Monday, November 23, 2015

Who Has Dried Your Tears?

Healed by Words or Deeds?
Say “Thank You”—Out Loud
When Rabbi Kushner Opened His Mouth to Speak,
All Frailty Was Gone
He is large man, well over six feet tall, but for all his height, he seemed frail. His steps were slow and measured as he walked across the stage and took his seat. When it was his turn to speak, he again used deliberate steps to move to the podium. All frailty was gone, however, when Rabbi Harold Kushner, age eighty, began talking. The rich powerful tones of his voice dispelled any notion of weakness and instead radiated strength.
I’m not Jewish and I’ve never seen the inside of a synagogue, but Rabbi Kushner and I have a history. He didn’t know about our history until Sunday, November 22, when he finished his talk at the Miami Book Fair. Rabbi Kushner has written a new book, ­­­­­­­­­­Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life, and he was speaking at the Book Fair to tell people about that book, but also to speak of God, the God he knows, the God he got to know more deeply after his son died at age fourteen from progeria, a rapidly aging disease. When Kushner spoke of God, it was almost like being in church, which was appropriate, because it was Sunday morning: “God does not send the problem. God sends strength to cope with the problem.” In Kushner’s view, the one he shared in his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good PeopleGod is neither the cause of nor the cure for the aches, pains, and sometimes-agonizing experiences that tend to break us. As Rabbi Kushner shared again Sunday, God gives us the strength to carry on after such experiences challenge us. Each of us will continue to meet sometimes-heartbreaking situations as long as we live. According to Kushner, asking “why” when we are faced with heartbreak “is not a question. It’s a cry of pain.” I felt better about God after listening to Rabbi Kushner speak earlier today. I felt better about life. I also was reminded of my history with Rabbi Kushner.
When Rabbi Kushner completed his talk, the microphone in the Chapman Center at Miami-Dade College was open for audience questions. I’m not one to jump up in a conference room of several hundred people and speak in a spontaneous manner, but I did. I was first to step up to the microphone:
“I have a comment for Rabbi Kushner,” I said.
“In 1986, my daughter died from brain cancer. Her name was Alexa Provo and she was seven and a half years old. After Alexa’s death, many people said some things to me that made me sad and angry. I also read many things about death and child death. Some of the things I read made me sad. Others made me angry. It was your book that began my healing. Through my healing, I have been able to reach out to others and help them heal. I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to thank you in person. Thank you…”
My voice started breaking, so, to the sound of applause, I returned to my seat. The woman sitting next to me wiped tears from her face. Rabbi Kushner thanked me for my comment and spoke of the many, many parents and other grieving people who have told him that his words have helped them in their grief journeys.
* * * * *

I remember my days of being steeped in grief and how Dr. Kushner’s book was one of the life rafts that held me afloat. When I once had so many questions of why God would let such a thing happen and I received only glib, useless, or painful answers, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People gave me permission to stop asking questions and accept that bad things sometimes just happen. Much as we want to believe that our lives, our world, our universe, have order, often they do not. Receiving the gift of strength to keep walking through that chaos and find joy in life is where we often find help from God.
I have purchased more than a few copies of When Bad Things Happen to Good People. At one time, I kept them on hand to give or send to people who were hurting because I knew that Kushner’s words would not further their hurt. I hoped that, as they did for me, Kushner’s words would help them heal.
Thanking Rabbi Kushner was an honor. My gratitude was and is heartfelt. Gratitude is the watchword this month and especially this week. I am grateful for the chance to thank Rabbi Kushner for helping put me on the path to healing. As Rabbi Kushner said on Sunday, you can “find God in the willingness of people to hold your hands and dry your tears.” Who in your life has held your hand? Who has dried your tears? Who has helped you heal? Whose words or actions have made the path toward healing an easier one for you to walk? If you have such a person in your life, thank them—not in a text message or an e-mail, unless you have no other way to reach them. If you can, speak to that person. Use your voice to let them know their voice mattered, that their voice healed, just as Rabbi Kushner’s voice healed and continues to heal.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Cracked Grace: No Muslim-Hating Day for Me

Cracked Grace
No Muslim-Hating Day for Me
I never have had nor do I plan to have a Muslim-hating day, so today was no exception. It is, however, certainly an appropriate day to have intense dislike and dismay for what happened in Paris. What’s also different today that is some Saturdays I attend a Bible discussion. This Saturday I had the time, but I didn’t have the will. On a Saturday discussion I attended several weeks ago, a young man shared that he doesn’t like or trust Muslims—all Muslims. I challenged him, but he refused to bend. It was problematic for me because this was a meeting of Christians and the extreme dislike he expressed was rather anti-Jesus, anti-love-your-enemies, anti-turn the other cheek, and anti-forgive. However, I continued going because I like many aspects of it. No one brought out the haystacks and matches when I recently stated that the Old Testament God seemed a tad bit angry, what with all those floods, plagues, and smiting, so I decided I would go again sometime.
But not today. I didn’t have the energy to face a Muslim-hater. I have seen plenty of that online, but it’s different when you’re face to face. I don’t think I can model anything resembling Jesus regarding isis members today, but I also can’t call every Muslim a radical or say I dislike and distrust them. I know only one Muslim. She’s a friend of my daughter’s and I imagine she suffers today; she’s kind and generous and sweet, but she surely is being judged.
I thought about judgment today and passed some of my own. I wished that the kind, benevolent Muslims would do something about those radicals. As soon as the thought flitted through my brain, another thought countered it: “Yeah, just like kind, benevolent Christians do something about those radical Christians who do so many anti-Jesus-y things that I can’t even list them.”
I don’t know how to counter radicals of any faith. My philosophy doesn’t include an eye for an eye or a bomb for a bomb, no matter how frustrated and angry I get regarding lost eyes and dropped bombs. I believe that individuals must act in concert with hundreds and even thousands of other individuals to counter hate, to counter anger, to counter fear.
And isn’t that easy for me to think, easy to say, and easier yet to write as I sit in my safe space this darkening evening? But it’s the only choice I have. I don’t have to stay in a dark space and hate, and judge, and wreak vengeful retaliation. It’s dark, yes, but I can turn on a light. I can turn on many lights, and so can you.
I said it earlier today in a Facebook post and I’ll repeat it here: Cry your tears for Paris and the world, dry them, and then get busy: Be peaceful in your actions today. Be kind in your actions today. Be generous today. Help someone today. Forgive someone today. Tell someone “I love you” today. Do this tomorrow. Repeat.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

"Forced" to Consider Yoda's Wisdom

Forced into Listening to Yoda
“Luminous beings are we.” ~ Yoda
Star Wars geek I am not. I love the first movie from the late-1970s, and I enjoyed some of the following ones, but I’m not focused on the force, Jedi, or the dark side. I do, however, know the dark side exists—and not just in relation to Star Wars. My son is a Star Wars geek. The three-foot-tall Darth Vader in my front room is proof. I humor his Star Wars adoration about as well as he humors my gardening passion. I watched the trailer for ­­­­­­­­­­­­Star Wars, The Force Awakens (which will be released December 18), and I admit that some aspects of it are keen. In turn, he will view my latest orchid blooms or show up when I call aloud, “Come and look at this” flower, plant, shrub, tree.
 I sit in front of a computer for my job, so when I’m done for the day, I avoid looking at most things on a screen; that is, until he says, “Watch this!” I’ll pause my activity and view a trailer, preview, short video, or movie clip. I try to be patient with fighting scenes, light sabers flashing, and injuries inflicted, but I get antsy and often ask, “How long will this last?” or “When will this be over?”
When a scene involves Yoda, however, because he’s powerful, yet gentle and wise, I pay attention and stop glancing at the second hand on my watch, anxious for whatever I’m viewing to end. Last night’s “Watch this!” was a scene from The Empire Strikes Back. Star Wars geeks know the scene well, because it’s the one in which Yoda says there is no “try.” You either do something or you don’t. The words are well known and often shared, but that quote wasn’t what got my attention.
In the scene (as best as my non-Star Wars brain remembers), Luke Skywalker doubts his abilities and receives the “there is no try” directive. Later, to further point out how we place limitations on ourselves, Yoda says, “Luminous beings are we.” Those words grabbed me and held me to the point that I stopped watching and wrote them down.
I don’t think of myself as a “luminous being,” but if Yoda says I am, I can accept that. I don’t often consider the people with whom I interact “luminous beings,” but if Yoda says they are, I can accept that as well. I might even go beyond acceptance.
Yoda’s words so impressed me that I imagined myself as a luminous being. I pictured light surrounding and emanating from me. I went further and pictured the same light emanating from others. In my day-to-day interactions, I don’t try to be luminous, but perhaps that is a worthy goal. When I imagine myself as luminous, I see myself kinder, more understanding, and certainly wiser, maybe even a bit like Yoda. I spent several hours in an airport earlier this week and far too few folks exhibited luminosity. Most were hurried, harried, and intent on where they were going and how they would get there, even if only to the end of the security lines. I even sensed some animosity. (Not from everyone, mind you; see That Annoying Toddler Kicking Your Seat.) Luminosity was not the focus of most people.
I try to be courteous and friendly in my relationships, but I don’t consider myself luminous, nor do I consider the person holding the “Will work for food” sign luminous. Maybe that’s because someone holding such a sign has had experiences that dimmed their luminosity. I’ve had several experiences that dimmed mine. But sensing someone—myself included—as a luminous being changes my perception. As I consider the possibility of luminous beings, I want to encourage the concept in myself and others. In all my actions, speech, and written words, I can at least have an intention of luminosity rather than seeing, sharing, and focusing on anything dark. The dark side is present in each of us, myself included, but visualizing, encouraging, and spreading luminosity will awaken and bring forth the core of the word lumen’s Latin meaning—it will bring light. I need not try to force this acceptance and visualization. I can simply notice it and consider what Yoda says: “Luminous beings are we.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

That Annoying Toddler Kicking Your Seat

That Annoying Toddler Kicking the Back of Your Airplane Seat
     That annoying toddler—we have seen and experienced them—sits behind you on the plane and makes noise. That toddler is demanding. That toddler even whines from time to time. Worst of all—that annoying toddler kicks the back of your seat.
I am a hater of someone kicking the back of my seat. When my kids were little, if a few shouts of “Stop it!” didn’t make the foot action stop, I often pulled over and refused to drive another foot.
That annoying toddler kicking the back of the airplane seat, however, was not one of my kids—she is my two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter.
That annoying toddler also did some annoying toddler things in the airport. She collapsed in a heap on the floor and refused to move. She escaped from her mom and me and dashed across the security lines, almost knocking over the metal stands that held the lines in place. Conversely, that annoying, slow-moving toddler held up the security check lines while we scooped her off the floor with the exciting news that the man wanted to see her socks, so in another minute, she could take off her boots.
On our return flight home, that annoying toddler had her own Thomas the Tank suitcase on wheels, so, once again, some folks in the airport could not get through the lines as quickly as they wanted. I graciously told the man pushing against my back that he was welcome to go in front of me.
That annoying toddler took a bit more time than some preferred because she’s littleshes two, after alland it was hard to pull her suitcase down the airplane aisle. Once seated, that annoying toddler had snacks and drinks and an iPad Mini loaded with Daniel Tiger games for the trip home. We figured she would be occupied the entire flight.
However, not too long into the flight, that annoying toddler started kicking the back of the seat in front of her. “Stop that!” her mom said. “Don’t do that!” I said. “That doesn’t feel good to the person sitting in the seat.”
Unfazed by our admonitions, that annoying toddler continued to kick the back of the seat. The man sitting in the seat turned around, and I thought, “Oh, boy. We’re in for it now.” And we were—for the balance of the flight, on and off, that man held a monkey puppet over the back of his seat. The monkey danced. The monkey played. The monkey made faces. It reached toward Emma to shake her hand. It engaged in monkey antics, waving its arms and jumping, and Emma shrieked with joy! Near the end of the flight, the monkey puppet even held up an iPad Mini so Emma could see that they were kindred spirits on the flight.
The monkey puppeteer was traveling with his wife and seven-year-old daughter. As we waited to deplane—after letting yet another pushing/pushy man go in front of me—we chatted with the family. The mom said she learned long ago that people who have children understand that children will be children in all situations and to not get worked up about it. We thanked them—I hope profusely enough—for making our trip more fun. The dad’s simple act of spending only moments during the flight entertained Emma and Chelsea and me. He also made the trip less stressful for all the other passengers, who had the pleasure of hearing that happy toddler shriek with joy and delight.
I haven’t traveled with a toddler in many years. It’s not easy because toddlers are little people; theyre slow people; theyre inquisitive people. Airports and new situations can be stressful for parents, not to mention small humans who can be overwhelmed by the sights, activity, and people. I felt the sting of judgment and annoyance from those who stared at me while trying to get Emma off the floor those few times. Parents of little ones commiserated. At one point, I said to Emma, “Oh, no. I hope you aren’t going to be one of those children in airports who everyone talks about.” The mom with three little ones in the line next to me just smiled and said, “We’ve all been there.”
I had to give up my TSA prescreen to go through the line with Emma and her mom. That’s because they needed a bit of extra assistance. All parents traveling with children and anyone else with challenging behaviors need that bit of extra assistance and smiles and encouragement. Monkey puppets aren’t such a bad idea, either.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Love, Joy, Healing--Even After Loss

My Life Ended. My Life Began.
I Still Experience Joy 

My life ended twenty-nine years ago today. My life began twenty-nine years ago today. November 2, 1986, at 1:47 p.m., my dear child Alexa was seven and a half years old when she took her final breath on this earth. With that breath, I took my final breath as a mother whose children all were alive. With that breath, I began a different life as a parent who suffered the worst loss conceivable.
It did not occur to me then that this loss would give me hands to hold other hands in the face of their own losses. It did not occur to me then that my tears would combine with the tears of others and help catch them when they fell. It did not occur to me that this profound grief that opened my heart would help me hold the hearts of others when they, too, experience grief and loss. It did not occur to me that I would love more, not less. It did not occur to me that this loss would go beyond absence and loss to create connection and caring.
With every word I write and every word I speak to those who grieve, I remember Alexa and I honor her. Her life, short as it was, brought me love and allowed me to give love I never dreamed of. For that, I am beyond grateful. I continue to be blessed by her love and because she opened my heart and helped me heal the broken hearts of others.
November 2, 1986, is many years gone today, November 2, 2015. I didn’t ever think of or begin to imagine myself having a life much beyond those early days of pain. But in spite of this never-healing hole in my heart, I have managed to carry on—to do more than carry on—to have much richness and fullness and love in my life. And joy—joy, too.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Forget the Odds and Have Hope

Two Outs, Two Strikes . . .
Where Were You
 Saturday, October 25, 1986?

Silent tears do a slow roll down my cheeks. It’s not 1986. It’s 2015 and the Mets are playing in the World Series this year, the first time since 1986. My tears aren’t because I’m a Cubs fan (or even because the Mets have lost the first two games of this Series). My tears come from my memory of two magic evenings in 1986. I knew little about baseball other than strikes, fouls, and outs. I knew about running the bases and I knew how to read a scoreboard—the simple stuff: Saturday, October 25, 1986, Game Six, Red Sox 5, Mets 3, bottom of the tenth inning, Mets at bat, two outs, two strikes. The Mets would not only lose the game but also the World Series.
I watched my first World Series game on October 25, 1986, but only because the television was on in the suite at Wellington Regional Hospital in West Palm Beach. The Mets were losing, but so were we. My seven-year-old daughter Alexa’s doctors said further treatments for her brain cancer would be futile. I wanted to keep her at home, but her pediatrician insisted we admit her to a hospital where I would have help caring for her during her last days.
When you are in a hospital with someone who is semi-conscious and you have done what little you can to comfort your loved one—body and soul—television can be a welcome distraction. That night, it was, indeed, a distraction.
My then husband Ken was initially immersed in the game. As the game progressed on the TV in the hospital room, I saw him change from subdued to intent, to beside himself with anxiety, curled up like a spring twisted beyond its limits and ready to burst. That—and the final losing minutes of the game—got my attention.
Things looked hopeless for the Mets. Things were hopeless for us. That hopelessness made us kindred spirits. Also, the Mets catcher, Gary Carter, was from Palm Beach Gardens, a bit north of where I lived. Boston’s land of Red Sox, Cheers, and odd accents might as well have been in another galaxy. Curse of the Bambino? What was that?
Red Sox fans who weren’t even alive on October 25, 1986, know what happened that night. When catcher Gary Carter stepped up to bat, I had joined with my husband, rooting for the Mets, but clearly saw that their situation was as dire as the one in which we had existed for the preceding 16 months of Lexie’s illness. I figured the Mets would join us as losers.
While my husband trembled and shook, I said to myself, “The Mets are going to lose. I know they are,” and I felt that loss compound the greater loss we faced. Nonetheless, I continued to watch, my own anxiety creeping to the bursting point. There were two outs, two strikes, and as soon as Gary Carter struck out, the Red Sox would win the series.
But Carter didn’t strike out. He singled. The next batter, Kevin Mitchell hit another single. Then Ray Knight sent Carter past home plate with a single. A wild pitch meant another run, which tied the game. Next, Mookie Wilson hit the ball that rolled through Bill Buckner’s legs. Knight ran past home plate and the Mets won the game.
We jumped up! We clapped! We cheered! We won! We won! We needed that win. It diminished our grief and put a temporary band-aid on the bigger game of life that would not end the way game six or the Series ended—with the Mets World Series champions.
When life is darkest, a glimmer of hope can sustain us, can help us carry on, can help us meet life’s challenges. We lost our major life challenge on November 2, 1986, a short week later, when Alexa died in our arms. But for a few short hours on October 25, 1986, we felt hope, we felt victory, we rejoiced. Because of that, I’ve always felt a special bond with the Mets—a bond that makes me smile, even though a tear or two might join that smile.
I’m not watching the Series this year. I do know that as of today, October 29, 2015, the Mets have lost the first two games. If I were asked to give them some advice, I would say this: Don’t give up hope.
That is my advice to everyone: Don’t give up hope. Even when times are dark, dark, dark, remember to look for a small glimmer of light. It’s there. It might even be on television in a baseball game.

* * * * *

In a rather odd twist of fate, seven years after Alexa died, I moved to Massachusetts. After ten years of living there, I finally became a Red Sox fan. In 2004, I jumped in the air, and clapped, and cheered when they finally did reverse that Curse.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Grief Is Not the Final Act of Love

Remembrance Is the Final Act of Love
Someone dear to me lost her grandmother a few months ago. The day of the memorial service, she said, “Grief is the final act of love.” Grief for a loved one, of course, is an emotion felt only because of the presence of love and the loss of a person we love. So, yes, grief is an act of love. Grief expresses our love for those we have lost. We grieve because someone’s physical presence is no longer a part of our lives. Their voice, their laughter, their faces, and their touch will forever be absent. Grief is a tangible, palpable expression of love for someone we love who has died.
Grief is not, however, the final act of love. I believe that remembrance is the final act of love. In remembering, we continue to love someone. A photo, a video, a thought, a memory of an event that included our loved one—all continue to ignite the spark of love for someone who no longer is with us.
Material objects—things we touch and feel—also are a part of remembering. My child Alexa died on November 2, 1986, from brain cancer. I keep her musical Cookie Monster in the top-left drawer of my dresser. It’s bittersweet, but those times when I take it out, wind the key, and listen to the melody (yes, it still works), I’m reminded of her as a baby. She loved being tucked into bed with her “friends,” Cookie Monster and Big Bird, to snuggle with her through the night. I remember, and I continue to love.
The cracked tile sitting on my desk with Ziggy saying, “Smile . . . God loves you” reminds me of my friend Myrle, who died two years ago. She gave it to me sometime in the mid-1970s. When I look at it, I smile—because I remember she loved me, too, and I remember so many other aspect of her life and how she touched me.
Words, photos, music, and the recollections of family and friends enrich my memories of loved ones and continue to be parts of my final acts of love because through them, I remember. Whenever I hear “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel, I cannot sit still or keep quiet. Once again, I’m in the car with Alexa and we’re rocking out, laughing and singing. Or, we’re watching the goofy “Sledgehammer” video with all the fruits, vegetables, and dancing chickens.
Remembrance as a final act of love means that our love is not final. Even with its elements of sorrow, loss, and regret, remembrance means that love for those we’ve lost has no final act. Through remembrance, we continue to love. Remembrance and the love it perpetuates can move us beyond grief as we remember the joy the person brought to our lives. Our final act of love, then, is not so final after all, because through memoryremembrancewe honor that joy and continue to love.