There Will Be Light

IMG_0344I wake early in the morning. It is such a struggle to stay asleep. I feel like I am wrestling with the mattress and the sheets, as the pillow becomes my nemesis. And I say, enough. I know the light is coming through the shutters soon; the sun will find its way back; dawn will softly, slowly seep into the space where darkness reigned and the world was so seriously silent.

It’s the radiation and the side affects. I’m not complaining, although I’m not sure why not. I am in the home stretch, over the hump, almost free and clear, all those platitudes you think and say which have both elements of truth and falsehood embedded within. Writing this, I only have 3 more. Before I finish this, 2. I’m happy and thrilled the skies have not fallen on me (poo, poo, poo). I cant help but adding “yet” a product of my Jewish sense of foreboding.

People want to know the details of the side effects. I always hesitate cause it feels so personal and embarrassing to talk about urinary urgency, frequency, control. It’s not so problematic to share energy levels and tiredness. I think about one of my favorite science fiction series: Dune. I don’t remember it being in the movie version but there is definitely a thread in the novels about how over the centuries and millennia the habitants of Dune collected their urine and deposited them in vast caverns of this desert planet eventually transforming the wasteland where they had to live under ground to a paradise of green meadows and blue lakes. Or at least that’s how I remember it.

Gently flowing streams, gardens of blossoms and purpose, out of the darkness and into the light. That’s my image for today. And it’s not just the metaphor I hang onto for myself. It is a faith statement about human progress and the slow and uneven climb towards a utopian future. I believe in that. I believe that the tomorrows and the tomorrows after that will be brighter, safer, healthier, fairer than either yesterday or today.

Not without struggle; not without pain; not without effort; not without you and me doing our part to make it happen. So I will lay myself down on that sheet covered table and let the clicks and buzzing of the Linear Accelerator work. It is promising me sunshine and restful nights. It is a miracle of science and thank God for that.

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The Challenge of Easter & Passover

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Passover and Easter kiss each other this weekend. Friday is Good Friday and as the sun sets Jews begin to ask the questions of the first Seder. Easter is Sunday and the second day of Passover. I like it. I like when the calendar underscores that our spiritual traditions have the potential to unite us and join us in common cause even if we walk the path with different shoes, clothes, rituals and images. It may be “chutzpah” for me to assume your image but go with me for a minute.

For Jews it is the broken piece of Matzah held high for all to see; for Christians it is the broken body of Jesus on the cross. For Jews it is the hidden piece of Matzah to be found and redeemed before we can continue on our freedom journey; for Christians the body of Jesus hidden in a cave and found risen promising new life. Both are promises; both are challenges; both are opportunities; both revolutionary. Last Friday night Rabbi Olshein quoted the powerful and poetic teaching of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel underscoring this concept: “Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism and falsehood.”

For me, this year especially both holidays share a challenge. Coming one week after the Student Marches our ritual celebrations ask us to remove the symbols from their ancient husks masquerading as holy and ask our own four questions or five or three, whatever number resonates with you. I will ask:

Why is this moment on the American political scene different from other moments? Because the children are leading us, because the future is calling us, because we now know it is time to stand up.

What is so bitter to us and so salty we cannot enjoy our meal as usual? 17 deaths are bitter to us; our tears are salty as they run down our cheeks. 17 deaths weigh heavy on us, not to minimize the deaths of Las Vegas, Orlando, Sandy Hook, do I have to go on? Do I have to keep on counting? Because it is not enough to dip our parsley in salt water and think we have fulfilled the commandment. The commandment calls on us to exercise our freedom, to act on our commitments, not to let the status quo of a government enslaved to the gun lobbies to continue to sacrifice our children on the altars of their apathy.

What is enough? Enough passivity, it is not enough to think the other “guy” can do it. Enough of lethargy, it is up to you and me to make the change; it is up to you and me to leave Egypt and walk across the sand and the sea to a safer and fairer tomorrow. When you break the middle Matzah – listen to the sound. You have to listen hard it is faint but telling. It echoes that it is time to put our society back together. It is time to make government align with the needs of its citizens. “Let all who are hungry come and eat; let all who are in need celebrate America with us.

In the Christian metaphor: Jesus has risen. Let us rise; let us break the shackles of indifference. Jesus has risen. Let us rise; let us hold the cup of Elijah high promising a new dawn and a new day for all of us. Let us rise; let us tear down the pyramids and build a just and uniquely American society for all to see.

Happy Holy Days everyone, may they bring us closer to a land that fulfills its promise to a time when the Messiah lives next door.

 

 

 

A Gift Numbered Five

MayaFriday I finished radiation treatment #19 in my journey towards 40. I am at the center the same time every morning five days a week. The valet guy doesn’t even give me a ticket any more. He always greets me warmly. The other day his smile was bigger than I ever saw. The person who had just left had told him: “You always have a good word for me and this is just because I can and just because I want to.” And he was handed three one hundred dollar bills. (That put my bagels and donuts in place!)

This is what my daily radiation ritual is teaching me. This is what the valet guy and I learned. Life is filled with surprises. Some are good, some are challenging, some manageable, some frightening. But everything has consequences. Even that which is designed to heal and cure has the potential to injure and disable. One of the hardest parts is feeling you have no control and you don’t choose what you have been given or what just comes your way. I’ve been good so far – minor stuff and annoyances – but all within the range of “this should be the worst”.  So I am grateful but also a little anxious about 20 -40. I keep telling myself not to let my imaginary concerns about tomorrow disturb the blessings of today. I have learned it’s about feeling the sun on your face, smiling back and sharing in the joy of living through every minute.

This weekend our youngest granddaughter became a Bat Mitzvah. She was called to the Torah and we celebrated her growth, her accomplishments, her determination, her spirit, her smile, her love of life and her family’s love of her. I don’t think any of us could have been prouder. I started this blog off saying 19 out of 40. But the most important number is 5 out of 5. Maya is the fifth of our five grandchildren who have blessed us by their commitment to Jewish life. And they were all here this weekend. So if you want to talk about what I am learning – savor every blessing, big and small, whether they come in batches or one by one, or five at a time, because the challenges just keep rolling in whether you want them or not.

This is what I really know. Life isn’t meant to be easy. Life is meant to be purposeful and sacred. And the hard, the scary, the challenging intensify what really is important. This weekend was a gift: family, food, friends, sunshine, laughter, love. It was one of those mountain moments on the journey.

Maya, Maya, Maya – we love you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Not a Microwave

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So this was day one; thirty-nine more to go. Forty is a transitional number in the Bible. It rains forty days and nights in the Noah story; Jonah walks through the city of Nineveh for forty days warning the people to repent. The Israelites wander in the desert for forty years until they can cross over and enter the land of promise. Even Jesus gets in the act being tempted for forty days and nights before returning to the Galilee to preach. It seems in Biblical times one enters this time of forty and comes out the other side different, changed, ready, healed. I’m counting on it.

This was day one of my forty radiation treatments. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer back in the fall and today I laid myself down and let the machine begin the healing process. It didn’t hurt; I felt nothing; even the sounds coming out of the machine were much less intimidating than an MRI. It’s not the only protocol associated with my treatments but this was a moment of so many thoughts and so many associations.

It is hard hearing this cancer word even though people I love and respect have told me that I will be fine. I will not die from this. I just have to follow the rules, keep strong and stay positive. Everything in this process has been stepped, like those of Russia. Wide swaths of time waving in the wind silently speaking that this cannot be ignored (not the cancer nor the emotions). When my PSA numbers first began to climb the Doctors said it was time to check my blood every six months and then it was time to have an MRI and then it was time to have a biopsy and then – I don’t have to go through all the details….

But today was real. I found myself looking for meaning in everything, looking for signs. It is the evening of my mother’s birthday; the color of the red light against the backdrop of the water and the sky where I make the left is redder than usual. The arms of the machine against the blue of the plastic panes are embracing. It is good – twice good – to begin on a Tuesday since on that third day of creation, God said it was good, twice. It will be fine.

I guess what it all adds up to is my finitude is catching up. I’m going to let it for a while, maybe 39 more times, but then: Watch out – I am crossing out the lines on the bucket list.

Who’s In?

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This is what greeted me on my phone from a New York Times feed yesterday morning. Deadly shootings in schools — that is, the killing of children in sanctuaries of learning — have become a distinctly American ritual, the rote responses as familiar as a kindergarten recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. It is the day after the day after the school massacre in Parkland, Florida and 17 funerals have already started.

Everyone I speak to is disheartened, sad, frustrated, angry that all our politicians do is offer platitudes. Is it ok with them that the new normal is that the American Flag flies at half-mast? I have posted and shared on Facebook cute and clever cartoons that Nicholas Cruz isn’t an immigrant, isn’t Muslim, signed petitions, sent money ….

But I haven’t done this:

https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/16/politics/three-billboards-rubio-trnd/index.html

Open the link. Even if you have to copy and paste it. I’m in. I have no idea how much a billboard cost – but imagine billboards all across America. Something’s got to shake up our elected officials. Something has to move the needle. I believe in the power of prayer to inspire us to live and act on our values. I believe in the power of prayer to help us console the bereaved. But prayer can become platitude. And our politicians pray for the victims. How about this? “Who rises from prayer a better person, their prayer is answered.”

Help our society become better. Remove easy access to automatic rifles. Tighten background checks. Do what has to be done to make our society safer, our schools sanctuaries of learning and not fear. Raise our flag to wave proudly across a nation that values life over guns.

So I mean it – Who’s in?

https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/16/politics/three-billboards-rubio-trnd/index.html

Or I’m open to a better idea – but doing nothing is not an option.

 

 

Starbursts and Super Bowls

IMG_6782I am sitting outside on this partly cloudy beautiful South Florida Sunday morning. It is February and the tree with green leaves and purple undersides is just beginning to initiate its annual firework display of flowers. I looked up its name on the Internet so that I can look intelligent to you. It is officially Clerodendrum Quadriloculare, described as dark and sultry.  For those of us who can’t quite pronounce or remember the Latin name, it is also called Shooting Star or Starburst. You can prune it so it is tree like with one trunk or let it grow like a bush and watch it spread. I let it do both. That is until my HOA decides it is intruding on their right of way cutting it back from their side of the fence. But that’s a different story.

It is also Super Bowl Sunday. I thought the skit on SNL last night was hysterical, pitting patriots (small “p”) of Boston against the Mid-Atlantic colonials of Philadelphia. It is Philly cheese steaks against New England clam chowder – tough choices for heart-healthy diet. Not that I am religious about it – I look for any excuse, any holiday, any occasion to eat a Hebrew National Pigs in Blankets.

Tonight will be no exception. I guess I am just not a purist. I guess I just don’t believe in strict and fierce absolutes. I guess I am willing to admit that I am not always right and I am not always consistent. And that’s ok. And if I don’t follow football rigorously the rest of the year but want to pretend to be a loyal Patriot’s fan today, I am entitled. Emerson said, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

And so I will sit in front of the TV tonight and route for my “home” team. I am participating in a national phenomenon hyped by the NFL and NBC. By the time some of you read this, we will know who the stars of the evening are: the commercials, the QBs, Timberlake or just us – all of us brought together, all of us setting aside our differences and tribalism, just enjoying this modern gladiator spectacle in living color.

But I don’t want to end without coming back to my starburst tree. It is a marker for me. It indicates a fundamental truth of nature. We are destined for growth. We are born to flower. Exploding stars of red and white petals set against a blue endless sky are in our genes. It gives me hope that someone in Washington will see this too. This nation is too good for games. This nation has too much potential to be held hostage to politics. I want to be proud of those who govern and lead me. And if it all is a game: Then play it with honest referees and stick to the rules. Make me proud you are in my backyard.

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I’m embarrassed. It has been months since I have written anything for this blog and I have an excuse but not a good one. I wouldn’t blame you if you have given up on me and unsubscribed from rabbiunplugged.wordpress.com (Don’t do that – just saying). But I’m back – at least I have all these good intentions to be back. It’s easy to let yourself get off track and to make up all kind of reasons why you are not doing what you should or could. Not that this blog is a requirement for graduation or even my self-esteem. I have been richly validated during this almost month long celebration of the 50th year since my Ordination as a Rabbi. And I loved every minute.

The picture of the 16 of us in our graduation gowns and hoods (the kind that go around your neck not over your head) capture us in time. We were all men; women Rabbis were to come five years later. And we were all young at least I think we look that way. I am pretty sure we were all first career Rabbis, most of us destined for what was then a typical career path in a congregation.

But life has a will of its own. Another way of saying that is to insert the word God in that sentence. Pathways open up before us and God calls us to choose which trail to take. I don’t mean that literally. But every turn and fork in the road is a choice and that includes even the unconscious decision to let inertia be the wind at your back. The challenge is to find the sacred and the holy, the meaningful and satisfying in the details and demands of each day.

And challenge is a good word here. There were stretches of time when routine took over and I just plodded away. Luckily, someone, something woke me to the moment and said: God is in this place – look at the bush, burning unconsumed. Notice it. (Yes, I have amalgamated stories and images – hey – 50 years – you get some license.)

I have tried to live with the words of Rabbi Alvin Fine’s poem as my prayer and mantra. “Birth is a beginning and death a destination but life is a journey a going, a growing made stage by stage…. victory lies not in some high place along the way, but in having made the journey (into) a sacred pilgrimage.” We choose what is high and what is low. We choose how to extrapolate the holy from the profane. We choose how to see/reflect/perceive the multitude of experiences life hands us.

Some (too many) in the picture are no longer physically with us. They are gone to what the ancient Rabbis often called the Academy on High. I miss them and don’t understand the why. But that too is a life lesson, one of the hardest to internalize. We don’t get to know it all – no matter how many degrees and accomplishment to our credit. There is a mystery at the heart of birth and death. And so I hold onto the unknown by saying Baruch – blessed. Blessed are the years; blessed are the paths; blessed are the people; blessed are the moments when I am aware of the “You” out there – patiently waiting to be embraced.