Masel Tov

 

I live in a senior apartment complex and the people here range from 55 years old to the upper 80’s (God bless them). One thing I’ve learned about getting older is that if you last long enough you’ll end up with one thing or another – if it’s not arthritis or diabetes it’s heart disease or cancer – not counting a wide variety of lesser known and unpronounceable maladies. These complaints not only provide a limitless source of conversation among the residents but a sense of camaraderie if not compassion.

Which leads me to tell you a story about Beverley who is a feisty little Jewish lady on the downhill side of 70. Beverly has some exotic malady in her brain that periodically affects her speech and throws off her sense of balance, often leading to falls.

She spends part of everyday sitting on the bench outside of the community center in conversation with other ladies and enjoying a good gossip about who is doing what to whom and how often. On all of these occasions she is accompanied by her little black dog Masel Tov who in dog years is neck and neck with Beverly and grudgingly keeps to the pace of her walker as they make the regular circuit from apartment to center.

Our current triple digit temperatures have pushed back everyone’s strolling schedules to take advantage of the cooler evening air so the other night while watching America’s Got Talent from the comfort of my easy chair I was not surprised to see Beverley ambling by with her walker and Masel Tov at her side.

As I watched them through my patio door, Masel took the pause that refreshes on the lawn. Beverley, conscientious neighbor that she is, pulled out the ubiquitous plastic bag, hooked the dog‘s leash to the walker and bent down to pick up the offending deposit with one hand.

But then not being quite close enough to capture the prize, Beverley took another step forward and in doing so carelessly let go of said walker. Before you could say “Whoops” the walker, with Masel Tov trotting smartly by its side, was rolling down the sloping sidewalk, over the concrete edge of the parking lot and heading for points west at quite a clip.  Masel, no doubt delighted to finally advance at a brisker pace than Beverley could provide, was wagging his tail and stepping high.

Meanwhile, Beverley, still bending down and viewing this drama from an upside down perspective, called peremptorily, “Masel, Masel, come back here this minute,” which the dog pretended not to hear as the walker had by now crashed into the perimeter wall of the complex and he was busy smelling the bushes to identify the scent of each dog that had passed that way earlier in the day.

I must admit that by this time, I was leaning forward in my ringside seat to see what new wonders might unfold; I hadn’t long to wait. Beverly began to straighten up to reclaim her errant walker and delinquent pooch but being upside down must have activated that glitch in her head. Her knees started fold up like a flimsy lawn chair and before you could say “Uh, oh” she slowly swiveled around like a plump top and very gently sat down in the grass.

Because my conscience was saying “Shame on you for laughing,” I hurriedly grabbed my cane and hobbled to the patio and inquired of Beverley if she was okay to which she replied, “Yes,” and would she like some help, to which she answered, “Please.” With my duty now plainly before me and my mirth firmly under control, I scurried out to her. Since I couldn’t lift her up without joining her on the grass, we agreed that I should first recover the walker and the dog which I did.

With the walker locked in place getting up was easy peasy and Beverly rose like the proverbial nymph from the sea. Once she was dusted off and ready to roll again, I ventured to say, “I’m glad you’re not hurt, but I must admit that it was pretty funny from my point of view.”

“I’ll bet it was,” she replied with a hollow smile, which is like a hollow laugh but quieter. As I walked back into the house, I thought I heard Masel Tov offering some canine song and dance about how he never heard her when she called him.

PS I’ve added a new page to the site titled, Events, which lists the various classes I will be teaching this fall. Join us if you can.

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THE PHONE CALL

phoneA dear friend of mine is going through the hell of waiting to hear if she has cancer. There was a funny spot on her chest x-ray – that was a few days ago – and since then it has been a series of doctor visits and tests and sleepless nights.

She is the same person she was two weeks ago but now the knowledge that she may have a serious illness is always present in her mind, never leaves her heart – and all because that fearful thought has been planted in her mind.

We have all experienced that kind of anxiety. We hear in our mind the words that will bring comfort or terror. We review what we did or did not do to create this condition. We imagine all the scenarios and outcomes.

In any crisis, the worst part is the waiting, the not knowing. It may be as simple waiting for news about the pet who is missing and has not been home for two days or as complex as the final days of a relative. After a while, just to end the excruciating pain of waiting is enough – whatever the outcome.

At one time or another we all get that phone call – it may come in the middle of the night or late in the afternoon. It is the call that tells us about an accident, a death, a diagnosis – and when we hang up the phone our reality has changed and will never be the same again.

When the loss of the known is threatened, the mind can be filled with terror. How to react, what to do, where to go, who to turn to?

We are told to … pray for a miracle, heal our inner child, exorcise our demons, be a vegetarian, lose/gain weight, take vitamins, exercise, have our chakras balanced, get our aura cleansed, be more positive, be more humble, be more determined, fight harder, start envisioning, try to surrender, stop smoking, stop drinking, start meditating, fast, have our colon irrigated, do drugs, don’t do drugs, etc.

When it comes to serious crisis everybody has an opinion but nobody has an answer – because there is none. I know people talk a lot about the power of positive thinking and the healing power of prayer and I believe that both are true – but it doesn’t happen all the time for everyone no matter how much they want it or deserve it.

Maybe we get sick because it’s genetic, maybe it’s from our lifestyle or our environment, maybe it’s stress and pressure, maybe it’s poor mental health, or maybe it’s ‘just because.’ We don’t always know the answer, know the cause. Ultimately, the why of it doesn’t matter.

All that any of us have is this moment, this day and the challenge is to live it as deeply and joyfully as possible. I think anyone who is a human deserves a lot of credit just for staying here. Life can be hard and a heart-breaker. It takes a lot of courage to keep on and even those who aren’t living a so-called good life deserve compassion.

Some people say that this earth is a classroom and we are here to learn lessons. If this is true as far as I can see there are only two lessons being taught here; to learn what love is and to learn to have courage.

No matter how well we take care of the body, it will eventually start to fail. Everything of form eventually changes to the formless. Even the sun will die. That is the part we don’t like to talk about, think about, look at, because we are powerless to change the inevitable. Yes, I know I’ll have to die … but not yet!

All of the great saints and avatars have told us that life is eternal but the life they are talking about is not this life on this earth or in these bodies. I think we have another body that some call a soul and that is the part that never dies, that is never frightened, that is the source of this love and courage.

And so my dear friend to you I say no matter what happens in the future you are not alone. All of your friends are here standing with you to lend you courage and to celebrate life.

NEIGHBORS

Cherry Branch 2011

A month or two ago I mentioned in passing the sweet little Russian couple who live upstairs from me. We continue to wave to each other – me from my chair on the patio, they from their many trips up and down the stairs.

Last weekend the Mr., whose name was once told to me but I’ve since forgotten – I am tempted to say Vladislav but know I am just making it up – was dropped off at 7 in the evening by another short, graying man wearing a flannel shirt and driving a jeep.

After a quick discussion at the back of the vehicle in a language I did not understand, the Mr. unloaded a fishing pole, a no-nonsense steel rimmed fishing net, sturdy tackle box and backpack. As he mounted the stairs I made pole casting motions with my arms and smiled and he replied with a laugh and said, “Fish, yes. Fishing, I go.”

Yesterday, upon returning from running first-of-the-month errands, I came home to find a red fire truck parked in front of the apartment. This is always a bad sign, particularly at a senior apartment complex, for it means ambulances and paramedics. Since the truck was blocking my parking space, I pulled over to the side of the drive and waited.

About ten minutes later, three men carried a gurney down the outside stairs, packed it in the truck and left. I was relieved to see the gurney was empty, meaning the situation was not critical but I didn’t know if it was the Mr. or the Mrs. who had required attention.

Yesterday afternoon as I was enjoying the spring sun, the Mrs. came down the stairs and when she saw me she said hello. This was unusual in itself for she is the more silent of the two and rarely makes an effort to communicate other than a smile or nod.

This time, however, her face was tense and worn, and her hands were trembling. Through a combination of sign language, broken English and telepathy I discovered that the Mr. was suffering from kidney stones and was at home resting. “Old. Not good,” she said with a shrug that carried a depth of silent meaning. “Yes,” I agreed to her what-can-you-do message.

Today I heard the Mrs. coming down the stairs again and as soon as she came into view, she said, “Hello.” I put aside the book I was reading and asked “How is your husband?” pointing upstairs. “No good,” she replied, shaking her kerchiefed head and hanging on to the stair railing, her brown eyes blinking.

“Pain,” I inquired. She nodded yes and pointed to her back and stomach, explaining how the kidney stone was torturing him. “I’m so sorry,” I said, wanting her to know through these inadequate words that I understood. She shook her head in resignation. “It’s hard,” I added, and thought not only for him who is suffering but for her who is witnessing.

I wanted to hug her to lend her some strength but the iron railings separated us so I blew her a kiss. “God bless you,” she said in her broken English and blew one back. There were tears in both our eyes as we acknowledged that Life sometimes shows its power rather than its mercy.

When she left I was reminded that just last Sunday I had hugged another of the ladies in residence here. That time it was Gina, the one I had formerly thought of as Jayne Mansfield because of her waist-length blonde wig and large bosom. It was the first time Gina and I had talked and she shared some of her history – her forty-plus years as a waitress, her love of plants, her sadness that she no longer had a garden to tend.

But it was the story of Lenora, her parrot of more than twenty years that had prompted the tears. “I never had no children and didn’t want none. Lenora was my little companion and now I’m all alone.” As she dabbed a kleenex on her eyes, she said, “Please don’t be mad I cried,” and I wondered who had made her ashamed of tears.

There are so many stories waiting to be told and the richest ones have a thread of sadness running through to give it depth and definition. Those are the stories that teach us about life and resilience and the beauty of the heart.

THE TEACHER

"Look!"

A couple of days ago I woke up with a searing pain that started in my lower back and traveled down my right leg. I knew instantly that my sciatic nerve was being pinched; it had happened before. As a result I spent the weekend lying around with a heating pad, watching movies and moving very carefully.

Pain is a powerful teacher. It has an extraordinary capacity for focusing the attention.  When you’re in pain you don’t think much about the past and what your parents did or didn’t do, or project into the future and what you want and when. When you’re in pain you’re just trying to deal with the present.

When I first became ill with rheumatoid arthritis, I tried a lot of natural remedies, herbs, fasting, juicing and other alternatives. When that didn’t affect my condition, I set to clearing my psychological closets of regret, guilt, remorse, anger, shame, anxiety, depression and other health-draining thoughts and emotions.

After many months I had to admit that I could not medicate or psychoanalyze my way to health. So I called out the big guns and called upon God to intervene. I asked Him to help me understand why this was happening, so I could then change it.

Why – the ultimate question of the mind/ego. If I can only ‘understand why’ this is happening I can accept it, I told myself. What a waste of time. It didn’t matter whether the cause of my illness was genetic, karmic, dietary, emotional, psychological, or whatever, it didn’t change the fact that I was chronically ill and likely to stay that way.

And even more important, that “I” –  meaning my will, my ego, my mind – could do nothing about it. That part of my self, my life, my consciousness that I had thought pre-eminent was really helpless. I couldn’t make myself healthy and I couldn’t manipulate God to do it for me.

Life and its direction, its current, its momentum was vastly larger and more powerful than I was. There was nothing I could do to mold it to my own desires. I had free will and that free will gave me one choice. I could continue to fight or I could surrender.

I chose to surrender.

It didn’t happen all at once by throwing one big mental switch. It happened little by little. When you’re in a ‘bad place’ you are afraid to surrender and accept what is because you believe that if you do, it will perpetuate that bad situation. But what you are really accepting is the situation as it is right now – not what it might be later today or tomorrow or next month or next year. Just right now.

When I accepted the present I stopped suffering. I still had physical pain but I was no longer in psychological pain. I untied the thought that says things could be or should be different than what they were. When I stopped trying to change the condition of my life/health/body I was able to appreciate my life just the way it was. I stopped struggling. I know it sounds counter intuitive but it is true.

I am now grateful for the lessons that pain taught me. I was such a stubborn person I doubt I could have learned them any other way. God was wise enough not to grant me a miracle. Undoubtedly, I would have taken the credit myself.

So I look on the discomfort I felt this weekend as a little tune-up, a reminder to keep my priorities straight. First is gratitude for life. The rest takes care of itself.

 

Part of a poem written during The Struggle…

Bargaining with God that if He but grant

A glimpse of the higher truths

I will accept these tortures of my body.

Trying the tricks of the marketplace

I am willing to suffer, I say, if only You give me ….

But God has not sent nor brought this suffering to me

And He sees not this broken body with His eternal eyes.

He sees me truly, as I really am,

Pure, complete and whole.