The Distance

The Distance

My ancestor was named “Gentleman Jim” because not only was he one of the first to wear gloves, he was one of the first to box in a new form that had something called “the distance.”

The distance: a specified number of rounds. A stopping point, even if no one had fallen. To “go the distance” meant you had boxed all the rounds and you were still standing.

It’s my hardest lesson right now. When to stop boxing. I’ve hammered it into my very bones – my guard is up, that glove next to my cheekbone so familiar I don’t think about it now – my body knows what to do – and I love it. My gloves are a part of me. They feel like home. I feel strong; I feel ready.

But the distance is a new, scary, unfamiliar lesson… and it’s a hard one. I was not prepared for my next challenge to be… stopping.

To take the gloves off and leave the fight… go the distance, and then stop – that’s going to be the toughest fight yet.

Put down the gloves. Let down my guard. I’ve forged a soul of steel and now
softness is the scariest thing imaginable.

love – it is the only match I fear – he will still come in past my guard patiently, though my glove has stung him a few times. I don’t know how to do this anymore; I was never going to allow this again- So I slip. Feint. Even pull out the “Ali Shuffle,” then jab with a slip so I can load my uppercut, just outside his view …

but this is not how to win this kind of match.

Pause…and learn something new: perhaps this man is different. There is a good man out there, who doesn’t deserve to stand in the ring, to fight a battle and take the blows meant for a far lesser man. It’s time to stop that fight – that creep is long gone, banished with a hundred thousand hits over the course of a year, when I watched my sweat form pools drop by drop on the floor and knew it was my body’s way of weeping – knew I was washing him away in a tide of salt- I could see his weakness, his lies, his toxicity leaving me with every drop. I forgave myself for allowing him into my life- I learned to trust myself again, to trust that I would never again allow someone to treat me badly.

It’s exciting, really – it’s the one thing we can say “never” about; I will never allow someone else to treat me badly. I will never again experience that particular kind of life-wrecking pain.

As I became stronger, he became…utterly ridiculous.

Eventually, after 20lbs had been sweated away and my boxing gloves had faded, were worn and cracked with use, his face no longer swam in front of my glove as a target on the heavy bag. If he came into my mind at all, it was with surprise, and “what on earth was I thinking?”

Every time I wrapped my hands in preparation for another bout, binding my hands and arms like tefillin, I told myself I was binding my heart to my own power and locking that loser OUT. Then twenty pounds shed turned into thirty pounds; I dropped the weight of him I was carrying like a rancid crucifix across my back – left it behind in drops of sweat on the floor measured over the course of a year. Shed the way he had aged me, found joy again and youth again in new companions and new life — I stopped being a victim.

Every painful fight was a triumphant step forward.

Waiting for a good man to walk into my life, I met a few who made me realize that I had forgotten how to put down the gloves and open my arms. That I can fight may still be a good thing, however – there IS a time to fight – to ensure I will never be treated badly again…

But even so, I believe that not all men are untrustworthy. That not all men seek to control; that not all men will try to chip away at me until I am small enough for them to feel bigger – I still believe there are men out there who deserve all the love a woman can give, though I have yet to meet him, and though it’s scary, so scary, to open this heart –

I’d best accept it. Go the distance. Leave the ring. Learn what true courage is and be vulnerable sometimes, be open again; only this time, with a power that nothing can shake. This time, there is a difference. I bring more of myself when I love that self for the first time in my life – and no one can take that from me.
What I have to give I can give freely now, knowing that there is a solid core of strength in me that no one can diminish.

I don’t need to fight because I am now a warrior. It’s a paradox that comes when you’ve fought your way out the other side – the deepest strength is required for not fighting. The biggest fight any of us will ever face is : no fight at all.

My ancestor did it. He wore gloves in a world of bare-knuckle boxers; he went the distance in a world of “fight until someone is down,” though it was a new thing and I bet he came under much criticism. Perhaps his nickname “Gentleman” began as a mockery, schoolyard bullies giving him a title to wear through the ages – he turned it into fame. His courageous blood lives in my veins. I can do this.

Maggid process- Finding a Story–Letting Go

Maggid process- Finding a Story--Letting Go

With such a magnificent blaze the trees let go – I wish to burn as brightly.
Sometimes when I’m supposed to find a Maggidic story, the story finds me.
Often, it’s something I don’t really want to examine all that closely- so I might push it away for a time, but always it comes back, standing outside my door, wagging its tail,
and I have to say…all right. Come in. I’ll learn you, story, and I’ll tell you to others.
The pain that comes with the kind of clarity this requires is not small…
sometimes it involves facing things I’d rather not face, letting go of things in my life that I’d rather were “Forever,”
but when I finally sit down, let the story come fully, crack my heart open and let it really feel, there’s a cleansing that happens with the burn of loss. There’s the feeling that I am open, clear, and living absolutely fully again without blockages of things that aren’t really in alignment with my chosen expression in this life. There’s an immense feeling of power, as though my life force is no longer diluted…

but it’s hard to remember that, and hard to let go when the heart is aching with loss.

That’s when I look to the trees in the fall and winter as guides. How they celebrate the letting go–and how dignified they are when they are bare; what courage it takes to sit with emptiness for a time, to allow the barren branches to be, rather than trying to cling to the old simply so we won’t have to experience the pain of loss…
when we truly let go, and stand with open heart and bare branches, that’s when there is room for the new, beautiful, pure life to grow.

Let go…let go…let go, and feel with what radiant light you burn – glow, like the trees, with magnificent fire, and trust that something new that is good for your heart will grow where there are now empty branches.

Kol Nidre (All Vows)

Kol Nidre. “The Giving Tree” popped into my head.

I stood there under the canopy of my prayer shawl, thinking “I have not failed to keep my word to anyone;” I sifted back through the year and realized…I gave my word freely and I kept it, for a quick shot of righteousness in the arm, for a little bit of self-esteem boost that I could be a good person–at the expense of my own creative life.

If the world is that growing boy in “The Giving Tree” story, my writing is the tree. I asked that tree to give her leaves, then her branches, then her very body -and when I was left locked in silence with no more words, having drained the life of that tree with my own choices, I chipped away at her even further by berating myself as a writer.

Under the tallit, the white cloth grown luminous in front of my eyes with the light of the candles, surrounded by the achingly beautiful strains of Kol Nidre, I cried until my face was wet with a mikveh of remorse.

Then, I forgave.

Yom Kippur. pressing the reset button. Setting an intention to nurture the tree FIRST. Creative life is not a frivolous thing- it does not come last.

Letting go, now, of that image of tree and boy–letting go of that story and mindset–letting go of the stuck places, letting go of the sensory memory of being locked in silence with no words flowing–forgiving it completely.  It was a journey and a realization I had to go through in order to get here today to this fresh new beautiful blank sheet of paper on which I begin, again and yet completely anew, to set words.

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Kallah: white spaces

I thought I went to Kallah in order to deepen my practice- or, rather, to connect to Judaism again.

I wanted to find again the joy I used to have in it, before my heart was shocked, frozen, contracted, tight and small in terrible pain. The innocence was gone; I could engage with my mind but simply could not silence the angry-teenager-me who fought and pushed against everything that resembled structure or control in Judaism.

It makes sense now; I did not want to be controlled. I was pushing against Judaism because I wanted to trust myself again.  I had failed to push & stand up for myself against a relationship that controlled me in a way I find horrifying to remember – so Judaism had to stand in for him, and I had to prove to myself that I valued myself enough to fight.

As much as I fought with it, I never thought to leave. I stuck with it. Somewhere under the layers of grief, loss, fear and harm, there was a hard solid core of utter loyalty to Judaism. I’m a little surprised that I did not simply walk away, considering that my first introduction to this religion began with abuse and betrayal- but I couldn’t.

Ultimately, even though my choice to become Jewish has come with some sacrifices, it was a choice that was made from a very deep soul place, a knowing that it was where I belonged.

People often ask me why? Why would I choose this? Why would I do this to myself voluntarily?

I was asked the other night if I would walk away– deny Judaism for a relationship, for a marriage. No, I said – without question, no:  I do not know who I would be if I were not Jewish. Judaism is my heart.  When I became Jewish, it was like I was given an extra piece of my soul.  Though there has been a lot of pain, I live more fully now. I am more awake.

So. I went to Kallah in order to find that again – beyond my first rabbi’s version of Judaism, beyond what he taught me and later betrayed, as though he had held every teaching over the years in one hand and set a match to it with a sly grin –

I wanted to find again the purity, clarity and magnificence of my own heart in Judaism.

And I did find that —

but I found so much more than that.

It wasn’t in the classes, though the classes  were wonderful –

When we read the torah scroll, we focus intensely on the black letters. Especially those of us who are slower in our Hebrew – those curving letters used to bring me to tears – how beautiful they were to me, and how closed! I would focus on them fiercely–Image

but sometimes, we have to remember to pull our focus back, and to see the white spaces around the black letters as well.

In the white spaces – that is where our most unexpected lessons can live.

It was in these “white spaces” at Kallah, outside of the services or classrooms, that the lessons of the heart, not the mind, came to me.

My growth was not from the teachers, though they were incredible and gave much that fascinated me – it was from the other people.

Again I am struck by the thought that one could know Torah even if one never studied it, simply by connecting to, learning from, studying other people with an open heart.

Not just the beautiful moments – the difficult ones, too. That person who frowns, looks you up and down, doesn’t respond to your smile and “good morning,” but rather, looks away with a scowl on their face — very unpleasant feeling, isn’t it ? — the impulse is to flinch away from that, laugh it off or fend off the feelings that come up — but what if, instead, one says “hmm, interesting,” and observes the feelings and thoughts that occur?

That scowling other person has just become a mini-meditation.

Now on to something more pleasant:  the beautiful moments.

The man, Jack- his surname is the name of an angel, and he is an angel to me- walks up to me in the cafeteria.  “I want to say something to you, I don’t know if you can take it in right now?”

he waits while I bring my scattered brain back from cafeteria-crowd-mode, and focus my eyes and attention on him.

“Sitting next to you last night at the concert – was a wonderful experience. You are so beautiful, loving, and kind. It was a gift to me.”

“what a loving thing to say,” I tell him quietly, smiling into his sweet eyes and laying my hand on his arm.

“It is what you are to me.”

The woman in my chanting class who walks up to me before class begins.

“I want to tell you that you are beautiful, and that I love you,” she says, putting her arms around me gently.

My “spirit buddy,” Matthew, who listens to my hurt one morning and then quietly gives me this gift:

“You were not at the cabaret the other day?”

“No.”

“There was a woman who said: ‘Why am I always early?  Is it because maybe on some level I don’t think I am worth waiting for?”

When someone looks into your eyes and gently hands you a piece of your own puzzle, not because they want something from you, but because they have the desire to give –

that is pretty much the deepest healing.

And so, yes, I did connect to Judaism again. It wasn’t what I was looking for: I will never go back to that initial infatuation, that Maxfield Parrish painting of innocence and magic;

It is better than that. I hung by my fingernails through the barren time, and now I am rewarded – this has deepened into a journey of love. Love that I can trust now, absolutely – love that has given me something I never yet possessed – the ability to look into someone’s eyes and take in the kindness that they are giving.  I always feared that, fended it off.

In fact, I believe that was the one lesson that I could not learn from my former rabbi:

“Can you hear me?” he would say , “I love you. Can you really try to hear that?” he must have said this a hundred times – a thousand. “I never said ‘I love you’ so much in my life.” maybe that was what I was for him – he learned to love.

I could not hear him.  I could love, with all that I was; I could love with every scrap of my being – but I could not be loved.

And so, the deepest lessons from Kallah were not taught to me in a classroom — they were taught in a cafeteria, at the lakeside, and in a “spirit buddy” meeting, or talking to someone else during a service. They were given lightly and easily, with no embarrassment or stories around them, with no need for response or measuring up.

I wonder if these people have any idea that they were soul-teachers to me. Sometimes, i guess, we are blessed to give someone a piece of their own puzzle–but maybe we never even get to know what we gave & how we transformed their lives.  And that is okay… because the healing has been seeded, and it’s going to spread like a mint plant…may I one day have the opportunity to give this kind of healing to someone else.

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the Wall

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photo by James Starkman

The next story I am telling (this coming saturday) is dealing with the time when the Berlin Wall came down, and the time period a little before it. It’s rough going, this story. I did not realize how much of my psyche (my inability to tolerate confinement or the perception that someone else has power over me) is formed from what I experienced in East Berlin.

Stomach, heart, mind: stop stressing – it’s long over.
Doing research for this story is a very surreal experience… a lot of what they’re saying on various websites about the Berlin wall simply is not true. 2012

Weird being an eyewitness to something unfolding–and hearing what they’re saying about it these days that simply is NOT true- not a word of it –kinda makes ya think a bit about “historical facts.”

This maggid training is an interesting journey. I had no idea it would be so deeply personal…

it’s a challenge. I like it – a lot.

Inquire Within

I tried on some advice I was given- like a castoff sweater from someone else’s life, it felt scratchy – it weighed me down. I felt heavy, defeated.

heartI asked my own heart, and she answered:
What about this? Be radically honest.
Take a risk that people may not like you.
The ones who see you & know you will love you, but only if you are authentically you–not squeezing yourself into someone else’s knitted idea of who you need to be.
If you want the life you envision, BE the self who dreamed that life. It starts within.

It starts with the courage to live authentically.
I do not want to waste time living something I am not.
I have always been a risk-taker in this way: It has been my lifelong specialty- radical honesty.

I have been told “question the way you define yourself” –but no; no, this is the one thing I know is true: nothing in this life is more important to me than living with all my heart, and all of my truth.
Anything less simply will not do.

We go so many places for advice…
when really, we carry everything we need within us.
Inquire within. There are your deepest questions, and sometimes, answers.

This is love: to fly toward a secret sky,
to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment.
First, to let go of life.
In the end, to take a step without feet;
to regard this world as invisible,
and to disregard what appears to be the self.
 
Heart, I said, what a gift it has been
to enter this circle of lovers,
to see beyond seeing itself,
to reach and feel within the breast.  – Rumi

While My Guitar Gently

About two years ago, I fell in love.

You know what that’s like…? Or maybe I’m talking about lust, infatuation, because love is something that incorporates and transcends those things…and lasts, through devotion and work and growth…

So at first, let’s call it lust.  Though this was more than lust, this was sublime – I actually can still feel it.  My heart swoops when I remember the day, the moment that I was overtaken by this ecstatic feeling that raised everything around me along with me to an elevated state – gosh, even the dingy Portland streets shone and gleamed with it .

“There’s someone else, isn’t there? I can sense something.”  My (at the time) long-distance boyfriend asked.

He knew I couldn’t lie; I don’t do that.

“Well…yes. Yes, there is, in a way.”

“In a way?”

“I fell in love today…I fell in love…

with a guitar.”  There was an awkward pause.

“I … I can’t…explain.  A guitar.”  I was incoherent with longing; with the desire to share this beauty but the impossibility of communicating it to him, because he just didn’t understand.

This guitar was …oh… its song was molten honey.  It turned my bones into tuning forks and I had embarrassing tears standing in my eyes every time I heard it; it was like the time I sat in a room and heard Wynton Marsalis play – the notes were thrown out so lightly, to hang impossibly suspended in heart-shattering delicate crystal pure perfection in the middle of the room. The sound didn’t seem like it came from him- it somehow enveloped all of us who sat there… my heart stopped…

that’s what this guitar is like,

even if my teacher was playing scales.

I was in Portland to study Hebrew, and I also took a class in my secret passion – classical guitar.
I can’t hear a well-played classical guitar without tearing up.  It’s embarrassing. My Mom and (ex)boyfriend took me to a restaurant in Jacksonville for my birthday, and there happened to be a classical guitarist (my Mom knows about my kryptonite…it is my kryptonite…) and I sat there with tears running down my face for a while.  My Mom held my hand and grinned at me, with joy that she had given me such a beautiful, absolutely perfect birthday surprise… My boyfriend looked wildly uncomfortable. I just can’t help it. It reaches inside my chest and squeezes my heart so painfully. so beautifully.

It happens even if I’m trying very hard to block it, trying to think about other things, remain sane-ish…

rafael rodriguez

 

(This isn’t my teacher. This is a Cervantes guitar. oh my heaven…gulp…that guitarrrrrr) 

I still love this guitar. I lust after it. I long for it. I can hear its notes still …

Oh, I’m heavy with longing. To play like that. To play like that.

I can’t even tell you.

I plunk away at Greensleeves or Redemption Song and long , long, long for something I will never touch.

it’s a beautiful feeling, and it reminds me that I am alive….and it reminds me that I am mortal, and that in this lifetime there are some things that are not for me, but that I get to hear and appreciate and love them.
It is so bittersweet.

It stretches me, and challenges me, and sometimes I despair, but the listening is sweetly painful and so it will have to be enough.

This is love.

Elevator Master Class (warning: contains more parentheticals than an amateur one-act)

“I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.” –Mikhail Baryshnikov

Because one of my boxing teachers reminds me of a young Baryshnikov,

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(doesn’t he? That’s him in the photo.)

I was catapulted into a memory this morning.

My mind flew back to a day at the very beginning of my Juilliard Adventure, when a young, dewy me (in my early 20’s, probably around the age my boxing teacher is now, in fact-) stepped onto an elevator in the Lincoln Center, my new home. The large silver elevator doors, the red accents in the carpet and hall, the hush in the building, the coolness of the air- everything etched on my mind with wonder, with the sharpness of a dream come impossibly to life- made my breathing quicken. I looked at every door down those long halls, wondering what was behind it, enchanted at the faint sound of string instruments in practice rooms. The smell in the air (that theater smell, mixed with new carpet, classroom and the smell of wood for some reason) made my heart leap about- I was at Juilliard! Everything was tinged with magic, the tingling energy of boundless possibility.

I was very self-contained in those days. Quieter. Tried to take up less space. One of my acting teachers once compared me to Jane Eyre. (Most of my present friends will laugh hysterically at this. It is true, I was very mousy and Brontë-esque.)

I walked politely into the elevator, turned around and pushed the 3rd floor button, (this was the very beginning, before I had found the stairwells and walked up and down every day)

and the doors jammed suddenly in mid-close because in leaped – leaped –

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Mikhail Baryshnikov. 

These were the early days, before I had gotten cynical and used to seeing celebrities everywhere. Before I had descended into Becky’s Blue Period during which I scoffed at them and called them non-artists and sell-outs – still secretly thrilled to see them.  (not sure what I was thinking… I think I actually thought people could make a living doing Shakespeare if they so chose. Or perhaps I thought that true artists didn’t make livings- they starved. Oh dear, that’s embarrassing… but I was cute, I was young, so let’s give me a get-out-of-jail-free card.)
( for the record, I did not ever call Steve Martin a “sellout,” and when I walked to school beside him, I talked about his cheeky grin for months afterwards.)

Anyway. Back to Baryshnikov – It was a small leap. Just a hop, really- who hops onto the elevator? Apparently, Baryshnikov does. (If I were Baryshnikov, I’d freaking hop everywhere.)

He had a stern, imposing and scary bodyguard-minder-aide person with him – a tall bald man, with a thin black wire connected to one of his ears that hung down to disappear mysteriously in the breast of his impeccably tailored and completely nondescript dark suit.  All I remember about this guy was that my eyes couldn’t find any purchase on his person, except for the gleaming of his bald head; my eyes simply slid right off him. Looking back, I’m thinking it’s a talent Bodyguards must have; or perhaps they learn it at Bodyguard Academy.  He possessed a presence and energy precisely equivalent to a concrete wall. The man turned, pushed a button, and promptly became Elevator Wall.
I was alone in an elevator with Baryshnikov. (Baryshnikov! My childhood hero!)

He had lightly drifted in after that initial leap- he settled to the back of the elevator, next to me, his eyes on the ground, (smelling – I must add because I have a nose like a dog -lightly spicy, mysterious, layered, like redwood detritus crushed underfoot.) his face a little troubled.

It was that small frown, that cloudy look on his expressive face, that made me do the mortifying and wonderful thing I did next.  I remember my inner Wee Free Man shrieking “for God’s sake ! Hold your head up! you are Baryshnikov!”
Driven by the wrongness of seeing Mikhail Baryshnikov sulking (sorry- there is no other word for it- he was definitely sulking),

“Please tell me,” I blurted, my voice a little rough so I had to clear my throat softly, “how do you leap so high and so – completely free?”

cringing at my bad grammar, darting glances at him, I waited , wondering whether he would pretend I had not spoken. Wondering…

(I should hit the pause button here in order to give a little background: I have a Wee Free Man in my head who wonders things … like when I had a spear-carrying role at OSF, the naughty Wee Free Man used to drive me nuts wondering what would happen if I just walked out into the center of the Elizabethan stage and started howling or tap dancing and spouting naughty limericks out of sheer boredom; or when I played Maria in Sound of Music and heard the first notes of the orchestra, perched in my starting position at the top of the hill, that darn Wee Free Man wondered how long it would take the audience to notice if I switched the words and started singing “IN the town where I was born, lived a ma-a-an who sailed the seas…and he told us of his liiiife in a ye-e-llow submarine…” instead of “my day in the hills…” that one was a very narrow escape, as I was utterly fed up with that particular Sound of Music. )

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(if you do not know what “Wee Free Men” are, see photo, then read some Terry Pratchett.)


eh hem.  Un-pause. My inner Wee Free Man wondered what would happen if I pushed the “Emergency Stop” button. I didn’t push it.

I began to wonder if I had actually spoken, or if I had dreamt it. I began to wonder if I held my breath, whether I would disappear or become wall-colored like that Bodyguard. Baryshnikov didn’t say anything. ticktock ticktock ticktock went my young, shy, naive, ambitious, idealistic, totally embarrassing 20-year-old heart.

Finally, he dragged those melting eyes up to look straight into mine. (I remember them as brown. I know they are blue, but his pupils were dilated a bit- his eyes were rather like a Golden Retriever’s eyes- large, liquid, and totally unguarded.)

He lit up slowly. That man has a torch inside, I swear.  A smile spread across his face – a smile that ruined me forever for dating, and made it impossible, ever, for any man to totally measure up-

and he said in charmingly halting English, “When I leap, I do not think about the ground.”

and then the doors opened, and with a wink and a knowing smile, (no longer sulking, I couldn’t help but note) with his ambulatory concrete wall preceding him,

he was gone.

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“When I leap, I do not think about the ground.”

a Fugue: Kafka in Barney Purple OR a lesson in Letting Go

In a week, I am moving into a new home.  This new home is in no way ready for me (and Figaro) to move in.
Granted, my remodel plans were ambitious; some, (clearly lacking vision) might say “crazy,”
but as the plans developed and the contractors were found, I learned what to let go, what to save for later…I prioritized. (the TARDIS stays, but I haven’t begun construction yet; the tile and the Sherlock Holmes fireplace have to happen first. TARDIS happens before the Secret Passageway Bookcase. See? I am quite sensible.)

I also decided I wanted to paint some of the rooms myself (and my Dad did a *lot* of the work, too) because I wanted to get to know my home, and inhabit it in this way before I moved in.

Great! Sounds nice, yeah? Reasonable?

I was buying paint for an accent wall – a small thing, you’d think – and it mysteriously came out Bright Barney the Dinosaur Purple.

Ok, this wasn’t what I had planned – I wasn’t remotely going for purple, but, being a go-with-the-flow type, I tried it for a bit and even tried to like it or see if I could make it work (maybe by hanging a wall-sized mural over it?)

a Fugue: Kafka in Barney Purple

Okay, maybe not.   

I took it back. They put it on a shelf called Mis-mixed paint, rather like the Island of Forgotten Toys.  I felt a little guilty. I found a new color entirely, and even switched to an entirely different brand,

but failed to note that it was the same person mixing my paint.

Looking back, I am quite sure there was a Malevolent, Dinosaur-ish, Purple gleam in her eye.

I went home again, tra-la,  and began stirring the paint with a sinking feeling…
put the paint on the wall (maybe it looks different ON?)

Barney the Dinosaur Purple.

Again.

Same. exact. Shade. If I had paid her to match it, she couldn’t have done a more impeccable job…not even if I had decided to hold a contest for the most Devious Mixer of Paint Who Could Infallibly, Impeccably Recreate This Abhorrent Purple.

I have a bad habit: I see symbols, metaphors, messages – in *everything.*

a can of paint could maybe just be a can of paint, I see that. I really do.

BUT.

Really?

I once auditioned for a dinosaur in “Barney.” it was a boy, six-year-old-ish, who was a “scat-singer” or rap artist.

Riff

Maybe I should be grateful that my wall color didn’t mysteriously turn out to be “Riff Orange.”

It was one of the coolest auditions I’ve ever experienced, as it was in a sweet little hidden studio with awesome exposed brick and crazy decor.

They told me after my audition that they felt like they’d just been to a Toots Theilmans concert. That felt awesome, which made it o.k. that I didn’t get the job.

Still, good memories and all, I don’t know how to live in a room with a Barney Dinosaur Purple wall.

And I think the lesson here is:  you don’t have to make something work, even if it’s *very* persistent. You also don’t have to stick with something “for Old Times’ sake.”

O.k., there is a time to stick with it and work at something. For sure. That’s my definition of “romantic,” actually… when people have positive connections that outweigh the troubles, and they stick together and work on things. (But the positive needs to outweigh the negative! that’s key!) Loyalty. Awesome. That and honesty are top things on my list of desirable traits in a partner.

But knowing when to let go is important.

I used to be one of those people who hung in there no matter what. I was a freaking barnacle. Through storms, through high seas with no rum in sight, I was stalwart. I Remained. I held on.  Even if people were horrid rotten little perishers, I was loyal. Stay at the party hoping it gets better! Stay till the bitter end!  Hang in there and keep hanging until you turn into an albatross!

Being like that is like having a business that is deeply important to you, but then hiring anyone who walks in and keeping them no matter what: your business is going to die in fearful agonies. It’s important to define what you’re looking for in employees (yeah?) and make sure that relationship (the work) has a sort of maintenance aspect- it stays healthy, or it needs to end. Yes? Why is this easier to see about business, and so much harder to see about our own amazing, precious and beautiful selves? And our lives which are finite and irreplaceable?

Letting go of caffeine.  Huge one for me. Maaaaajor detox symptoms. It was so hard, but I did it, and all of a sudden, I feel so much healthier and my hypoglycemia turns out to be non-existent.

Let go!  You may experience unpleasant side-effects at first, but still – let go!

That friend who chooses to see the world through complaint-filters, who dims your sparkle but is there! and persistent! and you’ve known them forever!
sometimes, it may even be HARD to find what you’re looking for – that Barney Dinosaur Purple may keep showing up – but hold on.

Hold on to the vision of what your soul needs.

“Letting go” is a passive-sounding phrase, but it is one of the hardest, most demanding-of-action things I have ever experienced…because carving out a new pathway takes persistence and awareness.  It’s so easy for the mind (and, by extension, our choices) to follow the well-worn habitual pathways. So letting go properly is something that requires you to be fully present, and very clear.

So – here’s my lesson from the paint store today:  define what you want. Set your intention. Get clear, and then  let go of anything, any color, or anyone not in alignment with the way you want to show up in the world.

and here’s the really hard part:  go in and try again, try as though it is the first time and you haven’t just been given one gallon after another of Barney the Dinosaur Purple.  Hold your little paint card and valiantly ask for Eggshell or Winston Churchill Buttercup, completely believing that it’s going to work. Show up fully.

I pretty much failed to do that today… I stood there looking at all those little cards and clever little pamphlets showing perfectly painted rooms (no purple in sight) and all I could see was that Lurid, Eye-bruising, Artist Formerly Known As, not-found-anywhere-in-nature, purple.

I finally had to leave and ask my saint of a mother to go request a color. I felt Jinxed. I felt Cursed. I felt that if I looked one more time into the clearly-plotting-some-kind-of-purple-colored-revenge eyes of that Wicked Paint Mixer, I would blurt out “PURPLE!” and get another can of you-know-what.

So I’m still learning this…

Letting go completely, so you can focus your entire heart in a positive way on the intention ahead of you. That might be a lifelong master class! (I wonder who teaches it? I hope it’s Morgan Freeman.)

Letting go of that job that is wonderful, but isn’t your genius work or dream and is using up time that you need in order to do your Real Work-

Letting go of that friend whom you love, but who is dragging you down –

Letting go does not require disapproving, disliking, disengaging, or dysfunction. It can be done with love, and it can be a compassionate and very kind thing to do. Sometimes it can be a blessing for the ones you let go, too – it can be a springboard for them to find where and with whom they fit- now that there is not space and time filled up by trying, trying, trying to mesh with you.

Barney Purple, I don’t care how many times it takes, I’m replacing you with a restful, warm, elegant parchment-ish color. It’s not that I don’t think you’re great, in areas where you are appropriate (like the big huge costume of a dinosaur character for kids)  – I do. It’s not that you don’t bring back a wonderful memory – you do,

but your persistence , your insistence at being in my house and on my wall is puzzling in the extreme. Please, go tell Kafka I’m hiring another writer to conduct my life…

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his name is P.G. Wodehouse, and he has a much more restful color sense. (pay no attention to that lurid dinosaur purple cover. I am quite sure Plum did not choose it.)

Ha Makom (the Place),OR Gladiator and Lion

The way others treat you is not a reflection of you; it is a reflection of them.

These are tough words to remember sometimes.

In Judaism, we have 72 different names of God.  I like to explain it like this: our human minds are too small to hold, all at once, in tangible form, the concept of God as everything inside and out. So these names are different images we can hold in our minds, to work on one aspect of God at a time, depending on what we need at that moment. Ha Makom is one of these names; it means simply “The Place.” If God is in the place where I am standing, if I am aware of that with every breath, would I treat others differently? If others thought more about “Ha Makom,” would they make a different choice?

It’s been almost a year since he left: the very persuasive, persistent, deceitful, adorable, wonderful-but-awful, manipulative, completely self-absorbed, gentle, sweet, complicated and fascinating must-have-his-way man who was like a tsunami in my heart and life. Almost a year; I have been fighting a really tough battle to heal the post traumatic stress disorder that his abrupt departure caused…

a year in which there have been people who felt they needed to be cruel.  On top of the pain and confusion of his illness and leaving; on top of the deep psychic wounds that left my body shaking every day, shaking like I had an earthquake inside, for over six months.

It’s hard to describe the experience of ptsd.  It is humbling. You think you are fine – you go to pick up your coffee in a staff meeting and your hand is shaking so violently, you immediately snatch it back and hide it in your lap, clench it with the other hand, try to calm your breath.  There is a shaking inside, which (ironically enough) was my love’s burden daily as well from his own illness.

This shaking was a daily reminder of him.

So were the tears that would come without warning. I began to call them “Miriam’s Well,” a well I would carry with me everywhere – I began to see them as a healing mikveh, (ritual bath) so I could step away from the secondary emotions that came along with them: shame, fear, despair of ever healing and being whole again.

Once I distanced from/ simply observed my reactions to the symptoms, that is when the healing began, very gradually. I wasn’t judging myself any more- my Self was grateful for that small mercy.

But I was still under attack both from people I used to think I knew, and people I didn’t know at all, but met with him on occasion after our “engagement.” People who were his friends.

He called me best friend, love of his life, his greatest teacher, his deepest blessing; he called me an angel, his wise raven, his beshert and his reason for living, and yet these friends of his had a hunger to tear me to pieces with their claws and teeth, one angry, vicious bite at a time.  I asked him to tell them our story, so they didn’t have to rely so much on their assumptions or on gossip – but he was a person who liked to hide. He did not like to talk about himself or share anything personal. I think that trait of his, his dishonesty and distrust of others, is what eventually led to the legacy he left me with: the lions in my gladiator’s arena.

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I was a broken thing, and I was under siege.

It’s a hard thing when you are not well, when you are grieving, and when you are asked to bear even more.

I never found out why these people decided they needed to be cruel.  For a long time, I kept asking myself “why?” “Why would a person try to actively harm someone who has so much grief and harm to bear already?”

I asked the questions over and over, until I learned that wasn’t a healthy way to live. There will never be answers to the question “why”.

Hypocrisy seemed to be everywhere I looked.

But then I learned to focus on the kind people; on my angels.  Thank God for them – the good people, the ones with integrity.  Because of them, my spirit did not break; because of them, I did not lose my faith.

I have healed now, and I am beginning to process this into a novel. I feel I have actually become even stronger and more whole than I was before I met him.  And yet these people are still carrying their hatred. It is a year since he’s been gone, and they actively pour their energy into showing me how much they hate.  I do not understand why, and it makes me sad for them.

I took a friend to see 42. It was such a lovely night with this person I have known for over a decade and haven’t seen in a long time; catching up over a small meal, going to the movie screening which felt old-fashioned somehow and really lovely; connecting with him was connecting with my old life, the innocent and happy life of theater… (incidentally, how very odd that the most I have ever experienced dysfunction, cruelty, hypocrisy and pain is inside the synagogue? Are artists just healthier because they express things and explore the shadow side all the time? Are people drawn to the synagogue in deeper need of healing, or are they more apt to hide and shame their shadow-selves? I am writing this here as a side-note to think about later.)

All was really lovely and sweet: The popcorn, the joking of the audience, the speeches beforehand and the haimish feeling that abounded.

And then afterward, there was a nasty little thing that threatened to put a damper on the whole lovely night (if I let my mind dwell on it, which I did not):

the man glaring…actively, malevolently. This person I used to know. This person about whom people have said “he wouldn’t behave that way. You might be reading into it.”

(Really? How many times can someone scowl, glare, and look at you as though they are seeing a murderer, before it’s not “all in your head”?)

his wife in the bathroom, stuttering out “I have to go,” and ending her conversation quickly so she could get out  after I walk in.  These were people I used to know and be very friendly with.

Myself, defiantly, angrily, putting on lipstick and looking into my own eyes in the mirror.

Eyes that had no tears, this time. Eyes that have seen enough unkindness, thank you very much.

There is no one on this earth I would treat the way these people are treating me.

I have done nothing to harm them or theirs…

That night their behavior did not break or harm me; it hurt, which developed into anger.

Anger and defiance.

I have been through enough.

But I refuse to carry the anger.  I am going to try to understand, because I refuse to be like them. I am struggling to find a spiritual way to encounter this kind of cruelty, and all I can think of is that somewhere in myself I have to find compassion. They are behaving this way out of some kind of pain, and that pain leads them to find an object to blame other than themselves. I am convenient; they don’t have to know me as a person, so they don’t have to worry about how their behavior might harm. They don’t have to be understanding or see anything from my point of view or care. If they are able to think of me as a thing, not a person, they can safely put a lot of cruel, nasty behavior on me and not even think twice about it.

What bugs me is this: these people go to the synagogue regularly, for more years than I have been alive. They do all the synagogue functions. HOW can they not have learned by now about compassion and loving kindness?

how?

All these years at the synagogue, and they see a young(ish) woman, 21 years younger than the man who pursued her, and they blame HER? and continue to do so a year later?

how?

Are the clergy not doing their job, or are the people not learning? How can Judaism address this … lack of bridge?

He used to talk about this, my ex-rabbi.  He said “It was my biggest struggle for 20 years.”  that people bring their synagogue-face in on saturday mornings, nod and smile and sigh about lovingkindness, forgiveness and compassion, and then step right outside even into the oneg (I had this happen to me) and turn around and yell at someone “You are not welcome here.” Many simply do not live their lives as though God is where they are standing at any time, all the time.
God, for them, seems to be received passively in a seat in a temple.

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How does one teach people that God is a verb?  That God is a way of walking in the world, and that this is why we have lessons come to us?  Things don’t “happen TO us,”  just to be reacted to and endured and then forgotten – every thing that unfolds in our lives is an invitation to be an active participant in the growth of our own souls. By examining, by learning, by making a different choice next time we have an opportunity to be either unkind or kind, thought-full or thought-less.

That person, incidentally, who yelled at me in the Temple — I would never treat him the way these people are treating me. The person who screamed at me and roughly grabbed my arm – I would stay away from him for safety’s sake, but I would never glare or actively seek to show him unkindness.

I searched my heart and found compassion for mental illness, psychic distress,  and pain.

SO.

The way others treat you is a reflection of them, and only of them.  You did not “earn” either kindness or unkindness.

The way you treat others is a reflection of you. You can improve that reflection at any time! We spend so long trying to improve the reflection we see in the mirror… we spend so much money and time on facial creams, blemish removal… what if we spent even a fraction of that time trying to improve the reflection of our soul in the way we treat others?

I wish I could teach this to the teens who are being bullied, who despair and want to end their precious lives as a way to escape.  I wish I could teach this to every person who ever felt the sting of someone else’s blaming, judging, or cruelty.

I was in Boston once, about to attend a summer session at rabbinical school; I had just arrived from a drive across the country and was exhausted. At that time, I wore my kippah all the time… there was a bus of young school kids pulling out of a parking lot.  This beautiful little African-American girl stuck her head out the window and yelled “Fucking JEW!”  She said “Jew” as though it were a curse.

It was a shock, but my compassion was immediate, because she was so young, her sweet face all twisted up.  I thought: is that face twisted up in pain? in agony, in anger? My immediate thought was, “Where did she learn that hatred?” and “How many names has she been called in school, that little one?”

What if my compassion could be that immediate with these people, even though they are not young?  Part of my anger-response comes, I think, because of their age (in their 70’s.)  I feel they should “know better.”  Well. That is my own judgment coming in.  If I were aware of “Ha Makom,” God being present in me in that moment, perhaps my compassion would come faster.

If I could, this is what I would teach those who bully – and I find as I write it that it is a lesson I need to teach myself, daily:

Ha Makom is a name for God meaning “The place.”  God is in the place where you are standing.  God is not to be found in a synagogue or church : God is where you are standing, sitting, waking, dreaming: all the time. (and yes, in Judaism we even have a blessing for after going to the toilet. That is holy too- the workings of the body are miraculous.)

Bring your shadow-self, bring your light, bring ALL of you to prayer or meditation, because it is only when you bring your entire being, that you will soften and learn compassion for yourself and others. If you hide the part of you that feels it has to glare with hatred at a young(ish) woman whose story you don’t know, you will not be acknowledging that part; it will be shoved down, hidden, and thus will never be softened.  Bring that, too.  Bring it to God – here and now! Ha Makom! – and say “Here it is. This is also me.”  Breathe into those dark places with compassion –and you will find God in those places.  Those dark places will soften with your acceptance, just as my healing began when I stopped shaming and judging my own tears and shaking body.  You will heal, then.

You will no longer need to be cruel any more.

I stand there wondering how to meet these pettinesses, these cruelties, with kindness…and I find that my response is coming out of MY shadow-self.  The self who says “how can you go to temple and behave like this?” the self that is judging. the self that is puritanical and preachy. The self, in fact, that is just like these people in that cruel moment. Just like them.

And I have to laugh.

This year has been my gladiator’s arena. I chose to stay here; I fought hard to stay. I chose to live my life in this place that was toxic, where I was treated like Hester Prynne and I so longed to be given a chance to speak my heart –

but I was never given a chance, because people do not want their scapegoat to have a voice.

They don’t want that tied up goat to have a story. They want it to be an object that can carry all of their darkness, so they don’t have to sit with it.

And living in this perfectly imperfect place, I was given so many lessons, so many tests.

I have learned so much.

Ha Makom – the place where I am standing, here is God. Here is my synagogue. If I take care of my own synagogue and make sure I am behaving in alignment with my core values, make sure I am acting in integrity, it doesn’t matter how other people choose to treat me, or what they choose to believe about me. I know my synagogue is a holy place, a beautiful place.

In my personal “temple” or “ha makom,” the place I am standing, I would never treat someone unkindly or glare at them or snub them; I simply don’t behave that way.  Now I am learning I can go one step further and not judge them for their behavior. I can take out the pain-response and simply breathe to myself “Ha Makom,” when they are cruel.   I am grateful for this arena in which I have learned to fight by not fighting: by simply growing larger in my heart and more compassionate.

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The gladiator can observe the lion, set down her weapon and focus on her own power to choose.