My Third Mother Has Died

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My grandmother, Clara and my mother around me at my Confirmation.

I knew that the call, or email, would eventually come. Word that Clara had died.  She was over one hundred after all. No one lives forever. But when such news arrives it still lands like a fist to the heart.

Clara was the mother of my first love. She welcomed me into her family at a time when divorce had shattered my own and my parents’ attention was often elsewhere.  Like my grandmother’s, her love was unconditional, joyous, bottomless, steady. She was a Holocaust Survivor who told me she made it through by hiding in the forests. At sixteen I believed her. In my fifties I came across the truth and wept.

When her son left for college I would still visit after school every now and then, grateful to hang out, to be fed cakes and other sweets whose names had as many consonants as they had ingredients. When he came home on break I was ecstatic. Yes, for the obvious reasons but also because I could visit with Clara nearly daily. She wove me into their family as deftly as she sometimes braided my long hippie hair — into a crown ’round my head, much as her mother must have braided hers and her sisters’.

Her son and I broke up, stayed in touch sporadically, saw each other and one another’s families if our returns home coincided. He became religious and moved to Israel. He is now the father of many, a grandfather several times over. One by one, the dozens whom Hitler murdered are being given new life in their namesakes.  Clara once said that she lived so long because all of her loved ones had given her their years. No doubt in my mind that when the next great-granddaughter is born, she will be called Clara, or its Hebrew or Yiddish equivalent. Will she have Clara’s green eyes? Her beautiful smile? Her strength and ready love? I will never meet her but bless her just the same. Your great-grandmother was a wonderful woman, little one. She lived through hell and back. She came to this country to make a new life, a good life.  And she was a haven for a lost soul and whose light still shines upon me to this day.

A Rosh Hashanah reflection

smaller-applesI was aware that I haven’t been writing much in this space this year, but was shocked to see that my last post was dated January 11, 2016. I’ve been blogging over at pictureaconversation.com, the website dedicated to a product my husband and I launched this January — a set of 25 conversation prompts designed to inspire more talking and less texting.  I’ve shifted from penning self-reveletory essays to writing about the experience of creating something from the wisp of an idea, getting one’s creation out into the marketplace, taking chances, and more. I am writing about the act and art of conversation, recounting notable conversations and the characters with whom I have them. I fear we are losing our facility for meaningful conversations, whether with others, ourselves or even God.

The one writing job I have preserved is my advice column for the Detroit Jewish News.  I’m now in my third year as “Dear Debra” offering no-nonesense advice on everything from vaccines  to tattoos to friends who want to text instead of talk. [I couldn’t be so self-serving as to advise they order a set of Picture a Conversation, but I was tempted!]  I love puzzling out the advice I think would help my readers most and would love to do more.  So I thought, why not post past columns here for your enjoyment and edification, and invite you to send your dilemmas my way via Read the Spirit?  You don’t have to be Jewish to have tsuris (heartache); you just have to have a problem. Write to me at debralex1 at sbcglobal dot net and look for answers here each week.

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Rosh Hashana is a time for self-reflection.

The Jewish new year begins soon.  It is a time of much soul searching, asking for forgiveness from those whom we’ve hurt or otherwise wronged. We commit to entering the new year having repented our missteps and wrongdoing. There are fervent prayers that God will hear and accept our repentance and grant us one more year to love, one more year to learn and strive, one more year to offer kindness, gratitude and help to those in need. Although I have shifted from one kind of written expression to another, I nevertheless pray for one more year to write, one more year to use my words for good and for healing whether spoken or written. Amen.

Debra Davick — Heaven’s Papers, Please Copy

Once you’ve lost a parent, or anyone close, there are times when little things crop up that you wish you could share. Some adult children, accustomed to daily check-ins with Mom or Dad catch themselves going for the phone and then realizing there’s no one left to call on the other end. Or you’ll read a book or see something fabulous that your loved one would have enjoyed. And all you can do is imagine their pleasure.  All you can say is, “Oh, Mom would have loved this!”

One of Emma's designs for chasingpaper.com

One of Emma’s designs for chasingpaper.com

I had such a moment today. Our daughter Emma has just had her first wallpaper collection mentioned in Vogue’s online magazine.* It’s been quite a big day. I was running around all morning when her text came through that the piece had gone live.  I rushed home and before clicking the link, I called Emma to share the moment with her as I first laid eyes on my daughter’s triumph. Savoring the moment, I told her what a charge her Grandma Dolly would have gotten out of this.  Vogue!  Vogue was my mother’s bible. There were copies of this slick and beautiful magazine with its stark models dressed in sumptuous clothes stacked on the coffee table in our living room and on my mother’s nightstand.  Every once in a while I’d come across tear sheets featuring Balenciaga gowns and Chanel bags slipped into books and random kitchen drawers.

And now Emma’s art has found its way into Vogue. My mother would have crowed with glee, pride and a bit of puffed up ownership that her granddaughter had managed such a coup. “I can just see my mother,” I fantasized to Emma. “clearing her throat and demanding the attention of all those present.  ‘You, over there! Put down that harp!  I’ve got an announcement to make – my granddaughter’s wallpaper designs are in Vogue!  And you! Straighten your halo! Brush that feather from your eyes. This is a red letter day. Have you ever seen such beautiful colors?”

Although my mother wasn’t a steady presence in my kids’ lives, Emma has much of her panache and fashion sense. She has my mother’s hand. The first time I saw one of Emma’s pencil sketches of an interior, tears welled in my eyes.  She draws just like my mother did — with nearly identical felicity and economy of line, with eerie echoes of my mother’s whimsy and emotional accuracy. Grandma Dolly would have absolutely trilled with glee.

Although never in Vogue, my mother was always au courant.

Although never in Vogue, my mother was always au courant.

But she’s not here to tell. There’s no number I can call and say, “Mom, guess what your granddaughter did today.” And so I simply enjoy this day and my daughter’s accomplishment on my own, knowing, hoping that in some corner of the Heavens Dolly Bourke is thrilled.

 

 

 

*scroll to page two to see Emma’s wallpaper                                                                                           Enjoy Emma’s whole collection at chasingpaper.com.                                                                       Click on each wallpaper sample to see it in situ.

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.

From Rainbows to Ruination?

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Martin captured this after a rain shower in Sedona.

Each year, the cycle of reading the Torah (Hebrew Bible) begins anew. Across the world, in every synagogue the same parasha (section) is read, either specific selections for those synagogues on a triennial cycle of reading, or the entire section. Yesterday we read the section titled Noah. Again and again we do this, reading the same texts. And it is never the same experience, for we are different each year. Year after year, we come to the text from different places in our intellectual and emotional growth. Noah, animals, rainbow, and then in the same section the story of Babel, the building of a tower in an effort to reach the Divine. Same stories, different insights. Each and every year.

This year, something new struck me as I read the story of Babel. The floodwaters have receded; we have read the groupings of Noah’s descendants; we are told that from these groupings, nations were formed and branched out across the earth. And all of these nations speak the same language.  Driven by hubris and ego, they set out to build a city and a tower whose top would reach into the sky “to make a name for ourselves” the text tells us, “else we shall be scattered all over the world.”

Well God wasn’t too keen on human beings using the commonality of their language to build a tower to the heavens in an effort to be known far and wide. “If as one people with one language for all, this is how they have begun to act, then nothing that they may propose will be out of their reach.  Let us, then, go down and confound their speech there, so that they shall not understand one another’s speech.” 

And that’s where this year’s reading stopped me in my tracks. So that they shall not understand one another’s speech.  Coming off a week where Jews in Israel are being stabbed and murdered willy nilly and the world pretty much stays silent, or in the case of one reporter reality is completely distorted, where the phrase I just can’t understand you echoes between spouses, siblings, friends and more, I wondered at this Divine intervention. Don’t think me blasphemous for questioning God’s motivations in this chapter. It is the Jew’s birthright. We are called the People Israel because yisroel means “to struggle with God.”

What a legacy for us all not to be able to understand one another’s speech! The people of Babel were punished for using their commonality of speech to go where they weren’t supposed to go and think thoughts of grandeur and ego they weren’t supposed to think. I sat there pondering this as the Bar Mitzvah boy continued his fluid and confident chanting of the rest of the section. What if we all still spoke the same language? Would we continue to conspire in the wrong direction? Would we have found a way toward understanding one another’s hearts and plights?

We use the phrase “we speak the same language” as short hand for “this person and I, we are in tune with one another. We understand one another.”  Sometimes when we “speak the same language” with someone, words are unnecessary. We know what the other is trying to express; we know what the other needs without their having to ask; we know what to do because by saying “we speak the same language,” we are saying the other isn’t really other, but us.

I have no resolution for this column. Nothing as pretty and breathtaking as a rainbow.  I wonder at this week’s juxtaposition: in the section that forever joins the rainbow’s glory to God’s Promise that He will never again destroy the world, we seem to be on that path nevertheless because, our speech Divinely confounded, we no longer understand one another and cannot seem to find the way to do so.

His Lens/My Pen + Great Harvest = Synergy

Great Harvest's Honey Whole Wheat

Great Harvest’s Honey Whole Wheat

“My first question to you,” Tina Yancey said, “is why you think your His Lens/My Pen greeting cards are a fit for our store?”  A fair enough question.

Tina and her husband took over the local Great Harvest Bread Company some time ago. It’s been part of my routine on tiling days at Song and Spirit to bring a loaf of bread to the lunch table for my fellow volunteer tilers to enjoy. In the past year I’d noticed a big change in the store.  The atmosphere felt warmer.  There was new cute merchandise for sale — sweet aprons and kitchen towels — and an inviting kiddy table by the window, scattered with crayons and drawing paper. These touches made me wonder if there might be some synergy there, no matter how far-flung it might seem at first glance, to offer our His Lens/My Pen greeting cards in a bread shop.

I told Tina that I had no idea if bread and greeting cards would make a good match. But I did know that she had brought a feeling to her store that inspired warmth and connection, and that’s what our cards did, too. Would she give us a chance?

She offered us a four-hour time slot to create a pop-up shop — a one-time event during which we Let Beauty Comfort You Cardcould make our cards available to customers coming in for their great breads, scones and cookies. Marketing research in real time. If we were successful, she would give strong consideration to carrying His Lens/My Pen at Great Harvest. As an initial vote of confidence, Tina  purchased our Difficult Times card to offer in her sympathy baskets.

Right or wrong, selling can take on a negative squirmy-vibe strong-arming connotation. I’ve tried to surround our His Lens/My Pen adventure in a spirit of sharing and connecting — sharing with others what we are doing, engaging with people and offering a way for them to connect, through our images and words, with their friends and loved ones.

Sunset Plovers watermarkedIn addition to our cards, I’ve also enlarged and matted some of Martin’s photographs that we’ll offer as well. If you’re on his list, you know his gift of capturing images that drop your jaw and lift your heart. So if you’re local, drop by Great Harvest Bread Company on Adams Road (at Lincoln) in Birmingham, MI. October 15th from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm. We’ll be there. A portion of all sales will be donated to Gleaners Community Food Bank.

Pregnancy in Reverse — short-short fiction

I am cleaning my office, going thru old files and found this piece of writing.  It isn’t dated but I figure it’s from at least a decade ago if not more.  So here goes, a piece of fiction from the past.

caramel-applePregnancy in Reverse

I always thought that there was no greater grief than to watch a child die. I still do. But let’s face it.  Who better to be at the child’s deathbed? To hold the hand, sponge the brow. Who better to answer the groans of pain with shushes of comfort?  Seems like yesterday I was steadying Madeleine’s head over the toilet as she retched up four blocks’ worth of Halloween loot.  Triangles of candy corn. Pyramids of Hershey’s kisses. An entire rainbow of Now or Laters. Now it’s later. Three decades later. It’s chemo now, not caramel apples. But still, who better than a mother?

Watching my child die is more painful than a thousand births. Ten thousand births. There’s no episiotomy in the world that’ll close this tear in my flesh. But this is how the dice were thrown. I’m glad I was at the table.

Having kids is a gamble anyway. Biggest gamble there is. You never know the hand you’re going to be dealt. But you have to play it and play it round after round even if you keep drawing black queens and suicide jacks.

Madeleine was a nipple biter from the minute she grew teeth and she’s stayed that way her whole life. Being mean just because she could. Vindictive for the sport of it. Seeing injury where none was intended. Going for the jugular when all someone lobbed her way was a cat scratch.

Maybe cancer’s her payback for living like she owed nothing to no one. I gotta tell you, the day she called and told me, I couldn’t help it. First thought that came to me was small enough to drown in a teaspoon, but it was there just the same: serves you right for causing so much spite to so many. Not very loving of me but there you go.

You learn fast how to deal with a nipple biter. You remove the breast. You give her room. You get outta the way. I had one moment thinking Madeleine was getting her comeuppance. But it was only a moment. God forgive me it was only a moment, a wretched thought plastered over by everything that should have come first: shock, grief, desperation. And anger. Anger that this has befallen my beautiful spiteful daughter. Anger at Maddy for refusing to go for mammograms. “What do I need with those? I’m not mashing my boobs in some vise just so some doctor can tell me, “All’s well; come back next year.” So now she won’t be coming back next year.

Ironical, no? The one thing I took from her at her life’s beginning is now the source of its ending. She can’t remember me slapping her face that morning she bit me. Damn girl drew blood. The signal shorted out my brain and went from my breast to the flat of my palm. She was just such a little thing. I cried for days over what I’d done. I iced her cheek good to be sure nothing showed before Ramie got home. As soon as the imprint of my fingers left her cheek, I packed her up in the stroller and set out for Walgreen’s to fetch more bottles and formula.

“Jessamyn, what a sweet little doll,” April Lanier said when she saw us. Hollywood hadn’t yet dreamed up Chuckie. If they had, I might have said something about Maddy that I would have regretted. April’s eyes flickered over the elastic waistband of my slacks. Her right hand brushed against her flat stomach and she volleyed a small smile in my direction.

“Yes, she is,” I agreed. “Maddy’s a true joy.  Off to get diapers and some formula. You know, the drudgery of motherhood.” I tried to sound aggrieved. Which wasn’t too hard considering my left tit was still smarting to bead the band. But not smarting so much that I didn’t volley April a farewell of my own.

“I swan, April, that waist of yours is so slender. I bet my wedding ring would go ’round it with room to spare.”  I made sure she saw my eyes skimming her naked left hand. Who knows. Maybe by the time Madeleine bit me she’d also drunk in my tendency to spite as well. Maybe she’d had her fill and just couldn’t take any more.

I don’t know how much more I’m going to be able to take. Watching her slip away. It’s like being pregnant in reverse. My belly growing month by month big as the moon. Her slipping away to a skinny crescent. Feeling her poke my insides, all elbows and knees and now seeing her spindly limbs push at the sheets in jerks and fits. Me vomiting every morning; and now it’s her turn. Soon, the only place she’ll be is in my mind and my heart; same as she was before the apple left my eye for my womb.

I’m glad Ramie isn’t here to see this. He loved her so much. Blind to her spite. But then, she never showed him any. No, spite was our special sauce. What I wouldn’t give for one last caramel apple.   Just one     more     bite.                                                                                                                                                      .