The Book of Life

On Wednesday afternoon my mother asked me to pick up sour cream, candlesticks, and--if I had the time-- to select a couple of prayers for Rosh Hoshanah dinner at her house that night. 


I spent the afternoon on the internet looking at pictures of men blowing shofars, apples dipped in honey, and page after page of suggestions for how to hold your own home ritual, high holy-day style.

I selected several official looking prayers, two poems by the poet Marge Piercy, the astrological significance of Rosh Hoshanah as it falls on the first day of the month of Libra, a Kabbalistic interpretation of the New Year, some really bad jokes about rabbis, illustrated memes like "Shofar, so good," and directions for how to recite the Tashlich, preferably by a river with fish, but whatever you do DON'T FEED THE FISH. 

I printed out three copies of this DYI handbook and brought them to my mother's house along with the candle sticks and sour cream, feeling more at home in the role of daughter, of Jewish daughter, of Jewish daughter who lives across the street from her mother, than perhaps ever before. 

My relationships with Judaism, with my mother, with life in general, have been tricky. Nineteen years ago I was a stewardess on an Alaskan cruise ship and when it docked I was prepared to sail on to my next adventure, wherever, whatever, or whoever that might be. No matter that my last boyfriend wanted to kill me, that my addictions were a fire burning me alive, that I had no plan other than to just keep moving. 

I called my mother from a payphone in the San Juan Islands. Come home, she begged. It's Rosh Hoshanah, she said. Your uncle's getting married. Come home, And for some reason I did. I haven't been to temple in a thousand years. My relationship with my mother isn't always easy. But when the high holy days come, I always feel the voice that called me back to myself alive at her table. 

Wednesday night my mother's table was glorious with a colorful table cloth, apples and honey, slivers of almonds, a bowl of fresh figs, chalices of freshly blended raspberry smoothies, the family's silver candlestick holders. I've never led the prayer before at her table but last night we read and laughed and listened and ate up every morsel of brisket and apple cake. With all of the chaos and insanity in the world, with all of the uncertainty in the lives of people I love, with less time spreading across my horizon and the people surrounding me impossibly dear, I want to be inscribed again in the Book of Life, as much or more than I've ever wanted it before. 

Wild Animals

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The morning this week I returned home to find a hawk perched on the V of our roof surveying her grounds to nest, hunt and kill after a my pre-dawn run with Virginia, I decided the time to let our kittens out into the wild jungle of suburbia would be never.

But I know in my heart that's not true. From my own experience, caging an animal ruled and dictated by the laws of nature is not really the best way to keep it safe. Outside of an Alanon meeting this weekend I told a scared, grieving mother that when my own mother tried to hold me down I clawed and bit and raged until she let me loose to do what I was all along hell bent on doing. The times she released me to my own fate were the times I loved her best, seeking her arms or council all on my own.

And so, eventually, I too, will have to let the kittens out even if I do try to lure them back through the cat door every few minutes with tasty bits of raw meat. 

My own birds have been circling lately, but not those old predators in for the kill, the flighty ones inside stirred up inside by the music I've allowed myself to listen to again after along time away. I used to drown in music, or maybe music was just what I heard when I was drowning. Pieces of myself with which I've been playing hide and seek, shadows of nights under the stars able to wander any way the wind blew, remnants of that heartbroken beautiful little girl who had no idea who she was or what she was worth. I've been listening to that old music once again, allowing myself be taken all the way in and under with the hope, the belief in my new ability to rise, to resurface, to not stay down and under too long. And the only reason I'm here, who I am now, is because my mother finally gave me her blessing and let me go.