Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Buoyant Blues

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Escaping, Through Music, But Not Really 

Starting at 1:40, which is probably where it always began when DJs played it on WBLS-FM, the song almost makes me forget my grief. Almost:

It's a great time when songs like this are playing on the radio -- my dad's employed again and I'm learning Disco and Ballroom dancing from David Jones in my hometown, Stamford, Connecticut, so that I feel like I belong at the 11 Bar Mitzvahs and six Bat Mitzvahs I attend between 1977 and '78.

This song comes a year later, but it's the sort we Hustled to at all of the Bar and Bat Mitzvah receptions, and I miss it today. Who knew then that five years later, my dad (z"l) would be dead of common bile-duct cancer?

This next song...

...also gets good about 30 seconds in and almost makes me pound away the blues of my pastoral session from earlier today. A Rabbinical Intern at our shul, wants to know what God would say to me after I ask, "When can I just fall apart?"

"Never," God says, I tell her. He says, "Keep going. It won't serve you to fall apart."

At ~1:20 in, God might as well say:

Or He could be as Kind as a number of the Psalms and pledge:

The Rabbinical Intern tells me, "Let's look at Psalm Chaf Zayin. Keep reading."

I read aloud, "For my father and my mother [in that order] have left me; but the Lord will take me up."

"Do you believe that you can let God into your life to help you?" The Rabbinical Intern asks me and I'm almost embarrassed at her revival-style inquiry.

"I *can*, yes, but will I?" I say, barely aloud.

Last night on Twitter, a former Modern Orthodox Jewish day schoolmate and I had an exchange of tweets around an article that compared and contrasted coming out as Atheist to coming out as lesbian, gay, bi or trans. He's an Atheist and one of only three friends of mine who identifies as Atheist...that I know of. He's definitely not:

Didn't God give me this great music for dancing, escaping, wanting to live, for hope and joy, even in the midst of my sadness and fury?

Can't I shut my eyes right now, even as I'm typing and be transported through the furniture from *The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe*? Dancing the whole way! God, for a moment, I've become even younger than Bat Mitzvah age.

Now, back to the present, where I feel very alone. Indeed, Pat is not home right now, but even with Phoebe, the kitty, here in her plush bucket-bed next to me on the floor, I'm just by myself, except for my Disco and Funk friends:

What if I could time-travel and heed the eventual call of this video to go to Barbados for a weekend in 2010, for three days and nights of "Pure Rare Grooves"? There's no such thing as a geographic cure, they say, but it doesn't stop me from wanting to escape my mourning. I am parentless. I am childless. Who will mourn for me? Ok, that was melodramatic.

Ever since I went to a '70's dance party at my friends' Stephanie and Laura, I'm craving dancing in public, and there seem to be fewer opportunities for public dancing than when I was younger. "Don't stop me and I won't stop you," as this song commands:

"Are you angry at God?" asks the Rabbinical Intern.

Later, I think of an answer: Not when I'm dancing, or rollerblading:

Or "Funkin' for Jamaica" and getting to see the beautiful, female singer for the first time by watching the video, which I usually don't like to do; what they produce is always less appealing to me than what I see in my head. Not this time, though. And the mens' spirit is uplifting. They love making the music maybe more than any musicians I've ever seen.

The Psalm book I was reading from today had been a gift to my mom (z"l) from me. I inscribed it 15 years ago, in 5760 of the Hebrew calendar:

Dear Mom,
May these Psalms comfort you whenever and wherever you need comforting.

When the Rabbinical Intern and I were talking earlier, why didn't I notice that my mom (z"l) had underlined part of the last sentence of the very Psalm that the Intern asked me to read aloud, " strong, and let thy heart be of good courage...."

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Dafke on Yom Kippur

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

The Right Way to Mourn

What's the right way to mourn? Is it OK to be checking out a row of two appealing couples of women sitting behind us during Shacharit services at Yom Kippur? Is it all right to be resenting every older person I see among the congregation for being alive while my mother (z"l) is not?

How about leaving Yom Kippur services right after Yizkor, the service where we honor dead family, and skipping the rest? Can I blame that on my grief? Last year, my mother (z"l) was with us for Yizkor, so there was no question that we'd be leaving right afterwards, since she was older and said she could not sit for that long.

Feeding My Demons vs. Myself

One of our two rabbinical interns, Ruhi Sophia Rubenstein, delivered a drash (sermon) this morning that talked of feeding, rather than trying to starve, our demons. She recounted the story of Plimo and Satan from Ein Yaakov: The Ethical and Inspirational Teachings of the Talmud.

She gave an example of the danger of trying, say, to thwart the urge to gossip. Instead, she suggested, those who love to gossip can look at what it is about themselves that loves information and stories.

I'm not sure I can have an I-Thou relationship with any of my demons, or how I'd prioritize their presence. One of my demons, as I've come to see it, is sugar. I've not eaten any refined sugar, honey, fructose, barley malt, molasses, rice syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, jaggery, brown sugar or sugar substitutes like saccharin or Splenda... for more than 20 years, ever since I realized that I felt allergic to it and it made me feel super-unhealthy. Same with alcohol, which turns right into sugar. And then 10 years ago, an ENT specialist, Dr. Kenneth Brookler, suggested that in my particular case, I could not tolerate most stuff that turns into sugar, including flour, potatoes, rice, corn, and sweeter nuts and fruits, like pecans, macadamias, figs, dates, pineapple, grapefruit, mango, I stopped eating those foods, too.

How ironic would it be if dafke (for precise spite) on Yom Kippur, I went ahead and fed my demon itself? How have I not done that on Yom Kippur, since 1990? I've not eaten sugar on Yom Kippur by not fasting. I've eaten three meals a day with nothing in between, just like I do every day because I don't ever want to be so ravenous that I grab whatever's closest, which could be something sugary.

Grief Is a Gift

Ruhi made another suggestion that moved me earlier today, asking that instead of "beating" our hearts with our fist, as the liturgy suggests we do during the "Al Chet", we simply knock on them gently, each knock, hoping that our heart will open a bit more.

This suggestion, to knock on our hearts, struck me additionally as a way to wake up my heart. During my physical recently, I learned that I have Right Bundle Branch Block (RBBB), which means that sometimes, my heart beats a bit too slowly. Today, I felt like each knock was an attempt to pep up my heart to full wakefulness.

If my heart were not just fully open, but also fully awake, I think I would feel -- all the time -- like I did when the miraculous Sally Wilfert sang one of our congregant, William Finn's, "Anytime (I Am There)" from his "Elegies". You can hear it for yourself from her by going to ~5:30 of this beautiful video. My wife Pat & I were fortunate to run into Sally Wilfert as she headed toward a bathroom after her performance and I didn't detain her long -- just long enough to squeeze her hand and say, "Thank you for making it possible for me to cry." She smiled luminously and with kindness.

While Rabbi Kleinbaum encouraged us just prior to Yizkor that numbness is also a feeling, nothing's as cleansing as a good cry when I feel sad (and nothing like a good laugh when I'm happy, and also, sometimes when I'm sad, too). Of course, such strong feelings are enervating, so I'm beat now and most of me just wants to lie down and fall asleep...but I recall Ruhi's encouragement to wake up my heart, so I need the rest of me to stay awake, too.

"Sarah Must Have Smiled"

I've been writing about feeling sad here, yet the sun has come out while I've been blogging. Whenever the weather turned from gloomy to sunny, my mother (z"l) always used to say, "Sarah must have smiled." Maybe I smiled for a moment a bit ago, recalling one of the lyrics from "Anytime (I Am There)", "Anytime you wash your hands/ I'll be around." I'm 49 and to this day, any time my mom (z"l) saw me emerge from a bathroom, reflexively, she asked, "Did you wash your hands?" I guess now, she won't need to, since she is there "anytime [I] wash [my] hands".