Heart explosion

Much of this weekend was spent in religious services, which also means that much of the weekend was spent with me tearing up from all the beauty.

On Saturday, I attended the bar mitzvah of the son of our friends. Let me start by saying that I love the Jewish faith. I happily immerse myself in the prayers, the songs, the cadence of the words. I adore the history, the rituals, the intellectual leanings and conversations. I admire that one practices certain holy days at home with family and others in community at the temple. At one point in my life, I studied, just a bit, toward conversion.

So in addition to the honor of being invited to share in this very special day with friends, I looked forward to the service itself.

Still, I arrived ten minutes late. Plus, my laryngitis turned into a chesty cough, so I slid, hopefully unobtrusively, into a seat in the last row on the side, away from everyone else.

From that position, I settled into watching the bar mitzvah boy lead the service. Clear and composed, he obviously prepared well for this day. The rabbi and cantor surrounded him with infectious joy, smiling throughout the service and, at times, almost lifting themselves off the floor. Their phrasing and tone was consistently positive and upbeat. Though I entered a bit grumpy and sat on the sidelines, I couldn’t help but be quickly drawn into their current of happiness.

The service itself focused on our interconnections, God’s loving kindness, gratitude for the simple things, making this world a better place, and all those other topics that slide right into my heart and make life feel warm and wonderful and full of possibilities and love.

Because the Hebrew words and the corresponding actions do not come automatically to me, I watched others for guidance throughout the service. What page are we on? Was it time to sit or stand, bow or close our eyes? Do we all sing or is it just the cantor for this part?

As I looked around for hints, I saw so much more. The husband and wife sitting in front of me, with their school-age son between them. Each of the three of them wore a yarmulke and prayer shawl, clearly reverent. They also clearly shared a strong bond of love. The family of the bar mitzvah, each one beaming so strongly I would not have been surprised to see light pour out of their faces. The woman across the aisle from me, heartily greeting everyone who came her way as if each were a long-lost friend. The husband near the front, who tenderly put his arm around his wife at various points in the service. The son who held his mother’s hand when she need to take a few steps, and her smiling response. The sisters who read from the bimah together, supporting each other with smiles and a few giggles, then, when they finished, putting their arms around each other. All these connections demonstrating deep love and joy brought tears to my eyes.

In the midst of this crazy love, I realized that I didn’t want this service to end, and suddenly worried that it might be coming to a close. Right then, the rabbi had us pause, take a deep breath, and hold onto the beauty, sacredness and awesomeness of the moment we just all experienced together. My heart expanded until it was about to explode and I could have screamed with joy (if my voice were back to normal).

I woke the next morning in some pain (unrelated to the bar mitzvah), but dragged myself and a thermos of tea to Sunday Mass. I am almost always touched by the Mass and, after Communion, often moved to tears.

Again, I was late. I was thrilled to see that this Mass would be led by a priest who also spreads kindness, joy and acceptance. As I eased into the Mass, his infectious and joyful demeanor helped to move my focus from myself to the service itself, and I felt my own pain  dissipate.

Midway through, I remembered yesterday’s advice of the rabbi. Inhaling deeply, I took in the awesomeness of the moment. Ahead of me and across the aisle to my left sat, side by side, three teeny grey-haired ladies wrapped in wool coats and hats and the comfort of a long friendship. Just then, an older man entered alone and sat a few rows ahead of me, shoulders slumped but relieved to be here. Directly in front of me, a mother and teenage daughter periodically leaned toward each other, touching shoulders as they gave the usual Mass responses. The toddler directly across the aisle sat so quietly and attentively on his father’s knee; I admired the peace between them. The pianist wore sunglasses that made me think of Ray Charles and I giggled inside. With each sight, my heart expanded. When my eyes fell upon families who have children the same ages as mine, I realized how much they have helped me to grow and to feel a part of this parish, and my heart expanded yet again.

Both days, it felt as if God’s love was running through all of these connections, then through me, eventually pouring out through the tears that landed on the lens of my eyeglasses.

It doesn’t stop there. I feel this connection with you, when you read this or write or pray for me or even do something kind for someone else. It expands my heart to exploding. I overflow with tears, and my smile could break out of my face. Thank you for all that you do to make my life, and this world, a better place to be.


These are Days to Remember

How would you live if you felt your days were limited?

A few years ago, I asked the doctors how much time they thought I might have left, because I assumed that I might live my life differently if I had three months vs 18 months vs some uncountable number of years.

Their answer did put a lot of pressure on me to make every minute count. That kind of pressure generally results in my doing absolutely nothing.

The happy news is that I am gratefully living more months than “the average and expected.”

Retrospectively, I don’t know if I live differently as a result of what the doctors told me. I definitely do far less long-term planning than I used to.  I buy trip insurance. I make fewer firm commitments. I withdrew from doing anything I absolutely didn’t want to do and found more passion for the things I needed to do. Like many people I know, I strive to balance living in the moment with looking toward the future.

I imagined that I would savor every moment, but some moments remain easier to savor than others. I thought that I would do only amazing things, but much of my day still consists of the mundane – cooking, dishwashing and picking up after the kids. I thought that I would forgive more easily and love more deeply and while I aspire to this, I still have my own internal barriers to both.

The ground shifted yesterday when I heard about another death from cancer, someone I didn’t know personally but who touched my life nonetheless and passed too soon, causing me to reconsider how I live my life.

Of course, there are countless ways to live. Before I could again be paralyzed with indecision, I heard the old song These are Days by 10,000 Maniacs and the words resonated in my soul.

To be part of the miracles you see
In every hour

That appealed to me as a pretty awesome way to live, whether for three months or 18 months or some uncountable number of years.

And on a more tangible level, I like the idea of aiming for this:

These are the days you might fill with laughter
until you break.
These days you might feel a shaft of light
make its way across your face.

And when you do, you’ll know how it was meant to be…

Know that you are blessed and lucky – these are days to remember. These truly are days to live and grow and bloom.

Love and light,

Saying YES to God

I have changed so much in the past five years. The person of that time would barely recognize the person I have become.

Physically, my weight and height are the same. But my formerly wavy hair and flat abs have given way to a short boyish cut and a roadmap of scars on my abdomen. I used to wear clothes that clung to my body and showed my naturally thin shape. I now wear clothes designed to accommodate my breast prosthesis and my colostomy bag.

Internally, I have changed even more. I am more conscious of my breathing and infinitely grateful for each breath. My patience feels longer and I feel more accepting of others.

The biggest public change is that I am more conscious of my relationship to God. I try to be guided by Him. I now work to be open to His guidance, and to do His will as it is put in front of me, each moment. I’m not perfect at it, but there have been times recently that, when I do as He asks, a wellspring of Grace seems to flow forth.

It isn’t always easy. Sometimes, I feel like He asks me to do things that I imagine to be difficult, and I need to ask for His help to even attempt to do them. Sometimes, I decide not to do them at all.

But sometimes I do step into the place where I am guided, to do the thing that I am told to do, in full faith and confidence that He is there with me. In these times, afterwards, I am so filled with a deep joy that I only want more, more, more. I don’t know how to get it. I’m only happy that it exists, and hope that it comes my way again.

I struggled to describe this, and then I got a note from my friend, Shira, and she put it so well:

Somehow, blessedly, I have landed in a sweet spot. It has to do with realizing my choice, and that choosing to say yes to life, again and again and in all of its flow and movement is my deepest calling and lesson. So I keep saying, “Okay God, take me.” And I don’t mean to the eternal but rather to a merging that allows me also to experience the divine in our embodied existence…I can feel…, or rather hear, my deepest self saying “yes to life,” again and again.

Yes. That is it. Saying yes to life, and yes to God, connected through us, through each and every one of us, through our individual lives.