Coming Home

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is truly the most gorgeous and peaceful place on Earth.

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is truly the most gorgeous and peaceful place on Earth.

For the past week, I’ve disconnected from a lot of my everyday world to immerse in nature in the northern reaches of my home state. Our travels took us far and wide, covering approximately 1,500 miles in seven days, and every minute was permeated with being in the moment and inhaling the freshness of the natural world.

At night, we gathered around the table in our rented house and had a simple meal, quiet, together, just the six of us. No madness in hotel restaurants or loud competing for the right table. Just us, reconnecting, processing our day.

My husband and three of our children jumped from the 20-foot high Black Rocks in Presque Isle park near Marquette, Michigan, into the frigid waters of Lake Superior. And loved it.

My husband and three of our children jumped from the 20-foot high Black Rocks in Presque Isle park near Marquette, Michigan, into the frigid waters of Lake Superior. And loved it.

They say it can be hard to re-enter the world we inhabit most of the time when we’ve been really away. I experienced that after two weeks in India this past winter. And I am experiencing it now.

What strikes me most is that the world around us is neither good nor bad, it just is. The sun rises, shines and assures us of our existence all day long, and sets in a pool of color at the end of every day. The night comes in stars that take our words away, a canvas of pinpricks gleaming overhead so entirely beautiful that we are rendered mute.

Only a few leaves have started changing along the two-lane road in the Keweenaw Peninsula. As we drove north, I just wanted to burrow into a cabin and stare at the lake for weeks on end.

Only a few leaves have started changing along the two-lane road in the Keweenaw Peninsula. As we drove north, I just wanted to burrow into a cabin and stare at the lake for weeks on end.

There are no highs or lows; just existence. The water is cold but it’s not good-or-bad cold – just cold – and the kids jump into the lake nonetheless because we are there and it is crystal-clear and beckoning and we have to seize the moment.

And after, we wrap inside a towel for warmth but we don’t lament the cold or blame the cold or shame the cold or cast it out because it simply IS. We accept it, as it accepts us.

Not so in our daily lives. With people and relationships, we conjure notions of good and bad all the time, judgment and blame. Emotions ride side-saddle with every decision, every coming-together of individuals jostling for control and acceptance.

577048_10151161522853908_1386663930_nIt never ceases to amaze me what demons live on the surface of our hearts. The insecurities and worries, the shame and blame. Where does it come from? Why is it there?

It has no need to be, really. Because it isn’t real.

The other day, sadness seized me as I faced the truth of returning to the world of routine. School ahead, extracurricular sports, obligations and dates on the calendar. It’s filling up, fast, and I can’t keep up. And even though I know that everything happens as it should, I received news that didn’t go the way I wanted it to.

Tidal waves of emotions: beauty wrapped in terror

Tidal waves of emotions: beauty wrapped in terror

And all of my emotions rose to the surface, tidal waves of yesterday and yesteryear and all the horrible feelings I thought I had channeled into understanding and positivity. That fast. Like snapping my fingers or blinking an eye.

I sat under the dormer rooflines of the sweetest suite in a Mackinac Island inn (the Harbourview Inn, I highly recommend it) – three queen beds and two bathrooms, a perfect little loft for my family of six. The kids were watching High School Musical. And the tears overtook me as I let loose the freedom of a blissful week with my favorite people in the most beautiful place on earth juxtaposed with the coming-home to a world that moves too fast for me to catch up.

It was just a few hours and as night fell, really good friends reminded me that I would feel better in the morning. Although it doesn’t seem that such a simple statement could be true, it is every time.

Mackinac Island's old world charm ended our trip with peace.

Mackinac Island’s old world charm ended our trip with peace.

The next morning dawned cool and quiet, save for the occasional clip-clop of horses passing outside our third-floor window. Two sailboats slept on the glass-like water out our window. We rode bikes around the 8-mile perimeter of the island together in the glorious sun and cool air and felt like we could do anything.

It was a better day, as my friends and husband had promised. And the perspective made everything so clear, like the water of our great lakes. The news I’d received was totally 100% fine and actually, better than what I thought I wanted. We think we control life, but life happens to us in the way we need it to.

Arch Rock, one of the spectacular sites you see while riding a bike around Mackinac Island's perimeter.

Arch Rock, one of the spectacular sites you see while riding a bike around Mackinac Island’s perimeter.

Sometimes, I need to remember that the way the world sees me – as this confident, strong, takes-life-by-storm person who doesn’t *need* attention or inclusion – isn’t the entirety of me. Yes, I am a leader. A teacher. A starter-of-great-things. A free-thinker. No, I don’t fit anywhere – it’s what I told my husband when we first met and why, he says, he fell in love with me. I march to the beat of my own drum.

In high school, I was friends with kids in every clique, but never in any one clique. I refuse to be bound by the rules.

Still. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be invited or included or asked. I do need that inclusion, even if I seem like I’m off and running, singular in my goal and focused on something else. Pockets of friends, well, I’d like to be in them, too, and sometimes, I forget that I have to make that known if I want it to happen.

I wonder why we get so lost in the emotions swirling around us sometimes. I wonder why we can’t just live in the Reality of Life – which is neither good nor bad, neither high nor low, just Being, just observing, just walking along the quiet streets and swallowing the air and knowing that life is as its meant to be, every minute that we breathe.

Posted in soul-searching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Best Vacation Ever

Sometimesimage, you just don’t know how good you have it. Seriously. I have traveled the globe and visited some pretty remarkable places.

I went far and away in search of myself and over the past few days, I have realized that home is where you find your heart.

I was born in Michigan. As a teen, I couldn’t wait to get away – move to the big city, somewhere more exciting, with more action. And I did find it.

In New York, I loved finding poetry readings in pubs and cafés, sit in the audience and ache to join those on stage, with my words. I worked at a newspaper by day, calling Canada and Africa and Europe and by night, I wrote and I wrote and I wrote.image

i wrote about yearning … For what exactly? For someone else’s romantic life somewhere else. But wait. I was living that cool life.

And so I accepted the transfer to Washington D.C., and set about discovering what I had always been searching for there. And found the same results – an amazing place but no more solace or clarity.

Bimageecause the truth resides in your heart. It is already there, inside each of us. We don’t have to escape to find it. We have to burrow inside and switch on the light and see the brilliance that surrounds us wherever we are.

I’ve traveled the globe and every place I go, I fall more in love with life itself. And I love coming home.

To me.

To this beautiful place where I have always been so lucky to live.

imageThis week, we are traveling the northern regions of our home state with the kids and discovering it is even better than we always knew. Forget the fancy airports of Europe (which I love by the way) and forget the fast pace of the big city.

God’s country. In every step and every passing mile.

The real truth is that perfection is in my grasp, in the not knowing, the mundane, the beauty in the ordinary. Cutting edge and piles of money don’t line the road to happiness.

Timagehe kindness of strangers does. A friendly smile. The supreme understanding that a beating heart sounds like every other beating heart and blood flows through veins in every being.

Today we drove up the most magical place on earth, the Keweenaw Peninsula. I posted glorious pictures and friends commented that they were there just before us, or years ago, or would be again soon.

Your footsteps in mine, mine in yours. And nightfall with the same constellations I have always known. Pure bliss. Perfect peace. A fabulous life.

(By the way, apologies for being absent these past few days. A serious lack of wifi and also on-the-road travel have left the blogging for after our trip. You may not hear from me again until Thursday. Stay tuned!)

Posted in family value | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Meditation

Sometimes, the simplest things are the most rewarding.

Yesterday, I drove with a colleague to Kalamazoo, two hours straight west on the road to support a client in a TV segment filming. It’s a big client doing meaningful work – Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, opening a new trauma assessment center to help children work through traumas in their lives and come out on top. (Here’s the segment.)

They could have done it without our driving to be there, but they and we were so glad we went. Because the connections between people are what make a good life.

I felt on top of the world for being able to help spread the word that there are places that care enough about kids to help them change the trajectory of their lives. That there are people dedicated to finding better ways to help people, lasting ways, treatments that truly make a difference.

We can become consumed by the obligations of life. Or we can look at the work we do and the people around us and focus solely on the beauty that is there.

Because it’s always there.

I’ll admit, I didn’t want to spend four hours driving yesterday. That’s how my mind works – I never want to go to the party or drive long distances; I’d rather stay in my comfortable home or office and get work done, eyes focused forward.

But I go. And I am glad I do. Every. Single. Time.

Because interacting with others, focusing on being OF SERVICE, that’s where satisfaction and happiness live.

When I focus on myself and stay inward, life swirls around me in uncomfortable tornadoes. When I focus outward, life is pretty damn good.

At 5:37 a.m., my little guy came rushing into my bedroom today. It was still dark, morning dawning at the creases of the clouds. I had a nightmare, he said.

I pulled the covers back to let him climb in and he nestled very close to me. I put an arm around him and his blankie and stuffed monkey. I breathed in the sweet scent of his silky hair.

He fell back asleep beside me but I lay there with my eyes open, thinking about how sweet the moment was, how lucky I am to have this angel beside me, providing comfort when he needed it.

What’s the meaning in what you’re going to do today? Who will you help? Where are you needed? How can you truly make a difference in the world? Go at it. Only you can get there.

Posted in reverence | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Capturing the Stories of our Lives

Old_family_photo_by_allwellHave you interviewed your grandparents? Parents? Aunts and uncles? Cousins three times removed? Childhood best friends? The mayor of your hometown?

Not that you need to spend your time sitting with all these people, but consider that you might have a better understanding of yourself, the world around you and the meaning of life if you took the time to sit with people and really listen to their stories.

WriterI’m leading a writers workshop this fall (check it out here) and thought it was about learning to write stories better or learning to blog better or learning to write better for work. It IS about all those things. But I just realized another option for it, too.

At my friend’s funeral the other day, I marveled at the stories we tell after someone passes away. I knew most of those that I heard at the funeral, but there were some things I hadn’t known about him and I loved him even more for learning them.

Interviewing-FamilyMy friend was not the kind of person to boast about himself, so it’s unlikely that I would have heard these stories from him directly. We are surrounded by miraculous people and we don’t even know the extent of their greatness.

I believe life would be better if we sat down with more people and truly listened. Took notes and wrote down what they tell us – the experiences they’ve lived – to have and know and hold close.

I interviewed three of my grandparents while they were living. When my grandmother passed away last November, I was so glad we had this book of her life, with photos, that I’d created a decade ago. I quickly copied it for others close to her and they were so glad to have her voice, and her journey, to take home and keep close.

Look around  you. Stop and ponder the wonderfulness of the people you’ve gathered in your life. Who do you love? Why do you love them? What do you know about them? What do you not know?

It’s time to dig deeper.

Posted in the world around me | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Appreciating People While They Live

Lake-Boat-Peaceful-Horizon-Photography-Landscape-900x1600No matter what season it is, when you lay someone to rest, the day becomes still and peaceful. The wind sounds around corners, whispers in between rocks. There is silence when you need it.

I am so grateful for the rituals we have created. Throwing dirt on the grave, the last gift you can give to a person, and mixing in cut flowers that the deceased planted with his grandchildren, which have now grown beautiful and colorful and tall.DIGITAL CAMERA

Why do we spend our lives looking ahead? We also need to look back. Tell the stories worth telling while people are alive to hear them. Recognize the incredibleness of people we love while they are vibrant and alive. Share their beauty and their wonder and their immense gift to the world before they’re gone.

The Storyteller, a Native American icon representing the oral tradition handed down generation to generation

The Storyteller, a Native American icon representing the oral tradition handed down generation to generation

We must tell the stories in our midst over and over again, so that as new generations are growing up around us, they understand the legacies they are stepping into.

I’ve been thinking this past week about how short life is. And how important it is to live each day to the fullest, to really be in every moment, to look people in the eye and listen to them fully and love with all your heart.

We don’t do much of that, do we? We stop and ponder when a flood pours into the basement and upends our neighborhoods and we stop and ponder when a person we love passes away. We stop to notice the details and recognize the brilliance in our midst only when something huge puts out its cloying hand and says, “Pay Attention Now.”

There are, of course, times when we notice the wonder around us. When I light Shabbat candles on a Friday night and the glow and flicker of six wicks beckon toward me, I stop to take in that vision, and be grateful for the six of us in my little wonderful family.

beachwavescrashverticalThis morning, when my husband and I climbed out of bed and into the sunrise, we certainly noticed the pink of the rising sky, the feather-sweep of angel wing clouds, the moon high in the sky as the sun climbed to reach it. The week we spent at the beach, I loved the roar and tumble of the waves over and over and over again, the fine caress of the sand on my feet, the fragrant scent of pine between the houses.

Of course, each of these instances, I was outside of my normal rushing routine. So I had the time to notice, I was in the mindset to notice.

But when we fall into the chaos of school and work and family obligations and extracurriculars and arguing amongst the siblings, we’re simply holding it all together. There is no time or space for wonder.

The secret is, though, that there always is. We just have to make beauty and brilliance and appreciation the priorities.

images2What if we lived life as if there were no tomorrow? No moment to come after this one? Would we notice the gleam in an eye, the cadence of a voice, the importance of a person’s words? Would we connect soul to soul?

What if we stopped planning for some-day and started living today? What if we made the people we love – whether they are family or friends or whomever – our main focus, alongside making a difference in the world?

just-do-it-hed-2013It’s something I’ve been striving for for a long time. And yet I keep getting sucked into the whorl of routine and chaos and expectation.

It’s time. It’s time to stop wasting time, frittering it away with worry and animosity and dissent. Just do it, to quote a popular 1980s advertising slogan. Just do whatever your heart has been wanting to do. Just jump off the 10-foot-high rock and into the cold waters and swim.

Posted in reverence | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Lifelong Friendship

At my second birthday party, Melissa wore a dress and a party hat and carried a red square purse. There is a picture of her standing amid the hubbub, her sweet face and ponytails very familiar to me.

When my parents built our house in 1972, I was one and a half years old and our street ended four houses down from us, at a dead-end. Across from our house was a dirt road. The subdivision extended two-thirds of the way into the square mile it would become. It was quiet and peaceful and full of young families.

weeping_willow_tree-image2Behind our house were the open fields of the commons area, where we would eventually ride bikes and throw balls and tell stories under the cover of huge weeping willow trees. We would weave our way through paved paths to parks where we could climb and play. My childhood was an open door on freedom and discovery, and the kids next-door were a big part of that.

Who knew when my parents bought that house that we would become lifelong friends with the family next-door? It’s a coincidence of fate. Not every neighbor becomes a friend, and not every neighborhood friend remains in your life once they move away. But the Castlemans did.

What a lovely gift! At 43, I still count Melissa as one of the dearest people I know, her family as my family. So today, when we will bury her father, I feel like a piece of my life has disappeared.

f900746faa488cd1ca29b1fa2cd2566dI have come to learn that just because someone is family does not mean you fit together. And I’ve learned that it is possible for the souls of two friends to connect deep inside, as if we were meant to guide each other through life.

People come into your life and go out. There are times when certain friends are more prominent in your lives and sort of just there in the background at other times. Still. The foundation of knowing someone your entire life is strong and deep and something you cannot replicate when meeting someone by chance later in life.

It’s all by chance, you know. The luck and good fortune of building a house beside a family you will come to love. I’ve lived beside many people over the years. Some have been connections of the heart and some never were.

Today, I feel incredibly lucky. I have known some incredible people, who let me into their inner circle and let me see their good nature, their brilliance, their beauty. Knowing them, connecting back to their familiar voices, the lilt of their words, their faces that show the recognition of shared memories, this is an anchor in the sea of life. And I know I am better for it.

Posted in family value | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Searching for Good News

badnews-1Robin Williams died at his own hand. Friends lost every treasured memory and keepsake in devastating floods. Iraqis are starving and dying on a mountaintop after being hunted by guerrillas. Syria’s civil war battles on, everyone turning on each other violently. Everywhere around the world, people want the Jews wiped out.

If you read the headlines and watch the news, surely you must think the apocalypse is happening now. The world is coming to an end.

I can’t watch. I can’t read. I must shut it out. Bad news is everywhere.

In the aftermath of this week’s horrible flood in Detroit, a reporter friend emailed to see if any clients had water damage in their workplaces. Sure, I want to know what’s going on. It is essential that we know what’s happening to people so that we can help. But can’t we balance the devastating, jaw-dropping stories with heart-warming stories of kindness and heroism?

good-newsNo one emailed me asking for the heroic stories of people who helped one another, of people who are OK, of people who are happy.

Because those stories don’t sell. They’re not newsworthy.

I’m concerned that we are blanketing our world with devastation and violence and horrible things and that’s adding up to a very skewed negative perspective. I feel like everyone’s out to get me, and nowhere is safe.

So I, like so many others, lock myself in my house where I have the illusion of safety. Perhaps I double-layer it with an alarm system that connects directly to the police. I wrap myself in the illusion of calm.

clip-art-spongebob-491292On Monday, as rain water swirled around us and we tried to make sense of what was happening, my little guy was watching the weather channel, where it said that water at 4 mph has the force of a tornado. He started to shake with fear. Damn TV news. I changed the channel to Sponge Bob, where too much water is a blessing.

It’s a choice, to focus on the bad. We could fill our news outlets with stories of good and humanity and heart-filled living. We can effect change – voting with our purchases, refusing to buy newspapers that blare negativity from the front page, not subscribing to news channels that skew stories.

We could start our own media outlets, filled with stories of humanity and kindness. Like the time I went to the mosque in Dearborn to research bread-baking, and saw all these similarities between my Jewish upbringing and faith and the foundation of the mosque. The Muslim grandmothers were like my grandmother; we were so similar.

dalai_lamaI’d like to share stories of how on Monday, as the rainwaters rose in our street, my daughter was baking and decorating cookies to take outside to the people stuck in their cars. How about a story about my children and two of their cousins dancing on the lawn in the falling night outside my parents’ house, and my parents came outside in pajamas to hug and kiss and see half of their 10 grandchildren, who were so happy to be together?

There is good everywhere – we just don’t focus on it. Too much bad fills us with the wrong energy, negativity that instills fear and anxiety and trouble and nightmare, swirling together like the worst storm, ready to take down everything in its path.

You know what I mean: you sit and ruminate over what-ifs and if-onlys and fear that you’ll never make enough, earn enough, be enough to succeed. Those are the stories that spin in our heads when all we hear and see and immerse in is bad-bad-bad.

People in Uganda, helping one another.

People in Uganda, helping one another.

Imagine what life would be like if instead, the world transmitted tales of good and heroism and abundance. Kindness. Friendship. Love of strangers.

Once upon a time, a man and a woman were happy in their home, where the windows stayed open all night and no one dared to trespass. Children shared pens and crayons at school and complimented each other on their outfits, even the mismatched, out-of-date styles. Sports teams shook hands at the end of a match, congratulating one another on their skill, talent and effort. 

Happy world. Good world. Kindness between people. That’s the kind of setting I want for my life. No cutting words. No glass-half-empty.

I believe it is possible, that we can stem the tide and change the focus and sway the masses to come over to our way of seeing things. It’ll take a lot of work, but it is so worth it if we can turn frowns into smiles and smooth out the creases of worry that are ubiquitous on every forehead.

Not Botox, thank you. Just a healthy dose of good cheer.

Posted in the world around me | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

After the Flood, a View from Huntington Woods

Baby cradles. Rocking chairs. Plastic totes and crates and boxes of damaged photos. Memories and mementos, books and bookshelves. Couches, chairs, tables. All turned into garbage. All wrested away before anyone wanted to get rid of them.

Flood-items-on-curb-Huntington-Woods-pngIt’s heart-breaking to drive through my neighborhood.

On every block – sometimes entire blocks, house after house after house – garbage fills the curb, toppling over into the street. It’s like a third-world country in some ways, the aftermath of unbelievable flooding, where basements filled with sewage and rainwater, destroying long-kept treasures, pictures, memories and moments.

Of course, this is no developing country. This is my very first-world neighborhood of Huntington Woods, Michigan, and families in most houses here are mourning the loss of everything they’d saved and stored for Some Day.

fgIt’s amazing what the human spirit can get us through. The resilience we have because we must. The way we turn heartbreak into community-building, the way we come together in the wake of destruction.

A knot lodges in my throat as I slowly, silently drive through my neighborhood. I’m lucky. My basement got wet but not submerged. Our precious keepsakes, which we rarely look at, are safe. For now.

But our friends and neighbors? For some, everything must go, as the basement is stripped to studs. It’s a time of starting over, a time of letting the wound heal in the open air, hoping the memories in our heads and in our hearts are enough to carry us through a lifetime.

What about those for whom the bar mitzvah montage won’t be able to happen now, with no photos to pull together to a soundtrack of happy, celebratory tunes? What about the generational treasures to be handed down to generations yet to be born, all torn to shreds by the power of water that wouldn’t stop coming? Do we fully understand the pain of all that has happened?

goodnight-moonI’ve kept our favorite board books and picture books for when I have grandchildren some day. They’re in a tight-lidded plastic tote in my basement (I may want to rethink that now), and I imagine I’ll pull out these family favorites, hold my children’s offspring on my lap, smell the sweetness in their silky baby hair and tell them before they can understand what it means that their mother or father loved this book, too, so many years ago.

What would I do if those were destroyed? I’d get through it, sure, but the sweetness would slip away in the flood waters.

This week, I have thought often about how we cling to stuff. We are so attached to our material things, all of us. I get excited at the notion of buying yet more clothing, or a piece of jewelry, or a new book that I can’t wait to turn the pages of, then store on my shelf for the unidentifiable day when I just might pick it up again.

No matter that I may never look at it again. Or the shirt I loved so much at the store may never be worn. We are so fortunate that we have more than we need. Before I moved in this past January, I went through everything I’d stored and kept and clung to in the old house and carted so much of it to the curb for days on end.

And still our shelves are filled to overflowing. What is it that we are holding onto, really? Why are we so attached to our things?

We all live among excess. It’s the American Way. Except when we lose it, it doesn’t hurt any less if we understand that we have accumulated stuff that is not essential to our daily lives.

traditional-rocking-chairs-and-glidersWhen I had my first child, my parents offered me the white wooden rocking chair that I was rocked in as a baby. I took it for a while, until I could afford a fancy, smoother glider in newly upholstered stars and moons. The fact that my parents had that for so many decades and that I could rock my infant son in the same chair my parents held me as a newborn was remarkable.

And expendable.

We give away what we no longer need when we have full control over the letting go. But when something else dictates it is time to cut loose, well, we just aren’t prepared for it.

What is the message in so much devastation and loss?

I’m not sure I know.

What I do know is that every single day this week, I have been acutely aware of the fact that life is precious and fleeting and I look up at the sky or down at the ground or both and thank the moon and the stars and God above that I am here, I am sound, I am breathing and alive, I am well and well cared for and life is good. That has to be enough.

That, and the love that flows stronger than flood waters up and down the streets of my neighborhood, family to family, heart to heart, to build a community of people who will not be kicked down, no matter what.

Posted in the world around me | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Some Thoughts on Israel by Rabbi Aaron Bergman – Guest Blog

This guest blog is reprinted with permission. It first appeared here.

Rabbi Aaron Bergman

Rabbi Aaron Bergman

I have had a daughter in Jerusalem all summer working as an intern. She comes home next week. Another daughter goes to Jerusalem for the year about two weeks later. People ask me if I am nervous. I do not hesitate for a moment, and say absolutely. That might sound like a kind of surprising response for a rabbi, but let me explain.

I am a parent. I worry when they go on dates or to the mall. I worry about everything. I love them, and when you love people it is reasonable to worry. I try not to let my worrying, though, stop them from living their lives in a good and important way.

That being said, I do worry about them in Israel, but I believe that Israel is completely and unhesitatingly worth it. We have seen a world without Israel and it is so much more terrible than anything that is happening today.

My most special place in Jerusalem, the Western Wall

My most special place in Jerusalem, the Western Wall

Even under a barrage of rockets, and even faced with terror tunnels that have burrowed into the consciousness of so many Israelis, Israel is functioning at a high level. People are going to work. They are helping their neighbors. They are buying food for their family and making a joyous Shabbat. They are fully and completely alive and not consumed by their fear. They are cautious, but they are not paralyzed, and they are deeply grateful for our brave boys and girls, and men and women of the IDF and are united in their support in ways that have not been seen since the 1967 Six Day War. I am in awe of the young people from our community and Adat Shalom who serve in the IDF and pray for their safety.

8182735Rabbi Nachman said, Kol HaOlam Kulo Gesher Tzar Maod, the entire world is a narrow bridge, V’Haikar Lo L’Fached Clal, but the important thing is to not be overwhelmed by our fear. A little healthy caution and concern is appropriate, but not when it changes who you are or how you live your life.

Israel is involved in a terrible struggle. It has had to make tough decisions that few other armies have had to make. Hamas in fact knows that Israel is one of the very few countries in the entire region that will take morality into consideration when it makes a battle plan. Hamas thinks that is a weakness of Israel they can exploit. It is instead one of Israel’s greatest strengths, and one that will, I pray, allow Israel to live in peace and prosperity and ultimately be a model to the rest of the Middle East of democracy and freedom.

Israel is not perfect, but it is a miracle. There are few countries in the world like Israel. There are none that face its daily existential challenges.

So again, am I worried? Absolutely. But I am even more proud and grateful.

Am Yisrael Chai.

Rabbi Aaron Bergman

Posted in love | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tragedy is Relative

The rains came pouring down, unrelenting, continuous and streaming over all of metro Detroit. The day was gray and heavy, the air thick with moisture. It just kept coming.

So what, we thought. Rain. We’ve had it before, we’ll have it again. The worst part would be that my evening master swim was canceled (although by the end of it all, I seriously could have swam through the streets of my town – no exaggeration).

My front  yard near the height of the rain

My front yard near the height of the rain

But it was bigger than we thought and more than most of us could handle. My husband went outside to sweep away the water trickling in to our basement. When a distraught young woman pulled into the driveway next door in a hybrid that was steaming and smoking and making odd noises, my husband went over to help her.

She was baling water out of her car with a mason jar. He grabbed a saucepan from the house and helped her make more progress. Her car was stacked high with pillows and papers. “This is the worst day of my life,” she cried. He discerned that she was moving back home at that moment and didn’t ask more.

Cars pulled up on the street. Some drove into our driveway and the driveway on our other side. Two got stuck in wheel-high water in the street. Finally, one person got out and abandoned the car. Taillights blinked through the night on the quiet street.

The water came halfway up our driveway, almost to the house.

The water came halfway up our driveway, almost to the house.

In one car, a woman rolled down her window. “Come inside,” I called to her, finally outside with my husband in sweats, rain boots and a raincoat that did little to stop me from getting wet. “I have two babies in the back seat,” she yelled.

I waded over to her, the murky water up to my thighs. Her seat sprang back toward one of the little boys and got stuck, pinning his legs. He cried out in pain. My husband and another neighbor ran over to help wrest the boy’s legs free. The woman, the boys’ grandmother, climbed into the backseat and together we pushed the seat up and off the child.

Then she handed him to my husband and his twin brother to me through the window. The boys whimpered, looking around at this neighborhood under water. Our neighbor helped the woman climb through her window. They waited inside with towels and my children offering them cookies until the boys’ father came to get them.

The backyard, under water

The backyard, under water

It was, in short, unbelievable. I gulped back tears by the magnitude of what was happening around me. Friends posting on Facebook pictures of their drowned basements. The girl with the hybrid car walked to her parents’ house over sodden grass. Another woman left her car on our driveway and texted with my husband in the night to assure us that her car would be retrieved by 6 a.m.

This morning, it is eerily quiet outside. The water is gone. As if it never happened. Except the remnants are there, swirls of dirt and debris in the yard and on the driveway, the trail of what happened, a silent reminder. There are pebbles on my driveway as if we were a river that has receded.

This morning, on my street.

This morning, on my street.

We were lucky. Our basement had some moisture but nothing like our friends. Complete destruction. My little guy was shaking with fear last night. I held him close, reminding him that he will always be safe, I will always see to it.

Except, we are never really safe. We can’t spend our lives worrying about it, but as soon as we think we have it all under control and understood, everything falls apart.

We are not in control. These belongings, these homes, this life, it’s all a loan for us to use toward making the world better. A heavy rain comes and we are reminded that it’s just a house, just possessions, just a car, just clothing, just whatever – fleeting. We can live without it if we have to, though we often don’t want to.

We are so used to our creature comforts. I look around my beautiful new house and think of how much effort and money and thought and passion went into creating this home. I love where I live and I believe the illusion that these walls will keep me safe, nothing bad will happen here.

We do our best to secure our lives, but we are still open to the elements.

In the night, my little guy had a nosebleed. He lay against me, tilting his head back to stop the flow. Drops of red hardened on the white bathroom floor. Eventually, it stopped. Eventually we all went back to sleep.

While the rains poured down, my darling daughter baked and decorate gluten-free cookies to offer to those stranded on the street. Goodness in the face of fear.

While the rains poured down, my darling daughter baked and decorate gluten-free cookies to offer to those stranded on the street. Goodness in the face of fear.

This morning, the neighborhood is silent. Cars carefully navigate the streets. Highways are closed and state troopers are asking drivers to stay home until they can clear up the madness.

The gratitude is deep. We are ok. We have another chance to start over this morning. We are alive. Our houses are standing.

I’ll work from home until my children go to their father for a week. The cycle of life goes round and round. Soccer camp is canceled for today; the field is under water. So we’ll have lunch together, just me and my three kiddos, because all we ever have is the love in our hearts and the gleam in the eye of someone close.

And really, that is all we need in the end.

Posted in soul-searching | Tagged , , | Leave a comment