In the Last Hours of the Decade: Everyday Magic, Day 992

When I was kid, I fantasized about the year 2000, so far away it was almost unimaginable. Having a birthday in the tail-end of 1959, I thought about how I would be 40 then, so very old, over a decade older than my mother at the time. Now we’re about to tip over the cusp of 2020, I’ve just turned 60, and the unbelievability of time is still a deal for me. Walking across my deck in the cold, bright late light of the afternoon, year, and decade, I was struck by the magic of time travel from the kid I still very much am and what I seem to be now.

But that’s how time is: a human invention although the seasons born of the turning of the earth, the growth of the trees, and the motion of rocks moving slowly across oceans or fields keep their own kind of count. The closest I can come is through the animal nature of this being human thing: my skin has clearly aged, parts of the body shifting upward and mostly downward. Scars and wrinkles, freckles or pimples, veins more apparent in my limbs and hearing less apparent in my ears all say things have indeed changed. Yet I’m happy for each mark and sign that I’m aging, having had more than a glimpse of the alternative.

I’ve wrestled twice with cancer, this past year in my eye and 17 years ago in my breast, and in both situations, I thought of Jacob in the Old Testament, who shows us what it means to keep wrestling with whatever dangerous angel shows up until we can extract a blessing from the encounter. Other brushes with mortality have likely changed me more than the pull of gravity and other weathering of my body. Then again, such encounters are their own pulls of gravity. The fantastical magic of time is best understood in relationship to where we truly are, in a place, in a body, in a community, and mostly in relation to the here and now.

Which brings me around to this moment: the western horizon golds itself up into the darkening blue. The bare branches, finally still after a windy afternoon, hold birds roosting out of sight. The cats sleep on my bed between giving me dirty looks for being a few minutes late in feeding them. All over my time zone and in many others wheeling toward midnight, people are putting on sparkly shirts to go out or fluffy slippers before putting their feet up, a book balanced on their laps. All over the time zones already launched into 2020, people are sipping champagne or coffee or the bitterness of hunger, despair, and pain. All the same, many if not most humans probably have some awareness that it’s a new time, which is actually obviously always true but more clear to us at moments like this.

We travel together, arriving in our own time at what’s next, often not understanding fully how we got here, but knowing that gravity and that beautiful yearning to live and do something of meaning had something to do with it. May we all unpack ourself in the new year with greater kindness, peace, gratitude, and imagination.

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Thinking About the Kaddish and the Life Force: Everyday Magic, Day 991

Lately I’ve been thinking about the Kaddish, one of the core prayers in Judaism and more or less a call and response to the life force. It seems especially relevant now at the end of the year and the end of the decade when one stretch of time ends and another begins.

A moment of grace at the Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn

I’ve been Kaddish-prone for a while, but in putting together today’s burial service for Fred Lubin while thinking about his immensely loving family, I’ve re-discovered and learned anew some things about the Kaddish. Here’s what I wrote fro the burial after rooting around various prayerbooks (from the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative traditions) and here and there from the interwebs:

The Kaddish, a word that means “sanctification,” is one of the most beautiful, vital, and mysterious prayers in Judaism. This call to God is so central to Jewish prayers that the sages contended the whole world is sustained through chanting the Kaddish, which was/is believed to have magic power.

This prose-poem is also recited in Aramaic, the spoken tongue of ancient Jews as a way to collectively praise all that is alive and sacred while praying for peace — the peace that surpasses all understanding in our souls and in our world. Besides being a prayer, it’s also a Jewish tradition to call our children our Kaddish, the life that will (hopefully) live on beyond us, which is another dimension of celebration and remembrance.

Although the Kaddish is recited no less than 13 times in a traditional Jewish service, the Mourner’s Kaddish, the same Kaddish prayer, is said during the funeral and burial service of a Jew, then recited each Shabbat (Friday night) for a full year afterwards as well as on the Yahrzeit, the anniversary month of the beloved’s death. This helps remind the mourners that they are not alone and the community that people among them are carrying great love and grief in their hearts.

In reciting the Kaddish, we affirm all that is sacred in this world and invoke the transcendent power of love.

What more can I say except to share the Kaddish, first in Hebrew, then in English. To hear it read aloud, you can go to this video. You can also hear  a beautiful piece by Maurice Ravel entitled “Kaddish.” 

Kaddish

Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba.

B’alma di v’ra chirutei,

v’yamlich malchutei,

b’chayeichon uv’yomeichon

uv’chayei d’chol beit Yisrael,

baagala uviz’man kariv. V’im’ru: Amen.

Y’hei sh’mei raba m’varach

l’alam ul’almei almaya.

Yitbarach v’yishtabach v’yitpaar

v’yitromam v’yitnasei,

v’yit’hadar v’yitaleh v’yit’halal

sh’mei d’kud’sha b’rich hu,

l’eila min kol birchata v’shirata,

tushb’chata v’nechemata,

daamiran b’alma. V’imru: Amen.

Y’hei sh’lama raba min sh’maya,

v’chayim aleinu v’al kol Yisrael.

V’imru: Amen.

Oseh shalom bimromav,

Hu yaaseh shalom aleinu,

v’al kol Yisrael. V’imru: Amen.

Now in English:

Exalted and hallowed be God’s great name in the world which God created, according to plan.

May God’s majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime and the life of all Israel — speedily, imminently, to which we say Amen.

Blessed be God’s great name to all eternity.

Blessed, praised, honored, exalted, extolled, glorified, adored, and lauded be the name of the Holy Blessed One, beyond all earthly words and songs of blessing, praise, and comfort. To which we say Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and all Israel,to which we say Amen.

May the One who creates harmony on high, bring peace to us and to all Israel.

To which we say Amen.

Where Have You Gone?: Remembering Jerry: Everyday Magic, Day 990

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my good friend Jerry, who died on December 13 five years ago. While revising my new collection of poetry, How Time Moves, for publication, I’m struck by how many poems I wrote about this dear friend, but then again, every time I drive down Massachusetts Street, past the apartment where he used to live, my heart still looks for his orange car. Here is one of the poems I’ve written about him.

Where Have You Gone?

For Jerry

Where have you gone, my little friend,

quiet in the corner of the couch, or standing

to hold me, your heart beating through mine?

Where are you hidden or hiding just now,

four months afterwards, three years later?

Are you closer or further or nowhere at all?

Is your absence a chickadee feather

in the paper litter of leaves or a raindrop

dissolving the gravel of the driveway?

Is the weather pleasant, the company entertaining,

the music a polka or waltz played on accordion?

Are you happy and out of pain?

Do you miss us, or is your mind more

like the space framed between cedar spires?

Can you fly, or is the question irrelevant?

How did you go from that hospital bed, old pal?

A leaf detaching, the cork loosening?

A branch bending with no apparent breeze

or weight of bird. A trick of faith

erasing you from our lives?

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What Can You See?: Everyday Magic, Day 989

“Has your sight come back?” people ask me. I try to find a normal way to answer an increasingly complex question because my sight in my right eye is in flux and over the cusp of legally blind. As many readers know, I’ve been on an ocular melanoma road trip through radiation, surgeries, and surprising bouts of, well, surprise. 

The medical answer is “kind of and not really” at once. As the radiation, removed from where it was inserted in my eye, continues its work, the tiny tumor behind my iris melts away. I envision it as an ice burg sloughing off its bulk over time. But what kills the tumor also can diminish my vision. Add in surgery-induced inflammation (hopefully mostly retreated now) and the new formation of a very faint cataract (something I had a 100% of getting after the treatment), and I don’t know how to explain my vision’s return or departure. My right eye has improved, going from 20/1500 to 20/200, but those numbers don’t mean much to me.

What do I see? With just my right eye, I can see the bedroom windows, the curtains pulled to the side, the sheen in the window glass made by the ceiling light’s reflection against the night sky. I can see the cat curled up in a ball on my bed, or is that my brown and white winter hat? I can see color and shapes, depth and layers, the difference between floors and walls, and the way the sky lays itself out in pink swirls on an almost-winter night. I also can see light spilling out from its normal containment in lamps or windshields, bigger and messier than light is to my left eye.

What I can’t see are distinct edges that strictly hold the purple and green quilt as one entity and the off-white wall as another. The dog morphs into the couch. My wedding ring and left hand seem to have always been one vibrant being even if the hand gets more wrinkled and the ring more shiny over time. When the day ends, the water of the pond begins, the fur of the kitty extends, the page of the book bends are just more enmeshed on a seemingly cellular level with the air that composes the space between things.

There’s a Rainer Maria-Rilke passage somewhere about how we teach our children and ourselves to look for the specifics within the open field — the tree, the rabbit, the flower — rather than looking into the open space itself. The mind has a hunger to name and categorize things, to know what’s what and who’s who. Rilke also speaks to how sight changes over time:

“I am learning to see. I don’t know why it is, but everything enters me more deeply and doesn’t stop where it once used to. I have an interior that I never knew of.” ~ Rainer Maria-Rilke

This comes home to me most when I’m moved by something, like last week the moment the Indigo Girls  performed my favorite song (“Prince of Darkness”) in concert, and my right eye started crying in joy and homecoming. My left eye rolled its eyebrow, wondering what was up with the right eye, but the right eye was too busy pouring its heart out. That’s what I see, my mostly blind eye opening my heart more deeply to the world.

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I Love Driving in the County: Everyday Magic, Day 952

This week I drove 100 miles  west and back on Tuesday, then two and a half hours southeast on Thursday, mostly through rural weaves of prairie and brome field where cattle grazed or dozed while storms paraded across the vistas. Earlier in the week, it was to give the first of three Osher classes on the Holocaust  in Manhattan, Kansas, and just recently, to visit a fiction-writing class and give a reading at Pittsburg State University in the state. Taking off and going fast, or a bit slower as the rain blurred the edges of cars and trucks ahead, I reconnected with the thrill of the open road and realized how much I love driving in the country.

Cities can be intriguing, particularly driving through  fabled neighborhoods or vibrant downtowns, and driving in the ‘burbs usually just confuses me or keeps me fixated on not missing a exit,. But there’s something head-clearing and soul-cleansing about zooming through spaces largely devoid of humans and human enterprise. Not to say that the fields and woodlands aren’t impacted profusely by humans, but being in places where few people and many cows, wild turkey, and hawks live just tends to clean the slate for me. Without much but barns, occasional houses or windmills, and billboards dotting the edges of my vision, I can more easily see the panoramic turnings of the weather from crazed storms in one corner to searing blue skies in another, both outside and in the tumble of my thoughts.

Such drives help me uncouple mismatched thoughts, suspicions, and worries over the miles, and unearth clearer senses of where I’m being led, even if it’s just to the next gas station to fuel up, and get some potato chips and iced tea. The hills or flatter stretches unfurl across my line of vision, showing me how much more is happening all the time than I can glimpse. Even when I arrive home a little road-weary, lugging a suitcase, computer, and empty coffee mug, I’m also usually road-happy, satiated and ready to roam closer to home for a while.