Sunday, October 6, 2013

Jewish Secular Reality is American Secular Reality

Alternative Title: You are being an asshole and I am not your problem.

In a recent study by the Pew Research Center it was determined that there is an increased secularism of American Jews. It has caused a lashing out of vicious un-loving remarks from Jews across the country blaming families like mine for the loss of membership in their institutions. My own recent experience of being discriminated against by members of the Jewish community for being a non-Jewish spouse to one of their own - certainly made me angry enough that I ALMOST pulled my children out of Hebrew School. Instead, I thought I would give the congregation a chance to prove that they had the Chutzpah to make comments to my face (and not just to my Jewish spouse). What isn't being mentioned is the fact that the study reflects that secularism is on the rise in the United States across the board. Here I provide some conversational context for those who, upon seeing the results of the study, went looking for someone to blame.

Personal History (modified from oral telling and basic math): 
A few generations ago there was a black woman who was brought to the United States and sold as a slave in the American South. She had a tribal religion from Africa. She was raped by the son of the Baptist man who purchased her body and she had a daughter. That daughter, born a slave, ran away and married a Cherokee Man. She had no particular religion but, was good with herbs. They were forced to leave their home and moved to Arkansas. They had a daughter there, she made moonshine, and smoked a pipe and learned from her mother, they branded her a witch. She married a man and they had children one was born in Missouri. He moved to Kansas and wed a young woman whose family had been assimilated on a reservation in Oklahoma, they went to church. They had three daughters. One of their daughters married a man from an Irish family (who had their own history of religious conversion and assimilation). Before they had married, the man had a son with a Catholic Guatemalan woman and the marriage was annulled. The son was raised in Guatemala as a Christian. They had six children together, who they raised as United Methodists. One of their daughters married three times, having four children. Her first marriage was to a Presbyterian and produced one son (he is now a Lutheran), Her second marriage was to a Re-Organized Mormon (a religion that was less than two hundred years old) produced two daughters (one is a secular Christian, the other a Taoist) her third marriage was to a Jew and they had one daughter (she is being raised Jewish). This woman also had a cousin who also married a Jew - and that cousin had three daughters who they raised Jewish. The woman's Taoist daughter, from her second marriage, also married a Jew. This daughter had two children who are being raised as Jews. This family went from zero Jews to eight (the Taoist has not yet converted). 

Religious History (the creation of an expanded family tree):
But Naomi replied, "Turn back, my daughters! Why should you go with me? Have I any more sons in my body who might be husbands for you? Turn back, my daughters, for I am too old to be married. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I were married tonight and I also bore sons, should you wait for them to grow up? Should you on their account debar yourselves from marriage? Oh, no my daughters! My lot is far more bitter than yours, for the hand of the LORD has struck out against me." 
They broke into weeping again, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law farewell. But Ruth clung to her. So she said, "See your sister-in-law has returned to her people and her gods. Go follow your sister-in-law." But Ruth replied, "Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go; I will go. Wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your G_d my G_d. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus and more may the LORD do to me if anything but death parts me from you."
and the story continues with the meeting of Boaz . . . May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built up the House of Israel!

Historical Context (incomplete, non-chronological order):
Age of Enlightenment, Literacy, The Printing Press, Colonization, Darwin, Industrialization, Modernism, Post-Modernism, Capitalism, Feminism, Fascism, Corporatism, World Wars, Radio, Human Rights, Television. Civil Rights. GLBT Rights. Isolationism. Globalization. The Internet. 

Popular Culture (a sampling - not rated by impact or importance):
Jazz, Rock and Roll, Laugh-In, Father Knows Best, Punk, EMO, Sesame Street, Age of Aquarius, Joan Baez, The Beatles, Muppet Show, Dalai lama, The Today Show, Saturday Night Live, Barbie Dolls, Bob Dylan, Stephen Spielberg, Star Wars, The Daily Show, Fox News, Bill Cosby, Oprah, Channel One, Shirley Temple, MTV, Twitter . . . the list is long in history and content . . . add your own - Here is one more:

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Thursday, March 7, 2013

HOLWhy Postscript

Hummingbird is my Maternal Grandmother - far from perfect, she struggled with many of the lessons that she ended up teaching me. She was a loyal and devoted matriarch but, she could be stubborn, judgmental, and skeptical of things she was not familiar with.

She continued to challenge her own notions of what was good and right and it was through this process that she continued to grow as a person until her dying day.

Her last words to me were "I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up." and "I love you."
And that may quite possibly be the most important lessons she taught me.

Hummingbird, Owl, Lark . . . Why?

Hummingbird passed through to the other side recently. She was very busy her whole life, never  bothering to slow her pace, as that is not the nature of Hummingbird. Hummingbird was so beautiful. Although she was always working on something - doing, doing, doing - not one person failed to see how beautiful she was. 

I am part Hummingbird. Just enough, that I could fly beside her during her daily rituals and responsibilities from time to time and ask her questions about what it was like to be Hummingbird. She said once, "I am not all I appear to be. You see, I married Lark and was adopted by Owl.  They taught me much. Lark, taught me to listen to life's song and to be more light-hearted and playful. This is how I learned to laugh more and let go of things I cannot control. Owl loved me unconditionally and was confident in herself and her abilities. She showed me how strong I could be and the importance of family. She also helped me to embrace my own curiosities and strengths which has served me well."

I have asked Hummingbird "Why. . . ?" so many times. She said that we should do our best to accept the things we do not understand and have faith that although reasons are beyond our knowing, that they exist and may become clear to us later. She showed me that miracles and magic are about letting go and taking life for what it is. She said that she struggled with these things too. She shared with me that she found comfort in stories full of wonder and magic. She prayed for patience and guidance and found it in places and people she loved. She said that she was still learning, every day. She said that her children and her grandchildren were her most precious treasures - as they challenged her and taught her most about love, life, and faith. 

Hummingbird is still very busy.  If you look, perhaps you will catch a glimpse of her today.

Monday, October 1, 2012


My mother taught me about life in a way that made it okay to be flawed, to live without taking my happiness for granted, and above all to never be afraid of change.

When I was a little girl, my mother was in law school. Once, she took me on a short road trip out of town to see a client of the firm she was working for. I remember it was a small town with a hospital and she had to deliver a subpoena. When we drove up to the entrance of the building, she explained to me what the building directory was, how to read it, and then proceeded to hand me an envelope and told me to enter the building, ask for Mr. Smith, find where he is, hand him the envelope and tell him "You have been served".  I did this, not knowing the purpose of what I was doing, or why. I trusted my mother and trusted that she would never ask me to do something that wasn't in my best interest or anything that could cause me harm. I look back at memories like this one, and I have very mixed feelings. The legality of her actions aside, (in California you must be 18 to serve a subpoena) as an adult, I question the judgement of my mother in sending me, a child of 8 or 9, into a strange building to deliver paperwork that could have been met with hostility, anger, and violence.  But, as a mother of a brillant eight-year-old daughter, I don't flinch at the idea. I think "she could totally do that." in fact, I am fairly certain, if given the opportunity, my daughter could be President and the world would be a better place. I think my mother believed that too.

As I got older I became more aware of the goings-on of the adults in my life. I began to catalog the lies and betrayals of my parents. Time has proven the aptitude of my observant nature, and as a keenly perceptive child, little went unnoticed. Their malnourished relationship began to devour the safety net of my childhood.  I developed a stoic relationship with my father - keeping him at a distance - believing that in his mind and hearing out of his mouth - I was a moody, selfish, drama queen. But, I gathered my disappointments towards my mother and placed them in a gilded box and kept them there with all the missed birthdays, ill-fitting shoes, un-washed clothes, and empty dinner plates from a busy life where children are not always given priority consideration. This box, like Pandora's, was kept locked for many years. I felt her love and loyalty was inextinguishable, and the box kept record of her humanity and flaws as part of the gift of all she had to give to me. Until, a twisted character in our narrative interceded and helped my mother to fashion a key out of my broken trust.

Most know that every box of demons also harbors the spirit of hope, it is part of the universal narrative of transgressions and redemption. But, I know something about the contents of my box that is specific to my tale. Years before transgressions were made against me, my mother developed and fortified an armor that protected me from falling under the attack of those bent on the demise of my happiness or the destruction of my prosperity. If my mother missed a birthday, she found another way to celebrate. Teaching me to be flexible and that love and celebration doesn't live on a calendar. I have learned to celebrate my life when deep in the muck of it - short on answers and long on problems. As my parents focused on getting a better education so that they could have better jobs and when my shoes did not fit correctly because I grew faster than the money came in - this provided me with an example of the sacrifices it sometimes takes to make your life better. And when my clothes were not being cleaned and dinner wasn't on the table at six like at the homes of my friends and I had to step up and take care of myself - I learned to be self-reliant, responsible, and hard-working. I never saw my mother's mistakes as malicious. She was attentive and nurturing when I was young, and her absences came after she had given me the tools to travel un-aided though my life. She pulled off the veil of perfection through which so many children see their parents by allowing me to witness her flaws through her own words long before I witnessed her imperfections first-hand. She told me that no-one is perfect, change is inevitable, and you will be hurt most by the ones you love.  She also taught me that I am beautiful, creative, and intelligent. I am worthy of love, and deserve to be treated with respect. She taught me to distance people who choose to make me feel ugly, stupid, or worthless. She taught me to value myself without believing I am better than anyone else. She taught me to live my life as an example of how I want to be treated. And to live and demonstrate justice by forgiving myself and others. And before all this - my mother taught me to love. These are the lessons I am passing on the my children.

And that is why I rise today. Happy October.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Believing in something

The crows are back. Building their fucking nest on the roof again.

I was sitting on the front porch the other day and a white owl left the branch of a tree nearby and flew over my head. It was not dark outside so, I saw the owl clearly. It was odd not as much for the time of day but, because I live in a heavily populated area near a loud highway with little green spaces.

The following day, a dragonfly visited me about the same time and place. No water nearby. No lakes, ponds or pools. Just the dragonfly. Beautiful and blue.

I already know the historical significance of these animals within the world of talismans and symbolism so I am not looking for information on those aspects of these moments. I make no claim that I have had a deep spiritual experience - I make no claim that I didn't. It is just that lately I have been a bit more noticing of things and there seemed to be recognition that meaning existed in those moments if I go looking for it.

But, I want to know . . . why was I triggered by these moments? These creatures? I still hold back when it comes to answering such enigmatic questions. I am waiting for the story to be longer. The claims I would make now are premature. But, I believe in something . . . something.

The claim I make today is this: That something that may already be shifting can be recognized by the person in the middle of a transition more easily when externally triggered to take note. Now I am waiting to find out what that shift really is.

Until that time comes, and I have lived to tell the tale marked by these moments, I will just keep hoping that I am right. And I will keep believing in . . . something.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Already Happy

Friends occasionally encourage me to be happy and to see the blessing in my life regardless of what bleak situation I may be drudging through. It is in those moments I feel perhaps I have not been loud enough in giving thanks and recognition for what I have. So, I start racking my brain . . . "Did I forget to say thanks to them for something? Was there something that happened that I don't know about that I should be thankful for? Oh, NO! I don't want my friend to feel I don't appreciate them!" Sometimes, I even start listing everything they have EVER done for me "Thanks for all you do for me, thank you for the cup of coffee four months ago, that piece of chewing gum you just gave me, and the ride to the store when I was sick, and for having us over for dinner, and for opening the door for me last Thursday, and for holding my hair after that party in college . . . and . . . and" But, that is shortly before I remember - that I do. I say "Thank You." several times a day. And I say it with mindfulness and sincerity. It seems they need me to feel happiness loudly because the frankness with which I speak of life is uncomfortable for them. If my ability to speak freely about things that suck makes someone brand me a complainer - than they misunderstand my comfort with the existence of crappy things.

I am going to come out of my normal morose string of thoughts to let you know that I am a happy person. I may have some "Debbie Downer" tendencies, but, it is not out of general discontent that I share my frustrations. Do not confuse honesty with unhappiness. It is out of a need to recognize that there is still much to be done in this world that I speak of the things that are not always fun to hear about. It is my way of reminding myself that any contentment I feel can be seen in contrast to something that brings sorrow or upset. It is the rocks in my shoe - the salt in my tea. If it makes you uncomfortable . . . just know it isn't about you. I do it for me. And I don't go out of my way to point these things out to you. I just don't hide them behind rainbows and cupcakes. I am clear about the existing muck, because, I could easily become complacent.

I have a great life. If I died today - I had things that other's search for their whole life. I have an amazing family and we find joy in this life and in each other. I have great friends. And though, just recently, I mentioned a frustration with meeting NEW people, It was not a comment on the LACK of good people already in my life. It was just a remark on the effort to expand love in the world through new friendships. I recognize the joys and blessings in my life. Maybe, you struggle with that. But, don't assume everyone does.

I don't get mad with people who think they are broke when they have less than $100.00 in the bank and a paycheck coming in a week. I don't deny the pain and difficulty of driving with a sprained ankle when I have a friend in the hospital with cancer. I will not compare my pain or yours. And I will not compare our happiness either. I have no desire to compete for your pain so why should I borrow your happiness?
If you find the sad things that happen to others a bit too much to handle and you aren't as strong as you would like to be, that doesn't mean others aren't. And that doesn't mean they need you to remind them that they have goodness in their lives. The truth is . . . if someone lives a life full of adversity and pain . . . they will be the first to tell you "It could be worse."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Friendship 2011

Sometimes, I wish I were a child again. The ease and simple way they have of finding a friend in even the most random places - is beautiful. Albeit, some children are far more gregarious and quicker to jump into a conversation with a stranger or playground of hollering raucousness (my son is an example of this personality) where others tend to be slower - maintaining a quiet distance and sliding into play with a timidity and care (my daughter). Either way, they are all playing and laughing before you have laid out your blanket or checked your cell for voice mail.

I don't know what I was like as a young person in regards to this phenom... I don't remember if I was more like my son or more like my daughter. I know my mother used to say I was a bold child. But, I like to think I have always been the cautious type.

My oldest, clearest, memory of my youth in regards to making a new friend - I was already in seventh grade. Thus past the "do you want to play with me" stage. I remember, watching a girl I thought was interesting for about a week during the lunch period until I worked up the nerve to introduce myself. We were fast friends. We had an instant connection (once we actually spoke) and we were tied at the hip for years. Sadly, our friendship did not survive a major rift toward the end of high school.

I have had hundreds of friendships since then. Some based on a common interest, some based on similar beliefs, some based on a shared experience. Only a dozen or so with whom I had an instant connection. And, truly, I only have a few close friends.

I am not a shy person. But, I am not a social butterfly either. I have moved around a lot through the years and have found ways of getting by and fighting loneliness with random conversations with strangers and 'friendship lite' - meaning friendships that were more of an extensive acquaintanceship for the purpose of having company at a movie or someone to carpool with. One year of my life, I relied entirely on the company of three people I couldn't stand to be around - simply because it was better than being alone everyday (though, I chose to be alone quite a bit that year). As I get older, I am less willing to tolerate people I don't enjoy. And I seek company and conversation that is deeper and more fulfilling than what is available through small talk. I have noticed these simple preferences make establishing friendships ever more difficult. And I find the ritual of making friends intimidating.

Here are a few examples:

Case Study #1: A MEAN WOMAN
I was kind to a woman because I was raised well. This woman determined that I was a "worthy" subject for friendship and has gone out of her way to become my friend. I do NOT want her as a friend. She is always generous to me and has not done anything to cause me immediate harm however, she is an asshole. I see her behave as an asshole to others and behave with the most self-centered, selfish, egotistical ways. I do not care for her. So, why is she trying to be my friend? Why does she insist on stealing time from me that I would find better spent watching paint dry? Do I have to be viciously mean to make her go away? Really?

I was waiting at the rec center with my son and another young man entered into a conversation with him and they began to play (see! kids make it look so easy!) . I had a migraine but, was listening as they spoke. This kid was crazy smart! I saw a woman who shared some of his facial features and I asked if he was her brother or son. She said "Yes, I am his mother." and I went on to say how I thought he was so smart and to encourage her to look into schools for him with accelerated classes. We had a nice little chat and shortly after making my remarks, I apologized for being rude but I had a migraine and I put on my sunglasses and hid under my hoody. Today, I was again present (migraine free) at the rec center. The woman and I made some strange efforts to try and not be obvious in our very obvious desire to speak to each other once again. We did this awkward secret dance involving looking at clocks and cell phones, peeking in at our children dancing, and walking past each other three or four times (without making eye contact), before getting courage enough to say hello. Seriously, it could have been a reel of an animal behavioral study on Discovery Channel. Finally, she asked if my headache was better and said she had gotten acupuncture for a migraine just last week herself. The conversation would have been interesting but, we spent so much time not wanting to be the one 'in need' of a friend to talk to we wasted almost every moment of the children's dance class and ended up only exchanging a few sentences. Sigh.

Case Study #3 BOY-FRIENDS
I have a history of having both male and female friends. I was super close with a man who got married to a woman who was uncomfortable with the depth of our connection and asked him to stop speaking with me. Which . . . hurt. And, though I understood her perspective, it has strongly tainted my ability to get close to heterosexual males as friends ever since. I have heterosexual male friends who are married- who I met as part of a couple and I maintain a friendship with as a couple- and I have gay male friends (single and married). But, I fear exploring friendships with single straight men because I worry it will create another "problem" for myself or that person. Ugh.

Case Study #4 SOUL MATES
With all of the traffic in my head regarding the "right" way to make a new friend - Sometimes, I still manage to find people who I can spend time with. VERY RARELY, I find someone who, no matter how we navigated the initial "hello.", shakes me into a deep knowing that the web of life had us sewn together before we even knew the other existed. But, life is complicated, and we are not children on a playground. There are rules and rituals and expectations. And so, we allow people who, we KNOW and LOVE - INSTANTLY, to fade into the background of our lives to avoid complications. Robbing ourselves of those deep meaningful connections that , quite possibly, could sustain us as we reach the time in our lives when we no longer tolerate shallow convenience friendships and egregiously offensive personalities.

I ask . . . am I a prematurely curmudgeonly thirty-something? Is friendship at this age meant to be such a hardship? Am I alone in my desperation? If friendship is this hard now - how the FUCK do people manage ROMANCE? SEX?

I am not giving up. I believe if I did give up - if I accepted that this is how it is - well . . . what would be keeping me from permanent hermitage? . . . So . . . Would you like to play with me?