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Flawed Memories

Image: My Bubby and me, August 8, 2013

There’s nothing romantic about death.

You say goodbye to someone you love, or someone you’ve known or someone you didn’t know so well or someone you wish you’d known better, or someone you liked a little or liked a lot or really didn’t like very much at all. And when there is no life left in their body, when, in an instant, it becomes a temporary mass of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus, you are slapped with the reality that our bodies are only vessels and that’s one thing that is completely clear.

And where does the person go? Where is she now? Moments after her death? Days, years, centuries afterwards? Some have no idea, some have theories, others think they know.

I woke up 20 minutes after my grandmother died. It’s one of the things I’m struggling with, as though I should have been awake, even if I was thousands of miles away. Either my soul should have sensed it or I should have been told she was leaving so I could cry about it while she was still here. I am laden with guilt following my grandmother’s death, almost as though it is a way to hold on to something, instead of letting her become simply a memory. She is a weight on my shoulders, as though that will give me some control, an occupation, as though, if I feel guilty enough, maybe she’ll come back to let me finish the job of good granddaughter.

But I keep thinking about how Bubby herself dealt with death. The death of her beloved parents. The death of her beloved husband and her best friend in one year. The death of her second beloved husband. The death of her son in law which left her daughter a widow, just one month after she had become one for the second time. The death of other close friends and relatives…

And I think that that thing that takes me fully into a task, into a moment, the great joy I feel in my accomplishments, my laughs with good friends, my good times with my family… That thing which makes me revel in life and my heart burst with love… I can feel it moving me onto this next stage in my life and I think it is what kept my Bubby moving on, time and again.

The one time I heard my Bubby curse was the day I called to tell her I don’t keep Shabbat. I didn’t want to lie to her about my shabbatot in Vancouver and so I told her that I drive to synagogue on Shabbat and she got so angry at me. She said, “That’s bullshit!” and then she asked me to write her a letter explaining my choice.

And then we continued on in our relationship. She took immense pride in her personal, authentic relationships with her grandchildren and I took immense pride in my part in that.

And with all the realness, she cherished me. I was a far from perfect granddaughter but she just loved me.

It often felt as though Bubby possessed some kind of deeper understanding of the world than I do. Her “simple faith,” something I observed with awe, respect and envy from the other side of the chasm, gave her an aura of romance and beauty that made her very attractive.

And I think that her “simple faith” was one of the things that kept her consistently determined to put one step in front of the other with a smile.

Bubby wasn’t always easy. I think most of us who were close to her had many times that we felt frustrated with her. But I’m not upset with her today because those memories fall away and I just recall her love for us, her beauty, her constant singing, her great pride and her contagious enthusiasm. I suppose, if she’s also thinking about me, she will be thinking of the good, which is what she always did. She’ll be remembering our conversations, going out shopping together, eating together, praying on the High Holidays together… And she’ll be feeling great pride for the person I am, as she always did.

It’s hard to let go of the guilt. There is no one to blame my shortcomings on but myself. There is no one to apologize to. And I don’t want to kid myself into thinking I would have been different given a second chance. Saying that would mean disregarding the complexity of what was and the reasons behind how I am.

Life is a great balancing act and it’s full of stumbles, falls, scraped knees and scraped hearts.

But it’s also full of getting back up, of hugs and kisses and singing together and holding hands and laughing and reveling in life’s experiences together, and I’d like to think that if I were to say, “Bubby, I’m sorry for the times I got upset at you. I’m sorry for not calling more often during the last year of your life,” she might say, “I don’t remember you getting upset at me. And that last year was hard on us all. But Deena, why are you thinking about that? Don’t you remember all the times we laughed together? And you looked hysterical in those curlers. And you’re the best.”

The symbolic act of a walk

Today my Uncle Avrum got up from shiva, the seven day mourning period when the immediate relatives of the deceased sit on low chairs as friends, family and acquaintances pay respects. As his shiva came to an end, we stood by him and gave him our condolences for the passing of his mother, my grandmother. He then stood up, put on his outdoor shoes, put on his jacket and went for a walk around the block by himself.

Avrum’s first reventuring out into the world seemed almost like a rebirth as a new person into an altered world. He has spent the last week embraced by those who love him and now he’s begun his reintegration into the world.

On the one hand it is so sad to see my uncle take his first steps. On the other hand, the post-shiva walk symbolizes the inner strength of the individual, especially the strength of which we are unaware.

I know those steps were only the first of many which will sometimes feel heavy, sometimes empty and sometimes full of potential. When Avrum came back, I gave him a hug and we all sat back down with our loved ones to have breakfast and to talk. Because thankfully he the cocoon of the home and family will continue to be there, waiting for his return.

חזק ואמץ.

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The buzz killer

I’m currently participating in the JCC Association’s Innovation Lab: Jerusalem. I’m meeting dozens of dedicated JCC leaders from the United States who’ve come to Jerusalem to be inspired by local talent and initiatives and I’ve had the opportunity to get an up-close look at so much of Jerusalem’s innovation.

During these days I’ve thought a lot about what I do, shared my ideas with participants and it has helped me realize more than ever the importance of my work – both my social-cultural events and my Jerusalem events listing. I’ve also understood how these projects could probably be beautifully extrapolated to JCCs as well as other settings.

But this is not all as rose-colored as you might think.

I just spent the last two hours lying on my bed, staring at my Facebook newsfeed, and refreshing it repeatedly; anything not to deal with “reality.” Actually, even yesterday, as I was enthusiastically talking to people about what I do, I wasn’t actually doing what I was supposed to be doing. Namely, I was supposed to finalize dates for my upcoming events but I didn’t. I pushed it off yesterday and I didn’t take care of it today. Because for all the excitement and understanding, my cold feet remain. You’d think it would be the easiest thing in the world to set the date for my next event when I’m in the zone of feeling like my work is nothing less than a personal mission. And yet instead, just like every time before this, actually doing it, is feeling like a huge leap and yet again I need to work hard to muster up the courage to take it, which sometimes works and other times doesn’t.

It almost seems that there is a downside to dreaming big and feeling inspired. Over the last couple of days we’ve talked about great successes and grand dreams. But in the end, every success and dream is laden with that nitty-gritty work and that frustrating up-hill battle. And that’s not to mention the not-so-grand dreams, well, projects, that simply still need to get done. And yes, there are some people who consistently push through their challenges with their goals always in the forefront of their minds. But many others – myself included – get scared, wondering if it’s worth it, forget why we’re doing it.

The transition from inspired to mundane is painful. Inspiration is created by looking at the big picture. The grand picture. The meaningful picture. And getting things done is about the hours of wording a Facebook event, finding the right person for a job, managing said person, figuring out financing, trying to sell your idea to others, etc. etc.

And so after the conference is over and we settle back into our regular lives, I guess we’ll all sit back down at our (messy) desks, and along with our limitations, concerns, struggles and fears, we’ll put our noses to the grind and get back to the good ol’ mundane stuff, awaiting there patiently for us inspired souls, with the hope that something has shifted towards at least one of our grand dreams.

From one Jewish wanderer to another…

I can relate to finding a way to live in relative peace and comfort with a certain personally-defined lifestyle/outlook. But in my opinion and experience these are relatively short-lived (the same way the externally defined lifestyle+belief system is not sustainable). I think that’s first and foremost because they don’t successfully address the most important unanswered existential questions and issues, which at a certain point makes the lifestyle/system feel arbitrary and forced, even if was initially, supposedly, to a large extent self-defined.

The woman who made me eat pizza and the massage that enlightened me

Today I left work at 3:00pm in order to be at my physiotherapy appointment at 4:00pm. I got on an empty bus, sat at the back, and called my sister in order to discuss our next evil plan.

As you can imagine, I was worked up and excited about the suffering we’re planning to inflict on a group of people this coming Thursday (spoiler!). That mixed with bad reception on her end and a bluetooth on my end had me talking in, let’s say, a vibrant voice.

Meanwhile a whole bunch of other passengers had boarded.

Except more bitchy (photo source)
Except more bitchy (photo source)

And then she hit. I frown as I write this because it made me so sad. A woman in the seat across from me started mumbling loudly to herself in Russian and somehow got across that it was about me she was being grumpy. I turned to her and said in Hebrew, “You just had to ask” and she said something mean and bitchy again about how uncouth I am for talking so loudly, “As if you’re at home.” Then I said, “Oh, you’re really nice” (in sarcasm, of course – it was the best I could come up with to at least attempt to instill some guilt in the lady’s soul) and then she said something mean and bitchy, part in Hebrew, part in Russian.

Blah blah blah, these things aren’t supposed to upset you. Stop wanting to tell me that. Stop thinking about how obviously it wasn’t personal and obviously she is just a bitter angry woman. It hurts and I was angry and I quickly began fantasizing revenge. Yes, right before Yom Kippur (because any other time of year would be more opportune?).

Specifically, I imagined jumping up, grabbing her goddam book of number games and shaking it to oblivion in the air, crushing it and then tearing out some of the pages. For some reason, only some. Maybe so she’d feel like she owes me.

My now-changed evil planning (first it was with my sister about Thursday, then it was all in my head about right then with the mean woman next to me) truly helped pass the time. How wondrous!

I arrived at my destination with 10 minutes to spare, walked by the pizza place and felt drawn towards it. I felt like I neeeeded that pizza after being made to feel so low.

And so I indeed ate that pizza.

It made me feel better knowing I still have control over when I eat one of the foods I avoid (cheese – not pizza per say). How lucky.

I went in for my appointment supposedly feeling a little better, still finding it hard to smile at my friendly physiotherapist. He asked me if I feel a difference in my back pain from doing the exercises and I said I don’t. He said, well let’s do some work on you then.

Suddenly I found myself lying stomach down on a massage table and he gave me a totally relaxing massage, loosening up my back muscles, particularly those that make me jump the most. He explained that this is in order to help the exercises work more easily.

I am a smirking yoga tree. Of course. (photo source)
I am a smirking yoga tree. Of course. (photo source)

Which made me realize.

Just like a body massage can help loosen things up, we also need soul massages to loosen up the crap there.

How exactly does one administer a soul massage, you might ask? Here are some ideas I came up with. I did #4 and #5 and felt much much better:

  1. Watch TV
  2. Meditate
  3. Go for a walk
  4. Make a list of things you’re lucky about in your life but only things you actually are able to feel lucky about at the moment you write them.
  5. Write our your thoughts and feelings in a private place (not for publishing).

Life whacks us around. We (well, I, and probably you too) need soul massages at least once daily in order to fortify against the poo. Life is just too poo-ful to get through without a soulful combating strategy.

My mediocre pursuit of mediocrity

The Jewish new year is imminently upon us and amazingly, I remember my resolution from the beginning of the year that is coming to an end. The one new year resolution I had was to stop pursuing perfection.

So how did I fare? Have I internalized more that idealizing perfection is a creativity and fulfillment killer?

Well, it’s complicated, I’d have to say.

I’ve exposed my perfection demons to my consciousness. I’ve become more familiar with how they behave, how connected I am to them and what I think about them.

Being more aware of their presence has allowed me to make some exciting and scary decisions. Namely, I am spending my days on things more connected to my talents and loves. This is an amazing development and couldn’t have happened unless I was more able to admit that I can pursue my passions without being perfect in them. It’s so much easier to fail at something that isn’t a dream.

But now that I’m doing more of what I really want to be doing, my expectations of myself and of my life have skyrocketed which hasn’t been fun.

Tapping into my hopes and dreams makes failure seem scarier than ever.

Bottom line? In a perfectly  mediocre manner I am succeeding beautifully at fighting my urge for perfection. I am allowing myself to pursue my dreams despite my fear of failing and I am fighting my pursuit of perfection when so much more is at stake.

How did you fare with your resolutions from last Rosh Hashana?

Shana tova. :)

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Using “Could” instead of “Should”

I’ve yet again had enough of my should voice. It is my incessant personal judge. It tricks me into thinking that there is always some ultimate way of behaving in every single given situation.

But my intellect has since matured and I see how much those shoulds are lacking in complexity and understanding.

So suddenly, a few days ago, I had an epiphany. I decided that whenever I catch myself saying that I should behave in a certain way, I’m going to switch the word (or idea) with “could.”

And so far, I must say that it has been a great success. I am finding my narrow-minded pressure making space for a world of choices.

Examples

OK fine, you want some examples? I’ll give them to you but please keep in mind that I think they sound pretty stupid when said out loud. Eek. :/

Here you go:

Should: Deena, it’s after midnight! You shouldn’t be up this late.
Could: You could be up this late. Or you could go to sleep.
The experience: Much less stress around the experience. It isn’t as if I sinned for being up after midnight nor will it be a sin if I stay up longer.

Should: Deena, it’s so bad that you’re leaving the heat on so much. So expensive and frivolous.
Could: Deena, you could have the heat on less if you want.
The experience: Understanding that my actions are not the be all and end all of money-spending and energy-using. Perspective.

Should: You should read all the old material from the first version of this blog post to make sure you don’t lose something that’s written really well.
Could: You could read all the old stuff from yesterday or you could just delete it. Whatev.
The experience: Letting go. Not worrying too much about the repercussions of my actions as if they are so critical.
P.S. I didn’t read it over. I just deleted the old stuff.

Should: I should include a picture with this post.
Could: I could include a picture with this post.
The experience: Get over it. Or, just stop it.

Should: I should feel offended by what he said.
Could: I could feel offended by what he said.
The experience: I could just let it slide. I will survive and so will my ego.

For the most part, the shift in thought is opening up my moments to opportunity as opposed to confining me to one supposedly righteous way.  The shift in my experience is from heaviness and seriousness to being more easy-going and lighthearted. So, so far so good.

Yes, I should have a proper ending to this post but I just can’t think of one!

I could have a proper ending. But I guess I won’t.

Tata!

Happiness, making the best, blah blah blah

Here is one of the recent pictures going around Facebook:

"The happiest people don't have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything."

What’s wrong with this quote

Am I the only one that cringes from this kind of quote? I think it’s just annoying that it is assumed we’re all on the same page with a lot of the lofty terms mentioned here. Lets go through them:

The happy person

There is an assumption that we know what it means to be a “happy person.” From a quote like this, I automatically picture tranquil, smiley, laughing people. (AKA, those annoying happy people.) But what is true happiness?

Making the best

There is also an assumption that we’re supposed to know what it means to “make the best” out of something. I picture the person being faced with a terrible situation. This person who is excellent at making the best out of everything, quickly takes a good look at the facts and pick out the one, tiny little good thing about the situation and feels good about it.

But is that making the best? Or is that lying to yourself? I don’t believe in making “the best” out of any situation because that alludes to making everything seem OK when it isn’t OK. I think that truly making the best means rolling with the punches, feeling how one is made to feel from whatever is experienced. Appreciating whatever one can appreciate without believing that one is supposed to feel great.

The best things in life

Finally, there is an assumption that we all know what the best things in life are. What does that even mean, the best things? Who is to judge who has the best things and who doesn’t?

So who are the happiest people then?

I believe that the happiest people are those who aren’t desperately looking for happiness. They are the ones who wouldn’t think of making this sign. They are the ones who just don’t focus on happiness and whether or not they have it.

They are also people who try to make good things happen for themselves and others and they don’t really think about whether or not they have what they supposedly deserve. They don’t even go there.

Who do you think are the happiest people?

Important lessons from this past year

Tonight is Rosh Hashana. Everyone is writing their introspective thoughts on Facebook, emailing shana tova blessings and calling each other. And yes, I’m also feeling introspective and extro-spective. I am looking at my world thinking about what’s gone down and what hasn’t. Feeling grateful for all the wonderful things in my life and sad about the tragedy of life.

I’m working in the same company as last year but have since learned plenty about content, about online stuff and most recently, learning a ton about project management – my most recent position. I’m learning how to work with all kinds of people. I’m learning when to take charge, when to make decisions and when to lean on those around me.

I’m learning about the cyclical nature of relationships. I’m learning about the importance of keeping the peace and keeping the relationships good with those closest to me. I am learning that if both sides will it, it’s usually possible.

I’m learning that I’m not always perfect so I should really get over that idea.

I’m learning that it’s so often not about me.

I’m learning that life is most definitely a bed of roses – it is full of wonderful fragrances, beautiful views and lots of thorns.

I’m learning that it’s really easy to want something you don’t have.

I’m learning to appreciate the time I have, the health I have, the people I have, right now.

I’m learning that sometimes it is best to follow the recipe.

And, thank God, I’m learning to be a nicer person.

And why do I write this all in present tense? Because none of this ends. It is all part of the process of my life.

Shana tova umetuka,

Deena

The most important moment of the week

I heard a talk a while ago around the idea that Judaism is a religion where time is the most important thing. Now someone just told me he heard a talk where the rabbi said that the most important moment of the week is the moment when we go from week day into Shabbat. Our lives, potentially, revolve around that moment. We rush all week, maybe especially right before Shabbat, then we light the candles and *poof*, we’re in a new realm of existence. Not that anything really changed but it did.

When this guy shared that idea with me, I said that it almost made me feel like fully keeping Shabbat again. : ) It seems so powerful, almost like it reminds us that we have the power. We think that life is just pushing us along but we choose to stop it all. Of course we could choose not to and of course some people don’t even feel that they are choosing to keep Shabbat, but if you can feel that you’re choosing to keep it – I mean seriously, you don’t have to, right? – then you can experience freedom through this.

And is freedom not what we all want? True freedom?