Thursday, February 24, 2005

Lifecycles, Part 1

A couple of weeks ago while I was sitting in my favorite Richmond District cafe, Toy Boat, reading the paper, a man remarked to me, with dismay, "Why are you reading the obituaries!?!?" "Well," I answered, "it's part of life...."

I started reading the obits daily during my cancer treatment in 2002. I remember my eye catching an article about a 55 year old woman who died of breast cancer after a 5 year struggle with the disease. Okay, maybe not the most psychologically healthy thing for me to be reading at the time, considering the similarities in our situations. But what started with a morbid fascination with the death of those like me has become a way I honor the life of others in my community of all ages and situations.

Rabbi Lew often talks of the Abravanel teaching on the spiritual path represented by the Chumash, the 5 books of Moses. Bereshit/Genesis is the start of the spiritual path, the personal story always involving some sort of leavetaking. Shemot/Exodus is the revelation, and the entrance into community. Vayikra/Leviticus is about practice. Bamidbar/Numbers involves bringing the practice into our lives. And Devarim/Deuteronomy----that's about preparing for our death. When I first heard this teaching, I was fine with the first four, but the last one upset me. What does it mean--living our life so we can prepare for our death. But it is important to face our lack of immortality. In fact, it is that lack of immortality that gives us our spirituality.

So, why do I read the obituaries. In some ways, I guess, it's just the voyeur in me. But it's also a way to bring spirituality into my life by carrying a piece of someone else's life into my heart, even just for a moment. And it's not just about reading about those who are gone, but seeing them through the eyes of those who loved them. Yesterday, one notice was written in the form of a letter from a beloved only child, only daughter to her beloved father. You could feel the pain of her loss, but also her release. Sometimes it's a fond farewell to a favorite aunt or friend. Sometimes it's an homage to one who has lived many years on this earth giving to many.

By reading these notes, I get to share in all of it, honor those who are gone, grieve with those who remain, and realize that we don't travel the path alone.......

Friday, February 18, 2005

Have yad, will travel.....maybe not

Today I flew to Arizona to visit my parents and celebrate my mom's birthday. First tip--if you can, avoid traveling on the Friday of a holiday weekend--especially one that starts what Northern Californians call "Ski week." I had an e-ticket, so check in was fine, and I only had carry-on luggage, so no problem there......but the line to get through security snaked around the entire baggage claim area. At 7a I started to get nervous about making my 7:40a flight, but soon an America West employee came around calling for people who had 7:40 flights, and directed us to the head of the line.

So far, so good.

I know the drill--everything in the bins, including jackets and shoes. My big worry was my crochet hooks and sissors. I had done the research, and found that crochet hooks and knitting needles were allowed, as were blunt sissors, but you never know. Sure enough, no problems with those items. But the scanner saw something in my backpack. They asked to check it by hand. I couldn't figure out what I was carrying--my pens, pencils, flashlight?? Nothing made sense. Then--it hit me. "I know what it is," I told the man checking the bag, "I have a pointer in the bag." So I directed him to my small bag, where in a plastic bag, wrapped in my tallit, was my yad. While getting to it, he said, "Is it sharp?" "No," I answered, and while he seemed intrigued with the yad when he found it, he deemed it safe, and let me go on.

So to all of you travelling layners...beware, and point out your pointer to airport security, before they point at you.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Entering Sacred Space

In this week's Torah portion, Terumah, we begin the telling of the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. This year, I was struck by the transition to the parsha. The Torah does not take us directly from the revelation at Sinai to the building. In the parsha in between Yitro and Terumah, Mishpatim, we get our first large dose of laws, many of them dealing with how we live together. Is this what we need before we can create sacred space? Do we need to know how to be in community, go outward before we can go inward? Is community the first layer we build before the skins and the curtains and the golden cover of the ark with the cherubim watching over it?

Do we need sacred community before we can have sacred space???????