Incomplete: A Birthday Tribute

November 4, 2015


47 that will never be 48.

Tomorrow would have been Mike’s birthday.

I won’t be calling him, won’t be hearing his voice say “Hey, Lain!” on the other end of the line. Each time I think of it, my heart breaks. Or sinks. Or crackles and withers.

What is tomorrow going to be like for me and my family, other than hard? Birthdays and holidays are hard without loved ones. In some ways, though, it’s easier to expect this day. It’s easier than little moments. Little moments are the hardest ones. Grief is very good at hiding around doorways, crouching in corners waiting to spring me with random remembrances, painful jolts of nostalgia tinged with regret and guilt.

So tomorrow? On Mike’s birthday? I can brace myself for Grief, can steel myself, white-knuckled, square-shouldered and lock-kneed.

Problem is, I don’t know which direction it’s coming from.
Grief may hurtle at me, barrel-chested and full-force.
Or lodge in the heel of my shoe as it irritates, exacerbates, lingers.
Or Grief will bubble up around me as I stone-sink deeper, deeper, deep.

I just don’t know.

There’s so much I don’t know.

If you asked me in April what the year ahead would be like? What kind of person I would evolve to be as a result of Mike’s death? I wouldn’t have known that either.

All I know, all I continue to know, is that my life has changed without my brother. I’m still putting the pieces together to figure out what exactly that looks like.

I suppose I always will.

Day #20: Dare

September 4, 2015




Really, dare?

I don’t know about that.

I am probably one of the least daring people I know.

Maybe some of you out there who know me might tell me different. Maybe some of you out there will tell me that I am underestimating myself. Maybe you’ll say that you think I’m bold, or daring, or courageous in some way.

I’m not feeling it.

I’d love to be more daring. Especially when it comes to people. I’d love to be courageous. To be a person who says truthful things, even when it is difficult. Who will speak up when I’m upset. Who will raise difficult issues in conversation.

It’s earned me a reputation, I think, as a diplomat. As a nice person. It’s also earned me a reputation as someone who will listen without judgement. I kind of like that.

Still, there are times it feels hollow, times when I feel I sell myself short because I haven’t said what’s on my mind.

I’ve gotten better, for sure. I have begun to care not as much about whether people will be mad at me for saying something to upset them. After all, the people who truly love me will stick around, even if they are grumpy. The people who don’t would find a reason to leave anyway. I sure feel I still have a long way to go.

Always a journey.

Day #18: Ask

September 2, 2015


Things I am good at asking for:
More cake

Things I am not good at asking for:

Day #17: Awake

September 1, 2015


Ever hear of Joseph Campbell? The guy who dedicated his whole life to the themes and archetypes of story and myth across cultures? The one who laid out the common pattern of the Hero’s Journey in culture? He’s one of MY heroes. Campbell saw the greatest human transgression as “the sin of inadvertence, of not being alert, not quite awake.”

Of going through life hearing, but not actually listening.
Seeing, but not really noticing.

It’s typing on the computer while the kids are talking about something that happened at school.
Going outside without looking at the sky.
Driving to work and realizing you have no idea how you actually got there.
Looking down at dinner and seeing, surprisingly, your plate is now empty.
Going a whole summer without feeling bare feet on grass.

I’d like to think that I spend my time conscious, truly awake, truly thinking about everything around me. But to tell you the truth? All of that paying attention can be exhausting.

That’s actually why, for all you lovers of irony out there, I use awake-ness as a strategy for getting to sleep.

Try it sometime.

Lay in bed with your eyes closed. Allow your ears to do all the work. Pay attention to the sounds. ALL the sounds your ears can possibly pick up:
The air conditioning
Traffic outside
The wind blowing
Your heart
Your breathing
The dog’s breathing
The hum of the earth

Listen to it.
All of it.
Bring it all in at the same time.
Keep it all there.
Your mind will fight you, will try to let some of it go.
Hold on to it, as much as you can, as long as you can.
At some point, you will have no choice
But to let go.

Day #16: Pray

September 1, 2015



I have a confession to make. During services? When everyone is singing, speaking, or praying? My mind tends to wander. You might not notice, because I say and do the right things. But that’s not where my brain is. I know, it sounds terrible.

Growing up in my Reform synagogue, where a major portion of services was conducted in English, I had always been trained to get my spiritual fix by reflecting on the words themselves. The expectation was always to follow along closely and to pay attention to what I was saying. “Spacing out” was frowned upon.

But luckily for me, I learned that Judaism is actually okay with it. I made that discovery when praying with Conservative and Orthodox Jews. Traditional services have the silent Amidah, which consists of pages and pages of Hebrew. Everyone begins together while standing, goes through at his or her own speed, and sits and waits for other congregants to finish. If you’ve never been to a service where this is done, you’d soon learn this takes many minutes. Long enough for your mind to wander from one thing to another. Long enough for you to wonder what keeps those people standing and praying so long.

That’s the beauty of it. There are parts of the service that are actually SUPPOSED to be long, and maybe a little bit (dare I say?) boring. The secret? The familiarity of the words gives the freedom to explore deeper ideas. Prayers are so routine, they become background music to a conversation with ourselves, or perhaps with God.

This month at your services – wherever you pray – I have a challenge for you. Give yourself permission to let your mind wander during some of the more familiar prayers. Call it going on “spiritual autopilot.” Go ahead and say the words, but from time to time, allow them to wash through you. Give yourself a bit of freedom to listen to what’s really going on Inside your head, inside your heart.

May the coming days be a chance for you to make new discoveries in self-reflection. May you find time to listen to your private thoughts. May you sing and pray with your congregation, yet remember that your most spiritual reflections are within you.

And? If the rabbi asks? I’m TOTALLY paying attention during the sermon.

Day #15: Change

August 30, 2015


I’m not the same person I was
Four months ago.
I’m not the same person I was
Three years ago.
I’m not the same person I was
Twelve years ago.
Fifteen years ago.
Twenty years ago.
Twenty-two years ago.
Thirty five years ago.

Each life experience
Chipping away
Losses and gifts

As I change, I get to know
More of me,
Finding out more about
What I’m about,
Discovering, as I continue to unwrap
That I’m more the same self
Than I had ever realized.

Day #14: Learn

August 30, 2015


I’m a teacher. I’m all about the learning. I LOVE learning. It gets me excited. It doesn’t matter what subject area or topic. I can find a way to be totally jazzed about it. Here’s some of what I learned this summer:

  1. How to throw baseball pitches. I can throw a 2-seam, a 4-seam, a change-up, a knuckleball, a cutter and a curve. I’m not saying that they’re pretty, but I can throw ’em. Learning how to throw these pitches has taught me other things, too:
    1. I actually know what those pitches ARE.
    2. My sons can be incredibly patient and encouraging, even when there’s little reason to be.
    3. Really. I suck at pitching.
    4. But it’s fun.
    5. No matter how tired, sore or crabby I may feel, it will always, always, ALWAYS be worth my time to throw the ball with them.
    6. Always.
    7. For that matter, I will choose to accept any invitation from my boys, at any time. Frisbee golf? Got it. Open skate? I’m there. Dog walk? Let’s roll. Snuggle time? Can’t stop me.
  2. How to let people go. I had a friend in my former job. She is a great person, and is one of the sweetest, most generous souls I know. But after attempt after attempt after attempt after attempt, it turned out I was the only one who was trying to make any contact. It made me feel more insecure and needy the more I worried about it. So? I let the friendship go. I wouldn’t turn away if reached out to, but I have discovered that, for now, I have better places to spend my attention (see section 1 above).
  3. How to go upside down at the rings at my gym. Not a huge thing, but boy does it make me feel awesome to say I can. Plus it’s good street cred with my kids.
  4. That my kids will be just FINE. That when I sense myself getting worked up about one of my sons – about his achievement, about his skills, about his placement or play on a sporting team, about any of it – I tell myself the following:
    1. My worries stem from my insecurities.
    2. My worries are not about my kids.
    3. But my kids’ experiences are NOT ABOUT ME.
    4. And I can close my eyes and picture them at thirty, being wonderful people.
    5. And I realize there isn’t a need to worry.
    6. Because they will be JUST FINE.
    7. And I can calm down.

Of course, there’s much, much more to it. And there’s so much more that I want to learn. So much I need to learn. So much I’m going to learn, even if I don’t know I need to learn it yet.

That’s why I’m such a big fan of life.

Day #10: Count

August 25, 2015


Today’s post is proof of two things:
1. I’m human. Yes, I missed a couple of posts. Don’t worry, I beat myself up over it more than you did. So ha.
2. My blog is truly eclectic. Sometimes I wish I could find a niche and specialize. Is my writing poetry? Educational? Parent-based humor? Spiritually leaning? I am at the mercy of my brain cells. Come along for the ride.

I’m a counter. Always have been.

I can’t help it. It just happens that way. I love numbers.

I look for the palindromes on my car odometer. I sometimes count spoken syllables. Groups of five are best. (Don’t judge.) I might count lights. Or steps. Or chairs. Or panels on the wall. Or anything that’s more than one. One time in geometry class I calculated the number of holes in the acoustical tile. The same class I got in trouble in for counting the rotation of the ceiling fan.

Yet somehow, as a kid, I let myself be talked into the idea that I wasn’t good at math.  It didn’t happen right away. Geometry was amazing. I loved theorems. (Hey. I TOLD you not to judge.) I loved the way that every bit of knowledge connected back to the most basic concepts via mathematical daisy chain. But beyond sine-cosine-tangent, things just became too theoretical. Without a solid grounding in numbers and ideas, I didn’t have anything to hold on to. Maybe it was the friends around me, the math gurus and geniuses who took calculus while I gracefully backed away from the table. I looked at them, figured I didn’t have what it took, and convinced myself I wasn’t a math gal.

Still, my whole life I have been taken with the poetry of numbers, their symmetry, the way different numbers have their own distinct personalities. I love working with numbers, even still. They’re comfortable to me.

It wasn’t until I began teaching math almost exclusively that I realized I was more mathematical than I gave myself credit for. That I carried numbers and patterns and systems in my bones. And that I had the ability to teach my students how to carry it with them as well.

Soon, I started to hear more and more adults tell me how bad they are at math. I wonder how many of those adults are actually just like me. People who have somehow gotten the message that they stink at mathematics. They tell me that they’ve never understood it, and that they are terrible with numbers.

In my heart of hearts? I. Don’t. Buy. It. One. Bit.

So here’s my challenge:

Hey. Grown-ups who hate math. Or who think you do. Or who think you suck at math. Or numbers. Come chat with me. Anyone want to take me up on the offer? Bet I can convince you otherwise.

The numbers are in your favor.

Post-script: And if there is anyone out there who can make calculus make sense to me, who can bring it back to tangible math roots for me, well then. Sign. Me. Up.

Day #8: Be

August 22, 2015


Taking the time
Breathing in
The crescendo of cicadas
From the loner
To the deafening
Building from right to left
And back again

The settling of my body
With a deep inhale
Pulse slowing
Shoulders releasing

Eyes sensing sun
Through closed lids
Skin drinking in,
Refusing to relinquish

Holding it safe
For February

Day #6: Know

August 21, 2015


What do I know? Right now, at this point in time?

That I have good friends who think about me.
That I have an amazing, supportive family.
That I can’t write anything deep with four teenage boys bickering ten feet away.
That it takes a special kind of zen to ignore said boys bickering ten feet away.
I mean special kind of zen.
Really special.
I know that a martini doesn’t make my children behave any better, but it does make me care *that much* less.
That a Shabbat dinner does offer a degree of specialness I don’t always get.
That said Shabbat dinner can still fall to pieces with a glut of male energy.
That a homemade chocolate cookie and a glass of milk deserve their own unique circle in heaven.

And you? What truths come to you, either deep or trivial?


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