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Omer 41

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al sfirat ha-omer.

Blessed are You, Adonay our God, ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvot and gives us this opportunity to count the Omer.

Today is day forty one, which is five weeks and six days of the Omer. Hayom yom arbaim v’ehad she hem hamisha shavuot ve shisha yamim laOmer.

Today is Yesod be Yesod, intimacy within intimacy, foundation within community.

Today, I think about building friendships. Sometimes, it’s so easy – the other person says something funny, I laugh, and presto, a connection is made – a friendship is built. Sometimes, it’s a boatload of work – of getting poison thoughts out of my head, of maintaining limits and boundaries even when it feels artificial to ensure there is no power imbalance, of calling even when they’re boring or overemotional or both, of doing favours – and accepting gifts, of little things that make others smile, not laugh. It’s a lot work which I don’t always want to do. But that is where the intimacy within intimacy comes from – doing that work, finding those answers and building those connections.

Today, I build the foundation within the foundation of my relationships – I do the work even when I don’t want to.

Omer 34

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al sfirat ha-omer.

Blessed are You, Adonay our God, ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvot and gives us this opportunity to count the Omer.

Today is day thirty four, which is four weeks and six days of the Omer. Hayom yom shloshim ve arba she hem arba’a shavuot ve shisha yammim laOmer.

Today is Yesod be Hod, intimacy within gratitude, community within thankfulness

Today we remember the friend. You know, the one who has been faithful for years. Maybe he’s awkward and socially inept and sometimes you laugh at him in your head. Maybe she’s loud and pushy and time consuming and exhausting and you half dread the time she’ll be coming over. But he was there when you celebrated your birthday for the last umpteen years and she held you the last time you cried bitterly because life was unfair. They haven’t commented (at least not too obnoxiously) about how awkward, socially inept, loud, pushy and time consuming you are. And probably, they could have. But they didn’t. So it’s time you (or maybe, I) express some gratitude for that loyal friend that you dismiss. They’ve made your life more wonderful and they’re part of what makes you, you.

Today, I express gratitude for friends who remain faithful despite my occasional disdain or neglect.

Elul 4

Elul 4

#BlogElul – Understand

I don’t. Understand, most things, I mean. That’s my starting position. Oh, I understand basic stuff. I know how to do calculus and I understand that acceleration makes things move faster. I can conjugate a sentence in English, French, Russian and Hebrew (although not very well), and I can learn what the exports and imports of various countries are. Most things in school, whether I know them or not, at least I understand.

No, it’s people I don’t understand. In particular, how can they be so fundamentally different from me? I have no problem if they like a different flavour of ice cream, but completely different values? How can people not want to need and be needed by others, how can they not like kids, how can they not enjoy touch and sharing closeness or intimacy? If they do share these values, how can their priorities be so different in these areas that it looks like they don’t? Why isn’t everyone religious? Or bisexual? I am. It’s good. I don’t really, entirely get why you’re not.

I question how I’m supposed to be friends with people I totally don’t get. I mean, there might be huge other discrepancies as well – what if I can’t find a way to relate? These are people who hurt me every time I expect anything, not because they are malicious (although what do I know – I don’t get them) but because they don’t work the way I do, so my expectations are always thwarted. Friendship without expectation is tricky. I can’t say in my head, “I’ll meet up with so and so, and then we’ll hug, and then we’ll have a nice game of dominos, and then we’ll have ice cream together” even if that’s what we did the last 4 times we got together, because this time, the friend doesn’t feel like hugging for some mysterious reason, no longer plays dominos and has decided to eat ice cream less often. I just don’t understand why, and the result leaves me hurt and bitter, angry and confused.

I don’t even understand myself, really. It’s not just others that are a problem, I am too. Every day, my sensible logical mind comes up with useful, sensible, logical ways for me to be in the world, and every day, I proceed to act in ways that are totally and completely contrary to those my sensible logical mind came up with. I succumb to useless whims, I avoid work in lazy ways, and sometimes, I spend a good ten minutes, just sitting there, trying to convince myself to do the next right thing rather than something easier and more brightly coloured. Really, how can I be that immature?  What’s wrong with me? I ask myself these questions and usually, the result is that I get stressed out which I can’t handle very well and the best way of dealing with that stress is a shiny, brightly coloured dessert or computer game and…

I don’t get God at all – but I expect not to get God. The tiny cells in my fingernails would have no idea why I cut them off every so often or what my random movements of fingers meant, even if they had consciousness. But still – God, You’re supposed to be nice, right? So why is there too much to do, too many people to deal with, friends that don’t share my values, and shiny distractions that I get caught up in?

I have over the years, found no answer to my lack of understanding. It doesn’t break down into a nice, simple collection of basic subtasks like a good jigsaw puzzle or a fun math problem would. I can’t compare it to something I can solve – “Oh, my friend’s lack of interest is just like this trigonometry question, and my inability to focus can be fixed using the cue cards I use for studying chemical elements.” Nope. Instead, I am down to playing guess and check, as an approach. Try this. Does it work? No. Try that. Does it work? No. Cudgel my brain to come up with another thing to try. Will it work? Probably not. Just saying…

The only thing that seems to work is laughing. I find I do better when I find it all pricelessly funny. It is really – here I am with my dominos set all laid out, and the ice cream chilling in the freezer, and my friend is standing there in a salsa dress saying, “time to go dancing, you ready?” Scenes like that are hilarious.

As for God’s idea of humour, there are high school kids with more class. “Anna is having trouble getting this project accomplished? Send her four more just like it that she’ll feel are necessary. And for kicks, give them all the same dead-obvious name. And make each one harder than the one before. Hmmm – one of them should be in another language, on brightly coloured paper….now make them all due today! Oh, and let’s give her a tummy ache so she feels like farting and puking when she’s nervous. I made a fart joke! Ha, ha!” Really, God? Really? It’s not that it’s hard, or anything – it’s that it’s silly. I would have expected better – but I guess all I can do is laugh at the jokes God makes at my expense.

I think that this year isn’t going to change this much. Maybe if I can be conscious about the fact that I don’t understand and I’m not going to, then at least I can switch to laughing about it sooner. Maybe if I try, I can appreciate the tacky jokes the universe comes up with faster and better. Then, while I still won’t understand, I’ll at least enjoy myself a bit more. A life filled with constant laughter – even if it’s mostly about myself – can’t be that bad!

Elul 28

Give

This is the key. To love, to a good job, to financial success – if I was going to give advice to young people, (and as a teacher and a parent of teenagers and a friend to some as well, I often give advice, so I just might,) I’d say give more. When you take a job, find one where you can help others. When you have some money, give lots of it away, even if you can’t afford it. If you want to be close to someone, give compliments, time, friendliness. It works better than anything else in securing success, giving does.

I’ve been experimenting with this last year. I added a charity that I give to monthly and a once-twice a year volunteering gig. It’s not enough. It’s not the tithe I was planning for. However, as I go through my budget and try to decide whether new socks are a necessity or a luxury this year, I know that the Plan International donation will not be the item that gets cut. In fact, I might add to it – I still have a goal to tithe. I’m at 1-2% not, so it will take a while, but I can get there. What has it given me? A feeling of wealth. Rich people tithe, not poor ones! A sense of gratitude. I can give help instead of just needing it. Some pride.

It just feels good, you know? Giving feels better. There’s probably a biological aspect to it all. I know very little biology, but I suspect there’s a scientific aspect to it all as to why giving feels wonderful. It really doesn’t matter, though. I can enjoy that feeling without knowing why. It is why this job works. My previous job paid better – but it gave absolutely nothing to anyone. So, now I teach kids – and often, kids that need additional help. I think it’s a valid consideration when selecting a future career. Does the career give something to people, to the world, to society? If not, maybe it’s not the best career.

The trickiest area is around friendship, of course – because while it feels great to give, receiving is a lot harder. We bristle at gifts we never asked for, ideas that contradict our own and people whose needs take up time that could otherwise be usefully spent. Knowing what to give a friend – whether space or closeness, laughter or sympathy, a bracing speech or a helping hand – that can be quite the challenge. Success in this area will give me rewards too, however, rewards of closeness and love and joy.

So, I do giving things. I give computer help and resume writing assistance. I give charity and tutor kids. And I do what I can to give my friends what they need to, as best as I possibly can.Giving feels like it’s on the right path – the one I want to take. I just have to keep learning to be discerning in how I do so.

Elul 23

Love

Wow. Love. It’s one of my core values. I only have 5 – all others stem from those. They have been gathered over the course of my life, slowly and patiently, with care and much thought. I believe in joy (to be happy and to help others be happy,) in learning (to learn and to teach,) in love (to love and be loved,) in integrity (to be true to one’s deepest self and to see the Godly in others) and in responsibility (to take care of the things that need taken care of and to get help when necessary.) Those are my foundation – and love is among them. They guide my belief. I believe in God, because I believe in the existence of Love, Joy, Knowledge, Wisdom and Caring. And what is God but unlimited love, joy…?

Love fails sometimes, of course. I’ve had my share of failed and aborted relationships, empty promises that never came to fruition, broken dreams. I’ve had my atheist days. There’s a lot of contradiction in it, less understanding than one might want, much confusion. What does one do when love isn’t answered? When love is broken? Does one re-evaluate one’s life values? Maybe one should rethink one’s values? Replace them with something more rational and dependable? Justice is a good one – or, no, better yet – independence. Sufficiency. Dignity? Courage. Serenity…

I come back to love. It continues to define the best of me, for better or worse. My life goals revolve around it (to build a beautiful, strong family; to raise amazing children; to have close friends; to help kids grow up to be wonderful people.) The two books that I consider define my adult life, Stranger in a Strange Land and A Bridge Across Forever, are about love. (My childhood defining novels were the Anne of Green Gables series and the Narnia series, and if you synthesize those 4 books, you’ll probably have a good picture of my belief system, and a blinding headache.) Love, where someone else’s happiness becomes important to one’s own (the Stranger in a Strange Land definition, and still one of the best I’ve heard,) is crucial to me.

And really, it comes from me, right? God doesn’t stop loving. I don’t have to stop loving. No matter what happened or will happen in my life, I can continue to love the people in it, whatever they think of me. Still, it seems to break that lovely symmetry I play with – ‘to love and be loved.’ How can I do that, when a friendship breaks down? It’s almost offensive to love a friend who doesn’t love one in response.

Part of it is perception. People love in so many ways – do I recognize that crumpled drawing handed to me by a kid, as love? Do I know that someone else yelling at me, fierce and angry and right in the middle of everything, is showing me she loves me enough to engage me, to want to make things right? Do I see love in people’s requests for attention and their requests for space, in long conversations and peaceful silences, in compliments on little things and criticisms in areas I can improve? Do I wait for specific people to show me love, or accept it from everyone who loves me?

Part of it is patience. All things, including relationships, have their ebb and flow, their ups and downs. I need to breathe, to wait, to laugh and to maintain what I can. I redefine. I go from ‘to love and be loved’ to ‘to love and be loveable’ and I let the universe manage the rest. I accept where I am…

You know, I talk too much. There are too many words here. Enough. I can do this whole blog in 13 words.

Love…desire… need…life…

Love…trust…respect…growth

Love…breath…peace…God…

Love