relationship, she rattled off her policies concerning missed appointments. I sort of half listened, figuring it was really just what every other professional did and that she was obligated to verbally go over it with me, but wondering why this was necessary when most other professionals just post a little sign that says something to the effect of “48-hour cancellation policy; otherwise patient is responsible.”

When I called 10 days ago to let her know that I would not be coming on Yom Kippur, her response was that religious holidays were an acceptable miss. I was slightly bothered by this response, but didn’t really think anything more about it.

When she brought up her policy for the third time today in our session, I started to sense that this was a big deal for her. I started to probe a little: “You mean I am responsible for paying for sessions that would have occurred while I am on vacation? You mean you want me to come in even if I have a contagious disease, otherwise I will be charged?” The bottom line is that she wants a predictable income with no exceptions. This is absurd and not at all acceptable to me.

Just as we were settling in to some really good work together, this whole issue of money had to come along. I refuse to let her fee take priority over my mental health, which is not going to be too good if I am getting charged for her time when I am not benefitting from it.

I left a message on her answering machine. Hopefully there will be some middle ground, where she recognizes that I am committed to our work together and yet that there will be times when I simply cannot make an appointment, for legitimate reasons. I am not very good at being patient while these types of issues sort themselves out. But I am learning that not all problems are my fault, and this is clearly one where she is going to have to make concessions if we are to have a future relationship.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Tale of Two Barbaras

I met Barbara B over a year ago in my Wednesday evening meditation group. I knew right away she was probably about my age because most every living Barbara was born around 1949 when there was a Miss America named Barbara. Go figure! Anyway, we have been meditating together from time to time, but it is silent meditation, which means that you don’t learn much about your fellow meditators. I had also gone to her for massage a couple of times and found her to be almost as good as my massage therapist, and that is a hard bar to measure up to!

Barbara and her husband Matthew are leaving for a retirement sabbatical in Seattle toward the end of the year. So I invited Barbara to go to lunch today, with the idea that we could share something of our lives with one another.

Barbara grew up in New Jersey and went to Vassar College. She was in the same class as my wonderful best friend from home, FL, and the same class as Meryl Streep. She found Vassar to be more than just a challenge and was intimidated by all the really smart girls in her class. Seems like FL said something like this also. So Barbara was only too willing to drop out after 2 years (at age 20) and marry young Matthew, who was graduating from Williams College. She had met Matthew at a mixer and had fallen hopelessly in love. So she hooked her fortune to his and it was a good match, because after 36 years they are still together. They have two children who are a little older than ours who are off living elsewhere.

As we talked over lunch, I realized just how much we have in common. We are both avid journal-keepers – Barbara writes on real paper, I am electronic. We are both fascinated with the connection of meditation to the other aspects of humankind. We both adore our husbands.

She talked about a meditation retreat she attended last weekend, where there was a partner exercise which consisted of a listener and a speaker responding repeatedly to the question, “What makes you come alive?” Boy, would I have liked to answer that question.

It’s unfortunate that I waited this long to further this friendship, but I now know that I have another life-friend who will someday be back from Seattle. What a good feeling!

New Hope for Santiago

Back to the saga of Santiago, my little 11-year-old Hispanic friend who can’t read. For all my good intentions in the summer, my last interaction with him was to read with him after a trip to the library to get him his own library card. It was during that reading session that I began to see how bright Santiago is and how possible it might be for him to learn to read if just given the right set of tools.

Last year Santiago had attended a school that seemed pretty dysfunctional to me. In response to pressure they administered a battery of tests toward the end of the school year that confirmed his reading problems, but then they offered no source of remediation over the summer. They made no effort to summarize the meeting where they presented the results of the testing to his mom and me. Nor did they bother to transfer any of his records to his new school this year. There was clearly no one at this school who could speak Spanish fluently, despite the fact that it is an ESL school!

Santiago’s mom, Morena, asked me to accompany her to the new school today to meet with the team of people who are responsible for his (special) education. I was expecting the same cast of characters as I had met at last year’s school with the same levels of bad attitude. As we were waiting for our appointment, I began to form quite a different opinion of this new school. The halls were clean and quiet. When the children (who were all in uniforms) came by, they were smiling and seemed calm. When children moved through the halls as a group, they were nicely in line. What a different picture!

When the special ed specialist greeted us and addressed Morena in Spanish, I breathed a sigh of relief and knew this was a much better place for Santiago. At the last minute before leaving for the meeting, I had taken a copy of the testing results from last year. It was a good thing, since the new school was not even aware that the testing had been done! Santiago’s teacher brought samples of his work, which demonstrated Santiago’s math ability and confirmed his trouble in reading (decoding). In just a short time, they seem to have gotten a good sense for what he needs. He is getting several hours a week with the special ed specialist and just one other student, a big improvement over the large group instruction last year.

The school agreed to provide me with some resource ideas for tutoring Santiago, including a list of the 100 most important “sight” words. I hope I can actually do this on a regular basis, especially now that I am finally convinced that he is in an acceptable educational setting. I really hope this child can learn to read before the allure of other ways to be popular diminishes his urge to learn.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Road Rage Before the Wilson Bridge

As I approached the Wilson Bridge today, I could see traffic was not moving very fast at all. So I used my usual approach of staying in the acceleration lane until the last minute and then merging in to the left. As I changed lanes to get into another barely moving lane, I suddenly heard this frenzy of horn-blowing. I looked over and some man about my age was shaking his middle finger at me. I guess he hadn’t liked my merge technique into the gridlock of the beltway.

My initial response was to think about shaking my finger back at him, but instead I just laughed at this ridiculous situation, where he was begrudging my getting 50 feet ahead of him. It just proves how tightly wound some people in the Washington Metropolitan area are. I’m glad I could just laugh at this old coot with Republican bumper stickers. Life’s too short to get so worked up over the traffic that plays itself out most every day.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Health News

I met with a new endocrinologist today, Dr. O, thanks to a phone call from Deborah. (This is the same doctor who didn’t have an appointment available until February 16 when I called, but who personally called to offer me an appointment the next week after she intervened.) I had prepared a long list of questions ahead of time. David came with me to take notes, something he has always been much better at than I am. Dr. O is head of the Department of Endocrinology at Washington Hospital Center.

Once again, he impressed me with the serious nature of any form of cancer. But he also emphasized the extremely low mortality rate from papillary cancer, especially given the fact that the tumor I had removed last summer was stage 1.

After thoroughly answering all our questions, David asked if there was anything in writing that would summarize our conversation. Dr. O replied, “I could give you a copy of my book, A Patient’s Guide to Thyroid Cancer.” BINGO! That was what we had needed all along. Thank you, David, and thank you, Dr. O.

So tonight I am sitting here thinking about my 95% odds that I will never have a recurrence of this disease and feeling lucky to have a new doctor on my team. Welcome, Dr. O!


I gave up caffeine (a week ahead) in preparation for my semi-fast on Yom Kippur so that I wouldn’t have a pounding headache in addition to a growling stomach. At first I felt like crap! I hadn’t realized how dependent I had become on my two cups of java/tea each day. But after about 4 days, I realized that I felt so much more uniform throughout the day. No more highs and lows. Could caffeine really have been the problem? I also found that I had so much more energy at night.

My original thought had been to jump right back to my daily caffeine fixes after the fast was over. But I’ve resisted, wondering why I should keep this dependency when life seems to much better without it. So I’m still caffeine-free, strictly DECAF, and loving it!

Even though I didn’t manage a 24-hour fast, more like a 12-hour fast, I think giving up caffeine is a significant bi-product. Wonder what God thinks about this?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Thinking About GPS Systems

One of the main reasons we drove to Boston this weekend (instead of flying or taking the train) was so that David could prove he could navigate in this complicated city without getting lost. It’s not that he’s been studying maps of Boston recently, but rather it is the fact that our new Prius is equipped with a GPS system. It’s so sophisticated that we could type in our daughter’s address in Boston as we pulled out of our driveway and the car could tell us every turn to make for 450 miles! What a change, not to need maps any longer, not to be the one on the hotseat as “navigator.” This single invention has totally revolutionized the way we drive and certainly minimized the number of times we get lost. In fact, the few times when we failed to turn at the appropriate intersection, even though the warm female voice had instructed us to do so, she didn’t say, “You dumb shit, you missed your turn!” Instead she simply changed the route without chastising us in the least.

Several other life examples come to mind when I think about this concept of a GPS system. I think back to my efforts to give instruction of any kind to my children – how to cook, how to sew, how to ride a bike. Maybe it’s not completely analogous because with some of these things, when you screw up it’s already too late to fix it. But I do wish I could have been that pleasant female voice gently making a change instead of a screaming lunatic.

Even today, I think about how we navigate through life. Every day we are faced with choices in most everything we do. Is there some unseen, ESP-style communicator that governs how we make those choices? I mean, have you ever done something for the first time and said to yourself, “How did I ever figure out how to do that?” Have you ever been faced with a difficult situation with an employee or a friend and implored some unknown source to tell you how to handle it? After you successfully deal with the situation, you can’t help but say, “Thank God.” Maybe that’s it. Maybe God serves as our GPS navigator as we make the difficult choices life constantly throws at us. Hm…..

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Rationale for Worship

During our break-fast last night, Rebecca posed an interesting question. She asked if we thought the elaborate High Holiday services were done as a way of pleasing God. Both David and I responded that we thought the greater intention was that of reminding us of our relationships with other people and creating a greater sense of the Jewish community. For many of us, they serve as an affirmation of our belief in God, but I don’t think we are conducting these services with the idea of pleasing God. Although we recognize that there is an architect for the design of the universe, we don’t believe that our actions in any way influence that design.

Why Was This Year Different?

The High Holidays packed a wallop this year – they affected me as never before. This was the first year that I really sensed the year boundary, letting go of past sins, conflicts, problems and finding a clean slate, ready for another year. I’m trying to figure out what made this difference.

The only preparation I had ever done in the past was that of attending numerous choir rehearsals. That also occurred this year. But several other things happened in addition. Forty days before Yom Kippur, I started receiving daily e-mail messages from our Temple website with readings on “I Am Jewish...” These served as a daily reminder of what was to come and sparked some interesting e-mail conversations, as well as conversations with David. I organized the mikveh visit with Liz, Jan, and Lynn. That was the first real cleansing and the beginning of a lasting bond among the four of us.

I decided to fast this year on Yom Kippur (as is the custom), for the first time. A week ahead I cut out caffeine, so I wouldn’t have a splitting headache in addition to an empty stomach. At the last minute I decided to eat breakfast so that I wouldn’t totally crash mid-day because I really like singing a lot of the afternoon music. I sipped a small bottle of water and was not in the least distracted by feeling hungry during the day.

David had a big role this year. He sang the Kiddush all by himself in front of 1200 people at the Erev Rosh Hashanah service. He was great and I was so proud of him. His first solo since his Bar Mitzvah!

We gave Rebecca one of our tickets since we really didn’t need them as choir members. She has been Jewish all her life, but never attended actual services, never heard the shofar blown. She took this on seriously, creating an interesting project whereby she wrote herself the letters she wished she could have received from people in her past where there were problems. She gradually wove them into “Brigid’s crosses” and finally created her own Tashlich service down by the river to float them away. She read the prayerbook ahead of services. Hindered by her lack of Hebrew knowledge, she valiantly tried to start the process of understanding the services and the prayers. She was actually blown away by experiencing the music and the community feeling that define Temple Micah. It was like watching a child open her first big birthday present.

Today I am exhausted from all the singing and praying of the High Holidays, but I have a sense that all is right in the world. I have atoned for my sins once again. My name is written in the book of life. I welcome 5766.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Rules of Engagement

Wars are fought according to prescribed rules of engagement. Facilitated discussions are conducted according to a set of rules that everyone agrees to up front. But most relationships, most e-mail communication, just happen with no predefined rules. There is no discussion of what topics are appropriate or what level of closing is used (ranging from “regards” to “take care” to “love”).

I have struggled with this issue for a year in my relationship with Rebecca, my massage therapist who is also some sort of a friend. I have even asked her to clarify what topics are acceptable for e-mail discussion, given our relationship as massage therapist-client. Our boundaries have been drawn and changed and re-drawn multiple times. There have been some bumps in the road, but I think our relationship is on stronger ground than it ever has been.

Just as one relationship comes under control, another one has become a problem. Never before Deborah had I had a doctor who was also my friend and musical partner. We had never had a discussion of when it was appropriate for my health issues to be a part of our conversation or our e-mail exchanges.

In desperation I recently e-mailed Deborah after my appointment with my surgeon, wherein I became alarmed about the potential of chronic thyroid cancer. She has now made it clear that I shouldn’t be using her personal e-mail address for this purpose.

I contacted her because I found that I had no one who could answer my questions about the next 3 months and the rest of my life since my brand new endocrinologist left WHC just two weeks after I saw her for the first time. Deborah responded with the name of another endocrinologist at WHC.

I felt extremely badly about continuing to involve Deborah and requiring her time in my thyroid woes, when she is not being compensated. I told her that I was more than willing to pay anyone who was willing to talk to me. I was happy to make an appointment, make a phone call, or deal with my questions by e-mail, gladly compensating the person on the other end for his/her time. She mentioned that she could not charge for anything other than a personal appointment. I have trouble understanding this, given my previous internist, Dr. Lamb, who even though he had his faults, did have an e-mail policy with a charging algorithm. Daniel’s psychologist has had telephone appointments with him for years.

Making appointments with really good doctors in this area is a problem. I proved this just one more time when I attempted to make an appointment with the new endocrinologist, Dr. O. I left two phone messages which were never returned. Deborah gave me a new number to try. This time a receptionist actually answered the phone, but she said the first available appointment was February 16, just three months after my surgery. Deborah intervened and today I got a phone call from the doctor himself, who offered me an appointment next week.

Deborah and I still haven’t had a discussion about what topics are appropriate outside of her office. But if I had to make a choice between keeping Deborah as my doctor or keeping her as my friend and musical partner, I’m not sure what I would do. I really value her in both of these roles. Maybe it would be a good idea for Deborah and me to develop our own rules of engagement, just so there is no doubt in the future.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Time for a Palm Pilot

As I was on my way to an appointment with Rebecca today, I suddenly realized that I had really screwed something up. For months I have been suggesting that my Wednesday night meditation group have a picnic and an outdoor sit. I even suggested that it could be this Wednesday, when I was planning to anchor (lead) the group. We had talked about who was bringing what and who was coming. But I’d completely forgotten that Wednesday night is Kol Nidre, the beginning of Yom Kippur. I will be joining the Temple Micah choir to sing for the evening service.

I’m usually so good about scheduling, refusing to use an electronic device, even to write anything down, simply keeping it in my head. It’s my form of mental discipline. But now I had double-booked Wednesday night.

What to do? I put out a message to the other people who come to meditation. One person suggested that we cancel the outdoor sit and dinner and do it when more people could attend. I feel badly that I can’t even communicate with one of these people because he doesn’t have an e-mail address. So he may show up a half hour early and bring food to share with the group.

I keep asking myself how these two important parts of my life could have been kept so separate, so isolated from each other. My Type-A feeling of responsibility makes me feel guilty when things like this happen. But after all, I am just human. And humans screw up from time to time.

Maybe a Palm Pilot would help...

Saturday, October 08, 2005

A Poem from Liz


Adas Israel Synagogue, Washington, DC

The old gym bag–bathing suit, cap,
shampoo, razor–as ready to go
as it was four years back, autumn,
the onset of illness, the last time I used it.

Today it became the mikvah bag,
bathing suit and cap superfluous,
but shampoo and razor essential
for the priming, the cleansing,
the ritual before the ritual bath.
This Rosh Hashanah, we would bathe for rebirth.

Lynn was there, without her breasts.
Jan was there, without her colon.
Barbara was there, soon to be without
her thyroid. All of me was there,
but each cell without its engine of energy.

Still, I dipped three times.
Nothing happened.
Floated face down, floated face up.
Soon the prayer–my only one–emerged:
“Help me, please.”
Then a need, instinctual,

to dip three times more.
There was a time of sobbing–
a time of floating,
and a time, finally,
of returning

to the self I left behind.
Not much of a pool, that mikvah,
yet I stroked, grabbed the wall,
turned, stroked, grabbed the wall,
returned. Oh, miracle of understanding,

again instinctual,
to dip three times more–
a third and final act of immersion–
before rising from the waters,
swimmer that I always was,
tired as if old,
wet and dripping as if new.

Good Night and Good Luck

We just came from seeing the George Clooney’s new documentary that chronicles Edward R. Murrow’s battle against Senator Joseph McCarthy. Despite the fact that most of America was behind Murrow, this was the beginning of his downfall. But he didn’t go down without seeing some wrongs righted and without making millions of Americans aware of what was happening in our county at the time. The movie depicts a whole staff of newsmen at CBS who were there for the story, not the consequences.

I found myself asking where those newsmen are today? Our civil liberties are once again under attack and a complacent America is not complaining very loudly, if at all. There are thousands of political prisoners who have not been charged with crimes, who sit in jails in Cuba or elsewhere, waiting for some semblance of justice, just wanting to return to the business of living. It seems that their plight is forever overshadowed by another terror alert.

I can’t help but think that the continued threat of terror is just as absurd as the threat of Communism in the McCarthy era.

Thinking About Sin

Yom Kippur is a time for Jews to think about their sins of the past year and atone for them. It’s so nice that it is person to person, without involving God at all. Judaism is a very direct religion that does not require intermediaries.

So I’m pondering my sins today, thinking about whom I might have wronged. The most obvious person is my husband, since I spend so much time with him. I can’t even remember the last time we had a real fight about anything, but I often take him for granted because he is so constant and so present. He cooks dinner every weekday night for me and I often forget to be appreciative. He deals with all the crappy administrative things, like getting our license plates renewed and paying taxes and making sure our children have enough money and I often forget to be appreciative. He deals with all things electronic in our house and our cars and I often forget to be appreciative. He mentioned today that his chances for having a stroke are much greater because his father was a stroke victim. I felt my body tense as I thought about what I would need to do if that happened and how devastated I would be. I must make sure that he knows how much I appreciate him.

My biggest sin over the past year, however, is probably one of feeling needy. I seem to keep wanting friendships and relationships to grow in ways that are probably unrealistic. I know I am just making up for all those years of not really caring whether I had close friends or not because I was so invested in raising my family and in my job. I keep asking myself if it truly is a sin to feel needy, or whether neediness is a sign of being connected to humanity. If indeed this is a sin, I am not sure how to atone for it. I suppose I could just vow to put more emphasis on satisfying the neediness of others and perhaps my own neediness will seem less important.

I have not paid nearly enough attention to my wonderful dogs. When Daniel is home, he throws Jake’s kong for him every day. Rachel takes them for walks. My sole contribution is to feed them in the mornings and to give them a pat on the head as I head off for work. There is no one on this planet more loyal than Jake and Dylan. They really deserve more from me.

I’m sure this list of sins will grow as I move through the week and approach Yom Kippur on Wednesday at sundown. By then I will have prepared myself for a day of fasting and reflection. This yearly death and rebirth holiday is such a cleansing way to shed the sins of the past and wipe the slate clean for a brand new year. So many things about this religion make so much sense.

Reaction to My BLOG

It’s been almost a year now since Rebecca told me about her BLOG and suggested that I start writing my own. She also suggested that at first I not share the address with anyone, but rather that I just get used to writing and figuring out my style.

I did just that. At first writing was not so easy. I was too concerned about the finished product. I tended to write too much. But then it became easier and easier to just unload whatever was in my head at the moment. What an inexpensive therapy!

I had this fantasy that all my friends would start their own BLOGs, that we would read each other’s, and then exchange comments and e-mails, sort of the way Rebecca and her friends and family have done.

I am most curious about the reactions of the few people with whom I have shared my BLOG address or tried to.

Those people with whom I have a professional relationship – Rebecca, Deborah, Kathryn – have universally declined to read my BLOG. I don’t fully understand this, but I accept it. I have actually printed out several posts and shared them with Kathryn during therapy sessions, because after all, what better way to come to understand why I am the way I am.

Of my family, David will read my BLOG only when I insist. Occasionally he adds a comment. He started his own BLOG and stopped writing after 3 wonderful entries. Dan reads occasionally. Rachel refuses to look at my BLOG, declaring that she prefers to talk on the phone, which we rarely do.

Two of my friends actually read my BLOG and occasionally comment. I get regular e-mail from one of them. The other is a silent reader.

The last person to receive my BLOG address told me that she had found it and that it was interesting.

Then there is this group of people (everyone else) who have never acknowledged looking at my BLOG and in some cases I have never heard from them again by e-mail. What is that about? I don’t think anything I write is so weird or disturbing that it should cut off communication. Good heavens! I was hoping for just the opposite effect.

So I write away, never knowing exactly who (if anyone) is reading what I write. I am way beyond writing for an audience. It is just for me at this point. And that’s enough...

Friday, October 07, 2005


This has been a hard week for many reasons. Rosh Hashanah fell smack dab in the middle of the week, meaning that Monday night and all day Tuesday were taken up with services and related activities. Then we had choir practice for Yom Kippur on Thursday night.

The day after Rosh Hashanah I swore off all forms of caffeine. I hadn’t realized how hooked I was! I have had a dull headache for the past 3 days. It is just starting to feel better. This is in preparation for fasting on Yom Kippur. I wonder if I will actually pull this off?

Work is really becoming quite demanding. The Census Bureau is tantalizing Congress with all the post-Katrina data we can produce and I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders as they look to me to produce it. I’m back to working hard all day long and even waking up at night thinking about work. YUK! I was hoping to sort of coast out of the place, gradually reducing my responsibilities as I approached retirement. I guess it’s not going to happen that way. I have major deadlines starting later in October and extending through the middle of next year. I have one employee who is not a well person and is on multiple medications, making it hard for him to focus on work. I don’t have that big a staff, so I really count on everyone to pull his or her weight. So this makes it hard.

My upcoming thyroid surgery and the after treatment still occupy a lot of my thoughts. I have questions and am not even sure to whom to address them. My wonderful endocrinologist’s last day at WHC was September 30. Deborah suggested another doctor at WHC, who is probably the head of the department of endocrinology. But so far I have left two messages for him that have not been returned. This is not really Deborah’s field, so I can’t expect her to answer my questions. I just have several lingering questions about the radioactive iodine treatment. I’m sure Deborah will help me get the answers I need eventually.

I’m really looking forward to a relaxing weekend without a lot of scheduled activities. I’m reading the next book for our book club, The World Is Flat, but Thomas Friedman. So far a VERY interesting read, but I still have 500 pages to go. I’m playing with Deborah on Monday, so at some point I should get back to practicing the piano.

But for now, a glass of wine as I let the worries of the week slide away. TGIF!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

On a Fast Track

Many Jews fast on Yom Kippur as part of their observance of this solemn holiday. The holiday is about death and re-birth, so the idea of not eating reminds us that we are dead. Or so they say. You see, I have never in my 30 years of being Jewish actually fasted. I have never even been tempted to try, not even just skipping lunch. Instead, after the morning service and before we start up again back at Temple Micah, I sneak off and eat my LUNCH. For these past years I have felt just a little guilty as I looked around mid-afternoon and saw the glazed looks on some of my fellow choir members’ faces. For heavens sake, Teddy doesn’t even drink water! I just don’t know how he does it.

Well, this year I decided to try fasting, but still allowing myself the luxury of drinking water. I won’t eat anything after sundown on Yom Kippur Eve until the break-fast after sundown the next day.

There is this little issue of my daily latte with two shots of espresso. I have become addicted to these Starbucks treats. But I can’t give up food and caffeine all at the same time, so this calls for drastic measures. Today I ordered a decaf latte. This afternoon I drank herbal tea instead of my usual green tea. I must say that I feel like a walking zombie. But I am going to be caffeine FREE by Yom Kippur.

I’ve always blamed my unwillingness to fast on my low blood pressure. If indeed it is a problem next week, I will have an energy bar or two tucked in my things. I’ll just sneak out and eat if I feel too faint.

I have heard that it is actually good for your body to occasionally give it a rest from eating and digesting. I guess I will find out.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Holidays Past and Present

After 5 years at Temple Micah, I feel so totally entwined with the congregation, the choir, and just about every aspect of this place. I know that I make a contribution to the services through singing in the choir. It’s good to finally feel a real sense of purpose and belonging.

I found myself contrasting this year’s Rosh Hashanah experience with my first experience just about 30 years ago. We attended services at Washington Hebrew Congregation, a really upscale Reform temple, not at all like Temple Micah. The array of expensive fall suits was like an ad for Nordstroms or Saks. Not knowing a word of Hebrew at this point in my life, the only thing I could possibly identify with was the music. Unfortunately the congregants used every musical interlude as an excuse to talk to each other. I became so annoyed that I wrote a letter to Rabbi Haberman, which he actually read at the Yom Kippur service and which did absolutely no good whatsoever. I never seemed to know where we were in the service or when it was going to be over. I didn’t even realize that the congregation were all reading the prayers in Hebrew, thinking that they must all have memorized them. I was certainly not prepared for religious ritual which was so foreign to me. I distinctly remember suggesting to David that we write our own words instead of following a prescribed service that someone else had designed. I had this idyllic picture of us reading our own sentiments to each other under a willow tree by the river while our children played nearby.

When our children were young, we moved our membership to a temple closer to our home in Virginia. I tried several times to become part of the fledgling volunteer choirs that inevitably failed because they had no support from those in charge. Having sung in choirs all my life before becoming a Jew, I found myself really missing religious music. Temple Beth El’s approach to the High Holiday music was to hire a quartet of non-Jewish soloists to support their non-Jewish cantorial soloist. There was not room for me in this musical picture.

After our children had their b’nai mitzvot and swore off religion all together, we decided to look for a congregation that was more than just a convenience. From the first time we visited Micah, it was clear that music was a priority and that people were welcoming and intellectually stimulating. We just wished we had made the move many years earlier, instead of wandering in a religious desert. Perhaps our children would have a very different view of their religious heritage had they attended Temple Micah’s religious school.

We joined just prior to the High Holidays in 2000. I found the notebooks of music to be daunting. There is just not enough time to completely prepare a new choir member for the many pieces of music that comprise the various services. I practiced on my own like crazy so as not to be too ill-prepared. Teddy was encouraging and the choir members were supportive and it was fine. I was hooked after that. The regular music was almost a let-down after the difficulty of some of the High Holiday music.

Every year since then has become easier. I sympathize with new choir members and always try to reassure them that we all started at the same place.

I chanted Torah and Haftarah for the first time this year. I was so excited recently when Lynn suggested that we share a service next summer and learn another portion together. The musical possibilities and just the chance to grow in this religious are endless at Micah. What a community!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Preparing for the High Holidays

I organized a visit to the mikveh at Adas Israel for myself and three other women from Temple Micah today. Each of us had a half hour of private time to practice this ancient ritual of immersion in “living” water in whatever way we chose. I prayed for myself, my family, and the world in my first series of three dips. The second series focused on unloading issues from the past, worries about the future, and settling into the present moment, sort of like we do in meditation.

There is nothing like the power of water to make you feel clean. Preparation for the mikveh involves cutting your nails, removing any form of nail polish, cleaning out all the crevices where dirt can collect, and of course removing anything like jewelry and glasses that isn’t part of your body. We concluded that this preparation is intended to get you mentally prepared to immerse in the water. The water itself is warm and deep enough that you can feel suspended without touching any part of the walls of the pool. It feels so buoyant and delightful. It is very liberating.

I’m not sure how I chose the three women I invited. It was just some sort of connection I had felt with them. As it turns out, we all have serious health issues which were certainly part of the mikveh experience for each of us. I know Jan and Liz through the choir. I have only recently become friendly with Lynn.

Jan is quite petite. She is a fearless singer who holds down the alto section in the choir. When she is there, I know she will never miss an entrance and she will unfailingly sing on pitch and in rhythm. I learned today that she had her colon removed 13 years ago and suffers from the effects of scar tissue and other related problems. She may need to undergo further surgery. She practices a blend of Judaism and Buddhism. Does this make her a Bu-Jew, as my friend Ellen calls people with these beliefs?

Liz is absolutely beautiful, with long black curly hair. She is a lawyer, who has a passion for writing and therefore opted out of law to teach. She is a published author. She plays the flute amazingly well. She suffers from chronic lyme disease, which she has had for 4 years now. She is so discouraged with the fact that every day when she gets up in the morning, her body aches and she is tired. She wants her old body back, the spunk she always had. She wants to swim again. She actually tried the breast stroke in the mikveh today and it felt so natural.

Lynn is a renaissance woman. She has had about 5 different serious careers, including being a lawyer and now a psychotherapist, as well as running a hospice in southern Maryland. She wants to study acting. She reads incessantly by listening to books on tape during her 2 hours of commuting each day. Lynn lost both breasts and her ovaries due to a hereditary proclivity for cancer. She wants to figure out how to feel whole again. Chanting Torah this summer was her first step toward legitimizing her Jewishness. Visiting the mikveh was the second.

We went out for lunch after the last person finished up. There were tears and stories and revelations over wonderful Greek food. We felt a special closeness because of our vulnerability and our constant striving to make sense of adversity. We also felt close because of our joint experience, whereby words rose up from the depth of our being and we spoke to some force somewhere in an effort to cleanse ourselves from earthly burdens. The water accepted our bodies without question. If only we could do the same...

Shana tova.