Category Archives: Musings

just that — musings on the world around me

It’s Not Yet Time to Cross the Street

I‘ve sometimes shared posts by my friend Dr. Kelly Flanagan, on my FB page. I admire his take on life, child-rearing, and relationships.  This week I couldn’t agree with him as he wrote about ISIS  and their most recent attacks. Though we’ve never met, and have only corresponded via email over the past couple of years, we share a deep mutual respect. Which gave me the courage to write the following.

A long time ago I attended a pro-Israel rally. It was at the time of one of the incessant uprisings against Israel. When it was over,  a group of Palestinian supporters stood on the street opposite the synagogue holding up Israel’s state flag with a nazi swastika on it.  On the synagogue side of the street a friend of mine who had fought in Desert Storm 1 held up the Stars and the Stripes.  My kids and i went to stand silently beside him while those on the other side of the street continued their shouting.  What a metaphor.

I wanted to cross the street.  Wanted to go up to the man and say, I can see that you are a human being.  Can you not see that in me?  In my children? But I didn’t.  I was too afraid.

These terrorists are out of control children with weapons.  They are two-year olds, all ego, with murderous intentions. I do not hate them.  I do think they should be eliminated because they are a danger to all that is civilized in this world. And sometimes humans with that dark and destructive power have to be eliminated even if innocents will go down with them.

There is a story from Exodus.  When the Israelites had crossed the sea, Miriam and the women took up timbrels and began dancing, celebrating the fact that they were alive and that Pharaoh’s horsemen were drowned. God calls down to them and says, “Why are you rejoicing when some of My children have died?”  What we are taught to take from this is that number 1 this was part of the plan and yet God was still in mourning for His Children.  Two, we are not to exult at the tragedies that befall others. This is why at the Passover Seder each year, we remove ten drops of wine from our cups when reciting the Ten Plagues. This removal of the joy, which wine symbolizes in Jewish tradition, echoes back to God’s conversation with Miriam. It is our yearly reminder that all are God’s children, even those whose plans are destructive, and we are not to take joy in another’s suffering, no matter how they have harmed us.

I don’t have time to hate.  But I do wish we had leaders who understood what is at stake and would quit equivocating. Decades ago Arafat’s henchman threw an 80-year-old-man in a wheelchair off a cruise ship. The world did a few air strikes and tsk tsk’s at the “crazies.”  That is what has never been understood.  We look at the situation through our lens and say, OH they are crazy they will go away.  We’ve been doing that for decades b/c who but the crazy can be so uncivilized?  I won’t even write some of their acts here.

They are not crazy.  They are stone cold deliberate; they are absolutely logical and have followed through on every intention they have stated (no matter how insane it sounds to us.) This is why the Islamists are so dangerous.  Peace, as it is understood as the absence of strife war, and conflict, is not the answer.  Love of humanity’s survival is more important than love of these humans who have voided their place in civilized society with their blood lust and their intentions to conquer the world and create a Caliphate.

We have evolved from such an understanding of the world.  Cancer cells are nothing but unchecked cells. They have run amok, feeding upon the atmosphere of their  host.   Cancer has to be excised in whatever way possible to save the being within which it grows. The Islamists, Muslim extremists, whatever anyone wants to call them, they are destroyers. We have ignored them at our own peril. They too must be exorcised, by any means possible, no matter how many healthy “cells” go down with them.

And then, should we find ourselves on the far side of the Sea of Reeds, perhaps we will not take up timbrels and rejoice. Instead, and hopefully, we will extend our hands to those yearning to breathe free and walk forward together in peace and unafraid.

Time to Fill Those Holes!

51RoDqmE+oL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_I love Ruth Kraus’ book A Hole is to Dig. It was one of the early ones I read to Elliot and Emma when they were little. In this sweet and simply illustrated book, holes are for digging, looking through, stepping into and hiding things in. Between the covers of A Hole is to Dig, life is complete and everything fits: doors are for shutting and opening, the world is so you have something to stand on.

I thought of this book recently after a conversation with an elderly woman who has a hole in her life that has yet to be filled. We were talking birthdays and bonded over the fact that we were both  April babies. If you’re a Jewish baby boomer, born on the cusp, belly or tail of spring, you got cheated every few birthdays. Instead of a nicely leavened high rising layer cake, swirled with mounds of frosting, you got a kosher for Passover sponge cake, dry as desert sand.

We chuckled over this additional deprivation, but then the conversation took a turn into a different corner of the past. “My mother never made me a good birthday party,” the woman said. “Even when it wasn’t Passover, there was never soda, never candy, never the right kind of cake.” I made some sort of clucking noises of sympathy and we turned to other things.

I haven’t been able to shake the sense of this woman’s loss, her palpable disappointment, a hole from childhood that has yet to be filled.  It occurred to me that she needs to throw herself a big birthday party replete with a gooey cake, candles, soda, candy and whatever else her inner child pines for. She should invite her best friends and play games and celebrate having lived as long as she has.

When we’re children, if we’re fortunate children, holes are to dig, look through, step in and hide things in. Only as we age do the holes of our childhood experiences leave voids that pockmark our inner terrain like a slice of Swiss cheese. No one can fill these holes but us. And we must. Or we should. Whether it’s throwing a birthday party for yourself or taking that art class your mom couldn’t afford or learning to sing despite your second grade choir teacher’s pronouncement that you sing off key, when you get to a certain age, holes are no longer to dig.  Holes are to fill.

Happy-Birthday-Cake-111

Continuing Passover’s Thread

i-hM8DHW4-X3Passover Seder ranks as every Jew’s number one most favorite, most highly attended, most fondly remembered, most eagerly anticipated of any holiday dinner of the year.  OK, you’ll hear good-natured kvetching from the women who spend the weeks cleaning the house for Passover, days to weeks preparing the food, a day or two setting the table(s). But all of that fades away the minute the friends and family arrive, with more food, with other friends, sometimes with a newborn or two about to celebrate their first Seder. It is the most joyously AdobeOLS-X3celebrated Jewish ritual of the calendar, the most open to creativity, the one with the huge mix of pathos, humor, memory, innovation, tradition and more. If Pesach were a magnet, Jews would be the iron filings.

Two years ago I described a special Seder we hosted out here in Sedona. Our kids came in from both coasts. My sister-in-law and her partner joined us. Martin and I created a biblio-drama that included a walk through an actual dry bed replete with horses (living, not drowned) standing at the shoreline, and meaningful and memorable discussions the whole night through. But this year, this year can be summed up with Passover’s defining question: Why is this night different from all other nights?

AdobeOLSBecause this year we will be with neither beloved friends nor family. This year we will celebrate with fellow Jews most of whom we know only by name and nod; a handful of whom we can call friends, newly minted. This year, at Sedona’s wonderful synagogue in the desert, we will retell Passover’s epic story of liberation with people we will have just met and sing Dayenu by joining our voices to voices we’ve never heard. And we will be and feel perfectly at home. This is the magic of Passover, the magic of Judaism. This is the true staying power of Judaism. We Jews are turtles, carrying our religion, our learning, our memories and our connections on our backs. All we have to do is connect with even one fellow Jew and we are home.

There is a lot to be said for being home for the holidays, for having one’s children fly in, drive in, come and add another thread to the cloth of family traditions. Schedules didn’t permit our kids to be with us for Passover this year. They left yesterday after a wonderful week’s visit. This Friday and Saturday they will be celebrating in their own homes, leading their own Seders, and joining other families at theirs. Will we miss them? Absolutely. But not to distraction.

I want my children to create their own traditions. I want them to weave their own threads into their own fabric of Jewish life. I want them to take the Seder experience into their hearts by making it theirs, coming to know the satisfaction of innovating, of sharing their knowledge with others and putting their own twist on what they loved best from home. I want them to retell the story of liberation with a Hagaddah of their choosing (there are literally hundreds to choose from!) and lead their own discussions on the four children wise, wicked, simple, and the one who didn’t know enough to ask. Through liberation comes return.

And so my children — Elliot, Emma, and now Elizabeth — I bless you in Passover’s spirit. May you come through the high waters of fear and uncertainty unto the shores of safety and triumph. May you come to know your heritage in a new and joyous way. May you make new friends and deepen bonds to old. May you carry your shell wherever you go, find fellow Jews, and be home.

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‘Stay on the Trail’: Words of courage from Chicken Point

don't bust the crustOften when you hike in the state and national parks out west, signs are posted at the trailheads cautioning hikers not to “bust the crust.” The crust, called cryptobiotic soil,  consists of soil cyanobacteria, lichens and mosses. The microscopic filaments of the cyanobacteria  help stabilize the soil’s surface, creating a scaffolding from which other plants can take root and grow. These bacteria are determined little things, yet  the life-sustaining crust they form is so fragile. One careless footstep can crush decades, if not centuries, of growth.

This morning we hiked the Little Horse Trail, which leads to the Chicken Point overlook. Over the centuries, the wind has scoured the surface of the formations into undulating waves of red rock.  Posted by the crest of the trail was this sign that read “Healing in Progress. IMG_1848Please stay on trail. Thank you.” If you’re a regular reader of this column, you know I’m always looking for metaphors in Nature, delicious bits of guidance that might be found in a heart- shaped cactus  or a forest reflected in a river.

When I read the words Healing in Progress, Please stay on Trail my mind immediately went to the realization that we are all specimens of healing in progress, whether physically, spiritually or emotionally. One of us is recovering from surgery, while another is still processing the death of a loved one, and another is struggling to surface from being unemployed. Many someones struggle maintain a connection with G’d and their faith.

It takes so little to “bust the crust” of our existence.  A crass comment by a teacher can silence a student for years.  We wake up feeling fine until the lab calls with the latest test results, blasting us into realms we never imagined. Our spiritual needs changes. Or we change and are at a loss for the peace and community that might have sustained us our entire lives.

So we have to stay on the trail, mindful that others are healing whether we see their bandages or not. We have to walk gently in one another’s lives, offering help, minding our mouths, bringing fun and joy, giving space when solitude is the only balm.  And what of ourselves? How do we keep ourselves on the trail so we do not undermine our own healing in progress? We know what to do, but how many times to we regress, slipping back into unhealthy habits? If it’s addiction we face, keeping ourselves on the trail is a day by day, moment by moment act of recovery. If we are pursuing a goal whether it’s running a marathon, pursuing a degree or career advancement, staying on the trail will get us there sooner and successfully. Staying on the trail means learning the signs of our own self-sabotage and placing our feet ever more consciously.

It takes decades for cryptobiotic soil to grow to a stage where it becomes hospitable for seeds and grasses. Centuries can pass before the grasses give way to small shrubs, cacti and even a tree or two. We humans operate on a different scale of time. We do not have centuries. Some of us no longer have decades. But like the plants that take root in this beautiful soil, we have no idea what tomorrow will bring.

Today is the only day we can grow. This can be a good thing.

Healing in Progress. Please Stay on the Trail. Thank you.


Chicken Point

 

A Year of Kaddish Draws to a Close

Mom playing Broadway tunes.

Mom playing Broadway tunes.

Today is the last day of my year of saying Kaddish for my mother.

In Jewish tradition, Kaddish, a prayer whose Aramaic text mentions nothing of death but instead offers words of praise to God, is recited for eleven months by the adult child who has lost a parent or other close relative. One of the purposes of reciting Kaddish is to elevate to God’s side the soul of the deceased.  A Kaddish year actually only lasts eleven months, the philosophy being no one is so lacking that his or her soul needs intervention for a full year.

Viewed from the outside, reciting Kaddish can seem like an enormous burden. The mourner is commanded to attend synagogue twice daily, morning and evening. In the course of these two daily services (three actually, unless the afternoon and evening services are folded into one another as is done in my community), the mourner rises to recite the Kaddish prayer. Those present echo their responses and amens at the proper time. The presence of ten Jewish adults is a requirement for the Mourner’s Kaddish to be said. No ten, no Kaddish.

When my rabbi asked me, before my mother died, if I planned on reciting Kaddish for her, I recoiled. Mine had been a Jekyll-Hyde mother for so much of my life, the last four years being especially searing. Was she entitled to another year of my life and my psyche? Why not just cut my losses and move on? Did I really need to hang on?

In my heart of hearts, I knew that the rabbis who created our Jewish mourning rituals were a hell of a lot wiser than I was. I would participate to the best of my ability, maybe not daily but surely several times a week. As I have done with other Jewish rituals that are now a part of my life, I gave myself over to reciting Kaddish and found comfort and wisdom in its practices. The Children of Israel accepted the Torah with the phrase We will do and [thus] we will hear [understand.] (Exodus 19:8) So, too with Kaddish.

Mom and me, Miami, 1957

Mom and me, Miami, 1957

There is no word in the English for what transpired between my mother and me the last years of her life. Illness, unemployment, poor decisions, age, lifelong mentally fragility, and more came together, unraveling her life as she had lived it. I found an independent-living apartment situation that was ideal. She was grateful for my research and moved in with the help of one of my sisters. She made a good life for herself there, more active and socially engaged than she had been for years.

But before she moved in, she turned on me. She had played this dynamic before, not infrequently, and for much less reason. Whether it was buyer’s remorse, the impending loss of certain freedoms, the inevitability of her illness, or maybe just the irrational need to blame someone for the upheaval, I became the target for her atomic fury. She would have nothing to do with me, threatened me with a restraining order if I called or wrote, and with one volley that I doubt even Faulkner could have penned, told me she couldn’t wait to die so she didn’t have to know I was on this earth. I ceased and desisted.

Abandoned. Exiled. Threw me out. None of those words described my mother’s refusal to acknowledge me during those final years. A friend suggested amputated. That fit perfectly, for amputation’s intimation of violence, for its truth of irrevocable loss, for its reality of phantom pain—feeling and mourning the severed limb of my mother’s love and delight, her presence and our deep connection despite all the rest.

No one gets out of life unscathed; this was simply my refining fire. We grow the most from the experiences that devastate us, that force us to go deep within to face our truths, challenging us to emerge stronger, wiser, more resilient. Teachers come in many guises. My mother was a magnificent teacher and I mean it when I say that I am grateful for the lessons learned. Ultimately we found our way back to one another. The anger never left her, but her volleys became less frequent and vicious. Better still, I ceased to allow them to land. When her final day came, my sister held the phone to her ear so I could say my goodbyes. I expressed my love for her and my gratitude. “Go, Mommy, be at peace with God.” My sister said a shadow of a smile crossed her lips when I began to speak.

I waver sharing even this much, lest I be judged as petulant, unforgiving, an unrepentant daughter determined to sully the memory of a loved one who can no longer defend herself. None of that is my truth. Those of us raised by Jekyll-Hyde parenting belong to a singular club. If you’re not a member, it’s hard to fathom. A fellow member told me that when someone would say to her I can’t believe this she would simply reply Be thankful you cannot.

*                  *                  *

Today is the last day of my year of saying Kaddish for my mother. In these last forty days, I have moved from several times a week to daily attendance. Like Noah I have ridden out this storm of grief and will soon walk upon new land. By nightfall my identity as a mourner will be nullified. When the minyan leader calls, “all those in mourning or observing a yahrzeit please rise” I will remain seated. My presence will now enable others to stand.

I am grateful for this wise and healing ritual. In Jewish tradition, another name for God is HaMakom, The Place. Minyan became where I placed my grief within God’s care. In place of the love and presence I so wanted give my mother during her final years, I have offered daily respect for her memory, reawakened appreciation for all she gave me, and attained a wiser love for her and the good times we shared. Rest well, Mom. Rest and be comforted that you are remembered.

 

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The text of the Kaddish prayer:

May the great Name of God be exalted and sanctified, throughout the world, which he has created according to his will. May his Kingship be established in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of the entire household of Israel, swiftly and in the near future; and say, Amen.

May his great name be blessed, forever and ever.

Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, honored elevated and lauded be the Name of the holy one, Blessed is he — above and beyond any blessings and hymns, Praises and consolations which are uttered in the world; and say Amen. May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life, upon us and upon all Israel; and say, Amen.

He who makes peace in his high holy places, may he bring peace upon us, and upon all Israel; and say Amen.

The Year in Review

Dear Friends,

Some of you have written wondering where I have been, why the silence and lack of posts. As many of you know it’s been an overwhelming year. My mother died in March, sealing a relationship of many complex, loving, and fractious decades. There is much to process, what remains within the chambers of my heart and my journals. I have been reciting Kaddish and that period of mourning will soon draw to a close. In and of itself, this tradition merits reams of reflection.

©Cotton Love Studios

You may kiss the bride

As you also know, our son’s wedding followed soon after Mom’s death, and we officially welcomed our wonderful daughter-in-law Elizabeth into our family. The words “a weekend filled with love and celebration” do not even come close to capturing all that we felt and experienced as so many friends and relatives came from all corners to join us in celebrating Elliot and Elizabeth’s marriage. My sister Abby and her husband Brian gave birth to a son (Brian, you were  a mighty coach!) and so a new nephew was born on the cusp of these other family milestones. Life in the first half of the year was rich, bestowing the full arc of human experience.

We strove for calm in the summer. Martin and I moseyed around Saugatuck and went “up north” to Michigan’s beautiful spots of Petoskey and Harbor Springs. When we first moved here three decades ago, the locals kept raving about “up north,” how Lake Michigan was so beautiful and the sand dunes were so amazing. As Easterners who grew up bouncing in the waves of the Atlantic (and I who had also built sand castles out of the Gulf Coast’s sugary powder) we couldn’t really imagine how a lake could evoke such enthusiasm. We begin going with our kids and realized, yup, “up north” is pretty amazing.

It still is. Martin and I  hadn’t visited in years, and it was deeply nourishing to immerse ourselves in the land of Petoskey stones, sailboats, Kilwin’s ice cream and long walks along the shores of quietly lapping water. PekoskeyThe colors remain heart-catching shades of turquoise, emerald and midnight blue. There was a lot of nostalgia in those walks. New dreams surfaced along the water’s edge, dreams of taking our kids back there one day soon and maybe some years in the future, grandchildren.

She was amazing!

She was amazing!

Elizabeth’s father and step-mother invited us to visit them in South Lake Tahoe, where Elizabeth grew up. More beautiful water and good times. We went hiking, touring about and got a taste of wake surfing. Since my bout with water ski-ing didn’t end too well a few years back, I stayed on the boat. Elizabeth is a regular pro and Elliot managed to stay aloft for a few triumphant moments. Where our son gets his athletic genes I have no idea, but I love this shot of him just after he returned to the boat post ride.

Does this say joy or what?

Does this say joy or what?

Daniel, Stella, and Tammy in Pittaburgh

Daniel, Stella, and Tammy in Pittaburgh

Fall was a blur of the Jewish holidays. We marked them with so many of the beloved friends with whom we celebrate the turning of the Jewish wheel of time. We hosted what was I think our 26th or 27th Yom Kippur break the fast. I marked my first Yizkor (memorial service) standing this time in memory of my mother. We made a spur of the moment trip to Pittsburgh to visit with my brother Daniel, his wife Tammy and our niece Stella. We were there for Sukkot. Daniel and Tammy live in Squirrel Hill, a predominantly Jewish enclave within the city. As Shabbat dinner drew to a close, we could hear all the families up and down the street sitting in their sukkahs like we were, singing and enjoying the cool fall night and the blessing of the holiday.

Come November we did something we’ve never done — rented an apartment in  Brooklyn and played like we were New Yorkers again. We spent Thanksgiving with my sister-in-law Helene, she of the coolest job on earth and then trundled back to Park Slope where Helene once lived and where the kids became New Yorkers in their own right.

Our little garden apartment (an efficient 700 square feet) was blocks from Helene’s old building. It was a hoot shopping at the market we used to, surfacing from the same subway line, settling into the same corners we once called home. It was a fortnight filled with memories and non-stop visiting with a lifetime of friends and family.  We saw four shows between us, and more art exhibits than I could enumerate here.  We ate more than we should have, a fact that we can enumerate on the scale, alas.

New York magic

New York magic

The energy was electric, the buildings climbing ever higher, the Christmas windows at Saks were witty and wonderful. Watching the skaters at Rockefeller Center was like being in a movie strip that spans decades. Across the street, Martin got his umbrella stolen at St. Patrick’s cathedral; he also went to a special taping of the Meredith Vieira show.

The Statue of Liberty and the Freedom Tower in the background

The Statue of Liberty and the Freedom Tower in the background

We spent an entire day at the Statue of Liberty and at Ellis Island. Quite moving to imagine the thousands and thousands of immigrants who came through those great halls, their fear and confusion, their hopes and the dreams. Could I have summoned the courage and fortitude to do what my grandfather did? Martin’s mother sailed to America on the Ile de France, the same ship Lindbergh booked for passage after making his historic trans-Atlantic flight. She told the story of their ship steaming into the harbor to fireboats shooting water into the air. A young teen at the time she thought, “Boy America sure does welcome immigrants with a lot of fanfare!”

We used tokens; she has a Metro Card!

We used tokens; she has a Metro Card!

Best of all we spent glorious amounts of time with Emma, easing into a rhythm of seeing one another that made us all rue the miles that separate us. She took us on a wonderful tour of Williamsburg where she lives. It’s hip, it’s gritty, there are pockets of charming quiet and scores of funky shops and bistros. Her corner grocery store looks like a typical New York City bodega from the outside. Once you enter, it just keeps going and going and going. Whole Foods meets Alice’s rabbit hole.

To top all of this off, Elliot made a surprise visit! He had a conference we hadn’t heard about. He and Emma cooked up the surprise, keeping a lid on it for weeks and weeks. One Sunday evening Emma insisted that we stay in and order out Chinese. There was a lot of flurrying on the phone as she spoke with the take-out place.

Best take-out order ever!

Best take-out order ever!

The bell rings, Emma goes to the door and says our food has arrived. In walks Elliot. It took us quite a few moments for our minds to believe what our eyes were seeing.

And now it’s December 31st. The secular wheel of time will tick into a new year in a few hours. It’s been the best of times and it’s been the worst of times. Those of you familiar with Bob Mankoff’s classic New Yorker cartoon will hear the editor’s challenge to Charles Dickens: ‘I wish you would make up your mind, Mr. Dickens. Was it the best of times or the worst of times? It could scarecely have been both.’

We all know that in life the best of times and the worst of times often ride upon one another heels, if not sit in one another’s laps. It was a wonderful year and it was a challenging year. I am glad to have moved through it in one piece, hopefully with grace and spirit. I am grateful for this past year of life and look forward to 2015. Hopefully it will be less dramatic yet one of good health, spent with those whom I love, and new adventures for body and soul.

Wishing all my loyal readers the same and more. Not sure what the new year will bring where these missives are concerned, but at an estate sale I found the most delightful book that I cannot wait to share with you.  So I will probably start there one day soon.

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Entering the New Year Freshly Restored

Baylinson beforeThe restoration of a painting is as good a metaphor as any this time of year. Rosh Hashana begins Wednesday evening.  We are in the waning days of the month of Elul, a time given over to introspection as Jews prepare not only for the New Year but for Yom Kippur’s day of atonement ten days hence.

I inherited the painting at the left from my mother. It was done by a Russian emigre painter – A. S. Baylinson – in 1939.  He was an artist of some note in his day, and had shows at the Art Institute of Chicago, here at the Detroit Institue of Art and elsewhere. The Metropolitan in New York has some of his work in their collection. How my grandfather came by this painting, I do not know. Perhaps he bought it outright. Perhaps he took it in trade for medical care. Or maybe his and Baylinson’s connection was personal.  Perhaps they were landsmen, Russian emigres both who came to America early in the 20th century in search of a better life and much distance from murderous Cossacks. Maybe the painting was a gift from one grateful American to another. It hung in my grandparents’ home and then in my mother’s.

By the time the painting came to me the canvas was torn, yellowed with age and discolored by decades of cigarette smoke. It was large, dingy, costly to restore, and I wavered about what to do with it. Relegate it to the basement? Hang it as is? Put it out on trash day? It carried memories of a woman whose mothering ran more to Dali than Cassat. Happily, restoration won.

Ken Katz of Conservation and Museum Services did a masterful job in bringing the Baylinson, as it was always called at home, to life. Carefully, painstakingly, he and his staff worked over the summer removing varnish and nicotine, patching a gash in the canvas, damage that likely occurred during one of my mother’s moves. They matched paint and brushstroke so well that I cannot tell where the canvas had even been torn. It was quite exciting to unwrap the painting when Martin brought it home last week. The dahlias seem to dance in new brilliance, their petalled faces crimson and proud. The marigolds are lively once again, no longer weighted and wan beneath varnish and nicotine. And surprise! The vase on the pie crust table is not green but a silvery white. I wish I could show my mother and ask if this how she remembered the painting growing up? I’m sure it hung in the living room.  Did she read on a couch within its view? The Baylinson now hangs in the entry way of our home. I smile every time I see it. She looks good, this painting, hopefully as beautiful as the moment in 1939 that Mr. Baylinson looked at his work, declared, “It is good,” and laid down his paintbrush.

All of which brings me to the work of Elul, Rosh Hashana and restoration. This has been a cataclysmic year.  My mother died. My son married eleven days after her funeral. I was in a car accident two weeks ago (not my fault.) Last week I needed emergency dental work. My jaw still hurts. My heart is mending. My soul still soars at the memory of Elliot’s and Elizabeth’s wedding. As this Jewish year draws to a close, there are hurts to forgive and forgiveness to ask for. There is a patina of pettiness and impatience to wipe away and the hope that the face I show in this new year will project kindness and welcome. Instead of relegating my missteps to my inner basement or sending them to the trash unexamined, I strive for restoration. Even if no one can see where we’ve been patched, the rips remain just beneath the surface. I embrace this month of Elul, for Elul invites us to restore ourselves, to take long walks and think back over the past year. Elul reminds us that restoration is possible. Even if we are torn, even if we have been dragged hither and yon and none too gently, even if our faces are clouded with care and grief, we can do the necessary work and restore our personal canvas.

And so a still life painted by a Russian emigre, owned by another, then his daughter and now his granddaughter, has a new home. She is once again bright and gleaming. May we all be so as we move into this New Year.

Baylinson after