"If it's not fun, why do it?"

Posts tagged ‘Spirituality’

Mikvah Mysteries

Mikvah Entrance in Djerba Tunisia-Avi AlpertMikvah Entrance in Djerba Tunisia
(by Avi Alpert, used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I recently read a blog post by Lieba Rudolph, “What Makes the Mikvah So Mysterious?” She discusses misconceptions and perceptions of the ritual immersion that married Jewish women perform after their monthly menstruation cycle has finished.

My take on what makes the mikvah so mysterious is just that: mystery. Our secular culture infantilizes sexuality and our holy Jewish culture keeps it hidden and refined. Modern Americans do not sit easily with mystery and the sublime. We want facts, entertainment and unfortunately, enjoy titillation. Jewish children are not educated about mikvah until they are ready for marriage… or in the playground, if at all.

How can something associated with the duties of the High Priest be associated with family life? After all, in school they learn about mikvah in the context of the services of the Holy Temple. Readings in the Torah mention immersion numerous times. Any connection with marriage does not compute. I’m not an educator or a Rabbi so I do not have suggestions how–or if–to introduce the topic to our young adults with the needed sensitivity and seriousness. But I think there is a place for that type of education so we raise a community of people committed to marriage and not, G-d forbid, opting to choose divorce or promiscuity.

The real issue relies upon inculcating our children and immersing them in authentic Jewish culture (not low humor, nor bagels and lox jokes of the Borscht Belt). TV Jews are secular ones who can’t differentiate between customs and merchandising. Any Torah-observant (i.e., Orthodox) Jews in the media seem to be strange-minded, oddball characters, with quaint customs, or criminals with misconduct unbecoming anyone let alone a G-d-fearing Jew. The home atmosphere is important because we cannot shield them from outside influences. The more aware they become of how irreverently and ridiculed authentic Jewish practice is presented in modern secular media, the more they will value our way of life.

The mystery is part of us, and part of our connection with G-d.

 

 

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Happiness Is My Choice, 11

Windowsill

Looking up and outside all I see is possibilities.

Sitting on the sofa, glancing outside: the window blinds are open, sunlight illuminates the plants on the windowsill, the sky is blue, and  a mug of coffee steaming on a coaster — life is good.

I woke up. Yikes, those birds are loud!  Look! It’s a whole hour earlier than I’d planned to wake up. Better turn off the alarm clock so it doesn’t startle me later. Don’t want the toes to be cold; slide feet into the fuzzy slippers. My knees creak as I walk across the room. The mirror catches my eye. My hair looks like the rooster’s pride!

I woke up.

I woke up.

The furnace clicks on and the blower purrs warm air. An unseasonable freeze grabbed the region last night. I’m warm and decently clad. Heat some water for the coffee. Breakfast choices? I’ll settle for oatmeal, my old favorite.

Thank you G-d for starting my day with comfort and optimism. Did I ever thank you for the color green? Thanks. And thank you for hair I can simply tame with the pass of a hairbrush.

Happiness is My Choice, 10

There’s a lot to be said about the practice of contemplation and self-improvement. In these days between the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur—the so-called Ten Days of Repentance—we turn our thoughts toward our actions and character traits which have allowed us to act in a particular manner. This period is a time for appreciation of our freedom to use our wills for good or for selfish ends. We don’t flagellate ourselves when we find ourselves lacking; rather, we contemplate the means to change ourselves for the better.

I liken this week to an employee performance review. Like the yearly progress assessment, we review our success in achieving goals set in the previous season and we formulate future goals. Where do I excel? How can I parlay this strength toward future endeavors? Where can I be better? What tools can I use to improve what is sub-par? Have I failed utterly in any area? What is taking me off track? And if I just can’t proceed in that positive direction yet, what is holding me back? On Yom Kippur, we give a full accounting to the Boss and state how we may improve ourselves toward fulfilling the Company’s goals.

Rather than castigate and flagellate myself for perceived imperfections, I can choose to look at this annual review as an opportunity to learn more about myself. Others may quake in their shoes, fearing punishment and retribution, but I choose to take the opportunity to reboot myself as it were, and get a fresh start.

Rabbi Ezra Schwartz reminded us on Rosh Hashanah that we are not bad people. We just need improvements.

Improvements. This thought makes me … happy. Otherwise, I would be so despondent all of the time, wallowing in guilt and unhappiness for my failures and inconsistencies. If I could not take the opportunity to move on from today into an improved tomorrow, I would feel like the executioner’s sword was inching closer and closer—sure doom—defining my fate. We have so many characteristics that make us who we are. Some are expressed at the wrong times, others are not expressed often enough. Our characteristics are many, like the seeds of the pomegranate which—once you find them and use them—can be a delight for the eye and palate.

Instead of facing severe punishment, we are given a chance to take our measure accurately, and alter the pattern. The Hebrew word middah (מִדָה) literally means “a measurement,” and also refers to character traits. How poorly clothing would fit if the tailor could not make adjustments to the pattern. So, too, we are given the ability to contemplate the pattern and adjust the reality. We are given a new chance at life, forgiveness, and our eyes are opened to our true characters!

Yeah, it’s scary facing our shortcomings. I don’t like admitting where I’ve failed, fallen short, not risen to the moment or shown the darker side of myself. but rather than quake with trepidation, I’m calculating, building, planning, adjusting. I’m using my Ten Days of Repentance to adjust the template and shift the pattern.

Hope! Everyone gets a second chance; not everyone can use it properly. I’m taking this opportunity to increase my internal awareness and assess how good it can get. This is my choice, leading to happiness.

For all of my friends and not-yet friends, I wish you a meaningful period of contemplation, leading to a fulfilling Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement, to be sealed in the Book of Life for a good year!

What I’d tell my 22-year old self

Fear

Fear” by Kevin B 3, used under CC BY 2.0

That self-assured girl I was at 22 knew everything. She was afraid, however, she’d be seen for the impostor she was. Set loose after post-college dreams of Ivy League grad schools were dashed, she lacked direction. She wanted love and marriage, because, that’s what you do when you’re grown up. She expected to have a stellar career since she went to a name-brand university where they created the aura of superiority. She had good health and an open road ahead. But she refused to stretch her wings to the fullest and coasted on the breezes cast in the wake of others.

If I could have spoken to her then I would have told her to not give in to fear. Fear of trying due to fear of failure or imperfection stalled her and clipped her wings.

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
—Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933

Failure. Fear keeps us from doing things that are out of our reach. We are a culture driven by success and aptitude. Nobody hails the second place winner. Ability and cunning outpace agreeability and geniality. Fear freezes our ambition and whispers, “Don’t go there. Don’t try that. You might fail.”

So what if we fail? I’m not of the “no pain, no gain” persuasion. I don’t advocate creating pain or difficulty. If we fail… the first time we do something…we leave room for improvement, for mastery of a technique. Skill builds itself through trial and error. Think of the musician practicing hour after hour. Think how baseball players practice hitting the ball over and over again. Think about learning to ride a bicycle. After all, who hasn’t fallen off the bike once or twice before getting the hang of this skill?

What are we afraid of? Who said “good enough” wasn’t good enough? We illogically fear not being totally adept at the first try of something new. We fear imperfection because of potential ridicule or being shown to be vulnerable. Perhaps, too, we fear competition. Not only do we need to be perfect, but we need to be perfect ahead of others. This sets us up for failure, something we fear above all. But that’s not all.

Our society demands perfection. I think some of this attitude comes from expectations created by the nascent machine age. Once upon a time craftsmanship was valued and individual variation was expected. Suddenly, mass production allowed conformity and constancy of product. “As good as store-bought” became the measuring stick for handmade items. Our expectations rose as machines could produce items better, faster and cheaper.

Our schools pit students against each other. We are taught to vie for the highest marks, to outshine our peers. If we do not achieve as well as the others in our group, we are “less than.” Nobody wants to be an underdog. Everyone wants to be first in the class. Harvard accepts the cream of the crop. Accolades go to perfect SAT scorers.

Analog, September 1995

Analog, September 1995

Sports set teams or individuals against each other, too. You may assist your teammates, but the other team is the enemy, to be defeated. There can only be one winner. I read a science fiction story where three teams compete for victory at the same time, but the highest scores were awarded when two teams worked cooperatively!(1) What an alternate world scenario that was!

I would have told my 22-year old self that half the fun of the trip is getting there. It’s alright to travel into uncharted lands and test the waters of seas not yet sailed. If I had quit the first time I fell off my bicycle I would not have had the hours of enjoyment and freedom of travel that the bike afforded me. If I had thrown down my knitting needles at the first dropped stitch or wonky scarf I would have missed the satisfaction of wearing items I made by my own hand. If I never committed my thoughts to this blog I would be poorer for not even trying.

I’ve spent countless hours “in the zone” fixing a seam or painting, practicing a guitar piece, learning computer code. Flow (the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity) feels great! You can lose yourself in something for hours and come out refreshed as if time had not passed. A way of getting into flow is the natural repetition of practicing a skill, repeating what you don’t know—and it doesn’t require mastery, just attention.

On the other hand, fear quenches flow and its attendant happiness, putting doubt, timidity, and uncertainty to the forefront. “You can’t grow when fear binds ropes around your hands and heart,” I would have said to my younger self. “Stretch your wings and try everything once, twice, maybe a few times more. Taste the world and savor its sweetness and variety.”

Stepping out of our comfort zone can be terrifying. But as President Roosevelt said, it can be unreasoning and unjustified. For today, I shall dip my toe into the waters of uncertainty…and sail upon a new sea to destinations unknown.

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(1) Touchdown, Touchdown, Rah Rah Rah! W.R. Thompson, Analog/Astounding Science Fiction, September 1995, pp. 12-64.

Video

How Do We Make Sense

Candle of HopeHow do we make sense of a tragedy such as that which befell the Sassoon family in Brooklyn last Friday night?

We cannot. We are too small, too limited. We can’t see what the Creator and Sustainer has in His plans. All we can rely upon is our simple faith that all G-d does is Good. That there IS a purpose and meaning to everything. That this family did not perish in vain.

I am no philosopher, ethicist, religious expert, or authority. I’m just a woman, a mother and wife, who cries and trembles in the face of this disaster. I try to put it sensibly in my world, but there is no sense, no bounds that can hold the magnitude of the horror. I can’t make sense of it. I can’t process the enormity. My heart is too stunned to be breaking and yet I go on with my quotidian life.

But it will not be the same. How do I make sense of this tragedy? I cannot.

So in come the experts to help us through. Chai Lifeline is an organization dedicated to serving seriously ill children and their families, and provides crisis intervention, counseling services, and community services amongst its many functions. On Sunday night, March 22, they sponsored several speakers to help people process tragedy. I heard the speakers in a live videocast. Today they were released on YouTube. I am presenting links to two of the talks, Rabbis Joey Haber and Yisroel Reisman.

Their messages are incredible and solace can be gained from each. Solace and comfort, but no understanding as the Rabbis themselves do not understand. As Rabbi Haber said, “It’s crazy.”

May there be a total recovery for the mother, Gila bas Francis, and the sister, Tziporah bas Gila. Blessed be the memory of the ones taken so young. May the One Who gives comfort be a Comfort to all of the family and community.

Rabbi Joey Haber: Making Sense of the Midwood Tragedy


Rabbi Yisroel Reisman: Making Sense of the Midwood Tragedy

 

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(Photo credit: “A Candle of Hope” by ArcheiaMuriel, used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

Video

Happiness is My Choice, 6

Jeremy Bennett is a man who suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and depression. He was able to retrain his thoughts and diminish the effects (he says he “beat it”) of his condition.  His message is clear: you mind does billions of things and you can control [some –ed.] of your thoughts. I ascribe to much of what he has to say. I learned greatly from Dr. Bernie Siegel, pediatric surgeon and author of The Art of Healing, and Love, Medicine & Miracles. He showed how the body’s healing mechanisms can be harnessed to healing–with cancer patients. Powerful stuff.

I’m not saying that positive thinking and harnessing your thoughts can vanquish serious diseases. Rather, I’m highlighting that much of the “Happiness is My Choice” outlook relies upon harnessing the power of our minds, training our thoughts to go in positive directions. I truly believe this activity can alleviate the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even other life-threatening illnesses. This is wholly within the purview of traditional Jewish thought. It’s not spooky stuff. It’s part of a spiritual outlook. Living this way leads to health, or barring that, it leads to acceptance and handling of difficult situations.

Psalms 100:2 says: עִבְדוּ אֶת-יְהוָה בְּשִׂמְחָה; בֹּאוּ לְפָנָיו, בִּרְנָנָה (Serve G-d with gladness; come before Him with singing.)

Align our hearts with gladness and song. When we turn our thoughts toward the positive, we can choose to be happy. Ancient wisdom for today’s times.

This is a well-made video. I hope you enjoy it.

Video

Happiness is My Choice, 5

I can act and do one small thing in my corner of the world to make a difference for the good without world-changing impact.
A new beginning starts within me.


Few will have the greatness to bend history
But each of us can work to change a small portion of events

—Prince EA1


(c) Prince EA


 

The world is coming to an end
The air is polluted, the oceans contaminated
The animals are going extinct, the economy’s collapsed
Education is shot, police are corrupt
Intelligence is shunned and ignorance rewarded
The people are depressed and angry
We can't live with each other and we can't live with ourselves
So everyone’s medicated
We pass each other on the streets
And if we do speak it's meaningless robotic communication
More people want 15 seconds of fame
Than a lifetime of meaning and purpose
Because what’s popular is more important than what’s right
Ratings are more important than the truth
Our government builds twice as many prisons than schools
It’s easier to find a Big Mac than an apple
And when you find the apple
It's been genetically processed and modified
Presidents lie, politicians trick us
Race is still an issue and so is religion
Your God doesn’t exist, my God does and he is All-Loving
If you disagree with me I'll kill you
Or even worse argue you to death
92% of songs on the radio are about sex
Kids don’t play tag, they play twerk videos
The average person watches 5 hours of television a day
And it's more violence on the screen than ever before
Technology has given us everything we could ever want
And at the same time stolen everything we really need
Pride is at an all time high, humility, an all time low
Everybody knows everything, everybody’s going somewhere
Ignoring someone, blaming somebody
Not many human beings left anymore, a lot of human doings
Plenty of human lingerings in the past, not many human beings
Money is still the root of all evil
Yet we tell our kids don’t get that degree
The jobs don’t pay enough
Good deeds are only done when there's a profit margin
Videos of the misfortunes of others go viral
We laugh and share them with our friends to laugh with us
Our role models today
60 years ago would have been examples of what not to be
There are states where people can legally be discriminated against 
Because they were born a certain way
Companies invest millions of dollars hiring specialists to make 
Little girls feel like they need “make up” to be beautiful 
Permanently lowering their self esteem
Because they will never be pretty enough
To meet those impossible standards
Corporations tell us buy, buy, buy, get this, get that
You must keep up, you must fit in
This will make you happy, but it never does for long
So what can we do in the face of all of this madness and chaos?
What is the solution? We can love
Not the love you hear in your favorite song on the radio
I mean real love, true love, boundless love
You can love, love each other
From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed
Perform an act of kindness because that is contagious
We can be mindful during every interaction
Planting seeds of goodness
Showing a little more compassion than usual
We can forgive
Because 300 years from now will that grudge you hold against 
Your friend, your mother, your father have been worth it?
Instead of trying to change others we can change ourselves
We can change our hearts
We have been sold lies
Brainwashed by our leaders and those we trust
To not recognize our brothers and sisters
And to exhibit anger, hatred and cruelty
But once we truly love we will meet anger with sympathy
Hatred with compassion, cruelty with kindness
Love is the most powerful weapon on the face of the Earth
Robert Kennedy once said that
Few will have the greatness to bend history
But each of us can work to change a small portion of events
And in the total of all those acts
Will be written in the history of a generation
So yes, the world is coming to an end
And the path towards a new beginning starts within you

 
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1. Richard Williams, better known by his stage name Prince Ea, is an American rapper and activist. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Ea>, accessed February 2, 2015.
2. Lyrics on Genius.com. “Why I Think This World Should End” by Prince Ea

Happiness is My Choice, 4

I attended a funeral last week. Yesterday I attended a wedding. The circle of life constantly wheels around.

Sublime Happiness - the Bride at Her Wedding

Sublime Happiness – the Bride at Her Wedding

A woman from my congregation passed away, the first person I actually knew since I’ve moved to NYC who died. Her death occupied my mind after I learned of it. She wasn’t particularly young, but she didn’t seem quite old. I spoke to her at a congregational function a few weeks ago, just a few words, and didn’t remark that she looked ill or odd. No death touches nobody; this one touched quite a few. A wooden barrier closed the street to traffic.  Mourners lined the street and sidewalks outside the synagogue as short eulogies were spoken into a microphone by the rabbi and one of her sons. As is our tradition, we followed the hearse, walking a way with it, accompanying the deceased for her honor. Though not very overcast or cold, a mood-swallowing chill engulfed the participants. No laughter, just a smattering of voices, most were silent or reciting psalms while escorting her as far as we could walk.

This lady, her son recalled, dedicated her life to making people happy.  She followed a directive of the former Rav1 of the community, Rabbi Shimon Schwab. When you are walking on the avenue and see a woman, compliment her on her outfit, say something nice and brighten her day was the gist of the message. The son also requested from the crowd that everyone consider honoring his mother’s memory by taking on one mitzvah/positive deed. Smile at someone once a day. Say psalms. Do a kindness for someone.

How wonderful a concept: remembrance through deeds and positive actions. I can choose to create peace and harmony in my corner of the world. I can commemorate a life well-led and carry on her good deeds. Every time I have a good word for someone else, I send a blessing. A smile, a thoughtful gesture, a small courtesy may not take much time or mean much to me… but it could make a whole lot of difference to someone else.

I can choose to be a better person and get over hurts and slights, move on from difficulties, aim my efforts to improve the situation wherever I am.

Yesterday I danced at a wedding! I hugged and laughed and dabbed at my eyes which filled with tears of joy.

I watched the proceedings with my own personal blessings on my lips: wishing the young couple a happy, harmonious life, a long marital bond.  I sat amongst friends, relatives, people I’ve seen before and those I’ve never seen and may never see again. I reveled in their happiness, delighted in the pleasure of the parents, friends, and relatives. A new start, a bright new future as this couple forges a permanent bond.  How special! What a difference from the experience of last week.

Sure, I can focus on the bittersweet: the ones who are not here, the ones who cannot be here, the ones who are not yet married or engaged, the ones who yearn to be so. But now is for the present. Keeping in the present keeps me grounded, not guessing about the future or lamenting the past.  I choose to live in the moment and let my heart soar.

Flowers at a wedding.

Flowers at a wedding.

My philosophy is simple: Happiness is my choice, and I can frame my experience through happy eyes… or choose to see the world as impoverished, mundane, gray and something to be muddled through. I am not the progenitor of this philosophy; I only claim the role of spreading the idea. Through simple action and leading a life aware of blessings and gifts, I can make my corner of the world a better place.

Now isn’t that fun?

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1. Rav, honorific for a rabbi, usually the head of a community or distinguished by great scholarship.

Andromeda

We, humankind, are insignificant specks in the universe. Yet, we matter.

“NASA released the largest picture ever taken earlier this month, with a staggering 1.5 billion pixels, of the Andromeda Galaxy.”1

The images received from the Hubble Space Telescope, deployed in 1990, have rewritten scientific theories about the universe. This video from USA Today highlights the engineering and magnificence of the findings. (I can’t embed the video’s preview so you must click on the link. It’s worth seeing.)

G-d’s creation cannot be entirely captured by the most powerful telescopes. Indeed, these recently released images from NASA only hint at the complexity of detail yet to be uncovered. Still, we only need look up to see that there is something more than us. Even in the city, with electric lights obscuring the heavens, the light of a few stars reaches us down here. Tiny, insignificant, distant novelties we may think, but they hint at the hidden wonders beyond our view.

As a young woman I sat in a rural Connecticut field with a telescope one clear autumn night. The closest town was about 10 miles away yet it cast a subtle glow on the horizon. Still, it was one of the blackest skies I’d ever seen, studded with stars not even imagined in the city. We pulled sleeping bags around us in the increasingly frosty air as the telescope was trained on the moon. Its surface leaped into sharp relief revealing details I’d only seen in photographs. Luminous, and seemingly as close as if I could reach out and touch it, the moon moved imperceptibly and the telescope needed subtle readjustments.

Then the telescope was trained on the planets. Jumping Jupiter! We could see the largest planet and four of its moons! Astonished, I tried to view this as long as possible and only reluctantly allowed my partners to share the sight. This memory and the feeling of being enveloped by that dark night, with the sky as a cloak around my shoulders, stay with me. The wonder and excitement, the feeling of vastness, never faded with the sunrise and reside with me yet.

The scientist in me adds facts: Jupiter is roughly 5 astronomical units2 from Earth (approximately 465 million miles/750 million kilometers). If the sun’s light takes about 8 minutes to reach Earth, the light reflected from Jupiter back to Earth takes about 40 minutes. When we look at the Moon, Jupiter or any star, we’re looking into the past. Indeed, all of the visible lights in the sky, the Moon, all the galaxies, stars, and planets, are represent light from the past. It takes light time to reach us, and by the time we process it, the events are over. That is true for even for things that happen closer to us, like looking at a face of the person next to you; the light is delayed by infinitesimal fractions of microseconds from close objects to our eyes. At this scale the age of the light we see becomes meaningless when compared against the distances in the universe.

The poet in me contemplates splendor: Meaningless. Negligible. Inconsequential. How small is man compared to the heavens. How trivial his concerns against the workings of the cosmos. How true that seems on face value, except…

…we matter. Shakespeare said it well:3

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? — Hamlet

We are not insignificant amongst all the billions and trillions of stars in the sky. What we do, how we act, what we bring into the world has consequences. We mold the universe around us—the only important one—the one of the human experience. Our attitudes, activities, beliefs all go into partnering with the Creator. Each one of us is a galaxy by himself, full of hopes, dreams, feelings, experiences, knowledge, and passion.

Remember where we came from, whether looking outward or inward. We matter.

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If you want to see more of the Hubble Space Telescope’s images, check out this YouTube video.

 

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1. USA Today online, http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2015/01/20/nasa-largest-picture-andromeda-galaxy/22052513/, accessed January 21, 2015.
2. 1 Astronomical Unit (AU) is approximately 93 million miles (150 million km), the average distance of the earth from the sun.
3. Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark (2, 2).

Happiness is My Choice, 3

Crutches

my crutches” by dmitiri_66, used under CC BY-NC 2.0

Chanukah is over but its lessons are not.

One of the great lessons of Chanukah is rededicating ourselves to thanking Hashem on a daily basis –‟V’Ahl Nissecha SheBeChal Yom Imanu” 1 — for all of the ‘little’ and not so little miracles that are with us every day. 2

Thankfulness. Gratitude. Awareness.

The body is an amazing creation yet I wake into it daily and walk it about, taking it for granted.  I never thought about what a miracle it was that my knee could bend … until one day it couldn’t bend, after the anterior cruciate ligament had torn.  Why and how it snapped, I’ll never know.  One day I was clambering about on Puerto Rico’s rocky shore, capering for the camera, preparing to leave after a successful business trip. Hours later on the jet homeward there was a moment of blinding pain and the knee ceased to function. When I couldn’t bend my leg by my own volition, I thought I’d never walk again. I was who-knows-where over the Atlantic Ocean, in the darkness, a zillion feet above the icy water, when it happened. Nobody saw anything, nobody noticed me falling onto the empty seats in my row, not even the coworker I’d spent four days with. I couldn’t fathom what had happened.

Gratitude at that pain-filled time? Yes!!!

2012-12-13 17.57.23 HDR

Chanukah menorah lighting in New York City.

Strangely, I remember feeling blessed, taken care of and calm. At that moment I was spiritually-centered and had a flash of clarity. I realized that I could have been liable for a worse outcome, such as a hijacking or a plane crash and death in the freezing waters, two of the most dramatic scenarios possible. I knew that G-d had spared me from worse. G-d gave me the clarity to acknowledge His kindness at that moment where I could have despaired but instead saw His hand in the works.

After momentary searing pain I notified the air crew, assuring them that nothing due to the operation of the flight caused my injury. An unscheduled landing sent me to a Baltimore hospital where a screaming woman in the next cubicle with a dislocated her knee was getting it realigned. I wondered if that was my fate, but they released me with splints and crutches. The airline picked up the tab for a hotel room, rescheduled my return flight, arranged a cab to the airport, and I winged back home the next day. I started physical therapy and ultimately had surgery. It took a few months to reestablish nerve pathways and relearn walking. Twenty-some years later, I walk mostly unimpeded, thoughtlessly, expecting my foot to contact something solid where I guide it. Bending my knee. Walking. Little things? Actions taken for granted?

I choose to dedicate time to acknowledge my gratitude every day. 

I’d like to be disciplined enough to write a daily gratitude journal. From time to time I start one but don’t carry through. Despite this, I’m able to focus on gratitude daily, even if I don’t write it down. I’ve made a choice. When I’m outdoors, perhaps rushing to the subway station past a few blocks of apartment buildings, parked cars, and piles of trash set out for collection, I whisper to the Creator, “Thanks G-d-for giving me the ability to walk.” I’ll hear a bird chirping or see one flying overhead and give thanks for the ability to enjoy its sweet song or follow the arc flight. If the train arrives after I get to the subway platform, instead of leaving a moment before I descend the steps, my lips smile, recognizing where this boon originated.

Everybody loves a cup of coffee!

My cup is neither half-empty nor half-full.

Does this mean I see my cup as being half-full?

Chanukah commemorates the historic event of the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE. Rededication of the Temple itself, the edifice, required preparation of the building (i.e., removal of idols, cleaning up pig blood, restoring order) and having the proper tools (e.g., menorah, pure oil) to do so.  Rededication was not limited to the structure; it required intensive preparation by the priests for restoration of the order of prayer. The worshipers, too, needed to be in the frame of mind to take on this holy duty and be immersed in the Temple experience. They reconnected with the Source of All Good in that time and place. I resonate to the message of Chanukah because it is my birthday and validates a fundamental truth: we are not in control of the world but He is.

How do I maintain a spiritual connection today? My attitude sustains my connection, and my choices produce my attitude.  Happiness is my choice, satisfaction with my lot. Gratitude propels me toward happiness. It’s my choice to look at things with a good eye.  It’s my choice to  remember to be grateful. Those choices bring me happiness.

My cup is neither half-empty nor half-full; rather, it is brimming over with gifts and delight.

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1. Part of the “Modim” מוֹדִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ prayer in the Amidah prayer, recited three times daily by devout Jews.

2. Hakhel Organization, Hakhel Email Community Awareness Bulletin – Rote Map?!?‏, December 26, 2014.  [To subscribe: send an email to majordomo@hakhel.info (leave the subject line blank) with the the words “subscribe list” (no quotations) in the body of your email message.]

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