One Small Step (Written over a year ago….then lost amongst all the other unpublished drafts in my folder!)

As you who read my blog know, I was recently in Chicago to meet my infant grandson and help my youngest daughter and her partner as they acclimated to their new roles as parents. Those of you who have the pleasure of being grandparents know how exciting and frightening those first few days can be. From fumbling with diapers, to getting up with every gurgle, grunt and groan that emits from the wee one, to simply gazing in awe at this new life your children have brought forth, the first days of a person’s life is a wonder to behold. Of course, knowing the demands that await these two loving parents, my job was to give them the space they needed to enjoy the newness of parenthood. Washing clothes or dishes, offering encouraging words, or simply holding Eli so my daughter could have a few minutes for self pampering, all of it was a labor of love for Mary, Eric, and little Elijah.

Beyond the pragmatic though, were moments of contemplation. As I studied Eli’s face, or felt the tug of his little fingers on my pinky, or massaged his tiny feet (he likes that!) I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of world Eli would inherit from us. These insular moments of infancy where all of his needs would be provided for, where nurture was abundant, where his world consisted of his parents and himself with the rest of us orbiting about from time to time, would soon enough give way to the broader world of scraped knees and hurt feelings. Would the bigger world be kind to Eli? Would he weather the storms to eventually become a man of strength and honor? Heady questions for such a little one, but at times the thoughts crossed my mind.

Too soon I had to return home. As much as I loved spending time with this precious family, I missed my husband. Before long it would be time to start preparing for Passover. We are nearing the closing date on the purchase of our new home and I needed to start packing . . . again. My daughter and I shared tears as I left. She tugged at my heartstrings. After all, she is my baby. Her tears were those of a new mother who wanted her mother to stay just a tad longer. I knew in those moments though, something she was still unsure of, that she and Eric were fine parents and would do well without me. I was no longer needed there. The tears were an expression of love on both of our parts.

As I boarded the train into Chicago, my heart was now beating for home. Later that day, as I boarded the Megabus that would take me back to Cleveland, I noticed that there was an unusually large number of boarders for this trip. Instead of having a seat to myself to stretch out and relax, or to read or work on final projects for class, I was relegated to tucking my backpack under my seat and holding purse, camera, coat, and travel pillow in my lap as a total stranger took the seat next to me. It was going to be an uncomfortable six hour trip for sure. To top it off, the man who sat next to me was a Muslim. I am Jewish. Oy . . . All I could think of was that he would probably give me grief if or when he found out my identity. Oh well. I would make the best of it. This was the first time I had ever traveled by Megabus where we were packed in like sardines.

Soon after the bus pulled out and we were headed back home, the young man next to me opened up a package of cookies and offered me a cookie.

“No thank you,” I replied.

“I apologize for having to take up your space,” he offered in a soft voice.

“No problem” said I.

“Do you come to Chicago very often?” he pursued.

“When I can. My daughters live here. What about you?”

“This is my first time here. Chicago is a beautiful city.”

Detecting an accent, I asked, “Where is your home?”

“Istanbul, Turkey. Have you ever been there?”

“No, afraid not.”

It didn’t take long for the conversation to get around to religion. Maybe he noticed that I wore a cap, or maybe he was just curious. He volunteered that he was Muslim, Sunni to be exact.

“Are you a religious person?” he asked.

“Yes, I am. Jewish. Orthodox” I replied.

By now I was uneasy but I was not going to shy away from the fact that my Jewishness defines who I am and how I live in this world.

The conversation continued for the remainder of the trip. For six hours we discussed our beliefs, our similarities, our differences, our families and customs. For six hours we laughed, at moments treading softly not knowing how the other would respond. I questioned Muslim practices that to me seemed strange, and he did the same with me concerning Jewish observances. Always respectful, Ibrihim appeared to relish the discussion as much as I did. We talked about prayer and what our different prayers meant to us, about our holy writings and their importance in our lives. We talked about the differences of growing up in the US versus life for him in Turkey. Respect of one’s elders (he nodded to me when he spoke about this) was of utmost importance and how it pained him to see such disrespect in this country. I questioned him on the things I read about the treatment of women in that part of the world. We tiptoed around the tensions in the middle east. Yet, despite a little unease on that subject, he was the one who concluded that I must return to Israel, the homeland of the Jews. He was the one who observed that my soul would always be restless till the day I set foot in our land.

The hours flew by. I learned a lot on this trip home from Chicago. When we arrived at our destination, he thanked me for being such a gracious seat partner on our journey. I wished him well in his studies and his future endeavors, then he disappeared into the crowd. As I stepped off the bus (midnight) my husband was there to greet me. And I was full of news about our newest grandchild, Elijah. I was glad to be back home. I was thrilled to fill “Zaide” in on all the details about Elijah. But I would not forget about my trip back from Chicago, either.

Now, days later, I am encouraged about the world that Elijah will inherit. There are no guarantees in life, no way of knowing what will be. But I am reassured of what is possible. When Jew and Muslim can talk there is hope. Certain segments of society will never sit down to the negotiating table. I know that. And as long as rockets are being lobbed into Israel (daily they fall on Israel!) how can there be talk of peace? On the other hand, when common people can talk about their similarities and differences, there is hope. And that gives me hope for our precious Elijah and the world he will inherit.

 

 

Perspectives From a Hospital Bed

I slowed down a bit this week.  An eye infection got the best of me and I am writing this from my hospital bed on the eighth floor of Inova Hospital.  My eye is improving quite a bit.  I don’t have to have surgery as was originally rumored, but will be on meds and follow-up with an opthomologist when I return home.  My first thoughts as this saga unfolded were about writing, photography, school.  But being in a hospital with nothing much to do, and eyesight that makes writing, reading or TV viewing difficult, I had a lot of time to think.  Listening to the news was a shock to my system.  We don’t have TV so the only news I get is an ocational radio broadcast or quick snapshots on the internet as I wend my way to my on-line classroom.  Having large blocks of time to listen, and to see the pictures of devastation from Japan, albeit blurry, has been sobering to say the least.  I sit here with my problems and aches, but how can I complain?  My challenge is addressed with some antibiotics and then I go home.  How will the Japanese address their problem?  A massive earthquake, one of the largest ever recorded; a devastating tsunami destroying everything in its path and taking thousands of lives as it washed over the land; nuclear disaster as two nuclear power plants are distressed to the point of melt down, if not complete, at least partial.  I wish antibiotics would erase their challenges, but it won’t.  What do we do in the face of such a monumental catastrophe.

Sadly, there was another catastrophe this weekend that weighs on my heart, and few people outside the Jewish community know about it.  Friday night, or was it Saturday, two Palestinian murderers stole into the home of the Fogel family living in Israel, and brutally murdered five members of that family while most of them slept: both parents, an infant daughter, a 3-year-old son and an 11-year-old son.  Two of the three surviving children slept while this was going on, being spared only because they were not in their bedrooms and were simply overlooked by the murderers.  The oldest, a 12-year-old daughter was out at a youth event, and was the one to discover the gruesome scene upon her return home shortly after midnight.  To be honest with you, I want the monsters who did this found, and tortured for what they did.  What do we do in the face of such tragedy?  To be Jewish in this world is to be hated by many. . .still.  Needing antibiotics for an infected eye is not a problem.  Would that I could share antibiotics with the surviving children and bring their family back to life. Ridiculous thought, yes.  But I would if I could.

Reflecting on these events, I was humbled and my complaining turned to gratitude as I sit in this hospital bed and get poked, prodded, questioned and all-around bothered in this healing process.  Gratitude because there is healing, even as I feel enormous grief for the losses that defy explanation or understanding.

I have googled and searched for responses to both events, struggling to read, listening to what I can.  It occurs to me that we do have choices in how we respond to these heartrending events of recent days.  I share with you some of my thoughts mingled with the thoughts of others that I have come across as I sit in this hospital bed.  I don’t know their names, the ones who put some of this together, but I do know that good portions of what follows are from our Jewish prayers–Tehillim/Psalms–our ageless response to evil.

Grieve in its proper time.  The dead are worthy of our grief, our send-off, acknowledgement for their having lived and loved. They were part of our physical world, and now a permanent part of our spiritual lives.

Live in joy, as our ancestors have done for millenia.  Despite the evil, there is good.  Do not forsake the good to chase after evil.

Do one more mitzvah, one more good thing: Teshuva/Repentance, Tzedakah/Charity, Tefillah/Prayers, Torah/learn righteous living.

Return again to the path of your soul.  The derek/path to the heart of who we were meant to be.

Remember that your prayers rock the heavens and the earth. Pray from your heart for your nation, your people, all that is good and holy.

Now is the time for love beyond logic.

Pay attention to where you put your thoughts.  We become what we focus on! This is a law of nature.  Don’t spend too much time watching videos about the enemy.

The best way to challenge evil is to do good.  The best way to challenge evil is to do good.  The best way to challenge evil is to do good.  Remember that.

From Tehillim/Psalms. . .

Be not disturbed by evildoers. . . like grass will they soon be cut down, and like green vegetables will they wither.

Trust the Eternal and do good. . .

Dwell in the land and nourish yourself with faith. Only a little longer, and there will be no wicked one. . .

Their sword will enter their own heart and their bow will be broken. . .

Let them be ashamed and disgraced, those who seek my soul, may they draw back and be humiliated, those who devise my harm.  Let them be like chaff before the wind, and with the angel from the Eternal drawing them away. . .

Be gracious to me, G-d, I am calling out to You by the day.  Gladden the soul of Your servant, for to You , G-d, do I lift up my soul.

The following words are a constant reminder to us of who we are and whose we are.  We say these at least three times a day, and for me it has become a holy mantra when I doubt, fear, question or wonder about the events of life:

Shemah Yisrael/Listen Israel: Hashem Elokaynu/The Lord is G-d, Hashem Ekhad/G-d is one.

To those who inspired me with their words and thoughts, thank you.  As I stated, many words here are from those other sources, but I don’t know your names.  I took the liberty of mingling your words with mine as I reflected on the many thoughts of anger, despair, grief, love, repair, hope, and trust.  If you recognize your words or thoughts, please feel free to comment.  If you wish to share your thoughts and reflections here, please do.  Above all, seek the good.