Tag Archives: “over the hill”

Shalom Aleichem, So Long, and Fare Ye Well

My soon to be new home
My soon to be new home

I’m off to play with the wild things!

In less than two months I will leave Arcata for my great big adventure. my solo sabbatical. I’m headed to the green hills of ancient Tara, to Ireland. I’ll be staying in a hermitage cabin by myself that is part of a community dedicated to solitude, silence and communion with nature and the Divine in contemplation. They allow folks of all faiths or no specific faith to spend time in their hermitage cabins, after determining if the person applying is someone who will work for them and their process, and this wild and wacky crazy Jewish woman, somehow made the grade. The fey folk and I go way back.

So, now I am moving through the hundreds of things that have to get done before I depart for this time away. There will be no phone and no internet in my small stone cottage. I will have a bed, a desk, a wood stove, a small cooking space, a bathroom and electricity to work my computer. I’ll be cooking my own meals with food provided for me from the gardens of the land I’ll be on. I’ll be sitting quietly on moss, swimming in cold rivers or lochs, walking to the beach and exploring the green, misted and very mellow and unpopulated countryside. I’ll be praying and writing and sleeping, resting, studying Torah, meditating, playing with watercolors and sleeping more!

My soon to be view from the desk, where I will be writing, writing, writing!
My soon to be view from the desk, where I will be writing, writing, writing!

The last many years of my life, over thirty actively parenting children and years before that taking care of other people’s children and all the community work I’ve done, wherever I’ve lived, has taken a toll. I need a lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng break. My tradition encourages us to attend to the Sabbath, every week, every year and every seven cycles of seven. Those of you who have followed my meanderings on these pages and perhaps also on my website/blog www.ohohands.com, know that I am in my Jubilee year. It’s time for me to get away and survive on the fruits of the last fifty years of my living and serving on this planet.

All leave-takings have an aura, a whisper of forever in them…

I am lingering in my hugs with folks. I’m weeping often. Here, at my desk, thinking about being away from my most beloved husband it is hard. As I prepare to go away from my lovely home, incredible and magnificent husband (yes, I’m repeating myself, because I am over the moon about this man, still, after 26 years) my children, community, and family, I am feeling the pain of loss. One never knows what will transpire when one goes on a sojourn away from family, community and friends. Who I am is always unfolding and changing, as it should be for all of us. I am not running away from all those I love with glee, I am clearly and consciously taking my leave of them for a time. It’s not easy or simple.

In March, in the pouring rain off of Lanphere road, as we all shivered and cried along with the sky, I led a memorial service for a local man who died suddenly in the arms of his beloved. He was in good health, had just started a new business and gotten a clean bill of health from his doctors. His children, friends, former partners and wives all were in a state of devastation and shock. There is no way to prepare for someone’s leaving in this kind of way.

As a friend of mine, who is a cardiologist, said to me upon hearing this story: “Sometimes the first sign of a problem is called sudden death.” Sudden death, is not something we get to come back from. I’m not planning on a “sudden death,” none of us are, but it can and does happen at the drop of a hat, at any moment.

In Pirkei Avot (Sayings/Teachings of the Elders) a book that compiles the wisdom of the elders of the Great Assembly, which contains sayings attributed to sages from (200 BCE) to shortly after (200 CE), it says: “Repent one day before you die.” This is a flawed English translation of very complex Hebrew. Teshuvah, which I’ve written about extensively in the past, doesn’t translate exactly as repent or repentance. Returning or reconnecting, or mending are more accurate and enriched meanings

Repentance, in and of itself, is a word with very strong connotations. I’m not opposed to the idea of repentance because it has much more meaning in Hebrew and it is an amalgam of the ideas mentioned already. Most folks in the groovy-new-age-be-mellow universe of non-adherence to responsibility or to strong ethical guidelines take issue with this idea. I’m not in that category. I believe in making amends and wrestling with wrong-doing and working hard to fix what I’ve broken or trying to get clear with someone I’ve hurt. So, I don’t mind the word repentance, but it triggers lots of people who are not religiously inclined and makes them reject, out of hand, a very important teaching.

How do any of us know which day is the day before we die?

We don’t.

Therefore, every day is the day to return to the path of goodness, wholeness, engagement with the Divine. Every day is the day to mend what we’ve broken, what we have destroyed or harmed. Every day is the day to reconnect with those we are fighting with or are distanced from. Every day is the day to say “I love you, you are precious to me.” There is no guarantee of tomorrow, there is only this moment and these hours and this opportunity for healing, connection, engagement and growth.

When we live our lives this way, we find grace and more importantly we create it.

As I say my farewells, I am endeavoring to be gracious and careful. But unfortunately I’ve messed up and been less than kind with friends, or not been as present or clear as I should have. Part of me is already gone. The Pirkei Avot teachings are the pillars in my life that make all the difference. They encourage me every day to be kind, clear and honest. So, even if I am erring, I am also continuously self-evaluating and working diligently to make things better.

Some troubles and issues are way too big or complex to fix or mend in one day.

I’ve been working on hard territory with people I love very much for long years. Teshuvah is a process, and even this longer-term kind of Teshuvah process will now have to move to another level, one that lives in my heart. All my work will be taking place beyond the mists, in a liminal, shrouded internal other place.

Part of my going away is about actively being free to engage with a completely different way of being, one that isn’t always tangible. I engage in prayer and practice every day for all those I love. It is my always practice to surround folks with light or see them laughing in joy or cuddling with a wished for companion, or resting in the wings of the healing angel Raphael. This will still be going on when I am away, but in a wholly deeper way.

Will those I love and who love me hear my prayers or know that they are being loved and cared for, even when they do not HEAR from me via email, letter, phone, or in person? If I’m not sending a care package, making soup for you or calling you to check in on you, does it mean I am no longer loving you? Of course not!

Being off the grid is something that I long for at this point. I’m crossing the ocean, and communication in physical form, will be on hold. Interactions that are coming from other realms will be ongoing and continuous for and from me. Will you hear me, when I say “I love you?” Will you feel the light, the healing and the hope curling around you? I hope so with all of my heart.

No longer engaged in giving birth or caring for children, no longer having the physical stamina to offer continuously as I have, what and how should I give to this planet, to those I love, to those in need. What is my offering as I go “over the hill?” Am I going to teach, pursue a Master’s degree in Religious Studies, or Judaism? Should I pursue becoming a rabbi? Should I open my own office of healing arts and “how to” lessons about connecting with the Divine within or “how to love” lessons? Am I supposed to write multiple books or continue to just do things as I have in the past with some modifications based on my physical reality? What really is the best way for me to serve going into the future?

I am dedicated, bound, completely and for all eternity to serving.

This is cellular for me and soul-deep. There is no reality I can imagine or want to be in where I won’t be endeavoring to find a way to serve. The question, as I age, is how to do that best? This is something I don’t have an answer for yet—and it is the ultimate reason I am venturing away from my life as it has been.

I am committed to having NO AGENDA or PLAN for my time away. I’m so done with both of those things, no “to do” lists and no forcing of myself into a space or time based on someone else’s needs. I am actively taking this brief moment of time between child-rearing and caring for elders in the coming years.

This time away is not just for me, even though it is a solitary time. This is hard for some folks to understand. My time away is about rest, yes and time away from doing, but it is also about finding out how the Holy One wants me to serve for the rest of my time on this earth.

I hope to find some of these answers in the moss, from the cool breezes, from my dreams in the ancient stone built cottage where I will be alone with just myself and the Divine. The body of my prayers in Hebrew and English and my tears, all my tears, these will be the Mishkan (sacred dwelling place created in the wilderness while the Jewish people ventured from Mitzrayim to the Holy Land). I will be creating and dwelling in this Mishkan built of my prayers, my years of working to make this happen, my kavannah (intention) and my desire. This Mishkan will also inform my process, being alone with just the Creator and the beauty of the creation around me will water the orchard in my soul. The hearth flames, the birds singing, the rolling green hills, the sound of the sea not too far off, these will be my companions and guides. I will wrap myself in my blue prayer shawl and call out to Ha-Shem and beg with all of my being for healing for this planet, for all those I love and know and for all those suffering on this spinning orb. May you feel the love for you that is in every dew drop, ray of sun, mossy knoll, and all of creation offering itself to you in every moment.

Byline is below from where this piece was originally published in the local paper where Nicole currently lives; The Mad River Union in two parts, on April 29, 2015 and May 6, 2015

~~~~~~~~~~~~~Nicole writes her last column, for a time, from her Bayside desk. She will continue to write and may post updates on her blog www.ohohands.com.  No matter where she is physically located, she sends Love, Prayers for a Refuah Shelemah (a complete healing) and lots of wishes for Shalom/Salaam/Peace your way.

Jubilee Series Part 7: Coming Together With My Land, Skin and Heart

Story Bones by Helen Redman, 1993Story Bones by Helen Redman, 1993

The air is thick with smoke from the large fire at Happy Camp. I am several valleys away from this fire, but it is still impacting the skies here. It is smoky in the mornings here where I am on retreat for my Jubilee (50th birthday). Nevertheless, it is extraordinarily perfect. It is quiet, except for bird song, squirrel chatter and lizard movements among the dry leaves. The smoke clears by mid to late afternoon, which is when the wind seems to pick up. My days have taken on a dreamy quality of time moving extremely slowly with no sense of urgency. This is absolutely what I wanted and needed. There is a profound restorative quality to this time. I was just about at the very end of my tank, even my reserves had been used up.

Over the course of my life folks have told me to do less, to care less, to take more care of myself. This advice has rarely been useful or heeded. My soul is dedicated to serving and until the suffering stops on the planet, I am on duty. I am always attending to myself AND to others. I am not, nor have I ever martyred myself. I do, and always have felt the needs of others to be as important and real as my own. This has been true for me my whole life. My ability to regenerate is pretty good, in general, I just need some time to pray and to cry and to be held or get into a body of water and move my body. I do need natural water for a deeper kind of healing. There is a beautiful poem that resonates for me, from one of my favorite books of poetry by Nancy Wood, called Many Winters © 1974. It is a collection of prose and poetry of the Taos and Pueblos with drawings and paintings by Frank Howell.

“The skin of the earth
covers its imperfections
Just as my face conceals
my vast uncertainty.
In the dry cracks of the earth
I find that it has bled
from the injuries of man.
The earth has healed itself
through time moving across
its tortured face of skin.
But what shall heal me except
the sun which makes cracks in my face
so that I can come together with my land.”

 

In the afternoons up here, I walk to the river, moving very slowly, so that I can come together with my land.

When I get to the river, it is cold and has deep pools as well as shallows. I immerse and rejuvenate, alone with the trout, crayfish, birds and water bugs, so that I can come together with my land. Besides immersing myself in quiet and cold water, I came here to do some work. The process of self-examination and hard work of this month of Elul, which is the month that precedes the Jewish New Year called Rosh Hashanah, is always pressing upon me. I’ve written about this before and I wasn’t sure what new things I could say here. My process this year, is of course, WRIT LARGE, because it is not just about a single year, but the last 49 years and my very conscious choice about changing direction and focus. In order to do this, I have to snip the old frayed threads or sew the ragged patches up, so that my body and soul can move into the next part of my brief time on this planet, so that I can come together with my land.

Elul reminds us that life is cyclical. We make mistakes, we grow, we fight, we harm, we love, we fall down and we do these things over and over until we are no longer able to. This cycle is as old as human consciousness. There has always been war, there has always been ugliness. There has always been fear and pain. There has also always been love, and tenderness, hope and reaching for Holiness and Wholeness and more folks working on mending what is broken than folks breaking things.

This cycle, my Mussar teacher gave us a very specific assignment. I’m used to making lists of people in my life I need to ask forgiveness from and I have a practice that is pretty automatic at this point. My teacher asked our class to start the forgiveness work this Elul by forgiving folks who had hurt us for the first ten days. She wanted us to make notations and to do this work internally. There is a daily forgiveness process in the Jewish tradition that is part of the Bedtime Shema, where we grant blanket forgiveness to all who have wronged us and ask that they not suffer on account of any wrong they have done to us. Only religiously observant folks recite this blessing regularly. I attend to it in Elul, but it is kind of automatic and non-specific.

This homework assignment was really different. I had never actually made a list of all the people I needed to forgive. It was not that long, but there were some biggies on the list. I wrote a name down, and then listed the hurt that person had done me. After I completed this part of the process, I started to chant the name of the person and to speak to them and tell them I forgave them for the wrong and the hurt they had done to me, as I did so, tears came and a huge sense of release in my heart. I found myself blessing these folks after I forgave them. I certainly did not expect any of this and it took me by surprise.

For the men who raped me, I forgave them for the harm they did me, but asked that my forgiveness be connected to justice unfolding and for them never harming another person again. I asked the Holy One to please help them to find health and healing and awareness. I’ve done years of work on this territory, in various therapies, and most of the hurt is no longer present for me. There are tiny droplets of pain that re-surface now and then. I can go great swaths of time not thinking on it– “I find that it has bled from the injuries of man. The earth has healed itself through time moving across its tortured face of skin.”

There were two folks on my list that I put aside for later, I am not ready or able to forgive them on some level. I can forgive the men who raped me, but not these folks who betrayed my trust and hurt my family. I will have to get some help from my teachers about these two people and how to not be holding onto this hurt. Elul is not an easy month for me and yet this process is amazingly liberating, even being able to identify that I am not able to release those people, is helpful. It tells me I have work to do. I don’t believe forgiveness is a simple thing or that I have to grant it. In my tradition I do not have to forgive someone until they seek my forgiveness and make amends. My choosing to forgive them ahead of their asking is completely on me and also part of a deeper spiritual practice.

There is enough sticky goo in all of our lives, old hurts and tattered remnants of messy memories and shattered feelings. I would rather be free of these so that I can be of good cheer and good service for this moment unfolding right now. It is late, almost midnight. More musings on how to let go of fear and be more present coming in the next few weeks. For now, though, you don’t have to be Jewish to take advantage of this time, make a list of folks who have hurt you, see if you can forgive them, and see how it makes you feel. Take a chance on letting go of old stuff, so that you can come together with the land, which has no choice but to forgive all the wrongs we do. Did the sun not rise today, did the vegetables forget how to grow? Forgiveness is the nature of earth and we are made of this lovely loamy stardust stuff.

Nicole comes together with her land and your land and any land she can by engaging with it, and then writing about it. This column was written high in the hills as Nicole turned 50 and is now officially “over the hill.” It appeared originally in the Mad River Union on Wednesday, September 17, 2014