Irma and Jonah

Irma

Friday Morning, 9.8.17  Pre Irma

We sit and we sit and we sit. And personally I can’t sleep (not for long anyways) even though the hurricane shutters have cut off the light that normally seeps in through the blinds. I want to write that it is the hardest part, this waiting, this watching, this constant listening to the weather experts trying to figure out where will Irma turn, what is its path, how strong the winds, and how much more should we be doing to prepare. But as of today, I don’t know and I’m not in control, not of much anyway. Tomorrow and the day after will tell the story and looking back we will know more than we know now.

Saturday Morning 9.9.17

We know more. We know that Irma’s projected track has shifted. Good news for us on the Southeast Coast of Florida, bad news for the Keys and Fort Myers. There is a sense of relief but the 24 hour TV coverage keeps pushing the point: Don’t let your guard down. You may be out of the cone for now but just as it turned once it can turn again and the associated winds and rain are not to be taken lightly. The quote that resonates with me today is from the Kabbalah. (Full disclosure I saw it in a thank you note from the URJ.) “This world is a raging ocean and you should imagine yourself always in a ship at sea.” As someone with a phobia about getting sea sick, the imagery speaks to me. The deck is constantly shifting beneath our feet. We don’t feel it every day; we can’t; we wouldn’t be able to put one foot in front of another. That’s where trust and faith come in. Trust that we have made wise decisions and done what we can do to contain the chaos; faith that it will be “ok”; we will be “ok” and we will weather whatever comes.

Tuesday … Damage Assessment

We were very lucky. Our house seems to be on a grid that rarely loses power. So we were able to come back and have lights, air conditioning and the ability to recharge our devices. (Not everyone is so fortunate.)  Lost some screen panels around our pool; lost Cable and Internet, which turns out to be a surprisingly annoying piece of the puzzle. But on the good side, our grandson Jacob talked me through making my phone a hot spot both for my ability to connect to the outside world  and to watch some mindless shows using Apple TV. Who knew I was so dependent on filling time with such gratuitous entertainment? (That is kind of embarrassing to admit.)

Back to “lucky”. Or were we very blessed? It is hard for me to use that term in this context because does that mean that those who were in the more direct path of Irma were “cursed”? There is an implicit theology here that doesn’t sit well with me, although the biblical prophets would have bought into it. The God I believe in doesn’t direct storms, earthquakes, floods or any other natural disaster to chastise or instruct the people of Houston, Mexico, or Florida. The God I believe in is found in our ability to ask, what does this teach us. Does it instruct us to find love of neighbor and caring for the stranger in our responses? To reflect on our relationship with this planet that lives and breathes and twirls and swirls and reacts in a variety of ways to how we use or abuse our relationship with it. To act responsibly for the future and not ignore what our best scientific minds our telling us about Global Warming. To build our buildings to withstand the winds of the new reality and create an infrastructure that is less vulnerable to what nature can bring.

Come to think about it – storms can teach. Ask Jonah what he learned in the midst of the storm. Well actually ask Jonah what God was trying to teach him about acceptance and forgiveness, love and our common humanity. It is doubtful Jonah ever really learned – how sad for tomorrow if we are Jonah sitting under a gourd and caring only for ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Piece of Honesty

downward dog abstractI dabbled in Yoga this summer, making it my project, hoping I would be comfortable enough to continue some kind of Yoga practice when I returned to what I call normalcy and the South Florida heat and humidity. Today I made it happen.

I went to a Yoga class alone; I didn’t have a mat (I left mine in NC but you could rent one – interesting dichotomy between a small town where they were free for the borrowing and suburban sprawl Palm Beach County. I’m not judging just observing.)   I was the only man and probably one of the few over 60 in the group. I was also the tallest, the heaviest and the worst dressed – do they have Lulu Lemon for men?

We began on our backs learning how to inhale and exhale and find our breath as the instructor talked about vulnerability. My monkey mind said, “don’t talk to me about being vulnerable; here I am exposing to the world what a fraud I am. You think you know “downward dog”, you don’t know ________.” It was hard and it was good and I am surprised how heavily I perspired. I was grateful when the 75 minutes were up and we returned to our backs in what I remember being called “corpse pose” but had a different name this morning.

Besides some muscles speaking to me about what I have just done to them, I took away an appreciation of how hard you can work in slow motion. This was called a slow flow class and that’s what we did (I did more of the slow and less of the flow, but there is always next time.) Everything doesn’t have to be fast or pumped up. You can strengthen yourself both physically and spiritually gradually and incrementally.

But I really took away a willingness to reflect introspectively on my disposition to be vulnerable and I mean by that my sense of comfort in being open about my weaknesses, my doubts, my faults and failings. It is that time of year in the Jewish calendar. The Hebrew month of Elul leading up to the New Year is our prep time for new beginnings, clean slates, forgiveness and forgiving others and ourselves.

So here’s a piece of honesty. I’m not good at not being good at what I do. I need a lot of acceptance. I need validation from outside sources. I need to be praised and affirmed probably a little too much. I know this because at the end of the class, when the instructor and I were alone, I asked her: How’d I do? I asked it in the guise of what classes do you think would be beneficial to me, but I knew I needed her approval and being told: you’re good enough.

I wonder who or what did this to me? I wonder if this feeling of not being worthy is just built in to the human psyche. I know what my Elul work is this time around. It is finding the good; affirming the competent; believing in myself and loving the pieces that are still to be polished and refined knowing they are all good and isn’t it great I am not done?

Vision, Mr. President

I woke up to white fog. We have no window coverings in the bedroom so the fog was immediate and the trees were covered with a luminous mist. I like to think we were sitting in a cloud. So I did my morning stuff (including a mug of coffee) and stepped outside still in my sleep clothes and said this is what that ad on Facebook was talking about when they were trying to sell me a $99 course (in three installments) on how to take effective and creative pictures with the camera on your phone. Think of the foreground and consider the lighting – the soft light of early morning is more forgiving than a bright sunny day.

So I took some pictures, trying to remember and execute what the guy in the video said. I’m posting two. (I’ve never posted two in my blog before). They are kind of self explanatory – but a word or two. sunflowers fogThat’s a wildflower garden, well actually it’s where the vegetable garden was until this year when for a variety of reasons, we (the gardener and I) agreed to throw some seeds out there and let the zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash and blue potatoes rest.) We added sunflowers cause they are Eileen’s favorite. It’s kind of wild looking and unkempt but every morning there are new colors and something else has taken center stage. The other is my favorite birdhouse that we bought at the Pickens Flea Market one summer. I love it hanging in that trio of trees, a silent sanctuary of sorts. I like to think it’s safe haven for those who need it.birdhouse

Peace, Fog, Clarity, Vision, Beauty, Haven, Heaven. What a weekend we had in our country; the torch lit marches on Friday night in Charlottesville by white supremacists carrying poison flags of hate; the Saturday demonstration ending in violence and death; the sad sad aftermath of a police helicopter crashing, burning, killing two officers charged with keeping peace and order; the racist chants; the anti-Semitic slogans; the failure of our President to speak with moral clarity or authority. It took three days for him to name this evil. The sun burned off my fog faster than his reaction. By the way, I’m not living in a cloud anymore.

I see him for who he is and if my perception is wrong and he is not a racist than stop pandering to those who are and be the voice of America that we can be proud of. Leaders lead – lead us to healing; remind us of the beauty of this land and its people of so many stripes, stars and colors. Lift our spirits and give us a vision of what a softer tomorrow can look like, one where the morning fog glistens in the rising sun, gently watering the ever changing beauty of this garden we all share. Be our sanctuary of reason and teach us to hope and not despair. Yes, be strong when strength is called for, but not mean, vindictive, venomous.

The morning mist and fog is good for a garden, not for my President:  Vision, Mr. President; Clarity, Mr. President; Honesty, Mr. President. Hope and Direction, Mr. President.

 

 

 

That Was The Plan

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I sat in the rain next to the sign that says “lake” fixed to the tree whose trunk split into three.  I had come down to feel the late afternoon sun and the breeze that sometimes gently caresses and rocks me to sleep. That was the plan. The skies had been blue all day, no threatening clouds, just the ones that puff and fluff and blow this way and that. The lake was a mirror, that which was up was also down.

It’s ok I said to no one in earshot.  I love to hear the wind pick itself up and carry the raindrops through the trees and across the now rippling waters.  It is good this sound that brings you back to self. It is good this rumbling of thunder that rolls across the mountains and dares you to guess where it’s coming and going.

 
I’m in a golf cart – dry and feeling how blessed, how beautiful, how filled with awe this place, this moment. Struck with the discordance of the act, I write this on my phone as an email to myself. No pen, no yellow pad, no Ipad – just this cell phone with no service – just the patter of water dripping from leaf to leaf, just nature doing its thing with none of us to manage or control her with our expectations.  No Trump. No CNN. No news real or fake. Birds chirping add to the music of the moment. The thunder is closer over my head to be exact. Its beginning to weigh heavy now, disturbing the peace. The base vibrating through my body breaks through to that part of my brain that whispers it would be wise to go back up to the house, or at least the porch. Hard to move from this place sheltered by the trees, this place of tenderness, this place where water bounces off water creating circles that bump into each other disappearing as they become one body dancing in the muted light.

As I reluctantly listen, it is gone that fast. This place that is neither latitude or longitude is over at least for now. I am sure I can find it again. I call that certainty faith or trust or believing that the world outside of me mirrors the world inside. It takes settling in secure that you are meant to be here affirming all the while that the trees, the leaves, the water, the heavens and the skies all speak, not once, not only in a thunderstorm, not only by the lake but anywhere we are open, anywhere we can be deeply quiet, anywhere we can look and listen.

If I were a TV preacher or an ancient storyteller destined to wind up in the Bible, I would look back and tell you God was in this place. I would echo ancient sages and write that the word we use to describe both the mystery and the infinite is everywhere persistently patiently perennially waiting to be discovered.
Sent from my iPhone

 

I Bought a Hat

IMG_5822We were in New York last week and got tickets for Dear Evan Hansen. We were there for the matinee performance the day they won the Tony for best musical. It was an incredible experience, touching, disturbing, funny, challenging, thoughtful, entertaining. The amount of talent on the stage was intimidating. Forget the voices and the staging how did they remember all those lyrics? I can barely remember the name of the person I just met.

I bought a hat. I’m a sucker like that. I usually do the t-shirt thing but I had left my favorite hat in Iceland a few days before and if you know the topography of my head, you know I need a hat in summer. I saw it during the intermission and buying the hat was part of my internal conversation during the second half of the show.

It’s about how a high school boy who can’t find his place and lives his life trapped inside unable to open a window to the world, singing: “I’m tap tap tap tapping on the glass …. Can anybody see … is anybody waving back at me?” It’s about suicide and how the death of a classmate weaves its way into Evan’s story and turns him into a social media sensation ultimately bringing redemption, flawed, problematic, disturbing but healing never the less. It’s about love, lies and life lived imperfectly.

The audience is young for Broadway. You can see and hear it in their laughter, tears and cheers. Did I say I loved it? Did I say the lying and the moral ambiguities of the plot nagged at me? Most of the New York critics fall in love with Evan. A few zero in on the darker side. One reviewer in Slate calls our hero: “A self-serving fabulist who exploits the suicide of a high-school classmate by peddling a fake connection to the dead boy. The con man revels in the resulting internet fame, which wins him popularity and even the sexual attention of the boy’s grieving sister. What a creep…”

But that’s no creep who wins my heart and wins the Tony. That’s you and me. Reb Nachman said: Falling down is the beginning of rising up. Ok so we don’t do it with as much talent; we don’t have some one to stage our entrances and exits or hauntingly raw music to accompany the lyrics we call conversation. Everyone I know (maybe my circle is too limited) falls and slips as they climb through the waking hours of each day. Our hero is flawed. Our hero lies. Our hero grasps for broken straws to pull himself out the hole he is living in. There is a piece of our hero in all of us.

So I bought the hat and even downloaded the music. Reb Nachman let me. Every ascent begins with a descent.

Alone With Myself

Split - singersWe have no Internet and no cable tonight. A storm came through late this afternoon and somewhere down the line knocked us off our knees. It feels like that; cut off, isolated from the outside world. Lucky I still have a landline not tied to my cable provider (although no one has called – not even a cold “robo” call.) What is happening out there?

I decided I needed to fill up the void with music. I recently started to burn my music onto my computer and rediscovered this music of all male voices from Split, Croatia. Standing in a semi-circle chanting in an open-air rotunda of a fourth century palace built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian, the singers voices harmonized and blended,  The depth of their tones echoed and circulated round and round transporting listeners to another time and place. I bought a disk of these 12 men singing acapella in a language I will probably never understand. But they are perfect for tonight as I realized there is so much we don’t understand.

There is so much we really don’t have to. It is ok to be alone with yourself. For tonight I just need the voices of these unknown men from half way around the world to convince me that all is right with my world even if I can’t tune in and or connect. I guess I am having my own version of Shabbat. And it is good, very as God says contemplating creation. As long as I know that every one I love is safe and secure I can cherish this gift of presence and allow myself this artificial cocoon a consequence of failure.

I need to figure out how to allow this to happen without cold fronts colliding with warm humid air following the Gulf Stream north. ( I am not a meteorologist in case you want to tell me that it was really from the Gulf of Mexico, although I don’t know how it got over the Wall.)  I fully admit that I don’t have the discipline to shut off the outside world on a seven-day schedule. That’s on me and not on the institution we call the Sabbath. I’m not built that way.

But I do appreciate Sabbath moments. Like tonight.  As a matter of fact, I am going to light some candles, drink some wine and taste a sinful carb, maybe braided, maybe chocolate.  And when all is right with the world and I am back on line – i’m posting.

Keys

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The conditions seem to be right for me to try and write again. I am sitting in a quiet spot of the airport and someone just offered me a mint julep to celebrate the upcoming Kentucky Derby. Even though it is missing the bunch of mint leaves, it is a definite boost to my creative juices. And I have the time – 2 hours till my flight even boards and that’s assuming it is on time. But enough of this – although you should also know that they are offering free hot dogs to celebrate the coming of summer.

But that’s not the point – none of it. Yesterday was garbage day at my house. In the process of clearing the “stuff” off the kitchen counter that was to be discarded, I threw away a collection of keys. And of course I realized it after Waste Management had already collected curbside and the truck was long gone. The good news, we are not locked out of anything we know of. These were not keys to the car or keys to the house, they were a pile of keys tangled together, unsure of whose they were or what they opened. Maybe a key to a neighbor; maybe a key to a residence before this one; maybe a key to a locker in a gym we no longer belong to. Even a key to the Temple’s sound system cabinet – all of which gone and replaced, I’m sure.

All day long it bugged me. What is open and what is locked and what is a key anyway? It is more than that metal silver, bronze, multi-toothed instrument which when inserted right side up into a receptacle causes gears to tumble and worlds to open and expand. (I never realized how potentially sexy that is.). It’s like this bourbon that is lubricating my mind. I was kind of “down” when I realized these keys were gone. The stupidity of it all; the gnawing feeling of not knowing what it meant that these doors were closed now; had I limited access to whatever tomorrow might bring. Had I closed openings and opportunities? I want to know I can peek behind the opening and see what prize is behind Door #3 or whatever is the opposite. Or not.

No one knows the future. And the key you hold or the key you threw away won’t open that lock. You can only open tomorrow by living today, by going to sleep tired and waking up to a new dawn, a new opportunity. It is a blessing every moment offers though not a promise of eternal sunshine. It is the very sacred and challenging reality of choosing and choices. What will I do with this new dimension? How will I make it work for me? Not why; not woe; not paralysis of will, but forward, slowly forward, towards wherever Life may take me. Today is the key to tomorrow.

My quiet is gone. There’s this guy sitting opposite me, incessantly making love to his cell phone in Spanish (maybe Italian). I am such a mono-linguist American. I can’t hear anything but him. My inner voice is locked. Where are the keys?