Wednesday, May 18, 2005

My Cup Runneth Over

I always used to wonder about this phrase when I recited the 23rd Psalm. It sounded so overabundant, so excessive. We always tend to stop pouring before our cups run over. How would it feel to have so much extra that it was just spilling over the top? I have recently had a couple of experiences where I felt like I was experiencing this ecstatic overabundant feeling.

The members of my Wednesday night meditation group sit together for an hour each week – 40 minutes of silent meditation followed by a brief reading from Thich Nhat Hanh and a few minutes for anyone who wishes to comment on the reading. Even though there has been limited verbal exchange, we have become very close to each other after many weeks of this pattern of meditation. We decided to have a potluck dinner following our meditation at a member’s home several weeks ago. Several of our readings concerned eating mindfully, so this seemed like a good idea. We convened in Bill’s living room, sitting on his blankets and pillows instead of the usual cushions at Healing Arts. His bell was lovely, but had a much different sound from our usual bell. It turned out that we didn’t even need a bell to tell us when the 40 minutes was up because he had a grandfather clock that chimed every 15 minutes. After a very otherwise quiet sit and a reading, we prepared to eat a vegetarian dinner. Mary had suggested that we taste our food in silence for the first 10 minutes and that we consciously put the fork down in between bites. Our meal consisted of a black bean-quinoa salad, hot ratatouille, brown rice, crusty bread with pesto and tapanade spreads, and choices of wine. There couldn’t have been more inviting flavors and colors. Just as we were sitting to eat, Eli, a member who had recently had a baby, arrived with 5-week-old Mateo to join us for dinner. We had to break the 10-minutes of silence rule to gush over the baby and to greet Eli. The conversation was rich and flowing and matched the glasses of wine that were consumed. Our varied and interesting lives began to unfold for those whom we trusted but about which we knew so little. After eating for a long time we moved on to a dessert of carob and sunflower seeds, all baked and melted together. It was luxurious. It was one of those evenings that you don’t want to end. I went home knowing how very much I loved each of these people I continue to sit with weekly.

Last Saturday I had a similar experience. My latest music partner is Deborah, who when she is not playing the double bass is most likely being a physician. We are about the same age, with children who are the same age. There was an immediate bond from the first time we met. I love playing duets with Bill, but he never makes a mistake, so I sometimes come away wishing I could have done a better job. Deborah has had a lot more experience than I have, but we play together so evenly, taking turns making mistakes and starting us over again. On Saturday we played a Handel sonata and a Vivaldi sonata, both difficult pieces of music. By the time we were through after about 2 hours, we had successfully played all 8 movements. It was an absolutely beautiful day, one of those rare days in Washington where it is sunny with no humidity and a slight breeze. So we had played with the windows open and just let the music fill the inside and outside. It was surely another one of those times when your heart is filled to bursting for love of the person you are with and for what you are doing.

I often feel like a very fortunate person these days. I really like the feeling of my cup overflowing with love and enjoyment.

Friday, May 13, 2005

To Play or to Touch

I’ve been invited to represent the Census Bureau at a conference in Mexico in July, where I will be expected to give a talk in Spanish. Given that it has been 30+ years since I studied Spanish at the Foreign Service Institute, I lobbied for a week of intensive training prior to July, which surprisingly was approved by my boss. So today I went for an informal “test” to assess my Spanish proficiency for placement purposes.

Senor Pedro Alvarez, the instructor who evaluated me, covered a wide range of topics, frequently noting mistakes on his little pad of paper. At one point he asked me what I would like to do in retirement and I responded “jugar el piano”. He politely (in Spanish) asked me if I wouldn’t prefer to “tocar al piano”. I had forgotten that jugar is the verb you use when you talk about playing a sport or a game, whereas tocar is more like to touch. These are the kinds of subtleties that 30 years erase. So I filed that away just as he wrote it on his pad.

He finally declared that we were done and proceeded to let me know how I had done. He sensed that I had understood everything that he had said, which was true. He noted that I had a large vocabulary, but that I also tended just to make up words when I didn’t really know the Spanish word – also true and the result of working in Latin America, where communication often depended on your ability to invent words accompanied by gestures. He said my verb tenses were rusty and not very numerous and that I sometimes failed to make nouns and adjectives agree. I got a rating of 2+,3 as opposed to the 3,3 that I got so many years ago. Not too bad for someone of my age, I thought. The next step will be to find a class at the right level for me and just immerse myself in this language for 40 hours – a week of intensive.

Following my FSI evaluation, I drove to the home of Jessica Krash, my new piano teacher. Jessica has a formidable set of credentials, including a degree from Julliard and a doctorate in the psychology of music from Harvard. But she couldn’t be nicer or more encouraging for someone like me, who has had only a little formal training, mostly also an even longer time ago. I met Jessica through the GWU seminar, wherein she forms groups of people to play together. I decided to start taking some lessons once again to work on things like my posture and hand position, in the hope of avoiding arthritis and other nasty health problems.

Ironically the theme of today’s piano lesson was one of touching the keys with feeling, as opposed to just striking them the way you might hit a ball. Deja vu? We did some music theory, talked about good warm-up exercises before practice, and then did some serious playing, with Jessica providing a treasure trove of good ideas to add emotion and life to what is actually already beautiful music.

After hearing it twice today in quite different contexts, I am persuaded to go lovingly touch the piano keys for a while this afternoon in preparation for playing with Deborah tomorrow afternoon.

The Tryst of a Lifetime

Rebecca is excited about her upcoming trip to Kansas City, where she will be able to sit in front of the 8-foot Great Kuan Yin in the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum, she will massage her sister Deborah’s head, and most importantly she will have the “tryst of a lifetime,” as she puts it.

When she was a student of 19 at the Kansas City School of Art known as Becky, she worked for Don, a man in his 30s at the time. (His claim to fame is that he is and has always been the inker for Doonesbury.) They became great friends. Over the years they often wrote to each other weekly, on real stationary with envelopes and stamps. They told each other everything. They saw each other for the last time in 1993 before Rebecca was initiated into Feri. Over all these years, there has only been one kiss and well maybe he held her hand once. But all in all she respected the fact that he was a married man with three children and they were simply best friends.

Recently their friendship resumed as Rebecca left her Feri practice behind and once again joined the rest of humanity. They decided just once to give in to what is obviously a wonderful love for each other. They have planned the most romantic reunion while she is in Kansas City. But then they will put romance behind and just resume their friendship because Don is still married after 40+ years. Rebecca sees it as a precursor to the next love of her life here in Washington, with someone who isn’t encumbered by marriage, maybe a man, maybe a woman, who knows?

When I first heard this fairy-tale plan, it sounded bizarre to me. How could you consummate a relationship and then just walk away from it?

But then I realized that I had had a similar experience just prior to starting to date David. Since my summer in Math Camp at FSU in 1966, I had been best friends with Duke Miles, an older college boy at the time who helped keep us high-schoolers in line. Duke was not the most attractive person I have ever met, but he was incredibly witty, smart, and just plain fun. We too exchanged real letters, almost every week. He came to Panama City to visit me several times, often bringing friends who went out with my friends. He bought me my first bottle of vodka, since I was not 21 yet. We stayed in close contact until he decided to get married to Maxine (otherwise known as Max) at age 21. I was in their wedding and wished them well. I visited them in Atlanta with various and sundry male companions over the years. Duke snapped one picture which he always jokingly threatened to blackmail me with. Then his marriage to Max broke up and Duke was flailing around looking for someone to give his broken heart to. He came to visit me in Washington during that time. Just this once, my best friend and I had more than a friendship and it was sweet, tender, and intimate. Then he went back to Atlanta and soon thereafter found Melinda, his second wife and the mother of his two children. Within a month of Duke’s visit, I was dating David, to become married and forever happily monogamous.

So maybe there is something to this concept of a one-time “tryst of a lifetime” that launches us into our next romantic involvement.

My friend Duke remained married to Melinda until his untimely death at age 53 of a massive stroke. It happened on the very day when my daughter Rachel and I were on our way to visit him and his family at their lake house outside of Atlanta. I will forever miss him.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Happy Birthday, Mother

I’ve been thinking a whole lot about my mother lately as I look for a new therapist. I have finally started to believe that Rebecca is right – I do have a number of unresolved issues concerning my mother that I need to explore. When she died and was cremated 15 years ago, I left that urn with the ashes in its niche and simply didn’t process her death. I never grieved for her. I simply put my thoughts for her on hold – sort of like pausing a CD. I recently realized that it is time to acknowledge all my feelings about her life and about her death and about our relationship.

A year ago I first met Rebecca, my massage therapist. She is definitely not your ordinary person. She is a witch, for starters. She obviously believes in magic and spells and astrology and reads people’s energy fields, just as she would their tarot cards. She is bisexual. She is Jewish. She lives with her dog in the basement apartment of a house on Capitol Hill owned by a gay couple. She is funny. She writes an interesting BLOG. Getting a massage from her is like being in nirvana for 75 minutes.

My first massage last year was the beginning of a giant awakening of my body, mind, and soul. Years and years of kinks in all three areas started to release. I began to realize how starved for nurturing my body was and Rebecca’s “Mother Superior” massage was just what I needed. I finally started to reach out naturally to hug friends and relatives, something that has always been difficult for me to do. You are probably wondering how in the world this relates to my mother’s birthday! What I have just come to realize is that this entire past year I was starting to reconnect with my mother through this process.

When I was a child, I don’t remember experiencing a lot of physical affect with my parents. I always knew that they loved me, but there was just not a lot of touching. My mother joked about the “cold Norwegians” (my father’s family was Norwegian), but she was not terribly affectionate either. I remember her coming in to kiss me goodnight AFTER she thought I was asleep. What was that all about?

So with my eyes closed during a massage, I think I have unconsciously been experiencing my mother’s loving touch and it has been wonderful. I just wish, especially on her birthday, that she was here so that we could reach out to each other with our eyes open and have a good long hug.

I am so looking forward to talking to my new therapist about so many things regarding my mother and my father, but especially my mother. It will be difficult because they are no longer around to participate in the discussion, but hopefully I will be able to better understand our relationship and to experience their physical affection even in their absence.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Feeling Needy

I always thought it was a sign of weakness to feel needy, so I tried never to show it if I did feel that way. But lately, I’ve sometimes sensed a dark cloud of neediness hanging over my head. Rebecca says most feelings like this are rooted in the fact that our mothers didn’t – couldn’t – love us adequately. I always knew that my mother loved me, but her lack of outward affection still leaves me with a feeling of inadequacy.

I have so much in my life! How could I possibly need anything? This is the question I continue to come back to. I have a loving husband of 29 years. I have two children who are slowly making their way in the world and will do great things I am sure. I have financial security. I have (reasonably) good health. I have a rewarding job that pays me a big salary. I have friends – old and new ones. I have music as a hobby. I have a religion that gives me spiritual support. The list goes on.

So what is on my list of needs? I would like for Rebecca to be my friend and she can’t be because we have a professional relationship. I would like a network of people with whom I could exchange regular e-mail messages or BLOG comments about anything and everything. As it is, I have sporadic communication with a lot of friends, but no one seems to be really interested in more than just casual news updates. I want to talk about burning issues – about the state of the world, about religion, about politics, about human emotions, about growing older, and so on and on and on. But as it is, more often than not, I sign onto my e-mail account to find “There are no new messages on the server,” and I say to myself, “Boo, hoo, hoo. Noboby wants to talk to you.”

Now that I write this down, my neediness seems almost laughable. It so pales in comparison with what I already have. I have to ask myself if I would truly be happy and satisfied if my needs were met. The answer is probably no, that these two things are just the obvious, that there is more underneath.

Rebecca has urged me to find another therapist, someone who will delve deeper into the source of my feelings, now that I at least identified my feelings with Anne a few months ago. I have started looking around, being somewhat concerned about not being able to find the right person. But at least I am working on this.

I have finally accepted that it is not a sign of weakness to feel needy, but rather a sign of being human. Life was not nearly so complicated when I was in a state of unawareness a year ago and I was emotionally “half-dead” as Anne put it, but I think I am far better off being on this emotional roller coaster now!

Monday, May 09, 2005


Over the past 30 years my weight had gradually been creeping up from 130 to about 143. I was becoming more and more pear-shaped and my stomach muscles which had never been any good were getting worse.

Last fall I created my own version of all the popular diets and went on an exercise campaign. One person who was ahead of me in this endeavor had commented that the hardest thing about dieting was figuring out how to stop losing weight. I doubted that I would ever experience that problem.

But little by little the pounds came off and my stomach began to flatten and become stronger. I was getting a little worried when clothes that I had already altered were becoming baggy. I had hoped to stop at a perfect size 8. I also noticed that eating was not very much fun anymore. I seldom allowed myself the luxury of much sugar or extra fat. So two weeks ago, I decided to figure out how to stabilize my weight and actually gain a couple of pounds.

What I have finally realized is that weight is neither lost quickly or gained quickly – it’s not just one splurge or one day of diminished calories that really makes a marked difference. But it’s an overall pattern – which would make sense. So I now allow myself treats from time to time. I like my current weight. Most of my clothes fit OK now. And most size 8's off the rack work just fine.

I am positive that to stay at this size I will need to exercise for the rest of my life. But this is what I should have been doing all along. As with many things, I am just a little late getting started. The answer for me is sensible eating with reasonable exceptions and exercise at least 5 times a week. I not only look better, but shopping is more fun and I feel better and stronger too!

A Movie Without Words

Last night our couples book club elected to watch a movie instead of reading a book. This had a negative consequence in that we forgot entirely about the meeting until 15 minutes after it started since there was no book to serve as a reminder.

We watched Koyaanisqatsi, a film directed by Godfrey Reggio with music by Philip Glass. This movie was definitely unique because it told a 90-minute story without using a single spoken word. The title is a Hopi word meaning “life out of balance.” The premise of the film is the collision of nature with the industrial world. It uses speeded up and slowed down photography that depicts powerful waves, swirling desert sand, demolition of housing projects, atomic bomb explosions, freeway scenes, and production lines. The juxtaposition of such images evokes a cry to save our poor world and return it to its natural state.

Here is a link to provide more information about this movie that is like none other:

Next month we are back to reading a book once again. It was nice to take a diversion this month. It was a reminder that a story can be told in so many ways, even without the use of words.

A Visit with Florence

Several weeks ago I related how our 89-year-old friend Florence had suffered a debilitating stroke. Within a short time she had made a remarkable recovery. Since then we have seen Florence at several functions at the synagogue.

She called this past week to invite David and me over to visit. I made her promise not to cook anything. So we agreed on 4:30 on Mother’s Day.

We had never visited Florence at her house. It is located in a “mature” neighborhood, one where there are big trees and substantial plantings. Florence claims to be the only original owner left, having bought the house in 1957 for $22,500. Upon entry into this house, you immediately sense the love and family feeling that were always so much a part of this place. It’s not a great house for an elderly person because of all the stairs between the various levels, but it is obvious that Florence intends to stay here until she dies.

As we visited with her, her 62-year-old son Jerry was preparing the front entryway for the installation of a hand-railing this week. It seems that Florence has convinced the family of her desire to remain in the homestead.

As we sipped Pinot Grigio and ate very blue cheese and grapes, Florence told us about the wonderful impressionist-like paintings that adorned the walls – done by her friend Pearl, her daughter Lydia, her father-in-law, and herself. They were all museum-quality. She read an incredible few paragraphs from her daughter’s high school senior paper on Sylvia Plath. She told stories of their stay in Germany, Italy, Greece, and Hong Kong (where she went to live while her CIA husband Gil worked in Vietnam during the early 70's). She had us rolling in laugher as she described travel scenes with her Yiddish-speaking mother. Apparently age is indeed a relative thing, as Florence repeatedly told us how young we were.

Florence indicated her desire to go on the next Micah trip to Israel next year (“if I’m still around,” she said). I have no doubt that she will do just that if she is still able. I’m sure that the recent stroke indeed took its toll on her, but Florence is living proof that the power of positive thinking can triumph.

As we were on our way out the door, Florence insisted that we load up two big bags with books she is trying to get rid of. For some reason, she had targeted us for the gardening books, despite the fact that we pay someone to take care of our yard. I’ll have to remember this tactic the next time we have guests. It makes a lot more sense that lugging the books to the Salvation Army!

Miraculous Conception

This time of the year always reminds me of a time many years ago, 25 to be precise, when I was disconsolate about not being able to have a baby. We had been trying for a long time, had been to specialists who didn’t find anything wrong, but it either wasn’t happening or I was having a series of very early miscarriages.

In early May 1980 I was scheduled to go on a 3-week work trip to Lesotho, a poor country completely surrounded by South Africa. It was a 36-hour trip, which took me through Rio de Janeiro, where I had a long layover in the middle of the night. As my mind was shifting toward this work assignment, I was still very much consumed by a concert my small chamber singer group was giving the night before I left. We were doing renaissance music in a very formal high Episcopal service, replete with incense swingers (or whatever those things are called). The setting was perfect and we sang as we had never sung before. It was a sound that will always be with me, especially when I hear renaissance music.

May 4 was the 8th day of my menstrual cycle that month and it never crossed my mind that I could possibly be fertile that day. After the wonderful concert David and I shared a time of intimacy, and then I left on my grueling journey. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Lesotho, working in really primitive conditions and exploring the countryside as work permitted. It was beautiful and very calming.

After I returned home (with the same grueling itinerary), I waited for my inevitable period to come and it didn’t. I thought maybe it was just the change of time zones, but still nothing. I experienced a brief spotting and decided to have a pregnancy test done. Sure enough, it was positive! But the spotting was already labeling it a “threatened pregnancy”. So I used progesterone suppositories and hoped it wasn’t a girl (since they can emasculate females). Soon the constant queasiness confirmed my pregnancy.

This was how Daniel’s life began. I’ll never know if it was the beautiful music or the sexual intimacy with no expectations that resulted in his conception. But whatever happened on May 4, 1980, was truly a miraculous conception and one for which I will always be grateful!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Looking Back

I recently glanced at the picture on my badge for work and was shocked. It shows a very sad, old, haggard person who doesn’t appear to have much to live for. I want to make apologies for her, to say, “I used to know this person and she has changed.”

I remember a year ago feeling so bored all the time that I often just went to bed at 8:30 so that I could get up at the crack of dawn and be in the office, often as early as 6:30.

Today I feel infinitely more alive and happy most of the time. At least I am not sad most of the time! I have so many good things to do that I have trouble fitting them all in. I seldom get to work before 8:30 and I have trouble fitting in 40 work hours a week.

I actually thought about asking the security people to take a new photo of me so that I don’t need to be reminded of the time when I was sad.

But maybe I should just keep the old badge so I can appreciate the difference...

Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Ten Commandments

The passover story causes us to think of the ten commandments each year, as we recount the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt and their 40-year stay in the desert on their way to the promised land. One person commented that her training would indicate there is a better way to state these rules for living, one that doesn’t put so much emphasis on the NOT. In fact, only two of the commandments ask us to do something (as opposed to NOT to do...): honor your parents, keep the Sabbath holy.

I started thinking about this and wondering if the evolution of society from the time of Moses would indicate the need for some change in the list of commandments: Would there now be 15? Or perhaps only 7? What would be the best rules for living in this complicated world in which we exist?

I thought about adding the Golden Rule, which asks us to treat each other with the same respect we would like to be accorded. Maybe something to do with preserving the environment. What about not taking on unnecessary debt? What about not spending your money on ridiculous things like lottery tickets or other games of chance? What about working collectively for peace in the world? What about not insisting that others share our personal belief structures? Or what about not holding prisoners with no just cause? Or trying to make other countries emulate our political systems?

I concluded that the original ten commandments were still quite applicable today, just as they were initially stated. (It’s hard to come up with a positive way of saying “Thou shalt NOT kill.”) I like the thought of some additions to fit our modern society.

What do you think? Can we improve on something that has lasted for 4,000+ years?

True Confessions

Once upon a time our whole family was addicted to watching Days of our Lives. We inherited this addiction from David’s mother who had always watched this soap opera. It became easy to watch in 35 minutes each day when we could record the hour-long program and then just watch it later by fast-forwarding through the commercials (yes, there really are 25 minutes of commercials in an hour show!). The world of Days (centered in Salem, in the midwest near Chicago) was very restricted: there were no Jews, no Hispanics, no Asians, only 1 gay man, no lesbians, no abortions, etc. In the hottest of sex scenes everyone kept their clothes on (I never quite figured out how this worked...) But then when the summer Olympics superceded the 1 PM NBC slot, we realized how stupid it was to watch this idiotic story every day and it all ended. It was actually much more pleasant to talk to each other at dinner!

Of course we didn’t tell any of our upper-middle-class intellectual friends that we actually watched a soap opera. After all, aren’t those written for the stupidest of Americans who don’t read books or listen to good music and who have nothing better to do?

But I must confess, I have found something more addictive than watching soap operas – something that is real, not fiction. I read other people’s BLOGs. There is absolutely nothing illegal about this. Virtually everything on the Internet is available to anyone who knows how to find it. It turns out that GOOGLE and a few addresses of friends’ BLOGs make it not too difficult to discover a world of entertaining reading. And one BLOG leads to another as people add their comments. There is the deepest of intellectual thought; there is X-rated sexual commentary; there are stories of lost love, found love, no love; there is a virtual smorgasbord of things to read.

The interesting thing about being a BLOG-junky is that it is in no way apparent to the authors of all of this reading material. You can simply slip in and read what you want and then leave undetected.

One might ask whether this is unethical, even though it is certainly not illegal. Is this the behavior of some pervert, a veritable stalker, who is entertained by the exploits of pure strangers (in some cases)? It might seem suspiciously so. But on the other hand, what’s the difference in being entertained by a program of fictitious stilted characters who make their appearance for an hour every day and this other world of real characters who are available 24x7?

Every now and then someone tells me that he/she read something in my BLOG and I am always surprised that anyone reads it. For all I know, some stranger might at this very moment be reading my latest posting. I can guarantee that it does not provide the fascinating reading that some people who live on the fringes of society provide, so I would be surprised if I had even one regular follower! But even I will never know...