Tuesday, September 30, 2008


An apple hitting the floor makes a very distinctive noise. I was reminded of this a couple of days ago when I pushed one off the table while searching for something else. When I heard the hollowish and heavy simultaneous thump and squish I said, "Shit."

I heard the noise again last night when a two-year-old named Zev fulfilled every premonition that everyone in the room with the hardwood floor had just as soon as he gripped an apple in each hand and began walking around looking up into faces and noting, "Apple!"

But the fall was greeted with laughter rather than profanity. Menachem had already assured us, "There are more," and, indeed, there was a feast of apples and honey to celebrate the new year.

Shana tovu. It is the Jewish New Year, which will be closely followed by the Day of Atonement. There is no pretense that we magically start fresh with a new year. Atonement must still be made for the wrongs that we've done by turning away from the needs of others and thus turning away from God, who specifically commands that we look directly in each other's eyes and recognize that just as Zev's dropped apple was inevitable, so are our own mistakes. And since everyone in every station of life is bound to succumb to gravity in some form or another, we should not judge people for the bruises they cause.

There are more apples.

If we remember this, we can laugh rather than swear because we are not threatened.

Rosh Hashana is a time for letting go and turning back to God and people. My friend Jacob will be casting the lint from his pocket (or his belly-button, depending on his mood) into Lake Michigan this afternoon to represent the spiritual preparation that he will engage in for the next ten days. All of the accumulated shit of a year that keeps us from atoning for the bruises we cause will have to be cast off. All of the defensiveness and fear of what will happen that keeps us from exposing our true selves to God and each other has to be let go of. Because God will just laugh, knowing that your delighted recognition of what is beautiful in this world - Apple! - offsets the mistake of damaging it.

I attended an emergent Jewish congregation's celebration last night led by a rabbi who has attended up-rooted meetings once or twice. He held his son Zev on his lap as he explained and led the prayers his congregants were chanting and reciting. Zev chomped on one of his two apples contentedly in his father's arms and never even noticed the squishy brown spots.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The couch is not an option

My grandma is 87 years old.

She called my cell phone this morning but the signal was bad, so I had to hang up without speaking to her, find a new location and call her back.

In surprise, she answered the phone, "Rebecca! I was just talking to your dad about you!"

I had asked my father to determine whether it would be better for me to go down on Wednesday or on Thursday next week to see her.

She said, "Well, I told your father that either day was fine but I just remembered that on Wednesday I have Bible study from 10 to 11." She said this like that might be a deal-breaker for me and she just wanted to be respectful of my time.

I laughed and said, "Well, I'd love to go to Bible study with you, Grandma."

"That's what your father said. Otherwise, I have to work at the front desk at church from 9-12 on Thursday. I could cancel because I'm only a volunteer but I think it's a good idea for me to stay as active as possible."

Grandma said that last bit because she was reminding me that although she's getting old, she's doing everything she can to live the life God wants her to live, rather than giving up and letting age overtake her mind. She read in Guideposts magazine that people's brains stay healthy longer if you limit your TV intake (only Gilmore Girls and Matlock)and keep as active as possible. So, even though she misses my Grandpa fiercely and with great sadness and all of her friends and contemporaries are dead or out-of-reach, she gets out of bed every morning and does stuff so that her mind stays healthy.

I love it when my grandma says and does things like this because it shows her total inability to deny that we all get old, lose functioning and die. This straight-forward approach might be the only real characteristic that she and I share. I'm proud to receive that legacy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Vegetable pizza

When I get my garden (and I'm thinking about big pots on the back porch for next summer), I'm going to grow eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic and onions. Because with eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic and onions I can make my very own vegetable pizza.

What is vegetable pizza? One of the legacies of my childhood meals. We never balked at the vegetables because it was smothered in mozzarella cheese and seasoned with basil and oregano and so actually tasted like pizza.

Last week I made it for the first time in more than 5 years for a date. I bought the veggies at the Farmer's Market and arranged them all pretty for his arrival. I also bought a big bunch of basil and a bunch of oregano and put them in earthenware mugs. I'm surprised I didn't take a picture of the entire tableau I set up.

It's a perfect date meal. Easy to slice the vegetables together, bumping into each other as we move from counter to sink to drawer to retrieve things. Then, pile them into the Romertopf and sit on the back porch in the twilight with a glass of wine and wait.

Tonight is the only night I'll be home for the next two weeks. No exaggeration. So, I thought I'd take advantage of the season and make it again for the leftover lunches.

I had frozen the basil by coating it in olive oil and popping it in the freezer. I dried out the oregano by the heat generated by the pilot light in my oven. (I did briefly forget when pre-heating the oven for brownies bit caught it before it burned.) Since each bunch had been $2, (those little plastic boxes of herbs at the grocery store are $2 each, also) I feel good that I could make it last over the weeks.

And voila! I present you with vegetable pizza amidst a swarm of childhood memories and future plans.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A new song

As has happened before on the rare occasions when two romantic-y men have come into my life at the same time, one has fallen by the wayside and one has hopped into the car with me.

The psychic ghost hunter sparked for a minute but lost interest like so many of them have but tried to keep me in his stable of women that he calls on when necessary. No thank you. I was too clear about what I was looking for in a relationship and after he responded as if he was actually considering a partnership like I offered, I will not tolerate that kind of insult.

However, after over a month of exploratory conversations over dinners and lunch, Mr. Steampunk has shown himself to be funny, intelligent, quirky, handsome, considerate, spiritual and consistently eager for my company. In fact, we've had a slightly giddy conversation about formalizing our intent to see if we could possibly be partners with one another for awhile. I am cautious and a little fearful but have decided to trust the joy and accept the pain if it comes.

The immensity of this step hit me this morning when writing an email. Mr. Steampunk had gone to church with me on Sunday night. It seemed such a natural part of our weekend together but once I reflected on it, I felt a little overwhelmed. I wrote,
Since I have never dated a practicing Christian man, I have just gotten used to the idea that church is something I do by myself. No one has ever been interested. Pagans, secular Christians, Jews, and atheists all simply co-existed with my faith once it became clear that I didn't need to convert them. Even when I was married, my husband went to my church only once on a random afternoon for a concert I was singing in. But then you included me in your Shabbat ceremony and didn't blink before you said yes to church. It is making me re-think this idea that church (or spirituality) is something I do by myself. That's overwhelming. I haven't had to change my base perceptions of life for awhile and although I've been longing for someone to help me do that, I'm less ready for it than I expected to be.

Of course, church hasn't been exactly something that I do myself. I have the other people who go to church with me forming a community of people searching for God with me. But it's not something that I do with a boyfriend.

Still, the last sentence of my email has been repeating itself back to me all day. I'm reading This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation by Alan Lew. My friend Mark loaned it to me as something I "should read" almost a year ago and since the season it describes started lst month, I figured I should actually buckle down and read it. Lew describes the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, in which all of our names are written either in the Book of Life, the Book of Death or the Book of In-between (my vocabulary) and he descrcibes this spiritual event as terrifying since judgement cannot be known.

When I was in junior high, I wanted to be an Egyptologist and read every book in the library on the subject. I learned that judgement of the afterlife required that when one's heart was weighed on a scale, it had to be lighter than a feather or it would be fed immediately to Ammut, who had the head of a crocodile, fore legs of a lion and hind legs of a hippopotamus. How terrifying? How could you know for sure if your physical heart would be transformed by your good life into what had to be just a cloud of mist that would provide no sustenance for the monster?

This anxiety is something that Lew would have us recreate on a yearly basis since he reminds us that we are imperfect and need spiritual motivation to get us off our butts to seek out transformation.

I think he's right.

My sister-in-law's mother died two weeks ago. There was nothing beautiful or exotic about her funeral. She was not yet 60-years-old and her passing came swiftly on the heels of the cancer diagnosis. People grieved. It was over 90 degrees. Not everyone had a seat. The officiants spoke vaguely and in platitudes. It made me wish fervently that the homily was already an aspect of Hindu funereal tradition and is not an influence of Western Christian culture that seemed - for whatever reason - like a good idea to adopt.

The pundit-ji spoke for 20 minutes on how death reminds us that we are alive and should not be feared.


In trying to pull all of this together, I have thought most about getting dressed. Meena told me that it was fun to dress her mother in a sari on the morning of the funeral. I bought a white dress for the occasion and paired it with pearls and heels to respect with my formality the life that her mother had led. Susan's sister-in-law was dressed by her mother and her closest friends in a white dress of her own to celebrate the beginning of her marriage that same weekend. In the beginning of this relationship with Mr. Steampunk, I choose each outfit deliberately to delight him and to communicate a favorable personality.

All of this attiring is preparation and it is good preparation. But it in not enough to keep us from being surprised by death and grief and joy and the ray of sunlight that breaks through into loneliness.

And the surprise is what allows us to skip out of the groove that we're stuck in and play a new song.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


I've definitely got thoughts to share with you but life is full to bursting right now.

I was sick. I was out of town at the fantastic wedding. My brother's mother-in-law passed away. I had a very good date while still remaining in the interminable liminal stage.

Lots of emotions.

Lots of thoughts.

And it keeps on coming.

Soon I'll be able to stop and share my progress.