I Wonder If She Knows?

Last week after I called the only florist in the small Midwestern town I’m from, an odd thought went through my mind.  The woman I spoke with, Betty, apparently remembered me from the two times I had visited her flower shop; it was her store, Becker’s Florist, that had provided the flowers for both my parent’s funerals. When I called Becker’s last week I had already chosen a nice arrangement to have placed on my Mom’s headstone for Mother’s Day but when I gave Betty the item number from the Becker website, she said, “Oh honey, I’ll make something special for your Mom, something pretty that I know she would like!” And that’s when it occurred to me… I wonder if my Mom knows there is a “special” bouquet of flowers on her headstone today?

Unlike Christianity, Judaism places little emphasis on the notion of “life after death.” As a Jew, I concentrate on the things I can do each day to make the world a better place. But truth be told, there are still times when I ponder what will “happen” after I die and I wonder, now that both of my parents have died, what “happened” to them? Are they capable of “knowing?”

Because the only thing I can say for certain about God is that I believe in God, anything I imagine about where or how my Mom “is” is woefully inadequate. Like Maimonides, I am an adherent of “negative theology;” in other words, everything I know about God I can only describe in negative terms, i.e. God is not limited, God is not selective, God is not cruel. For this reason, I believe that God would not allow my Mom to eternally suffer the indescribable pain of the cancer that took her life.  God would not keep my Mom from spending eternity with the man she loved for over 45 years (my Dad) and God would not eternally deny her the joy and happiness she was unable to feel when she was alive.  Although I believe these things from the bottom of my heart there remains an uncertainty that is undeniable; my humanity does not allow me to understand the “capabilities” of God and my finite being is unable to conceive the infinite “nature” of God. This reality has left me mulling over the same question all week – I wonder if she knows? On Mother’s Day 2011, I wonder if my Mom knows:

  • How, when I look in the mirror I sometimes see her face staring back at me.
  • That I have 4 different “purses” inside my purse, just like she used to.
  • That I can’t fall asleep at night unless I read for at least an hour and
  • That, like her, I never last more than 20 minutes.
  • How I oftentimes find myself standing with my hands on my hips, swaying back and forth as I stare at a store shelf trying to decide what to buy.
  • That I’m still at my County job because I “can’t give up that retirement.”
  • That I feel like I’ve failed her because I’m fatter than I was when she died.
  • That one of my biggest regrets is that she never knew I was accepted to and graduated from the school I dreamed of going to.
  • That sometimes I cry when I see a woman my age spending time with her healthy, elderly mother.
  • That despite our differences, I know I am my mother’s daughter.
  • That she won’t be here to see me turn 50.
  • That sometimes, I still can’t believe she’s gone.
  • That I miss her.
  • That I will always love her.

I hope you like the flowers, Mom.

Zichrono Livracha

Judaism Isn’t For Wimps

I work hard at being responsible. If I’ve made a committment to you I’ll keep it and if I’m unable to, I’ll call and tell you why. If I’m counted on to complete a task then the task will get completed on time, every time. It’s not always easy, convenient, or fun to be responsible but I believe it speaks to the kind of person one is; my reputation, be it at work, in my neighborhood, or at my shul tells those I work with, live near, and/or participate in synagogue activities with whether or not I’m serious about my job, my home, and my faith.

I took my conversion to Judaism very seriously. I examined all aspects of the faith before I made my decision and although I knew for quite some time that I would eventually convert there were several questions I asked myself before I made the final decision. Would I, after a long week at work, attend services on Friday evening? Would I make a true effort to get to know the members of my new community? Would I follow through with the monthly commitment I made to meet with recent converts and those considering conversion? Would I study Torah (no hesitation there), work on improving my Hebrew skills, and be open to listening and thinking about viewpoints I may not agree with or understand?  Would I support my shul financially by becoming a member and/or donating to Jewish causes? It was only after careful contemplation on these and various other questions that I was able to make my final decision to convert.

Although my decision was a personal one it became, in a way, communal. I was accepted into the Covenant by the community as a whole and as such, I have a responsibility to share part of myself with the community. Whether I’m attending services, studying Torah, giving financial support, or meeting with recent or prospective converts, I am engaging with the People of Israel and contributing the best parts of who I am to the Covenant. I believe Judaism is a religion of community and it is when we are together in community that we truly experience God through one another.

Judaism isn’t for wimps. Each individual has a responsibility to the community to be a part of the Covenant in any way he/she is able. Without all its members, the community is weakened and must struggle to survive. When I made the decision to convert I accepted the many responsibilities that Judaism demands of me because I know that it isn’t just my reputation that’s on the line – it’s my community as well.

The Lost Weekend

I’ve always been a “secret” eater. It started sometime when I was in the 6th grade. Both my parents, z”l, worked and I arrived home from school around 3:00. My two sisters wouldn’t be home for another hour and that gave me plenty of time. I started going through the cupboards looking for things to eat.  It’s been many, many years since then and still when I’m home alone I  go through the cupboards looking for things to eat – the only difference is that now I know what’s there because I put it there.

I wish I could identify a reason for my “secret” eating. I’m sure there’s some kind of rebellion hidden deep in my psyche that won’t allow me to accept that at 49, I am allowed to eat what I choose, when I choose but despite my best efforts I’ve been unable to convince the 6th grader within me of that fact so the day after my wife (who, by the way, has told me a million times that I am beautiful just the way I am) left to visit her Mom in another state I went shopping.

I know better than to go to the market alone especially when I’m more than aware of the reason I’m going. The internal dialogue between the 6th grader and the 49-year-old adult is deafening because the 6th grader screams when the adult begins to walk away from the items she knows aren’t healthy for her body or her mind. Before I realize it I’ve listened to the two “reason” back and forth for an hour and a half and I’m exhausted from the fight. As is almost always the case the 6th grader got her way and I came home with two bags full of nothing but items to binge on.

Like Ray Milland’s Don Birnam I have, by design, spent a majority of this weekend primarily alone.  I’ve gone out to run errands and keep commitments knowing that when I return to the empty house the food will be waiting. I feel defeated and mildly sick and I know it’s from too much junk and not enough protein (not to mention the stuff going on in my head). I’ve realized, perhaps too late, that there are many things I could have done that wouldn’t have stopped the unhealthy eating but would have slowed it down considerably and as Sunday moves into Monday, I begin to feel ashamed and unproductive.

I know that if I’m ever going to break free of the body I feel trapped in I must somehow remind myself that my secret eating serves no purpose. The rebellious 6th grader has nothing left to rebel over and the secret I believe I’m keeping isn’t really a secret at all. As I continue to reflect on the past two days I wonder how many more “lost” weekends I will have  to suffer  through before I realize that the intelligent, intellectual woman I know I am is smart enough to quiet the child that demands to eat whatever she likes.

I Guess I Don’t Get It

Sara: “Hello… I’m calling from California. What time does your office close?”

East Coast Government Office: “What time is it there?”

Sara: “I just need to know what time your office closes.”

East Coast Government Office: “Well, I need to know what time it is there, first.”

Sara: “Why?”

East Coast Government Office: “So I can tell you when we close in your time.”

Sara: “If you tell me when you close, I can figure it out. There’s a three-hour time difference.”

East Coast Government Office: “Where are you calling from again?”

Sara: “California… the West Coast.”

East Coast Government Office: “So what time is it there?”

Sara: “It’s 1:45 in the afternoon.”

East Coast Government Office: “So you’re behind us?”

Sara: “Yes… by three hours.”

East Coast Government Office: “Well, we close at 5:00 your time.”

Sara: “So you’re open until 8:00 in the evening?”

East Coast Government Office: “No! Don’t you get it?! When it’s 5:00 there, we’ll be closed!”

Out of the Loop and Out of Her Life

Familial relationships are complex. Although I don’t talk about them often, I have two sisters. One lives out of the country and one lives down the freeway, about 20 minutes away. I’ve never been exceptionally close to either one of them but logic would seem to dictate that I would at least be close to the sister that lives 20 minutes away.  Unfortunately, as we are all painfully reminded at some point in our lives, there are always things that happen that just don’t have any logical explanation. My relationship with my middle sister is one of those things.

When my parents, z”l, died so did my relationship with K. We’ve not spoken since she stormed out of my house in a fit of rage over the fact that I refused to attend a dinner at which her significant other would be in attendance but mine would not be invited. That was last April. I received an e-mail from her for my birthday in October. That was our last contact.

There’s a saying that is often repeated in 12-step meetings – insanity is repeating the same action over and over and expecting a different result. I’ve not contacted my sister because I know the result won’t be any different from what it’s been since my father died four years ago. K and I will exchange pleasantries for five minutes or so and shortly after that the conversation will turn into a shouting match over things that happened four years ago – it always does and it always will. That being said, it doesn’t mean that my choice isn’t difficult and doesn’t come without consequences and it doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t like to call her and be a part of her life. I just know that for the sake of my own sanity, I can’t. However, she’s still my sister and it’s still a painful decision. With both of my parents gone she is one of the last two members of my family of origin that I have left.

Today I discovered, quite accidentally via Facebook, that she and her boyfriend have purchased a house and are moving. And I cried. I really am out of the loop – and out of her life.

Get Over It and Move On!

Okay, here’s the deal. Please don’t introduce me as, “So-and-So’s Gal Friday.”

  1. I am no one’s GAL.
  2. I do more than “type stuff and make copies.”
  3. I don’t “get to leave early all the time.” When I leave the office, I continue working by knocking on doors, going to hospitals, talking to people, and many other tasks that require me to be away from a desk.
  4. When I “sit in court,” I’m coordinating witnesses, making sure everyone knows when to be there and making sure they are there when their name is called. This process usually begins at the pre-trial stage which is months before the trial begins.
  5. No, I don’t “ever wear a dress or make-up.” I hate dresses – they’re uncomfortable and I simply don’t wear them. I don’t like make-up. Never have. Never will.
  6. Yes, I am gay. The photograph on my desk is one of myself and my spouse on our wedding day – not my sister, not my best friend – my spouse.
  7. And last but not least, cubicle partitions are NOT walls, so when you “lower” your voice to talk to your friend in the cubicle right next to mine, I can hear what you say.

Most likely you’re in your twenties. You’re still very young. The best advice I can offer is get over it and move on!

2011 Already?

I had intended to post something on my long-neglected blog before 2010’s end however, time slipped away from me and as I looked at the calendar today and noticed it was already mid-January I began to panic. Then I realized that my last post was October 15th! Looking back over the past three months I can identify many reasons for not taking the time to blog… ironically enough, many of those experiences are the exact reason I began my blog in the first place. So, without further explanation here are some things I’ll write about over the next few days, weeks, and months:

  • The discovery of a tumor in my brain (benign – whew!).
  • The announcement that BOTH Rabbis at my shul will be leaving, one this year, the other next year.
  • The worsening of my migraines – both in frequency and severity.
  • The side-effects of the new medication I’m taking for migraines (I shake as though I am experiencing some type of withdrawal).
  • My experiences teaching the weekly Torah Portion at my shul.
  • My continued battle with food/weight.

So for those that have followed me, I’m back after a small hiatus. Thanks for sticking with me. For those that may have just discovered this blog, keep reading. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Finding Hope in the Journey

I am an addict. My drug of choice is perfectly legal and extremely easy to get. It’s cheap, available on almost every corner, and is present at nearly every gathering I attend. My drug of choice is food. I crave it just like an alcoholic craves a drink or a meth user craves another hit from the pipe. What makes my addiction so powerful is the fact that I can’t just stop eating. I’ve heard it said that being addicted to food is like living with a tiger that’s locked in a cage. It’s manageable while it’s locked away but three times per day I’m forced to set it free for a while, hoping I can lure it back where it can be controlled.

Most days, the tiger doesn’t make it back into the cage. It gleefully runs circles around me, pushing me with its heavy paws and snarling in my ear until I am too exhausted to even take pleasure in the things that I do to keep it at bay. It taunts me, forcing me to take notice of the fact that I’m the biggest person in most rooms and making me believe that no matter how smart or witty or friendly or kind I am, all people really see is the size of my body which negates everything else about me. As absurd and irrational as it sounds, it’s my reality 24 hours per day, 7 days per week and although there are times that it quiets to a whisper, there are times that it drowns out everything else around me.

Trying to manage my weight has been an issue for me all my life and at 48, I decided to have my body surgically altered in an effort to get my addiction under control. I got the Lap-Band in July of 2008 and although I’ve lost weight and continue to keep it off, it’s not been easy nor has it been quick and therein lies the problem. The surgery was my absolute last chance at taking the weight off once and for all, and I feel like I’m failing.

For me, losing the extra weight that envelopes my body is a long, slow journey. Because I began the journey weighing well over 300 pounds, I knew that my path to a healthy body weight would be longer than most but I had hoped that the Band would function like a walking stick, making it a little faster and a litter quicker going up the rocky terrain. Unfortunately, the road block that is my addiction makes travel nearly impossible sometimes and currently I find myself sitting at the side of the road unable to find any hope that I’ll ever have a body that resembles a “normal” size. Other travelers pass me by and some even stop to help and encourage me but even in the midst of their kindness I ruminate on my failure to control the addict part of my brain that so often robs me of acknowledging even my slightest victory over food.

I’ve been told that God (after hearing a rational reason that made sense to me, I’m attempting to rid myself of the habit of typing “G-d”)  can help me along my weight-loss journey and give me strength and hope where I once had none. I pray daily and although my prayers aren’t formal or structured, they are genuine and from my heart. I truly believe that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” but as of late I find my faith wavering as it relates to my size and am fearful that God simply isn’t the answer to dealing with issues surrounding my weight. I don’t expect God to remove my desire to eat foods that are unhealthy for me and I don’t expect God to do all the work – that simply isn’t the God I believe in. What troubles me is my recent and growing lack of nearly all hope that I will ever be comfortable with my body and hope is something I desperately need if I am to continue to fight the addiction that is with me all day, every day.

As the Torah cycle moves closer to the book of Exodus, I think about my People and their journey through the desert and I remember the many times they lost hope that Moses was leading them in the right direction. They complained, doubted, complained some more, and even fashioned a golden calf all because they hoped they would receive a better answer to the many questions they had for God. Each time God, through Moses, answered – sometimes angrily and sometimes with compassion – but God always answered. Maybe its childish, but I’m looking for an answer, too, or at least something that will give me hope that someday I can look back on this journey and see the obese person I once was through the eyes of the thinner person I want to become.

He Never Took Chances…

She sobbed softly, unable to contain her grief any longer. She and her family had traveled from the East coast and although the trial they had desperately hoped would happen had once again been delayed, they came to court every day to hear about the last moments of their son’s life.

 With swollen eyes and a trembling voice, she told me how her son never took chances. He never wanted to come to California in the first place, believing the “party” atmosphere would distract him from his work. When he was old enough to drive, she and her husband had “drilled into his head” the dangers of drinking and driving and after the recent loss of a close friend to the lethal combination of drinking, driving, and speeding she knew the lesson was fresh in his mind.

 She spoke to him several times that day, just the “usual” mother and son chit-chat. He was going to help his friend move then hang out with his buddies for a bit before heading off to bed; he’d done some extra work during the week and he was exhausted come Friday night. She reminded him “for the millionth time” not to drink and drive and he stopped her mid-sentence, saying he didn’t intend on going “out,” just going over to a friend’s apartment for some dinner. She couldn’t understand why his plans had changed.

He sent her a text message the evening of the crash, telling her that he was having a good time and he’d call her the next day. That’s the last she heard from him. Early the next morning, she received the call from authorities in California telling her that her son was dead.

 Seeing the two surviving passengers that were in the car that night would be hard, she knew, but she also knew that they were the ones that could tell her what happened.  She knew the driver would be in the courtroom as well and although she understood that he would have his back to her as he sat at the defendant’s table, she was unsure of what her reaction would be. When the time came, she wasn’t able to enter the courtroom. She stood sobbing at the door, looking through the small window waiting for her anger to pass. Eventually she entered, took her seat next to her daughter and husband, and steeled herself for what she was about to hear.

She learned that it wasn’t her son’s idea to go to the bar that night but that he reluctantly went along, “to have a couple of beers.” She discovered that his friends had discussed who would be the designated driver and had confronted their choice when he began to drink his first beer of the evening, telling him they had money for a cab if he didn’t want to drive. The driver promised to stop after “just one.” She heard one survivor describe how all three passengers stood outside the car, asking the driver if he was sure he was okay to drive and she listened as the speaker recalled how he yelled at the driver to slow down. Finally, she began to sob as she heard, in graphic detail, the sequence of events leading up to the crash; the missed turn, the illegal u-turn, the increasing speed, the whining of the 8-cylinder engine, the feel of the rear tires losing traction, the realization that the car had crossed the center divide and was heading straight for a tree.  As she sat in a cold, all-but-empty courtroom, she heard how a near-stranger was with her son as he took his last few breaths and her shoulders began to heave with the understanding that her son did not die alone.

She handed me two photographs of her son and I examined the face of the person that smiled back at me. Unsure of what to say, I was reminded of something I heard from one of the Rabbis at synagogue and although I wasn’t visiting the home of a mourner, the same principle applied. Trite, cliché platitudes aren’t helpful to someone who has lost a loved one but being present in mind and body is. I sat quietly, putting my hand gently on her shoulder as she took the photographs from my hand and gently stroked the face in the picture. She hugged me as she stood to leave and I watched as her husband and daughter helped her walk down the hallway toward the exit.  I knew that it would most likely be another 6 months before the man accused of killing her son would face trial and I knew when that time came she would once again fly across the United States to be there.


I Can’t Believe I Missed It

Yes, the services are long. To some, they may seem boring. But to me they are hauntingly beautiful and extremely significant. Yom Kippur. The holiest day of the Jewish calendar.  For weeks I prepared both my mind and my soul to take part in the rituals, prayers, and music of Yom Kippur. Instead, I was home in bed, my fever and achy body keeping me from much-needed sleep. And now as Sunday turns into Monday, I’m sitting at the computer attempting to console myself by writing about the  profound  guilt and disappointment I feel.

Although I know G-d is here with me I cannot feel G-d and although I believe that G-d was with me despite the fact that I had to miss services I still feel lonely. I miss people from my community that I was unable to pray with and I miss hearing the words of my spiritual leaders. I miss the feeling that I get after services, knowing that I made an all-important connection to G-d at a time I needed it the most.

G-d is with me, I know but tonight, G-d seems so far away. I can’t believe I missed it. I can’t believe it’s over.