Writer’s Life: Laurie Buchanan, PhD

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I typically interview novelists here, but the times call for expansion. What better time to interview Laurie Buchanan, PhD, Board-Certified holistic health practitioner, life coach, and award-winning author, whose two books focus on purposeful living.

Laurie’s first book, Note to Self: A Seven-Step Path to Gratitude and Growth won six literary honors including the coveted Foreword INDIES Book of the Year.

Laurie recently published her second book, The Business of Being, which blends business and spirituality. In it, Buchanan “demonstrates how to stand in alignment with your core values how to thrive, soul-side out, in and out of the workplace.” In the words of KIRKUS REVIEWS, “This book is a lucid, step-by-step guide to personal and professional success — with vichyssoise mixed in.” And who doesn’t need that?

1.  What have you learned from parenting that you bring to your work as a writer?

One of the most important things I learned as a parent is to admit my mistakes. In the world of writing, that same quality comes into play when my editor or writing mentor tell me that I need to change something.

2. Where do you write? What do you love (or hate) about it?

As a minimalist, I live in a small space—the 500 square foot carriage house of the Russell Mansion in the historic district of Boise, Idaho. There’s nothing that I dislike about it. What I particularly love are the almost floor to ceiling windows in my writing studio that overlook the beautifully landscaped lawn of the mansion’s backyard.

3. If you had a motto, what would it be?

I do have a motto. It came to me about ten years ago on a writing hermitage in Taos, New Mexico. It’s this: “Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”

4. Who inspires you?

Jane Goodall is one of my s/heroes. Not only is she the world’s leading authority on chimpanzees, but her book, Harvest for Hope, A Guide to Mindful Eating has made a global impact on people and corporations by showing us how we can positively impact the world by changing our eating and producing habits.

5. Is there a charity or community service are you passionate about?

I ran away from home when I was fifteen years old. With that in mind, one of the charities I’m passionate about is Covenant House. Their bottom line? (From their website): “Knowing the challenges homeless teens face, supporting them every step of the way and uniting in a movement to help them off the streets. Join us in this fight to save our kids.”

6. What are you reading now (or recently) and/or what book do you recommend?

If you haven’t read When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, I highly recommend it. I just finished reading Widowmaker by Paul Doiron. I’m about to start reading The Girls on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

7. What is the most satisfying part of being an author? What do you least enjoy about being an author?

In addition to keeping my mind active, another satisfying part about being a writer is that it justifies the amount of reading that I do. After all, it’s part of the job description! Then there’s working in my pajamas. Ya gotta love it!

8. If you weren’t an author, what would you be?

I wear two other professional hats. I’m a holistic health practitioner board certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners, and I’m a transformational life coach. As a nonfiction writer, I get to weave aspects of these roles into my writing. But since childhood I’ve wanted to be a magician, international spy, or a mad scientist. There’s still time.
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To learn more about Laurie Buchanan, go to https://tuesdayswithlaurie.com.

Writer’s Life: Bonnie C. Monte

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There’s nothing like a good mystery to take your mind off a heatwave. So find some shade under a palm, or close the shutters and turn up the A/C, and allow me to introduce you to author Bonnie C. Monte and her new mystery novel, The Sleeping Lady.

You can hear Bonnie read at The Mysterious Bookshop (pre-order signed copies) in Manhattan July 24 and meet her at Copperfield’s Books in Santa Rosa, CA, August 26.

  1. What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

I attribute my love of mystery novels to my father. He was an avid reader of all genres of books, but he especially loved the challenge of puzzling out a good mystery. What I most absorbed from my mother, and which my sleuth embodies, is a sense of fair play, a love of animals, and an abiding kindness.

  1. Where do you write? What do you love (or hate) about it?

I must confess that I write in a rather messy space. My desk is in my bedroom, which is small — as are all the rooms in my house. I do have a pleasant view of my front garden, but I dream of having a spacious, uncluttered writing studio in my backyard. Perhaps that would make me more productive. Or maybe that’s just a convenient excuse for why it takes me so long to write.

  1. If you had a motto, what would it be?

Don’t believe everything you think.

  1. Who inspires you?

Anyone who devotes their life to safeguarding the earth and its residents. Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Rachel Carson. And my new hero is John Urschel, ever since I heard him interviewed on NPR. He played professional football in the NFL at the same time he was getting a Ph.D. in Math at MIT. Now that’s multi-tasking!

  1. Is there a charity or community service are you passionate about?

World Wildlife Fund and In Defense of Animals.

  1. What are you reading now (or recently) and/or what book do you recommend?

I’m just finishing Flunk. Start., a memoir by Sands Hall about her years (and recovery) as a Scientologist. It’s especially fascinating because she came from a marvelously creative family of free-thinkers. Next on my reading list is A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

  1. What is the most satisfying part of being an author? What do you least enjoy about being an author?

It’s so gratifying to hear from readers who enjoyed my book. I consider it a huge privilege to be able to entertain people and provide them with a bit of pleasure. The part I enjoy least is promoting my own work. I’m basically a shy person.

  1. If you weren’t an author, what would you be?

A veterinarian or a landscaper.

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For more about Bonnie, including upcoming events, go to http://bonniemonte.com

Follow Bonnie on Facebook @BonnieMonte

While our government breaks apart families, we built a bigger one.

In light of our current national heartbreak of our government breaking apart families in our names, I want to share a simple message: the antidote to heartbreak is to give more love.

Here’s how my family was given a chance to do that.

Maria was seventeen when she fled the violent gangs of Guatemala. She had already suffered their brand of torture, and if she stayed it was only a matter of time before it happened again.

Still, the only alternative to staying was also unimaginable: leave everything she knew – her mother, father, siblings, grandparents, friends, school, chores – her whole world. Leave not only her childhood but her future – she had planned to attend medical school. Funds for tuition went instead to a coyote. She traveled through harrowing dangers – both nature-made and human – and arrived in Texas as an “unaccompanied minor.” She asked America for asylum. 

During a year of waiting, she was temporarily housed in a detention center for youth in Texas, then transferred to the care of an aunt in Los Angeles. She lived with her aunt, went to high school, did homework, made friends, and met with her pro bono lawyer to pursue her asylum case.

When her aunt’s illness prevented her from caring for Maria, her lawyer took steps to find her another home. That e-mail came to my inbox. “Is there someone out there who might foster this teenage girl?”

To be sure, I was not sure that I was up to the task. I knew it would be challenging, would up-end our family dynamic, impact my two sons, and involve responsibilities I couldn’t yet fathom. (It actually helped that I couldn’t fathom them, they were too abstract to dissuade me.) But louder than all of these challenges was a singular truth: If I were in her mother’s shoes, if I had been forced to send one of my children across the world to keep him alive, I would do it. And then I would pray with every cell in my body that some mother across the world would receive him into her care, would say, “I’ll take care of him.” We said yes.

The day Maria moved in, she did not speak a word of English. I was the only person in our family who spoke Spanish. But the moment she stepped over our threshold, our then-10-year-old son melted the language barrier by asking her to build Legos with him. We all played card games and Rummy Cube (numbers being universal) and I translated to bridge the gaps. Our younger son has referred to her as his sister from the get-go. Our then-14-year-old son had a longer arc to accepting the new normal of our family. Admittedly, so did I.

A few weeks after she joined us, she received the letter saying that asylum had been granted; America had said Yes. She doubled over with tears of relief, and perhaps tears for what was lost. She would be able to apply for citizenship after five years. But it also would be at least that long before she could see the family she left behind. I had only known her a little while, but I cried with her.

She went to high school and took ESL, along with Algebra, World History, and more. My husband confirmed his sainthood by tutoring her every night. When summer came, a job as a camp counselor at the local YMCA pushed her to try out the sounds of her adopted language, and she flourished. She became the local YMCA’s most-loved and most-sought after caregiver. Walking around our neighborhood with her is like walking with the Pied Piper, as children and their parents call out, “Hi, Maria!”

She worked hard in school, got good grades, enrolled in community college, and recently completed a Pre-school Teacher Certificate on her path to getting her B.A. All of this in her second language. She applied for and was hired to be a pre-school teacher at our synagogue, and starts in August. She’ll continue her schooling to graduate from college. This is a young woman who indisputably makes our community an even greater place. Under Jeff Sessions’ new rules, she likely would not have been granted asylum; that might have been her death sentence.

Being Maria’s American family has given our extended family a personal connection to the stories of immigrants coming to our border. When our government talks about building a wall to keep “them” out, we need only look across the dinner table and know they are talking about Maria, and countless other kids like her who have gifts to offer our country, if only we would let them.

If the antidote to heartbreak is to give more love, we need to open our hearts wider. Opportunities for kindness abound. It can be as big as opening your home to foster an unaccompanied minor, or as small as bringing a toy to a shelter. It can be a donation of money or a donation of time. It is doing a just little more than you’ve done before. It’s taking action so that when you look back on these times, you can say you helped cure the world of a measure of heartbreak. Starting with your own.

 

Oh happy happy happy happy birthday.

I squinted my eyes open and, before I fully woke, I saw the sunlight filling my bedroom, brightening my pink quilt, gleaming against the stack of books piled on the floor next to me. My family still slept in the quiet of their rooms. As I registered the meaning, the magnitude of the date, from my twin bed I shouted:

“MOM!!!! Today I’m FIVE!!!!!”

This milestone marked a transition, a blooming of my true self, my coming of age — in a word: Kindergarten. I was maturing from the babyhood of pre-school. Soon I would belong to that big schoolyard I had only watched from the sidewalk below, a place where girls spun upside down on a horizontal bar and tied their own shoelaces. I was overjoyed.

Last week, I turned 49. Exactly 44 years after that memorable birthday, I opened my eyes to a dark room, books still piled next to me, a different assortment of family members sleeping down different halls. Before I registered the date, however, I registered the red numbers on the clock. I had overslept. I needed to make lunches, stat. I sat up, rubbed my face and uttered my first word of that day: “Shit.”

When I realized it was my birthday, however, I made myself start over. I flopped back on my soft pillow and warm mattress, and pulled my (inexplicably not-pink) blanket over me. I took a deep breath in and let it out slowly. In that re-do moment, the memory of my joyful fifth birthday bubbled up.

Instead of seeing myself as an extension of who I was the day before – a woman late to rise, needing to do laundry and walk the dogs and call the vet about said dogs’ (ahem) digestive difficulties and make an optometrist appointment because print had gotten indefensibly small — instead, I saw myself through five-year-old Laura’s eyes. That little girl didn’t ask: What have I accomplished? Shouldn’t my career be more advanced? Shouldn’t I have written more books or won some landmark cases? Shouldn’t my house be less messy, with fewer spiders lurking in corners? Shouldn’t I have forced my kids to play instruments they hated because they’d thank me one day? Is it too late for me to be a Tiger mom?

Five-year-old me didn’t care about any of that. She sang out with joy: Look at this life! You have beautiful children! You have the most wonderful husband! Your big sister? She’s still practically down the hall, a few blocks away! You have nieces who bring you joy! Your friends are true! Your parents? Still here, still close, still loving! Wow. Wow. Wow. What a lucky girl you are.

What a relief, and how forgiving, to allow yourself to be astonished and delighted by your life. To see yourself through loving eyes, as though your five-year-old self had time-traveled decades forward, and was pleased. She could never be as hard on you as your adult self is.

Beckon the lovely,” instructed author Amy Krouse Rosenthal, before her life closed (you may have read about her here). Our eyes are drawn to what we’re looking for, she explained, so we may as well look for the lovely. It’s not a natural human tendency; it takes practice and reminding. So after my abrupt birthday wake-up, I made myself give thanks. For the mundane to-do lists that tell me I am still needed, for the dull throbbing ache in my shoulder that reminds me I still go to a dance class. For music. For kisses. For wind. For books. For stretching and yawning. For laughter. For the daily brilliant miracle of waking up.

Later that day, I listened to a voicemail message from my grandmother, saved from an earlier birthday. “Laura, I want to wish you a happy happy happy happy happy happy birthday,” she enthused. This was my first birthday without her, and I let myself cry for missing her. In her final year, she had her share of bumps and pains, but she always let her blessings win out. Let music and dancing and laughter and family win out. Asked by a crotchety nurse what her secret was, she told her pointedly, “I’m not a pill.”

She saw miracles in mundanity. She beckoned the lovely, and it arrived full throttle. That’s the legacy I’m trying to honor, and what I wish for you. Or as my friend Chloe expressed, I wish for you “a very happy day that makes you feel special and grateful to be alive and just the age you are.”

When was the last time you felt happy to be a year older? “Mom, today I’m 49!!!!!!”

Oh happy happy happy happy happy happy birthday.

Enough is Enough. Take to the Streets. And the Voting Booths.

Register to Vote

I don’t care if you love guns. I don’t care if you love the Second Amendment. You love children more.

If I am correct about that, then we –all of us–have to demand an end to the recurring nightmare of children and their teachers being slaughtered in school. That cannot be a partisan sentiment.

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I’m not dictating what the solution is. I’m saying, we must demand that our government get to the table and FIGURE IT THE HELL OUT.

Register to Vote

Liberal, conservative, whatever. It’s not rocket science. Have a goddamn hearing. Bring the best practices to the table. Consider everything. And, in the words of a 17-year-old student from Parkland, Florida, “Go to hell” if you can’t get it done. You have blood on your hands.

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As for my liberal representatives in Congress, it’s not enough to tell me about the legislation you’ve co-sponsored that has failed. You are obliged to devise a plan to make it happen. I know it’s hard. I’m here to help you. I will take to the streets. Lead.

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As for conservatives, well this sign expresses a widely held sentiment, one you are invited to disprove:

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And every morning, I kiss my children goodbye and cross my goddamn fingers that their school won’t be the one on the national news that night.

Register to Vote

For more events near you, go to Moms Demand Action events

 

More Lessons from Lilli Diamond: good for what ails you.

I hear my grandmother’s voice almost daily. And some days multiple times.

This day I am standing at the kitchen counter on a winter Sunday, just past noon. She is not yet two months gone.

I’m in my bathrobe, showered, after my ritual Sunday cardio-funk dance class. Dance class is usually good medicine. I usually feel happy with the first bar of music blasting from the speakers, the first stretch, the beginning of movement, and downright exultant by the last breathless bow. But not today. Today it didn’t work. I am a little depressed.

I am at the kitchen counter, and I have just sliced a mango into a white bowl with a tiny chip at its rim. When did I get these? Post-engagement, pre-marriage? Twenty-plus years? I used to remember details like these. I have cut open a pomegranate and sprinkled pomegranate seeds onto the mango. It is beautiful, orange and red. I pierce the fruit with a silver-plated fork embossed with an elaborate script H. H for Heisen, for Selma & Aaron, my husband’s grandparents. I rescued them from a hidden box of silver last week, rather than let them continue to sit, tarnished and untouched.

I take a bite of my fruit, and it is a sweetness like no sugar, no cookie, no cake any human could make. A ripe mango is proof of divinity, if nothing else. The pomegranate seeds burst with juice, and yet more sweetness. I give gratitude for this deliciousness. I congratulate myself for buying them, for not forgetting about them until they are brown, for not being too lazy this time to cut into the pomegranate and confront its greedy, intricate design, trying to keep its seeds prisoner.

And I think, how can anyone be depressed eating mango and pomegranate, on a sunny winter afternoon, while wearing a bathrobe? It can’t be sustained.

And then, like a reward, I hear my grandmother’s voice. As I slip my fork again and again into the chipped white bowl, putting bite after bite of sweetness into my mouth, my redheaded guardian extols the health benefits of my snack in her distinctive style: “Pomegranates have lots of antioxidants, they are SO GOOD FOR YOU!” It’s a voice that could be saying, “You just won tickets to Disneyland!” This is a celebration.

I exhale, and try to release the dregs of whatever has its teeth in me. It’s always the little things that bring me back. I wrap my soft robe tightly around me. I appreciate the counters I’ve decluttered and wiped clean, my transparent effort to bring similar order to my mind and soul, and I nod to myself, thinking, “Grandma, you are so right.”

 

Lessons from my Grandmother: You Have to Breathe

I walk through the neighborhood in what for me is an uncommon pose – earbuds in, sunglasses on, shunning the world. I’m listening to a meditation app I purchased months ago. I programmed it to remind me every morning to meditate, and I ignore it every day. I decide to try it again. I choose from its menu: Stress-reduction, Sleep, Gratitude, Happiness. I pick the last. Everyone can use some more happiness.

It’s sort of cheating to walk while meditating, I think, as the lady’s calm voice tells me to sit straight and close my eyes, but it’s what I’ve decided to do. The meditation lady can’t judge me; today’s 12 minutes of happiness are about self-love, and learning to stop self-criticizing and comparing. So there will be no judgment of my walking-while-meditating. Besides, I once heard that “walking meditation” is a thing, so I have cover.

It’s also likely cheating that I’m carrying letters to the mailbox, but multi-tasking makes me happier, so good for me. Still, my fingers can’t release and relax entirely until I drop those off. Once I release them, I concentrate more on my breath, and not getting hit by a car when I cross the street.

“Feel any physical discomforts in your body. And rather than wish them away, acknowledge them, be aware of them, send kindness to them. Breathe into them.”

I forget to breathe and instead consider that I’m generally happy enough, so maybe this meditation on “happiness” might be wasted. Maybe I should have picked a different category. Patience. Forgiveness.

But as I turn the corner past a gorgeous house, bigger and newer and for sure cleaner than mine, I realize that I have been judging myself, thus decreasing my happiness. I’ve been judging my frustration over my writing not flowing lately. The app lady isn’t saying “don’t feel frustrated,” I think she’s telling me not to judge myself for being frustrated, not to judge my writing being stuck. Embrace or accept the frustration. Let it be.

Hmm, I think I feel happier?

My grandmother had radiation treatments for a tumor in her jaw earlier this year. They were not easy, but the tumor was painful and keeping her from eating, so the treatment was necessary for her comfort. The treatments were twice a day.

Just getting out of her building, into and out of a car, and back again, twice in one day was a herculean task. Her attitude could have been, “Forget it, I surrender.” But instead she chose to face it: “If that’s what I have to do, that’s what I have to do.” I accompanied her a few times.

The waiting room of a radiation treatment clinic can remind you of what you have to be grateful for. As I sat waiting for my grandmother to be called, a 17-year-old boy in Nikes and a forty-something man in a black suit and kipah asked each other how radiation was going for each of them – it was the exhaustion they agreed was most difficult.

For Lilli, the most difficult part might have been going from seated in her wheelchair to lying on the metal platform. At home, she was often scared just to go from her wheelchair to the couch. Courage. Here, she  had to lie down on the cold, hard metal, no cushion, no pillow – no guardrails. They placed a hard plastic mask shaped to her face over her, and she had to stay motionless while the platform ascended closer, closer to the source of the radiation that would hopefully give her more time, with less pain. She was allowed to drape over her a small, soft, blanket knitted by Marni.

I had more than once been in dark movie theaters with Lilli, when she was the only person in the audience to scream out in fear when a slightly startling event took place. Stillness, quietness, in the face of fear was not her natural state.

The two radiation technicians treated her respectfully and tenderly. She was no doubt afraid. Of falling off. Of being zapped with radiation. Of cancer. Of dying. But she did not complain or cry. She did not ask “why me.” She did what had to be done.

They called me back in when the treatment ended.  The two technicians were helping her into the wheelchair.

“The key is meditating,” she said to all of us. “You have to breathe.”

She would be back later that day. The tumor would shrink enough to give her more comfort, more time. To give us all more time. And maybe a few more lessons in happiness.

Dancing

Ballroom Dancing circa 2002

Greatgrandchildren

Laughing with all 7 great-grandchildren, Oct 2015.

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We Always Root for Overtime

The car clock says 7am as I turn right on PCH, Aaron in the passenger seat next to me, on our way to school. We are tired from sleeplessness related to this unconscionable heat wave, and to Grandma Lilli dying. … Continue reading

An Upbeat Playlist for Stressful Times

We entered singing. My sister and I had ascended the stairs into the “great room” of Belmont Village to visit our grandmother, and the joint was jumping. Residents had gathered to hear the musical stylings of a guest singer. It was impossible to refrain, so why try? We opened our voices and danced over to her. (It is easy to spot her, the redhead, from behind, or really from any direction.)

When she saw us, she bestowed her perennial gift, a contagious, nearly-crying smile that says better than words can, “I’m so happy to see you.”

I needed that. Then the singer said, “Remember, music is the best medicine.” I needed that, too. This past Sunday, at dance class, the music, the dancing, the singing along. I need it. You know you need it, too. These are trying times. Play your music loud and often.

Without further ado, a (starter) playlist for stressful times. Play loud.  Play often. Dance. Sing. Repeat.

  1. Michael Jackson (just about anything, but let’s go with Wanna Be Starting Something
  2. And another Michael Jackson, Black or White
  3. American Authors, Best Day of My Life
  4. Marvin Gaye, How sweet it is (to be loved by you)
  5. Stevie Wonder, Signed, Sealed, Delivered.
  6. Kinky Boots, Raise You Up

(And, for a change, try a nice quiet 10-12 minutes with the Calm App gratitude meditation. Be grateful for your lungs, and legs, and all the other parts needed for dancing your stress away.)

Love,

Laura

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Breathe in the New Year

Never have we needed a new year like we do now.

Summer’s blessing of an unhurried pace is already forgotten. We have reverted to our scheduled-beings ways: Wake up. Get dressed. Make lunches. Kiss goodbyes. Go.

Go go go.

In the car, I check the news radio for breathless reports of hurricanes and earthquakes. Over breakfast, I read the L.A. Times’  latest science on earthquake forecasting. I carry the anxiety of the bystander as I prepare for doomsday. I buy gallons of water and canned food. I buy candy, because if you’re eating Chef Boyardee and diced peaches, you deserve as much chocolate and red vines as you can get your hands on. I buy flashlights, and work gloves, and put sneakers in arm’s reach of everyone’s bed.

I need to breathe. I downloaded a meditation app a month ago. Every morning my phone gently reminds me “It’s time to meditate,” and every morning I promptly and consistently…ignore it. Ten minutes? Maybe later.

My kids need to breathe. They’re stressed, beyond the norm. Okay, I put on the app during breakfast as background sounds of trickling water and birdsong plays. We take a deep breath.

Ahh. That felt good.

The Jewish new year is like the app, trying to break through my day and schedule, and “I’ll get to it later’s” — a gentle reminder I have to choose to accept: Take a deep breath, it says.

I do. I will. Ahh, feels good.

Happy new year. Love, Laura

(You can read my new year’s posts from last year , 2013 and 2009, and reprinted below)

 


2016: “The Only Three Words You Need”

Every year I go to Rosh Hashanah services with expansive hope, born out by experience, that some wisdom and truth from our tradition will land softly on my heart and I will take it with me through the next year as comfort and north star.

For me, the wisdom and truth I longed for this year came in a brief comment by our rabbi. She mentioned that the author Anne Lamott has written there are only three prayers: Help. Thanks. Wow. This became my simple and complete prayer. I stood with my eyes closed and silently repeated these words instead of the pages of prayers in my hands. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you.”

There it was, instantly. A physical transformation, a steady flow of peace. Thank you thank you thank you thank you — for this loving, brilliant man standing by my side; for the blossoming young man next to him; for the kind, curious boy at home nursing a cold while watching (inappropriate) cartoons. Thank you thank you thank you thank you. And for the challenges I have to face, Help me help me help me help me.

I do love December 31st, how we light up the darkest night sky with twinkly lights and candles and fireworks. And I love our Jewish New Year’s Eve in Autumn, when there’s still enough light to see the world by, to embrace it and thank it for its beauty, its blue sky above brown California mountain ridges, its temperate Pacific waves tumbling toward me as I gather up my burdens and transfer them to a handful of bread crumbs or shells and let them fly into the ocean.

For all of this, the gratitude and the challenges, the beauty of these people and this earth, the final prayer…Wow.

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2013: “Ancient History and Two Hours Ago”

Dear Rabbi Reuben,

This time of year always gets me. I don’t think of myself as religious, but there I am in services. Liking services. Needing services.

I sing along (mostly) with the Hebrew prayers, even though I don’t understand all of them, even though what I do understand I don’t always agree with. There is something in the familiarity of the rhythms and rhymes, the melodies and memories. Memories call me from when I was twelve, sitting in a row of other 12-year-old girls required to attend Shabbat services as part of our Bat Mitzvah year. I think about my son studying for his Bar Mitzvah now, and I feel peace and wonder knowing that he is learning these prayers not only for one Shabbat morning in February, but for the decades of Shabbats that will hopefully follow. He need not realize that these melodies and prayers will stay with him, guide him, fill him with love and hope whenever he may need it, years from now or next week.

I suppose these prayers were with me before I was twelve. They were there when Rabbi Winokur handed me my pre-school diploma, they were embedded in our three-year-old voices singing, “The animals, they came on, they came on in twosies twosies, elephants and kangaroosies roosies!”

The prayers have been there, if it’s not too time-travel-mystic of me, since my parents were dragged to “make an appearance” in their grandparents’ Orthodox shuls in Boyle Heights and Pico/Fairfax, where they heard unintelligible, unpenetrable Hebrew chanting. And so on.

There are prayers I don’t say. That don’t bring me peace. Like the one that proclaims “On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.” I don’t buy that literal God-writing business. But there I am in services anyway, because you add your spin, that these words remind us that all we have is today. That all the good we are going to do in the world should happen right now.

Next we arrive at a prayer listing the traits of God – compassion and forgiveness and kindness and mercy. This prayer sends my mind back two hours, to my younger son’s loss of composure this morning when asked (okay, ordered) to turn off the television because he had already watched a cartoon and it was time to play or get dressed. I think of the heat and anger that consumed him, the words that came out of his mouth directed at me, the stormy damage he caused to his room when sent there to cool down. For some reason today I stayed cool, too, let him settle into whatever books he uncovered in the process of forgetting what it was he was so angry about.

After a little while, I brought him his clothes for temple (he loves to dress up so this wasn’t a problem) and we spoke as though intemperate words had never been uttered. My forgiveness was my not asking for an apology, or bringing up the episode, which he knew was not his best moment. I dressed him and blessed him and his full of passion ways. Compassion and forgiveness and kindness and mercy.

I am grateful that my boys’ ears were in the presence of your words today – that attitude is everything. I hope they heard that everyone feels loss and disappointment, so they won’t feel so alone when it’s their turn. I am grateful for your emphasis on the value of showing up for people, and also what showing up means for participating in life. I am grateful that the sounds and words of our people’s prayers and melodies washed over them, as they sat bookended between my parents. I could turn and see them from a distance, they looked bigger, and my father’s hair grayer, than the images I hold of each of them in my mind. (My mother looked beautiful; that’s a constant.) I am grateful that these words and prayers and melodies were sinking into their depths in ways they may not consciously remember, but which they will no doubt access on some Rosh Hashanah many years from now, wherever their days may take them.

With love and appreciation for all these gifts,

Laura


2009: “Looking for Autumn at Low Tide”

We said goodbye to summer yesterday, again. The first one—the day before school started—didn’t take. My mind was still in pajamas. This goodbye was official. Equinox and all.

As a Sunday of lazing about moved toward evening, Christopher and I decided we’d go to the beach—where else to bid adieu to all things Summer? Our kids refused to come. Even Emmett was adamant: “I’d rather watch football than go to the beach!” he spat. Aaron concurred, disgusted by our proposal: “And I’d rather watch Elmo!”

Like angels conjured from our collective prayer, Grandparents materialized on our front porch, offering their time. I grabbed my flip flops and my man and we ran off.

The tide was low and we walked in wet sand, water gracing our toes. We saw the neighborhood Chabadniks praying the last of Rosh Hashanah, a towel-draped woman in a beach chair raising her martini glass, a toddler in soggy underwear rushing the ocean. All saying goodbye in their way. I stretched my arms wide toward the sunset. I resolved to shake the sand out of my brain and focus. Fall is here, time to hunker down.

It’s hard to tell it’s Autumn by looking out my window this morning. But if I pay attention: I see the sunshine casts its light on the blue tiled table from a longer angle. I feel the tickle in the back of my throat that warns the first cold is coming. I see dark purple leaves scattered on the grass.

I try to forget that this purple plum tree is dying. I know it is, but at least for the next few months its will have company.