Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I'm pretty sure it's wednesday...

I'm pretty sure it’s a Tuesday…pretty sure…although my Tuesdays do bear striking resemblance to Saturdays lately. Even so, I'm almost positive that it’s a weekday and not any sort of national holiday. Which begs the question, what are all of these grown-ups doing here? It’s 2 pm and the park is filled with picnics and games of catch, dogs romping and owners strolling across grassy fields.

Are they all writers like me, cruising for inspiration? Self-employed workers who take two-hour lunches? Trust fund children frolicking without the heavy duty-filled bag of needing to fix the world that would keep me chained to a 9-5 desk, working for no pay simply out of guilt? We are close to Hollywood, so it’s entirely possible that these cut-off clad dog owners are shockingly famous and I'm the only one fooled by their commoner disguise.  Still, I’d be willing to vouch for unemployed, self-employed, or on a ‘mental health’ day.

I'm not complaining. It’s nice to have company; nice to be reminded I'm not the only one that thinks 2 pm on a Tuesday afternoon is the perfect time for a park visit. 

I wonder if they feel the same anxiety, the anticipatory avoidance to the inevitable question: So where do you work? And the measured edginess that slips into my responses to “Where are you looking to get an actual job?” I wonder if my retorts of being happy and following my dreams sound like idealistic fiction, if they turn around with knowing glances laden with ‘try paying the rent on dreams and amateur writing’.

I read into the silences, projecting judgment in pauses and filing criticism within inflection.  I feel required to justify, pressing superfluous words into defensive answers, compelled to dissipate the whiff being lazy or spoiled, of lounging in silk nightgowns, popping bon-bons while watching Oprah.  I serve rationales of current sickness, unemployment, applications sent and self-imposed 40 hour weeks, while ignoring the obvious: It’ the middle of the afternoon and I'm still in boxer shorts and my brother’s old t-shirt cuddling on the couch with my puppy.

What crisis do I think I'm evading by ensuring that ‘They’ know I'm working hard, quite busy actually, working just as hard as they are. What is my aversion to a gracious acknowledgement that yes, Life is good; yes, I'm happy and I love writing and yes, I love the freedom of living by my own schedule.  What would be so disastrous if I said out loud, Yes, it’s wonderful to wake up in the morning and write, and wonderful not to commute or punch time cards or answer to a cranky boss.  Yes, it’s my dream to be a writer and yes, it’s wonderful to sleep in if I feel like it. What is my objection to dipping a toe in the ‘spoiled’ neighborhood, so distasteful that I stock up on highlighted maps and complicated theories to ensure maximum distance between any spoiled association and my name.

It’s an irrational fear, 7 letters never used as my adjective, and still I run from its shadows, terrified of who I would become should I be perceived as spoiled, ungrateful, or not having to work hard for my smiles. I flee from ‘ungrateful’, glancing over my shoulder lest it adheres and casts contaminating spores that will permanently color the way I am perceived.  And so it pops up again – them.  I'm running from what They might think of me, how They might judge, and how They might scorn and think less of me. 

And the truth is, there is no them.  It’s not the strangers at the park whom I want to impress.  It’s not to my friends that I need to prove my worth.  Even if there are the few sarcastic jokes about having it good, the only reason they register is because they’re eerily familiar.  The judgments I see reflected in others’ eyes originate within me.  They’re my soft spots, my insecurities, my unchecked doubts.  Do I really care if the acquaintance thinks I'm spoiled or the neighbor writes me off as not knowing what hardship is? Do I really to allow the people behind me in the checkout line to define my self-worth?

It’s a Tuesday afternoon and I'm sitting under a tree, breathing in the sun and scribbling reflections, keeping one eye on my puppy as she takes on the Siberian husky that trots by.  It’s the middle of the week, and I'm at the park.  Regardless of why the other patrons are there or what twisted decrees my brain invests to condemn me in others’ eyes, it’s time to bury my defenses and brush off the guilt.  It’s Tuesday afternoon and I am lucky – lucky to have a home and ways to pay the rent, lucky to have my puppy for company, lucky to spot the blooming gardenia plants, and lucky to have the trickle of possibility to write as a career.

But most of all, I'm lucky because it’s a damn good life, and thank goodness every moment doesn’t have to be a struggle.  Call me spoiled.  Call me ungrateful.  Call me lazy. And I’ll practice quieting my own judgments from the inner ‘Them’ while I savor the sunshine and take a deep breath.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dear Anne Frank, We reject to inform you...

Speaking of the so-called "Nazis," can you find a way to make them more likeable or, at the very least, give them a measure of redemption? Maybe one of them has a cute German shepherd that he always brings around to the apartment when he searches it, and we can tell he's got a kind heart because he affectionately ruffles the dog whenever he commands it to sniff out the "filthy Christ-killers"?
 When it comes to humor, I can be a tough audience. I get bored at banana peels and am stony-faced at potty jokes.  I flip channels at the hint of slapstick and find crass vulgarity rude.  If I were a stand-up comedian, I’d vote for someone else to sit in the front row.  (I must admit to a slight bias when it comes to my brother. Pretty much all he has to do to win the laugh is start the story – but then again, I just chalk it up to his genius sense of timing and witty repartee)

Knowing that I'm a humor hold-out, an article that induces out-loud solo laughter must be worth the time.

On that note, forgive us for asking, but we must now be ever vigilant about fact-checking in memoirs. Our history is a little shaky, but did an entire country, led by a psychopathic dictator, really set out to eradicate an entire peoples based on their religious affiliation? And the dictator had a ridiculous-looking Charlie Chaplin mustache? And America didn't intervene for two whole years of atrocities?-McSweeney’s

Having received multiple letters from publishers, most of which are absent of the helpful recommendations and editing tips, this fictitious rejection letter to Anne Frank just tickled my fancy.  There’s something about the combination of sarcasm, wittiness, understated irony, and smart humor that has me chuckling even as I write this.  And as I glance over at my own stack of rejection letters, I gather some solace in the idea that, were she alive today, perhaps Anne and I would sit over coffee bemoaning the world of publishing and scribbling away while we kept each other company. 

But regardless, if laughter is the best medicine, then here is my daily dose.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Summer Camp Redefined

Gaza Terrorists Burn Down Second UN Camp, Handcuff Guards - Defense/Middle East - Israel News - Israel National News
Hamas Woos Gaza Kids from UN Camps to Join 'Fun with Terror'

I must be missing something.  Perhaps if I read it a 3rd time, I’ll find the line explaining the joke. Maybe I’ve stumbled onto a humor website and am just having trouble locating the laughter. Maybe the coffee hasn’t swept the sleepy haziness aside yet and I'm weaving fiction with real life.  But the third reading is no different than the first, still inducing my solo rants as I shake my head in disbelief.  Apparently, my definition of Summer Camp is horribly outdated.  Apparently, despite the water skiing, sailing and arts & crafts, camp as I remember it was lacking in essential activities. 
Apparently, the place to be is Hamas’ Summer Camp, where you can learn about Islam and studying the Koran, but “children also learn to fight in the Jihad against Israel. Children are taught weapons training, hand-to-hand combat, as well as the use of explosive belts for suicide missions.”

Today, Hamas Terrorists burned down a second UN camp in Gaza.  A camp for their own children…I’ll give you a moment.  The first camp was burned down in late May, when Hamas council member Younis al-Astel repeatedly lambasted the UN camps for being “coeducational, and claimed that campers there used drugs, learned how to dance, and worst of all, were taught about reconciliation between Gaza and Israel.”
Heaven forbid children are taught tolerance, forgiveness, and compromise. Imagine the horrors that will ensue. 
I have trouble keeping perspective while reading articles like these. I have trouble putting myself in the opposing shoes, trouble locating my compassionate understanding, and trouble twisting my brain to try and keep an open mind.  I can see how the co-ed activities could be problematic for Islamic families, and claims of drug use are a definite problem.  But as of August 2009, boys and girls no longer intermingled while they played.  And given a choice between rumors of drugs versus Bombing 101, I have to choose drugs. 
Maybe I'm not being fair or I don’t have the whole picture.  Maybe there are undisclosed evils going on at the UN camps and Hamas Terrorists have justifiable reasons to commit arson.  Maybe children at the Hamas camps didn’t really put on shows of re-enacting the Gilad Shalit kidnapping.  Maybe.
But in a month of flotilla raids, blockades, claims of starvation and lacking medical supplies, I am having trouble accessing my tolerance. Amidst worldwide attention to their plight, Hamas chooses to hurt their own?
I grew up in a world where the children were our future, where the hope of society laid at the feet of the next generation.  I was raised to believe that we protect our children, cherish them, and stand in front of the fire for them. I was taught that peace rests with our children, a generation absent of prejudice and wounding history, a population who could learn to laugh together without the ancient grudges and political clashes of their parents.  I assumed that children were off-limits, excused from paying the price of summer happiness with burnt playgrounds for political gain.
I should never assume.
It pains me to see children used as pawns for religious agendas.  It pains me to imagine little boys and girls rapt with awe at the sight of shiny guns and stories of eternal glory.  It pains me to realize that rather than utilize the aid being offered, Gaza terrorists would rather make a statement, sacrificing the children in favor of making headlines.
I understand standing up for what you believe in.  I understand making a point, regardless of the personal cost.  I understand loyalty and patriotism, along with fighting for freedom.  I understand living by your faith and refusing to compromise your beliefs.  I understand.
But I don’t understand where this ends.  I don’t understand what the goal of burning down the UN camp was. I don’t understand teaching innocent inquiring minds how to carry out suicide missions.  I don’t understand using bullets as words and bombs as rallies. 
Maybe if I did, I would have some solution to suggest or an innovative program that miraculously would result in Israeli and Gaza children holding hands and skipping across fields.  Maybe if I knew more, was more open-minded, more compassionate, or more tolerant, I would skip over this article as par for the course.  Maybe I wouldn’t be shocked or outraged, aching and angry. Maybe I would be hardened to the bastardization of summer camp and unmoved by a fire that cost no lives.  Maybe.
But for the moment, I'm just outraged without a plan, irate without a soothing balm.  I am illiterate in the verse of terror, and sit at the brainstorming table silent with solutions.
How to establish peace without losing ourselves? How to co-exist while still holding on to our dreams? How to compromise without sacrificing all we have fought for? How to call a truce when one side is willing to die to win? How to find common ground on a soil etched with history?  How to make a world for our children where summer camp lacks terrorism lessons and all can stroll the streets without the fear of exploding buses?
I wish I had the answer.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Renaissance Man

It is a renaissance man, donning new masks and elaborate hats to disguise its thievery.  It will rob you of hope, of motivation, of a warm meal to soothe the ache.  It will steal your security and sense of safety, buried under soft blankets and clean clothes.  Ultimately, poverty will snatch your soul right in front of your eyes, trailing dignity in its wake. 

There is crisis poverty, the immediate lack of necessities, empty bank accounts that banish homes and empty pantries. This is the poverty that can extinguish dreams and harden spirits.  There is no debating politics or musing about life’s meaning.  Crisis poverty narrows the focus, listing the items as demands: Food, Water, Shelter, and Warmth. 

It’s easy to claim that we all experience poverty at some level. I could speak about the poverty of a soul, and a life lived in the red, lacking laughter and joy.  I could recollect the darkness and tears, the vanishing of light when my spirit was broke.  But there is a difference.  It might be the same ache, the same tears wept in silence, the same shame and yearning, but let’s not diminish the fear of homelessness or the desperation of days without dinner.  Let’s not wax poetic about finding meaning on the streets and the miracle stories of the few who catch a break and escape to glory. 

And yet, some of those who lived in crisis poverty are richer than I.  Some of those I met had resources of love and community and faith that I coveted.  I’ve met those pushing shopping carts that handed out blessings without expectations, and painted dreams that left me color-blind.  There can be a richness of the spirit, born from a need to survive.  It doesn’t make the hunger or the cold any easier.  It doesn’t pay the rent or allow for museum outings. I wouldn’t choose the panic of unpaid bills and children with outgrown clothes, but it seems that poverty can only steal your soul if you volunteer it.

And then there are those of us who are fluent in four-star restaurants and snuggle under fluffy comforters.  Those of us who reminisce about summer vacations and swap decorating tips.  Those who might fear financial poverty but are illiterate in the words of the truly hungry. It is among us that a rich man’s poverty lurks in the shadows, threatening our laughter and plotting for our joy. This spiritual poverty wields a sharp sword, inducing isolation, misery, aimless days and membership among the living dead.  This poverty robs the future of its color and the present of its bliss.  This poverty scans the rooms of plenty and sees only meaningless trinkets and unfulfilled hopes.  While less of a crisis, it is tough to treat, not responding to checks, steaming soup, or clean sheets. 

Whatever it’s mask, poverty touches us all.  It touches those who live in crisis, those who are bereft of grins, and those who love the ones who suffer.  Poverty strikes through our communities and begs us to take action, to speak up, to dance for change.  Poverty will not be ignored and should not be minimized.  Poverty will steal until abated and recruit members in the silence.  Poverty demands steel defense and courageous steps.  Poverty touches us all, and regardless of the type that sneaks into your home, we must point our fingers and reach out our hands, as we create our army of wealth, armed by kindness and innovation.

And in the meantime, lets make the choice to be rich in essence while we mute the destitute mindset undermining our smiles.  In the meantime, lets lean on each other and make lists of gratitude, as we tally our loved ones and work for a cure. Let’s brainstorm solutions and try new tactics, but let us clench our spirit and stop raising our hand to volunteer our souls. 

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Would you look into the future if you had the chance? Would you want a crystal ball, even if you could do nothing to change the finale?

I used to think it was a stupid question.  I used to think I would want to know. I am all for planning and lists, organization and pre-emptive worrying.  I have to-do lists for my to-do lists, and ‘prepared’ flashes on my forehead.  I squirm in the ambiguous, and tap my toes while sitting in the questions.  I like to know the outcome before I take the action.  I want to be guaranteed a positive result as I anticipate the risk. I want to taste the promise of freedom prior to the struggle and sniff the glory of success in advance of leaving the shore. 

You would think I would choose the crystal ball – a future spelled out in surety, clear cut plot lines and endings marking the last page. But we don’t get to choose what we see in this crystal ball. We don’t get to sift through the tears and heartache as we zoom in on the laughter.  If we couldn’t change the last word or implement detours, would you want to know?  If you couldn’t use this vision as a method for change, motivation to eradicate bad habits, turn a bit more to the left, shift backwards to avoid the potholes, would you take a peek? I would have to pass.

There is a protocol found among parents.  An underground network where parents can find others who share their struggles and are willing to act as tour guide for the newly exposed. They share with parents who shake with fear and stumble blindly into this new world of sickness or disability or troubles, all laced with powerlessness. They speak words of calming compassion; offer shoulders to lean on and tips for survival.  The idea is that these parents who have come out the other side can offer glimmers of life at the end of the tunnel. 

But what if you don’t have a happy ending to relay? What if you still wake with a racing heart and a mouth dry from fear? What if there are ups and downs, but the straight lined life has disappeared from view? What if the journey has left wounds still seeping and pockets of pain too sensitive to touch? What would you tell this new parent? Would you tell them what they ache to hear: that everything will be ok, that if you send her to this therapist or take this drug, she will be all better? Will you speak of simple steps to take in order to regain equilibrium, assurances of time marked in days rather than years for recovery? Or would you share your truth? Would you turn your crystal ball outward and offer a glimpse of a gray-lined future? Which is kinder? Which is true?

One person’s future isn’t contagious. Her outcome and life path doesn’t have to intermingle with his; her path might be uniquely tailored to fit.  One parent’s trauma doesn’t have to be served at the potluck, and the journey is painted by the individual’s hand and therefore not transferrable to new participants.

That’s the thing. Hope trumps the appeal of a crystal ball.  Hope balances out the worries and buoys us with salt while we paddle our challenging oceans. Hope can shade the gray with sunshine, and fill us with the promise of a better tomorrow.  And if tomorrow greets us with rain, there is always another tomorrow only a day away.  

If I could see what laid in store for me, I would have waved my white flag, burrowed beneath the covers and refused to emerge. If a crystal ball offers only plot, then the lessons learned would be absent.  The small joys and moments of bliss would fade amidst the setbacks, and I would be too caught up in the drama to recognize the supporting cast in the wings.  With too much future information, I would have dropped the course long ago.

But why am I assuming that my crystal ball would show only plot showcasing falls? Maybe it would depict waves jumped and tide pools discovered.  Maybe I would see birthday cakes and cards in the mail, graduation tassels and puppy kisses.  Perhaps my fortune would tell of apartments transformed into homes and visits greeted with bone-crushing hugs.  Maybe belly laughter is the soundtrack and the stage is set with supportive love.  Maybe gardenias bloom and hands are held, puddles to jump in as the side effect of rain.

Maybe it is only me who looks back over the past decades and lands on the bruises and failures, overlooking the warm grins and tears of joy. Maybe I would tell parents to ignore my life’s plot in favor of gearing up for their own journey.

 I would tell them to be patient and get educated, to find support of their own, and to love despite the walls thrown in their face.  I would tell them to look for the sprouts of life, the glimpses of truth, and to celebrate the small steps rather than waiting for the finish line.  I would tell them to expect stumbles and broken bones, days of fear stirred with anxiety.  I would tell them to search for the blessings, the lessons learned, the points of connection exposed.  I would tell them to cry, to scream, to lament and complain.  I would tell them to speak their truth and stop at nothing to save the ones they love.  I would tell them my finale doesn’t have to be theirs, and that the future isn’t set in stone.  I would tell them that hugs matter more than words, and hands to hold soothe more than pills. I would tell them that it’s a wordy book, but to pay attention, not only to the plot, but more to the spaces within. I would tell them that there is no crystal ball with sure results – not for me and not for them.  I would tell them my story and share my wisdom gleaned.

 I would tell them that should their plot twist where mine did, that they shouldn’t be fooled – it’s not about the storyline but rather the tally of blessings at the end.

I would tell them to ignore the crystal ball and to breathe in the living. I would tell them never to give up hope. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Free Hugs

“And for one moment, our lives met and our souls touched.”
-Oscar Wilde

I can’t figure out what the tears are about.  It’s a simple concept taped on a grainy video, and yet, I'm sobbing. 

I am not a crier.  I sit Kleenex-less at tearjerkers and get nervous before funerals, lest it appears that my dry eyes signify my lack of grief.  This qualifies me as the black sheep in a family where tears are displays of love. Did you write a moving card? Check dad’s eyes.  Is mom happy to see you? Are there tissues involved? We raise our glasses in honor, using a red eye rating system to rank our words.  I come from a family who cries at Hallmark commercials, airport pickups, in times of joy, in times of sorrow, and the spaces in between.  I come from a family where it’s a badge of love to be unable to get through the toast, and Kleenex is bought in bulk. 

So what is it about this ‘Free Hugs’ video that has my puppy nervously licking tears off my cheeks?
 I go down the checklist:
  • Tears of Joy or Sadness? A bit of both I think
  • Is it that the background song is one of my favorites? It doesn’t hurt...
  • Unbelievable cinematography? Definitely not
  • Triggers some painful childhood memory? Nope
  • Triggers an overwhelming desire to become a professional ‘Free Hug’ giver? Yes…but why?

I mull it over all afternoon.  I ask my mom, who forwarded it to me laced with her own tears. I read an email from my uncle…the tears now spread from California to Arizona to Virginia…ah, and the video gets 4 stars.

As I watch the video again, it hits me.  It touches a hole in my life, a yearning for connection, for family, for someone to wrap my arms around and grip with all my might.  It tears at the edges of loneliness and trails its fingertips over lumps of loss.  It awakens a grief for those I can’t hug anymore and a homesickness for the arms that live plane rides away.

It touches a cord of existential sadness, mourning for a world that rushes into technology, shedding human connection by the side of the road.  It reminds me that phone calls aren’t warm and texting lacks shared laughter.  It reminds me that email will never squeeze my hand and that hugging never shows up on my to-do list. 

It begins with a pain of those who walk quickly by, wary of the strange man offering hugs.  My eyes blur as I wonder, would I walk the other way? Am I so hardened that I would judge ‘creepy’ as I picked up my pace? And is it smart to be less trusting or merely one more brick in a wall that not only protects but isolates? It’s the look on the volunteer’s face, crestfallen with diminishing hope, good intentions unrecognized and a joyful soul unshared. 

And then I cry as the hugging begins.  I cry at the tentativeness, the nudge of emptiness propelling their feet as they warily extend their arms.  I cry because I want to believe, like Anne Frank:

 "It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart."

I cry for those who need a hug and don’t know it; who need a hug and have no one to grab.  I cry for those whose pain might be lessened with a shoulder to learn on.  I cry for all of us who toil in adulthood, striving for an independence that so often is accompanied by a party of one.  I cry for the elderly couple slowly hobbling over for a stranger’s embrace, seeing my grandparents’ faces as I ache with loss.  I cry for the times when I'm not there to offer hugs, for the moments of loneliness that I can’t fix. 

I cry for the little children hidden within these grown-ups, the sweet innocence that knows hugs cure better than Tylenol. I cry with a longing for human touch, for my own hug account that dips dangerously low at times.  I cry with yearning, glancing out my window just in case there are hug volunteers I can grasp to my chest.  I cry because a hug is so simple, so easy, and yet so crucial for joy.  I cry because a hug is free to give and priceless to receive.  I cry with the awareness that we all carry scabs of hardship and scars of grief, missing puzzle pieces that can only be found in those we meet along the way.  I cry as I ponder my lost pieces, and wonder how many strangers I’ve bypassed who held my answers in their pockets.

I cry while smiling as they run to embrace in the middle of the courtyard.  I cry because I know that feeling…the inability to wait one more second, overflowing with a love that necessitates immediate hugging, powered by months of missing and waiting.

I cry because it is in the simple that I find the holy.  It is in the small gestures that I find faith. 

And I cry as I hug my puppy and dial home…because in the absence of human contact, long-distance hugging will have to do.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Caitlin Crosby-Imperfect is the new perfect

A woman taking a step in the amazing song

We Have an Epidemic

How Skinny is Too Skinny? JPost Blog by Elana Sztokman
Knesset Bill could ban too skinny models - The Forward: Sisterhood Blog

On one hand, I'm thrilled.  Taking a stand against the portrayal of emaciated models deserves a round of applause. Kudos to Israel for being the first to propose such a bill.  With the “Photoshop Law”, any models with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of under 18.5 would be banned from appearing in ads.  Well Done.  I vote Yes!

On the other hand, will this bill really make a difference? Does the law target the right population? By focusing on the models and requiring them to toe a line on the scale might just encourage more body consciousness, albeit in a healthier direction.  Don’t get me wrong – I'm all for the bill.  But perhaps, instead of making the models pay the price, it would be more productive to target the advertisers, clothing designers and companies at the source of the message. Rather than induce weigh-ins where models are fired for dropping below or above a magic number, could we instead somehow target the source?

And the answer is it’s much easier to hone in on a particular number and then set out to enforce it than to shift the theme of the advertising messages.  Dove had the right idea a few years ago when it launched it’s Love Your Body campaign, filled with ‘normal’ woman and commercials of little girls, girls who should have been swinging on playgrounds and doing summersaults, talking about how they wanted to be skinnier. 

It’s a bit of a catch-22.  I value free speech, but I also value our children, our teenagers, our women and men who spend lifetimes pursuing just five pounds less, one more mile to run, one more body part to fix before they contemplate happiness.

It is an epidemic. 

It’s a worldwide crisis that no one wants to touch, a virus that lurks around the edges and muzzles us, each of us too enmeshed to see the truth.  It’s not a women’s problem or a United States problem.  It’s not a teenage issue or simply vanity.  We have a world of humans carving off pieces of their stomach along with their soul, shedding layers of fat mixed with personality, shrinking their thighs while shrinking their lives.  We have Atkins, Lo-Carb, Lo-Fat, Lo-Taste and “Lose 25 pounds by Friday”.   We have diet pills, caffeine pills, methamphetamines, and laxatives as weight loss tricks.  We have ‘just a few more pounds’ and dry salads, cottage cheese with a side of body hatred.  We have ‘The Biggest Loser” and “Losing it with Jillian”; calorie counts at McDonalds and ten more sit-ups.  We have anorexia, bulimia, eating disorders Not Otherwise Specified.  We have eating disorder support groups, 12-step meetings, treatment centers, and hospital wings.  We have a world that slides along the Eating Disorder Spectrum, where no one gets out untouched.  You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who can confidently state “I wouldn’t change one things about my body” or who doesn’t know someone suffering from the more fatal end of the spectrum.

We have an epidemic where little girls run laps on the playground and push aside their butter because “Mommy and me don’t eat butter.” We have an epidemic that supports a billion dollar enterprise, stuffed with scales and fat calipers, diet magazines, weight-loss gimmicks, ‘slimming’ jeans, and diet pills with pesky side effects of heart attack and death.  We have an epidemic that seeps onto our forks, popping up in the mirror to taunt us with our imperfections.

And yet, we stay silent.  We shake our condemning heads at the model who is composed of photo-shopped body parts and tsk at the withering figures draped in the latest couture.  We lament the evils of the media while we order our dressing on the side.  We break glass ceilings and walk on the moon, secure only when the scale flashes our magic number. 

I'm not advocating obesity or a lack of self-care.  I'm not asking you to gain 20 pounds in media protest.  I'm not suggesting that we all aim to shatter our mirrors and dine only on ice cream.  But I am suggesting that it’s time to speak up.  I am suggesting that it’s time to shout our protests and march for our bodies.  I am suggesting that we stop basing our worth on the number on the scale and putting off happiness until we lose the last five pounds.  I am suggesting that we have to fight for peace of mind, and start educating our children on what real bodies look like, and how to love our lumpy parts. 

And I am suggesting that I start with myself. 

It’s easy to rant and point fingers at the media.  It’s easy to sign up for the National Eating Disorders Awareness (NEDA) newsletter while flipping through the latest magazine.  It’s easy to lick my lite frozen yogurt while advocating body love.  It’s not so easy to actually love your body.  It’s not so easy to shift from critical to acceptance.  It’s not so easy to mute the mirror’s taunts and choose health over stick figures.  It’s not so easy to define a new ideal: a woman who takes up space, who lives out loud. It’s not so easy but it’s essential. 

So I think this ‘Photoshop Law’ is a good start.  I think we need all the small steps we can get.  I think the protest starts at our kitchen tables and our rallies need to show up in the bathroom mirror.  I think we start anywhere we can to diminish this epidemic.  Choose high taste over low-carb.  Choose playing in the park over treadmill calorie counters.  Choose gratitude for the miracle of our bodies over lists of parts to fix.  Join the underground community of woman refusing to lose, who stand up for their spot in the world. 

If you want a bigger life, you might have to wear bigger jeans (Anna Kowalski)

It’s time to donate jeans that mock of ‘some day’ and slide into a life that matters.  It’s time to vote yes for any bill that helps portray healthier women and to take our cue from Israel as we muzzle those that profit from our self-hatred.  We take small steps. We start local. 

We start with ourselves, including me. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I Shall Not Fear

To the rest of the world, he was a rabbi and a scholar; a professor who penned hard-backed insights of Jewish theology and prayer.  But to me, Sam was the quirky family friend whom I immediately gathered into my circle, bestowing him with an honorary ‘Grandfather’ crown. 

Sam graciously accepted his adopted status, and fulfilled the Grandfather requirements with a stream of letters that followed me along my journey, reaching me amidst the dips of hopelessness and goading me to find faith when I reached for my white flag.  He was the one I turned to with questions of G-d and the afterlife, desperate to borrow some of his stable surety, eager to learn the tidbits that gave him the strength to live in a world that threatened to hit below the knees. 

Sam knew from heartache and words of pain flowed from his lips.  He was fluent in the laments of unfairness and toiled with the haze of sickness and grief.  Behind the published chapters and rabbinic lectures were tears of a desperate father pooled by his feet.  He too had a daughter he couldn’t save; a daughter trapped in the maze of a disease resistant to band-aids and kisses.  He understood the sorrow of a child in pain, mute to pleas of help, powerless to soothe her anguish.  All of the lectures and learning, wisdom and training couldn’t be stirred enough to deliver the comfort of a cure.

I never met his daughter, but her presence lingered under his skin, a love-tinged sadness that accompanied him on his travels.  He wrote me life’s details: new projects and classes, book tours and summer plans.  He wrote of his support, his belief that there was a G-d who was waiting patiently, by my side until I was ready to grab hold.  He wrote of the clash between roles, struggling with the picture of who a Rabbi was ‘supposed’ to be and his private struggles. He erased the notion of “Aha” moments where we romantically find G-d, and spoke about the sanctity of ordinary, the elevated triumphs of a life well lived, the holiness in the mundane. He urged me to locate my spirituality, to see the miracles involved in simply getting out of bed.

Just as I adopted him as Grandfather, Sam adopted me as surrogate daughter; also sick and in pain, a daughter with an illness that might be fixed with the right formula of healing words. Beginning belated letters with apologies, he offered his maps with highlighted routes to G-d.  Rather than pontificate on a Higher Power who would swoop down with a magic wand, he put forth a different twist.  He wrote about a police officer that had been in a hospital during a mass casualty, able to save a patient by holding a torn artery in a crowded ER. Sam taught me to hold my own artery to stop the bleeding.  He instructed me to pick up my hand and apply pressure, knowing that G-d had brought me to this place and stood beside me, guiding my hand. 

I would have preferred a magic wand.  I wanted faith without duties, saving without action.  I wanted the “Aha” moments, the light bulb dawning of being carried into health.  I wanted a religion absent of obligations, a G-d that provided not only the cure but also the motivation.  I wanted the prayer book Creator who cured the sick and rose the dead, allowing me to wallow in my misery until the miracle occurred. 

I read his words and stifled my guilt, craving unconditional support rather than tools and steps to take.  I resented the obligation, didn’t want to admit that my illness was treatable in a way that his daughter’s would never be.  I resented the pleas to keep trying, keep working, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.  I was tired of doing what was hard, choosing right over easy, toiling at a health that crumbled at my touch.

I knew he was right, backed by years of wisdom and fatherhood.  I knew Sam loved me and would have waved his magic wand if he could; curing, not only his daughter and I, but also the buried demons that tore at his soul. I knew he was right, and yet I did nothing.  I wasn’t ready to hear his lesson, hadn’t taken the pre-requisites that allowed me to access holiness or stand in faith.  My teacher was here and I was absent, wandering the halls with loneliness, lost in the manipulations of my mind.  And yet, his lessons were planted, seeds of hope and belief sprouting up unannounced years later.

We lost touch over the years, letters spaced further apart until I realize that it’s been at least five years since I wrote to him.  I don’t know what his days look like or how his daughter is doing.  I don’t know if he has managed to grasp holiness amidst the daily shuffle.

But I do know that I became ready to hear his lecture. I do know that I persevere in faith and continue to pick myself up with a guided hand.  I do know that his wisdom wasn’t lost, but rather filed away until I was ready to hear it, a spark within dark years.  I do know that there haven’t been “Aha” moments or magic wands and yet, I have learned how to reach out my hand and locate the blessings in my life.

To the rest of the world, he was a respected professor, Rabbi, and scholar.  To me, he will always be my adopted Grandfather: wise and compassionate, patient and loving. To me, Sam will forever be the one who taught me my Jewish abra cadabra, the phrase that I repeat in darkness: Adonai Li v’Lo Irah.  The Lord is with me, I shall not fear. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Last Crossword Puzzle Clue

It definitely barred me from being ‘cool’ but secretly, I’d bet that they were just jealous.  I’d bet that they were wishing my grandmother could be their best friend too. 

 She did knit blankets and clip coupons.  She did rinse off the tin foil and save used wrapping paper, backed by stories of the Depression and “When I was young…”  She did bake cookies, whipping out the Windex for glass table fingerprints before we could finish the last bite.  So as far as the “Grandmother” criteria, she earned the title. 

However, she also called me ranting about the latest Brittany Spears debacle and had a closet packed with the most fashionable shoes.  She drove her red jaguar slowly through the Scottsdale streets as she treated me to frequent movie dates. She accessorized her jogging suits with spiffy high heels, and never left the house without her jewelry securely fashioned and political opinions stashed in her purse. 

We had our own book club, pompous in our ultimate review of the books we traded and dog-eared.  She taught me how to play card games and the thrill of filling in the final crossword puzzle word in the Sunday paper.  She smiled sweetly in mixed company, but it was after the sharp joke she would have cracked, reveling in the laughter around the table.  Somehow, even at 85, she held on to her spark, her humor, her questioning mind and her desire to be a part of the world.

When her beloved husband died ten years prior, she could have hung up her heels and locked away her jewelry, content to sit at home amidst the company of television and old photos. She could have dropped out of her bridge group and stowed away her golf clubs.  She could have lost her grip with fingers pruny with past memories and whiled away the present.  But she didn’t.  She mourned as she stretched to find a new way of making a life without Zaidy Charlie by her side. She grieved every day, but she learned how to access her smile and the motivation to live rather than merely survive. I know she ached with his loss, and she honored his memory by living well.  She showed up in her life, a tribute to their joint strength, and ruled as matriarch with red lipstick and glory.

She believed exercise would kill you, armed with articles on skiing deaths and running injuries.  She scoffed at worry with “90% of what we worry about never happens” and shared her marriage guidelines of “Never go to bed angry” and “When you fight, never bring up the past”.  But mostly, Bubby Ida’s wisdom came in doses of kindness, unspoken love that wafted into my heart.  She infused phone calls with unwavering faith, transmitting her confidence between her words.  I knew she believed in me by catching her eye, the glint of pride and adoration welling up behind her lids.  Soft touch, an absolute support in my endeavors, balanced her sharp wit.  She showed up for me, flying on a propeller plane to Abilene, Texas, for my college graduation, less interested in the new geography than with the road map of my life.

She didn’t beat around the bush, and there were times when I would have been happier with a little less advice.  But her commandment-ish guidance lacked any sting of judgment. Rather than growing narrower with age, she gathered her family in with an open mind and forgiving arms. She responded to coming out confessions with hugs and incorporated divorce, addiction, and depression into her lexicon.  She wasn’t a saint, and hidden under masks of bravery, fear and pains of loss laid their seeds.  She spoke of few regrets, but in her dismissive nonchalance, I hear her unanswered prayers.  Still, understated confidence boosted her faith, and she steadied me with her assurances of happy endings.

She shared stories of her childhood, tinted with a reluctance to criticize her parents, even when describing how she wasn’t allowed to continue on in school because the money went to her brother’s education.  She told tales of determination and commitment, teenage jobs with paychecks to buy her younger sister piano lessons.  She unwrapped tokens of loyalty and devotion, visions of a long-distance courtship and stacks of love letters.  She laughed over mother-in-law dramas and the perils of early marriage with no money and a new business.  I still giggle over the creative uses of saran wrap and grin with echoes of my Bubby who “gave up a great career to be a mother!” She whispered the fire of her love for her husband, the breaths stolen and confidence gained with him by her side.  The way she said his name, Charlie, like a lingering caress, sharing the teenage romance of their blind date and the fifty plus years that followed. 

She taught me how to compromise without surrender and how to love stirred with anger. She exemplified courage, opting to battle cancer, and peppering visits with humor and current events rather than a catalogue of her ailments.  She suffered a loss of privacy, independence, and a disintegrating body, yet kept her dignity perched behind her ear. She chose words of love over laments, and sent me home with care packages of adoration to be doled out when she was gone. 

I found saved notes from her this weekend, stationary etched with old-fashioned cursive that I held to my nose, hoping to stanch the ache and catch a whiff of her Escada perfume. I keep the letters amidst old photos, a poor substitute for her hand to hold and eyes to catch.

 I miss her knowing glances and the peak of her laughter ringing above a crowd’s din.  I miss her distraction on the phone if I called during “Judging Amy”, because, “Lauren, yes I love you, but I love Amy too!”  I miss her squishy gushy elbows and wise eyes. I miss her faith that I was ok, and willingness to see the best in me when I was blind. I miss her quiet acceptance and our jokes about dropping off her wig at the hairdressers to save time.  I miss knowing that, inside the house on McCormick Parkway, there’s a woman who makes my life sweeter by breathing, and who loves me more than I deserve.

I miss my crossword puzzle partner.  I leave the last clue blank, my tribute to the woman who helped me answer my life's puzzles.