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.

Reading earlier posts from this time of year, I marvel at how much has remained constant, though so much has changed. In this post from seven years ago, Christopher and I wanted to greet the new year at the ocean, while our kids refused to budge. The same was true yesterday, but now our boys are plenty old enough for us to wave goodbye without grandparents materializing at our front door to babysit, as they did years ago. In fact, so much time has passed that the rabbi’s sermon this year about ethical driving (practicing “patience, gratitude, and forgiveness” behind the wheel) arrived at the perfect moment for our 15-year-old firstborn’s ears.

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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How to Conquer Death

 

We time-traveled to 1991 last week. It was our 25th college reunion, and it filled my well. For a bubble of time, my husband and I and many friends reverted to being occupied primarily with having fun together – asking what we want to do next, dancing, staying up too late, eating cheesesteaks at 3am.

In the week leading up to it, trivialities crossed my mind: What will I wear? Is there time for a facial? How can I have a pimple in a wrinkle?

Christopher’s wiser thought: “I’m so grateful we are still here and healthy, and able to see so many friends who are still here and healthy.” Yes, that.

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As we reveled, our younger son and his grandparents binge-watched one of their favorite shows on the Smithsonian channel: Air Disasters. By the time we were flying home from the reunion weekend, he was well-acquainted with the aviation science behind a dozen different crashes. We thought of each of them during the abnormally shaky take-off, and mid-flight bumpiness.

I can’t be the only one who things about life and death in those instances. Death scares me. And I hate that scared feeling. It’s the second worst part of dying, I’d venture. In those terrifying moments, I talk myself through why I should not be afraid. It comes down to gratitude for my life so far.

Let’s start with loving parents and a protective playmate in my sister. Ample resources for food, shelter, and ballet lessons. Good teachers in good, safe schools. A mostly unscathed adolescence, with enough social pain to help me guide my children through their bumps and bruises. Glorious teenage friends, and yes we did own the world for a time. I had letdowns, and silver linings, and learned that you can’t always tell the difference between a blessing and a curse in the moment.

I had the grace to choose a career I wanted, and to make friends who continue to inspire me. I had the brilliant luck of finding Christopher, the love, the caring, the tenderness, the support, the babies.

Oh, the beautiful delicious babies, so big now.

There are many things still to do, many more words to write, hugs to hold onto. I’m greedy for more more more. But even if I live to be 120 years old, it may never be enough.

So I try to remember this:

If we are souls incarnate, and if souls are mysterious energies spinning around in the universe, this one universe in a hundred thousand, and if we get to land on Earth for a while, in the midst of millions of galaxies, in all of creation, then we ought not complain when the ride is over. We have to try to be grateful we had the ride at all. It’s like going to Kauai: You’re sad when you leave, but you were lucky to have been there at all.

I turn my head and look out the wide glass doors of my house to the trumpet vines beginning to cover the trampoline. The blessed beauty of chlorophyll, of greenest leaves and caterpillar temptation. The radical genius of hot coffee and sweet cinnamon dough. The miracles of being:  A kiss. Soft skin warm. Baby faces and little-boy-bellies, blossoming young men. Tickles that still yield laughter. Oh rapture.

 

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Thank you, everyone. Thank you, dumb luck.

 

For my family, 2015 has been an “interesting” year. Before I head out to the market with Thanksgiving shopping list in hand, and before the days tumble over each other headlong into December, I wanted to sit and give thanks.

Thank you, readers. For inviting my words into your minds, letting them linger and simmer and blend with your own thoughts and experiences.

Thank you, writers. For brilliant words that inspire me to try harder, for sharing what you’ve learned on your path, and paying it forward.

Thank you, booksellers. For graciously welcoming me this year. For selling books. You do it because you love it, I know, but I thank you anyway.

Thank you, She Writes Press. For your innovation and vision. For your community.

Thank you, my old friends. For holding in your memories a “me” from before motherhood, the one who was funnier and less serious, so that I can sometimes catch a glimpse of that girl. Thank you for still being near.

Thank you, my “new” (e.g. of the past 15 years) friends. For lighting the way forward. For being an extended family to mine. For carpooling, for venting and listening to vents, for the occasional “Moms night out.”

Thank you, music.

Thank you, dancing.

Thank you, my sons. For teaching me how to parent you. (I don’t mean the little things, like “can we please have Grand Theft Auto.” Sorry, that’s a no, because I can’t handle “virtual” violence on top of the actual violence we know about in the world.) I mean, thank you for telling me things like, “We need more of you than you’ve been giving.” Thank you for giving me the chance to do better.

Thank you, my husband. For your creativity. For your incredible parenting. For your humor. For your positive outlook. For singing in the house.

Thank you, my whole family — my sister, nieces, aunts, uncles, cousins, and especially my parents. For being present. For being cheerleaders. For being healthy and thriving, even though that’s mostly up to chance.

Thank you, good fortune.

Thank you, dumb luck.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

If words could build a force field around us, if a prayer of gratitude could keep us safe, healthy, fulfilled, and loved…

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.