Category Archives: Support

A Wedding, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Some Serious Earthshaking and a Moving Memorial~Welcome to Elul 2017!

Beth and Kraig
Stunning and kind and and beautiful soul, the bride Beth Weissbart Wasik, my God-daughter and her new handsome, strong, kind and good husband Dr. Kraig Wasik Photo by: Studio B. Benton photography

Sandwiched between times and trips to take care of my father, I had the tremendous honor and privilege of officiating at the wedding of one of my God-daughters. I’ve only done this a few other times. It’s a very intense thing to be the person spiritually responsible in a setting like this. The folks getting married are the important ones and honoring their needs and wishes takes a fair amount of time, insight, and emotional and spiritual presence of mind.

I was quite anxious about whether I would be able to pull it off. In addition to my fears about doing something wrong or looking bad, in comparison to the absolutely gorgeous bride and groom, holding this kind of energy and being the person who represents the energy of Holiness is a calling I take very seriously. We all carry Holiness and no one is more or less Divine. Not everyone recognizes this and when you are the designated driver for any event that is a Life-Cycle, one like a wedding or a funeral, it takes preparation, incredible control, no small amount of guts and some kind of crazy. I’m pretty good at most of these, but the incredible control part is something I have to really work at.

So, I asked my husband to help me monitor certain behaviors of mine that I didn’t want to bring to the fore. This meant I needed to be extremely sober and to make sure I didn’t drink more than two glasses of wine at any of the events. I was on duty and having a relaxing fun time was not what this wedding was about for me. Did I mention the wedding was at a vineyard? Did I mention that I love good wine? Did I mention that I’ve been working extremely hard emotionally, physically and spiritually to navigate the territory of my father’s health, the death of my belle-mère and spending about five minutes with my husband in the last six months? Oh well, wine is just some grapes that have fermented, NOT!

It went really well, better than I could have expected. I managed to do what I wanted to do and to serve the bride, groom and their families. I had a good time once all the pieces I was responsible for were executed properly. Folks were generous in their praise of my service. That felt really good and validated that my preparation and presence of mind, heart, body and spirit were in attunement.

I always and only want to be the vessel for the Divine.

This means clearing out my ego and my version of what is supposed to happen. This can be a little dangerous. I can’t get so plugged into the flow of Holiness that I’m tripping out (this happens for me a great deal of the time). It’s a balance of walking with what is at hand, holding my heart and hands out and up to Heaven and asking for the Shefa/Sweet Holy flow of energy to dance into my words and actions. It means grounding myself deeply into our Holy Mother Earth and feeling the pulse of the planet.

Feeling the pulse of the planet!

Eclipse 2017
Photo by NASA from Total Solar Eclipse in August 2017

Tuning into the pulse of the planet is not any kind of walk in the park ever, but especially right now, it’s a truly earth-shattering time. At this particular moment, in our collective history, Our Mother is speaking a very specific kind of language. She’s amplifying the message and giving us hurricanes, fires (I normally live in Northern California which has been on fire and smokey for weeks), earthquakes and flooding. Our planet is not just talking right now, she’s keening and wailing and doing everything she can to help us wake up and correct our behaviors.

In Elul, we blow the Shofar to crack open our hearts to literally break through the carapace-like hard shell we call Klippot that has covered up our tenderness and our heart. It’s the most ancient warning device, call to battle, earthquake alert system. It’s piercing, you cannot ignore it, it cuts through all illusions and it’s loud.

I saw a very powerful piece of footage from Mexico City during the earthquake there. It was late in the night, because I was unable to sleep. Often, this is because, I am attuning to the planet when I’m not attending to someone. It’s just not easy to sleep when there are hurricanes and earthquakes and folks all suffering as a result. My prayer practice is about feeling the hurt and crying and breaking open more and more. It’s about asking the angels to go, to go quickly to anyone in need. It’s about just using every possible strategy I can think of to help ease the suffering on this planet.

In the footage, a man from the news was reporting on some sports event when all of a sudden this piercing and very different kind of siren started blaring. He was calm and explained, in Spanish, that this was their early warning system, that an earthquake was immanent. As the footage continued things got more shaky and eventually he got up from his seat and instructed folks to get to safety and the camera crew went to the window with him and looked out on the city. This was, of course, not a safe place to be, but these were news reporters. It was night and you could see the shaking from the camera movements and the lights of Mexico City went out in huge swaths. It was terrifying and impressive and amazing and horrifying and the sound of the electronic shofar was blaring for the whole time.

So, this is the time we are living in and it’s a privilege to be alive. We get to have opportunities to serve those in need and to work on mending what is broken. It’s not a task, or a burden. It’s a calling and a hunger that comes from our collective shared body, the body human, the planet body and our shared common heart, split and shattered into 9 billion people, but still all part of the same organ.

And, we’ve been in worse situations. I mean a few billion years ago, when the stuff of creation was zooming around our universe somewhere, in our relative spatial neighborhood, one large something hit this planet and almost broke it in half. Luckily for us, that huge hit generated a big chunk that became our moon.

We weren’t in human bodies, at that time, but talk about seriously intense climate change. This was the mother of all events for our planet. Mammoth, magnificent and tremendously destructive forces have always been part of the story of this universe. It might feel like we aren’t spinning around an axis in an orbit around the sun in our galaxy, which is a tiny grain of sand in the Holy One’s hand full of billions of other grains of sand, but we are indeed doing just that.

We are star-dust, billion year old star-dust:

Joni sings this better than I could ever say it. It’s as true now as it was then. What is our duty, our obligation, our responsibility at this time of tumult and disaster? The “same as it’s ever been, same as it ever was.” It’s our job to do the work, to take care of each other, to take care of the planet, to pursue justice, to love with hurricane force winds, to storm surge the forces of violence, injustice and cruelty and to eliminate them with acts of loving kindness and imagination and art so deep and so connective that all that’s left of the landscape of hate is some tiny debris that is no longer toxic.

This is also the work of Elul, the month in our Jewish calendar when we really examine ourselves and our actions and we make amends and corrections. The time is now and the urgency of our collective engagement, across all the false divides that separate us or make us think we are anything other than one being sharing one heart, cannot be emphasized enough. And, believe it or not, it’s really not that hard. It’s exhausting to do this work and it’s humbling, in an often devastating way, but it isn’t across the ocean or in the heavens, it’s in our hearts and our mouths and we can do it.

Lo Vashamayim Hi ~ It is not in Heaven

Wisdom, joy and hope are not in some distant time; they are not in Heaven or across a great stream. We have access to the best in life and we indeed are responsible for infusing the world with joy, wisdom and hope or misery, greed and violence. It is our actions that make the world a Holy Place or not. Those actions, if they are to be connected to Heaven or to Holiness, must be generated in our hearts and then manifested in our mouths “Ki Karov Elecha, Ha D’Var Me Od, B’ficha U’vilvavecha La’soto.” “Rather, the matter is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart-to perform it.” ~Deuteronomy 30:14

None of us wants to see our ugly sides, our broken parts, our lack of generosity, our lack of calm, our indifference, our resistance to what we know needs to be done. None of us like being informed that we’ve messed up, missed the mark. None of us wants to learn that we failed to protect those we love or that we are addicted or that we’ve hurt another person or the planet just by being alive and human and a person who is fallible. Nevertheless, it’s a very simple turning; T’shuvah (to return/to turn/to pirouette) that can make all the difference. When we turn, the rabbis say, the Holy One and all the forces of goodness and all the Angels rush, they rush, like a blast of strong wind to push us and assist us and to help us in our work. So, all we have to do is turn/return.

On that note, I’ll end with a very powerful and personal moment of profound healing and mending a true Tikkun from the memorial for my belle-mère, Judy Barchilon, May her memory be for a Blessing. My mother Helen Redman and I haven’t been able to engage with each other very much since I’ve been on back and forth duty between California and Colorado. My carbon footprint has been huge, in order to be present for my family. This means that, eco-groovy, organic-only, always trying to use my own bags and water bottle me is actually a big part of the link of the problem in the climate change chain. I am as responsible for climate degradation as someone who actively pollutes or dumps toxins into a watershed. My actual carbon footprint is very large.

I’ve traveled between my current home and my former home, by air, more times than I can count since March of this year. Doing so has been the only way I could be part of taking care of my father, my brother, and my heart, and it’s a mitzvah /commandment/obligation/Holy request that I have no problem doing. Honoring my mother and my father is not optional or problematic. It’s work, but it’s like breathing, I cannot fathom doing anything differently. On the other hand, doing so in the way I am means that I’m contributing to the very problem I’m trying to help eliminate. Arrrgggh it’s so hard being human!

So, to honor my mother, I asked if her if she could re-arrange her travel to Boulder to overlap with my current stay with my father. In this way, we could see one another and I could connect with and love on, and be loved by her. She also felt a call to come to the memorial for Judy and to support my brother and I. She asked me to ask my father if he would be okay with her coming and he said “of-course.” This is really all due to Judy.

I’m not going to go into the history here. You can read my beau-père Kenny Weissberg‘s book Off My Rocker, for one version of the story.  My parents separated when I was seven years old and it’s been a long and very painful journey for me and for my father and my mother and brother also. A lot of time and therapy have been involved, on my end. Their divorce also brought and brings profound gifts, like my belle-mère Judy and my beau-père Kenny. My mother and Kenny have now been together for 46 years. They just celebrated their anniversary at the end of July.

I hate the word step-anything. My relationship is a step different with Kenny than it is with my biological father, but Kenny Weissberg is and has been an amazing father to me and grandfather to my children. He’s every bit as much my family as my biological father is. Judy, also, while not as close or long a relationship was had with her was family. She made my father whole and for that she will always be beloved by me. This is why I prefer the French terms, which mean handsome-father and beautiful-mother, instead of step-father or step-mother.

So, my mother came to the memorial for her ex-husband’s wife. At the end of the evening, which was incredible, I noticed my mother and father talking and I could see the care and love flowing between them. This was something I have not ever witnessed. I was six years old and truly have zero actual memory of them being together. Somewhere, in my cells, I remember, but I don’t have any memories of my parents together. There are lots of photos, but the memories are not there. So, this was and continues to be a ripple of healing, goodness and love for me and for them and for my brother and my children and all those who are connected to any of us.

The beauty of any and all tikkuns/healings/mendings is that they are not of this world, or time alone. They transcend time, and space. They transform the past, present and future. A true Tikkun is a movement in time, dropped into the river of Light of the Divine, which accesses the flow of Shefa into all places of wounding, it can literally change everything.

May you trust that the gates of Heaven are truly open and that the flow of Divine Love is strong and continuous and there for you, so much so, that you can take the risk of doing what is most hard for you to do, of being brave and facing what needs facing and making the corrections and changes that need making so that there is more good going into our world than brokenness.

L’Shana Tova u Metuka/A Good and Sweet New Year to you, and Big, Big, Big Mama Nicole Love to all of you reading this and all of you who are part of my support system of likes, loves, emails, and prayer, as well as all the health practitioners who work with me and on me to keep this body of mine moving through space and time so I can take care of those I love. You are part of why I am who I am and can do what I do so thank you!

Mom. Dad. Judy Memorial
My mother Helen Redman and my father Jacques Barchilon taking care of each other at the memorial for Judy Barchilon, Wow, wow, wow!

 

Papa’s Perseverance, Pain and Power

Dad on Bike
My 94 year-old, WWII French Resistance fighter of a father, still resisting tyranny, the tyranny of a body aging. He is a hard-working, hoping to heal himself human and he blows my mind.

This post was written over the course of several weeks. I am now home in California:

Wednesday June 21st, 2017~ I’m relaxed at this exact moment. I just had a two hour Tok Sen Thai Massage at Siam Sensation. This is my first break in six days since flying to Denver on June 14th to take care of my father post his wife’s death on June 7th. My brother and his partner are spelling me for a few hours. It’s been hellish and hard and I’ve had no time to cry, really. Tears leak out in moments, but the work-load is pretty constant. Caring for a 94-year-old beloved who is in fairly constant emotional and physical pain is a full-time, many person endeavor. My father’s just six weeks from having fallen and broken his hip, then gotten hip replacement surgery, followed by a minor heart attack two days later and being intubated despite his DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order and then having to be in a rehabilitation facility for a month and watch his beloved wife, of the last 18 years, Judy wither away and die. This is the territory I entered when I came to Denver for the second month in the last three. I spent all of April and one week of May here helping with the hospital stay and the transition to the rehabilitation facility.

It’s a week later, once again, getting a respite at the home of my brother, his partner and my daughter. Sitting in the back yard of my childhood home. My father gave my brother and his partner this home when he moved to Denver to be with Judy. This was where I spent half of every week as a child. It’s more lovely than it ever was when I was growing up. My daughter has filled the downstairs with the art of my grandmother, her great-grandmother Perla Barchilon, her grandmother/my mother Helen Redman, and her other grandmothers’ (Maren Frank and Rachel Heller’s) art is also all over, as is my brother Paul Barchilon’s and also my daughter’s own art. The place is clean and colorful and not-cluttered. It feels like home in a completely different way than it did as a child. My brother and his partner also live upstairs in the home they designed and it is completely fantastic as well and full of art, beauty and calm.

Papa blue robe
Painting of my father, by my mother Helen Redman, in the entry way to the downstairs, pottery by my brother Paul Barchilon, decor by my daughter

Is this  where we should move my father? Should he go into an Assisted Living/Nursing home, a thought that initially made him cringe (since starting this article my brother and his partner looked at many homes and found two that are within budget, barely and that my father also didn’t hate). We cannot afford full-time care-giving for him at his place through an agency. We cannot afford over-night care for him either through the agencies that provide that. With his funds, possibly a few hours a day could be managed, but that’s not going to cut it, in my opinion. Furthermore, he hasn’t been alone since March 30th when he fell and broke his hip. We are most likely, at this point, hiring someone to care-give outside of an agency, which is half the cost, which is pricey, but within his budget and allows him to live at home, which is what he wants. My brother will have to manage all of this and we will vet the person and make sure their police-records are checked, but it’s not the same as a family member.

Shira Home
My daughter’s clean and lovely living room downstairs from my brother’s place full of books and beauty.

My tears are still intermittent. The reality is that my father cannot live on his own, not yet, perhaps not ever. Despite two months of my time and life and the practically constant care and presence of my brother over the last six months, my father is not healed enough to live on his own. Both my sons have flown out to help for a week each and my daughter is also a regular presence in his life and home now. My Papa thinks he wants to be independent and on his own in his own home, but he’s had the loving and devoted presence of his wife in that apartment and since her death, he has had a steady stream of loving family. This will no longer be the case. There are kind and devoted folks in his building that care about him, but they cannot care-give him or be there in any kind of medically responsible way. He doesn’t want to live with my daughter in her study, which we would convert to a bedroom. He doesn’t want to live anywhere but his own home, who can blame him for that?

I haven’t had the energy to see any of my friends while I’ve been here. I cannot even make phone calls or emails much. The schedule at night has been my father needing help every two hours or so, with blankets, incontinence issues, pain management, difficulty breathing, thirst, etc… So, I’ve been in a pretty constant state of sleep deprivation, with nights off once a week or so on Shabbat if we pay the $300 it costs for one night’s care for him or when it has worked for my brother or my daughter to spend the night. Obviously not a sustainable situation.

Issac Nicole feet
Issac’s wounded foot taking a break, next to my tired feet from hours of moving things around in Dad’s apartment to try to get his office converted into a room that a care-giver/live-in could actually live in!

And I’m not even touching the sadness here, the pain of my father’s loneliness sitting at the table while I do the dishes or the cooking and he looks out the window missing his wife with every fiber of his frail body and incredibly clear and cogent mind. He told my son Issac and I, while explaining that he was going to speak to us as if we weren’t in the room so he could say what was on his mind, “I pretend she is on a trip or out doing errands and this lasts for a few hours and then I remember that she’s never coming home.” There were tears streaming down his face while he shared this.

Dad Post it
The note I found in Judy’s bedside dresser while cleaning things out in my father’s apartment.

This situation is so damn hard.

dad and Judy
Thanksgiving in Colorado a few years ago. 

And, my daughter said the other night, it’s not even bad really, because we are all loving with him and each other and he isn’t destitute (he taught French at CU Boulder for 45 years and has a good pension). He has options and we will figure out how to navigate all of this, with the capable minds and bodies of my daughter, my brother and his partner here in Boulder and myself and my family here in California. In the long-run, this story is a love-story, a family caring for each other and the person most in need with kindness, effort, intelligence and profound love. Whatever difficulties have been in my past with my father or in my brother’s past; my papa had a temper and he has never approved of my spiritual calling or my emotional nature (he thinks I should have been a lawyer!). Still, he has always loved us, gifted us with his time and caring, and been there for us in BIG ways. It’s our turn now.

Dad Waving
My father in a moment of less pain in the new recliner/lift chair in his living room at home.  I realized we needed to get him this chair, in the middle of one particularly difficult night. He can sleep for two or three hours comfortably here, and it’s his new favorite place to be!

 

 

Gevurah, Grounding and Getting To It

IMG_3708
The Tree Bark, Beautiful and Boundaried

This is the week of Gevurah/Din, which I cannot easily translate. Here are some ways to think about Gevurah: Judgement, Severity, Boundaries, Strength, Discipline, and the Angel Gavriel/Gabriel, whose name shares the same root. Gavriel is the angel on the left side of our bodies, who girds us with strength and protects us.

When I say this is the week of Gevurah, that needs explaining as well. Starting on the second day of Pesach/Passover, observant Jewish folks count the Omer. We count seven cycles of seven, which = 49 and then in the evening of that last day, it’s another day, the 50th day and this is the holiday of Shavuot. Shavuot is about the first grain (Wheat) offering, it’s a pilgrimage festival, like Pesach and Sukkot. It’s also considered to be the anniversary of when the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai and so we stay up all night studying Torah, specifically the Book of Ruth, but all of this is weeks away.

Right now, we are in the second week of the seven and each week is linked to the lower seven Sephirot/Energies/Attributes of the Divine, on the Tree of Life. Last week was Hesed/Loving-Kindness, this week is Gevurah. Gevurah and I have been connecting only in the last few years of my life. Prior to a conscious choice on my part to get into balance and make serious changes in my life and the way I engage with the world, most folks who knew me in the past would laugh and say: “Boundaries and Nicole, in the same sentence or space, that’s an Oxymoron”

Tree of Life

The Panoply of Symbols for the Sefirot

The Kabbalah assigns every symbol to one or more of the Sefirot. Here is a list of some of the many symbols and correspondences one can find. It comes from Dr. Eliezer Siegel in Calgary. Each of the following lists for each Sefirah is found on Jewish Virtual Library under the name of the Sefirah. Nava Shoham (1-800-ketubah.com) collated all of these entries onto one page, which I’ve reproduced here (using some of her font colors) with some corrections. This image of the Sefirot here is found all over the web. I’ve added directions and some alternate names in yellow to the image. If anyone knows the source or artist please let me know….Rabbi David Seidenberg

 

Please visit Neohasid.org for a fuller description of all of these teachings. I cannot do the Sefirot justice here. I do want to talk about the work of Gevurah and my engagement with it. Fundamentally, we have all these energies in us, available to us and truly we can find and move into balance. It is not beyond us. This task, this work of counting the Omer is always complex, but it allows me daily engagement with specific energies. By paying attention and counting, literally and also figuratively, I attune myself to the Divine, to the world and to my deeper and truest self.

So, onto the Gevurah, Grounding and Getting to it! As an Empath (see Isn’t It Always Love) I feel it all and I have struggled to have any kind of boundary. I’m extremely grateful for this Omer practice and for the teachings of the Tree of Life, because they have enabled me to seek out and gain some semblance of relationship to the boundaries I needed to cultivate. For me, implicit, in the idea of a boundary, is that I am not creating a hard wall to keep anyone or anything out. I am engaged in creating a porous, but still strong web or fluid that surrounds me, or whatever needs surrounding. It is not a hard boundary.

I have very few hard boundaries, I’m not a hard person.

Nicole Clare Red dress pre.final mikveh
Me, in Ireland, surrounded by my companions, the trees and the river and the fire. This is right before my last Irish Mikveh/Immersion in Living Waters in the very cold water just behind me.

My Gevurah practice is about getting grounded in the earth, recognizing that all of creation has structure of some sort and that this structure is necessary and good. The tree is surrounded by bark, the stem of the flower is a tube carrying nutrients from ground to flower, the seed has a hard shell around it until conditions are right for it to break open. All of these are examples of Gevurah in the world. A boundary that allows life and bounty to unfold.

My own boundaries are like these, I have had to create a boundary circle around certain areas of my life in order to live my life. For my Jubilee year, I took a nine month retreat, this was a boundary circle around interaction with other people, with caring for others and with feeling and doing for others. (You can read all about this is the Jubilee section of this blog)

The majority of people in my life, my children, my family, my friends, my colleagues were outside of my circle, I was inside of it with the Holy One and Creation. I was isolated, in a cabin in Western Ireland, at a Carmelite Hermitage called Holy Hill. I was not alone. The birds, the Angels, the Divine and I were in communion. The ivy on the trees, the flowing river outside my window, the stars and the wind, these were my companions. They were great companions.

I was also blessed with fellow hermits and retreatants who were on similar journeys of contemplation, stillness and engagement with what emerges when you aren’t on the treadmill of the world. We prayed in silence together and shared a common meal once a week, when and if we wanted to be with others. Sometimes, I felt called to being with others, sometimes not. My boundaries are always flexible, this is how I do Gevurah.

My friend Arieh David Scharnberg asked this question on FB:

Looking for advice:

This is the week of Gevurah in the Omer Counting, usually associated with ‘discipline.’

How do you practice self-discipline in ways you can commit to and in ways that don’t induce stress?

What I mean is, every time I think about ‘ok, I need to get more organized’ or ‘I need to be more focused at work’ or ‘I need to do x or y once a day,’ even if it is taking things one step at a time and breaking things into smaller increments, any time I think of a change in my behavior that requires a commitment to that change, I either feel incredible anxiety in trying to commence (a fear of failure) or at best resigned if not despair when I find I have an inability to maintain that change.

Thank you in advance for your wisdom and insights!

This post is my answer to him. Gevurah requires grounding, earth-based practice that is rooted and  attended to, in order for it to be lasting. This doesn’t mean all my boundaries now stay in a permanent fixed place or that my discipline is perfect. It means that I get better all the time at walking this walk and engaging with this energy. It’s a practice, not a goal that I will reach and cross the finish line where a throng of folks will be cheering. It’s subtle and continuous and small sometimes, even just one small action will create a shift in my direction that allows the boundary to get stronger.

And, here’s the thing about all of this, right now we have to pair each of these energies/sefirot with others. We take the week we are in, this week it is Gevurah and align it with each of the other seven, so today, as I write this, I am in the week of Gevurah paired with the Sefira of Tiferet (glory, beauty, harmony). So, how do I relate to these two qualities? Here, in Jamestown at the home of my sister by Love, I am secluded, boundaried. I have taken myself away from the hustle and bustle of my family’s current crisis. I am not needed in this moment, my brother and others are doing the work that needs doing. I am preparing for Shabbat, which is a boundary I observe EVERY week, a time of stillness and honoring of Tiferet in my life, when I actively court the Divine and rest in many, many ways. But, I couldn’t do this if I didn’t create the boundary. Many folks now understand this about me. People no longer expect anything from me on Saturdays or Friday night. I don’t get phone calls or even many emails and I don’t respond to them either as I mostly turn off my technologies that are external and focus on my spiritual relationships.

My Shabbat practice is a Gevurah practice linked with Tiferet and all the other elements on the tree, but it starts with creating the boundary circle around this day, every week and I get better and better at it. I can go outside the boundary, when I need to, or choose to, again, the boundaries are never going to be hard and brittle for me, that’s not who I am. This Gevurah gate in my life has allowed me to create others because there has been and continues to be so much value generated and present for me as a result.

So, whether you practice this very intense and complicated counting or you are just looking at ways to feel protected, boundaried, held in by a structure that is healthy and supportive, I encourage you to go outside, meditate on the bark of a tree or the stem of a flower. Take the time you need to create spaciousness for yourself in any area that you need to by creating a boundary that is real and healing and healthy between yourself and the forces that love to pull you and all of us off our center.

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Heart at the bottom of a tree. Photo taken by my husband while we were on a walk together in Humboldt County, where we live, love, find and hopefully create harmony and balance, for ourselves and for all those we encounter.

 

 

 

Pointed, Prickly and Profound Pesach/Passover

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This is where I spent the first night of Pesach up Sugarloaf road in Boulder, Colorado. I had planned to be with my dear friends in Oregon, but life intervened. My 94-year-old father fell and broke his hip and then two days after his hip-replacement surgery had a minor heart-attack. I flew out here to help my brother and family navigate all of this.

My father, never at ease, with care or emotions, was very upset to see me when I first got here. He requested that I not come into his room alone. He said that I was “too emotional” and my presence distressed him. I was actually expecting this, because this is his default around me and emotions. I refrain from all emotional expressions around him and have for years. But, he was so uncomfortable and unhappy already, my presence served as a reminder that things were dire or difficult.

I am the person folks usually want around them when they are sick, 99% of the time. Folks love when I bring food to them, help them navigate tests, hospital staff, doctors, end of life care issues and everything in between. I am regularly consulted, and in the company of folks who are not well in hospital and home situations. It’s something I do from my heart with confidence and skill. The fact that my father denies me the opportunity to give to him, in the ways I am most able to, is one more opportunity for me to grow.

My Mussar/Jewish Ethical practices and teachings ask us to look at whatever is present in our world as our “spiritual homework.” This idea works for me because I am someone who tries to address whatever is difficult as an opportunity. I am not always successful in this, but I do use this concept as a framework for my life.

So, my brother, his partner, my daughter, various other family members and I have been trying to do a very complex dance. There are lots of steps behind the scenes and various curtains opening and closing, in sync hopefully, and lots of improvisation. I have respected my father’s wishes, for the most part. I found that he was open to good soups and foods, which I could make for him and send with my brother. This worked for a little while and then it was “too much fuss” and “too much foods,” even though it was a small box in the hospital patient refrigerator with some cheese, yogurt, olives and soup.

My father asked where I was several times when my brother came to spend time with him and my brother reminded him that he had told me not to come. I spent my pre-Passover time cleaning my brother and my daughter’s homes and kitchens and cooking for them and my father to support all of them, behind the scenes. I drive my brother into Denver frequently, and stay in the waiting area, and try to make it easier for my brother to handle all he is handling. It’s a family affair with one person on center stage looking like he is doing it all, my brother, but there are lots of things going on in the background.

This element of caring for folks, whether they are old, or not, is critical to understand. It is often the case that only one member of a family or friend grouping will be the one the person who is not well feels the most comfortable with. It’s important to not take it personally when you aren’t the person wanted. I know this intellectually, emotionally it’s another story.

So, I have cried, done a phone session with my therapist, gone to multiple services at Bonai Shalom and been on the phone with my husband and sisters and others and processed. I’ve gotten massaged at Siam Sensation, my favorite place in town and gone swimming and taken walks in the woods. I don’t swallow poison or hurt, when I am awake and aware. I take my pain to the Holy One, to my support crew of friends and family and to my sister’s grave as well. I lay it all out and down and work on trusting that my love and care will be of help and that someday it will all make sense or improve.

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My brother and I at our sister’s grave. It’s a place of healing and calm for me always. See More than One, for more thoughts on my sister and I and grave-side practices.

Everyone is unique in how they navigate illness and stress and difficulty. There is no cookie-cutter form that works every time. Patience and calm and trust are always great tools to have if you can figure out how to have them in a crisis, no small task. Even though my father was reticent initially to my arriving and my involvement, he has warmed up to me and to my help. My presence makes a difference for the other folks in this situation. It’s not what I thought I’d be doing, on the other hand, this is what is.

How this relates to Pesach and Passover is also relevant. We look at all the ways we enslave others and are enslaved at this time of year. We look at all the things that are leaven in our lives, all that puffs us up and that is not necessary. Our pride, our lack of awareness about the suffering of others, our over-consumption, our fear and our lack of faith are all examples of things we need to look at deeply. We always tell the story in the present tense and we are not only reminded once, but repeatedly, over and over and over, that the Exodus is not something that happened once. Our story is something that is currently happening and that is happening for us and for refugees and folks in bondage everywhere right now.

We live the story in this moment.

So, in my now, having to traverse the territory of my pride around my ability to care for folks in need, I can see it as one more form of leaven in my life. Ceding the care-giving to my brother and taking a back-seat, that’s not my normal setting, nor is it easy for me, but I can and am doing it. Letting go of my childhood pain and sense of rejection around my Papa is also a way to liberate myself further from things that I no longer need to be tied up in knots about.

My father loves me, he has never, and will never understand me. Big deal, what’s new? This is the story for so many people. While it is painful, I am not alone, I am not three or twelve. I’m fifty-two years old. I have a plethora of folks who do understand me and don’t reject me. My father is actually not rejecting me, he’s rejecting having to feel things that he doesn’t have the energy or ability to handle. I represent emotions and feelings to him, I hold that space in his mind and in his experience. Just being around me stimulates him in ways that are not comfortable for him. He still thinks I should be a lawyer, which is just beyond laughable.

Soup, I can send him, through another person, that works. Yesterday, I felt a strong call, on the second day of Pesach, about ten days into my visit here, to go see him. So, I called him, he is now at a rehabilitation facility.  I asked him if I could come for a brief visit and bring him some maztoh ball soup that my friend, a former student of his, had made. He said, come visit, but no soup, and only if I was already in Denver. I lied and said I was, but that it would be a few hours before I arrived. I drove in, during rush hour to see him. It took an hour and a half to get there and an hour to get home. When I got to his room he said: “I’m going to make you very happy and let you rub my feet.” This is something I’ve offered before, when visiting with him, but that he’d always refused.

So, I washed and massaged Papa’s feet, which felt good for both of us. While I was there, the Executive Director came in and asked how things were going. My father said “fine,” but then started to complain about the food. He then he raved about the tomato basil soup he’d had at the hospital and said they should hire away the cook at the hospital. This was funny to me, since he’d complained about the food there to my brother. I told the director to just have the kitchen always put some lemon on my father’s tray and that would help him enjoy whatever he was eating.

A little later, dinner was served and the cook came up. My father apologized profusely for complaining to the director and the cook assured my father, that he wanted to provide the best meal possible for him and that it was his job to do so. He asked my father where he was from originally and my father said: “France, we are French, from Morocco originally.” The cook said: “I’m from Palestine, I’m Palestinian.”

I immediately said “Salaam Aleicum,” and he shook my hand and said Aleicum Salaam and smiled. Jews and Muslims share this form of greeting. We say Shalom Aleichem, they say Salaam Aleicum, both of these things mean the same thing, Peace To You, and the response is Alecheim Shalom or Aleicum Salaam, which means To You Peace.

My father then said it was a “bloody ridiculous mess” in Israel and Palestine and that all the bloodshed and arguing was wrong. The cook didn’t say anything more to this. I shook his hand again and thanked him in Arabic, “shukran, shukran.” He smiled and departed. There was lemon on the tray they brought my Papa for dinner. And, of course, he would have preferred the soup my friend had made, but he’d told me not to bring it, so I hadn’t, trés typique, as we say en français.

We attend to the details of Passover more intensely than any other holiday. It is considered of benefit to go longer, go deeper, do more, make things sparkle or have more meaning, discuss it differently, cook more dishes, clean more, and in general go a little crazy in your preparations and expressions for this holiday. So, likewise, with my father in his situation, the details are maddening, complex and continuously shifting and challenging. It requires great attention to detail and flexibility.

I’m blessed to have a family that has consummate skills in this area. So, as we wander in this new wilderness, this place that is wholly different from what we are comfortable and familiar with, we look around us and see we are not alone. We are helping each other along, we are laughing, we are crying and we are falling down and picking each other up. We are finding ways to do what needs doing in the face of complex emotions and situations.

Let me be very clear as well, it’s horrifying to me, when I think about how hard and how much work we are doing for my father, who has health-insurance, who is in clean and calm facilities, who has children who can afford to drive or fly in to help. What is horrifying about this, is that so many folks don’t have this kind of support or care. The vast majority of people in the world, who are suffering all over this world, don’t have the resources or the facilities that my father does. My father is an American but he wasn’t born here. He emigrated here after World War II. He got his college education here in the 1950s and became a French professor at CU Boulder. He worked for over thirty years there and planned intelligently for his retirement. He found his truest love at the age of 75 and has been happily married to her for almost twenty years now.

  1. How can my situation, which is challenging, but not horrific help me to be a better person?
  2. What can I do differently so that the suffering of others is lessened?
  3. Where are there places in my life that I can explore further that will enable me to be freer to give with my whole heart and serve the Divine more fully?
  4. How can I release what constricts and binds me so that I am truly free to show up for exactly what needs showing up for?

These are my four questions for this holiday, not the typical ones, but they are the ones I’m wrestling with. May your forays into this Holy Spring Time, whether you are Jewish, Christian, Pagan, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or any other stripe or way of connecting to this Wholly and Holy Amazing world, be full of joy and thoughtful contemplation. May you find your way out of whatever binds you, into full-on service to what needs doing and what is for the good.

You are not alone!

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The altar I made for my father the day I learned about his hip fracture. The wine, in the center, is for us to drink to his health, the photos are of my father and my daughter, my father and his mother, my father and his wife and two of my favorite angel images. The bowl holding the candle is the bottom of a Moroccan couscoussier and one of my brother Paul Barchilon’s ceramic coasters is holding the light.

Praying in my Pink Pajamas

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One of my favorite books, by Ellen Frankel, to study when I’m wanting to engage in Torah. This book is essential if you want to have an engaged relationship with the stories in the Torah.

So, yesterday was Shabbat. It was also January 21, 2017 and almost everyone I know and members of my family were at protest marches all over the country. Friends in France, England, Ireland and all over the world were protesting. I stayed home and put on my pink fuzzy pajamas (in solidarity with all the pink pussy hats) and said some prayers and studied Torah.

I watched the protests unfolding on my phone and on Facebook. I felt the energy and the hope and exuberance and the anger as well. I am in a counter-current to almost everyone I know. My internal river is moving very slowly in a circular mellow eddy, where I am gathering leaves, moss, rocks, and sticks. I’m crafting something entirely other and different from what has been. I’m not at all in the main stream right now. I’m in the inbetween, in limnal, milky and birthing something different waters.

When I started reading the Torah portion, I was not surprised to see that the story for this day of protest and this week of intense complexity was the story of a wicked ruler/Pharoah who ordered the killing of all Jewish boys upon birth. It’s the story of resistance, of Miriam (the Prophetess sister of Moses) and Yochaved (mother of Moses) and Zipporah (wife of Moses) and Batya (daughter of Pharoah) and Shifrah and Puah (midwives). All Biblically powerful women who did not follow orders, who resisted the violent, crazy powers. They did so with cunning, with solidarity, with creativity and with courage. I encourage you to read this piece of Torah, it’s pretty powerful stuff.

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Pink on Pink with Torah portion open to Shemot which corresponds to Exodus 1:1-6:1

So, the story of today, for me feels like the story of thousands of years ago. And while there were signs saying “It’s not 2017 B.C.E” all over the protests going on. Part of me is thinking, yes, actually it is. We are still navigating very similar territory and history is cyclical, circular, complex and has an intensely long arc. I believe there has been and is movement towards goodness and caring and kindness that is huge, but I don’t think we are ever free from certain dynamics.

This is why the Torah is still as alive for me today as it was thousands of years ago for my ancestors. It’s still telling the story of how to navigate life and all the challenges we will certainly encounter while we spin on this planet. It’s still advocating resistance to injustice, solidarity with those who are innocent, vulnerable, different or endangered. It’s still asking us to lead with kindness and goodness and to believe in goodness not just in our minds but in our actions. This is a radical thing to do.

What does active goodness look like? It involves a deep engagement with hope, with trust, with caring, with service, with soup-making and helping others in whatever ways one can. It involves extending our circles of love beyond ourselves and holding the suffering of those near and far in our hearts. It’s not a mental activity, it’s a full-bodied, full hearted, whole self involvement.

I try not to watch the news or participate in the cycle of crazy information that will pull me out of this internal eddy I’m currently in. If you want to understand this practice and my reasons for this read: Open Hearted Elections..

There is something here in the non-news zone to explore that is not angry or fast or stimulating. It’s the slow steady turning of life and love and the knowledge in my bones that I am here to serve and that this is a life-journey, not a sometimes-when-I-feel-like-it-journey. My children are adults now, my youngest just turned 20 on January 20th. I’m shifting my current and looking for how to best honor the Holy One in the coming years. I’m exploring how to flow into my best aware service in consistently trying, even more complex, and intensely challenging times.

Climate change is real, anger, sexism, racism, bigotry of all kinds, belligerence and violence are real forces on this planet. They are not the only forces though. I cannot battle these forces, I have no battle energy currently moving through me. I have tenderness, I have vulnerability, I have clean the kitchen and make soup energy, I have love my friends and family and community energy. I have pray in pink fuzzy pajama and study energy. I have dreaming energy and hoping energy and writing energy.

I have a strong desire to listen to the elders of all wisdom traditions and try to do what is wise to do. I’m very grateful to cede the territory of battle, protest and shifting, on a larger scale, to those who are called to do that kind of work. I don’t think we all serve in the same ways and I don’t think we need to. I’ve been on the front lines and this is not my time for that. I also trust and have Bitahon (absolute trust) in the Holy One, whose plans are not knowable or known to me. This teaching below is an hour long, and crucial because it informs how I understand this period of time we are living in. My teacher, Reb Zalman, May his memory continue to be a blessing, talks about this time as being a time of Axial turning, not a paradigm or quick shifting. A turning towards goodness and change that is several hundred years long, not one or two generations. This resonates for me right now.

 

The closest I can come to understanding what is impossible to understand is to fall back on what I know is true. What is true for me is that I feel more bound to the effort, than the outcome and to the means and not the ends. So, I will continue to pray in pink, swirl slowly, make medicine, listen to folks in need, help when and where I can, honor the Sabbath, and send out messages when something surfaces that may be of value to others.