Friday, April 27, 2007

From RevGalBlogPals weekly Meme

Friday Five: What Are You...

1. Wearing: Black yoga pants, a coral tank top and a black cardigan sweatshirt thingie. Barefoot as usual.

2. Pondering: Finances, inflow and outgo. Ways to write more and get paid for it. Houses, houses, houses.

3. Reading: new blogs,, the almost-latest Alexander McCall ("Blue Shoes and Happiness")

4. Dreaming: Of finding "my" house, losing some weight, "dereaming" instead of housecleaning

5. Eating - a very cold and juicy orange

Thursday, April 26, 2007

twixting and betweening

I have been in flux. I had hoped to have been all moved to Massachusetts by now, but...alas, I have yet to find the right house in the right town. I have a good realtor, am willing to take on a house with cosmetic needs, and have a reasonable but not lavish budget. But, the right house is not yet here.

Meanwhile finances are flowing more out my doors than through them, so I have had to devote energy there. Tax time hurt. Plus, I have the blues.

I suppose I could natter on ceaselessly about this and that, but the bottom line is I have had to grab myself by my own short hairs and hurl myself forward -- one baby step at a time.

So I'll be writing more in a bit ... but first I need to get happier.

The world is an abundant place, so that should not be hard, even if it may take time. Right now I am feeling a bit like the fig tree that Jesus withered for not bearing fruit out of season. There is a lesson here somewhere, and I know I'll feel all stupid when I finally find it, slapping my forehead and shouting DOH at the top of my lungs.

Until then, hugs to all.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Nature of Prayer

What is the nature of prayer?

There are times I think of prayers like smoke. I love incense for reminding me of this -- and I see our prayers leap through the burning coals onto the incense smoke stream and get wafted upward as they disperse into the sky. So maybe it is that our prayers rise and granulate, staying aloft like cloud-cover, bridging that space between heaven and earth, like a smokey grout between levels of the universe. I see photos of the Milky Way taken from satellites and imagine that the smokey bits, the washes of light between stars, are the gathered prayers of us all, waiting in the irridescence of God's celestial reading room.

Then there are times I think prayers are like telephone calls. It is mysterious to me how I can speak into my telephone and hear someone a thousand miles away talking back at me. Yet, it happens. When I was Catholic, I'd imagine that my prayers were a telephone call to a saint. They could handle direct communication. Yet I also felt that sometimes my prayers would get sidelined to an answering machine, or a pile of heavenly "While You Were Out" message slips. There are so many people with needs greater than mine, urgencies far more urgent than mine. So I'd call on saint after saint, littering the clouds with message slips, hoping one would get noticed and that I hadn't overdone my requests for intercession. The saints were, after all, God's main messenger service.

But sometimes prayer seems like water, fluid and wild as a brook that careens down a mountainside. There is no stopping it, as it just blurts out of rocks and rills and tumbles all around the feet of God, a messy but sinceree pool of intention, flawed but shining in the sun. All of our voices merge and flow into one moment of sparkle at his feet, having gathered momentum as we flew down the hillside to him, eager and full of hope.

Yet, in Spring I am reminded that prayer is like earth, the foundation from which growth happens, the richly nurtured ground of things, the basic, warm nourishing soil of our lives. Prayer is where we work and toil, hoping that something will later blossom and grow. Prayer is, perhaps, the garden in which we attempt to grow our lives in a way that will bring God pleasure.

And then I dream, and in the silence of unfettered sleep I feel the hand of God on my heart, knowing that He has come as He always comes, to feel my prayers, and to take them into His own heart.



I just wrote a note to a friend about this, but the more I churn it around in my mind, the more I want to tell everyone.

I have a friend whom I have known since we were both 16, who is a gay man, now 57. He is a brilliant professor and writer. We were chatting on the phone the other day and generally blathering on (as we do) about the condition of the world in general and America in specific. Out of the blue (because we have never discussed it) he said, "I really love the Episcopalians!"

Now my friend is a VERY, VERY lapsed Catholic, so to hear that he loves any religious group is shocking, and even more so a group that is in agonized upheaval and potential schism over a variety of issues related to GLBT inclusion. But my friend is not IN the church, so what he sees is as a gay man outside the church.

And he is delighted. Why?

"Because look at all those straight people putting -- of all things -- their church on the line in support of our right to a full life. Church people, straight people, standing up for us for the first time! It is wonderful, so hopeful!"

He didn't see any snarkiness, and machinations, or feel pain. He saw a corner of the events. But what he saw, what he took into his soul -- was the fact that many straight people who proclaim a faith in God, stood up for him. They put something dear at risk for him.

He's lived a whole life where he has not seen that before.

Sure, there is more to see -- and sure, there is pain -- but those are the easy things to see when one follows this story. Sometimes hope is the hardest thing to see, but my friend saw it -- and if he saw it, others saw it.

Do not be discouraged, those of you in the Episcopalian or other churches who care about inclusion. Do not fear. Know that as you speak the words of inclusion, people you do not know, people who thirst for the gospel, people who have never seen courage like this -- well, those people are listening, and they are thankful. Those people are gay and straight, rich and poor, urban and rural -- they are the people outside your doors whose hearts will be touched progressively more deeply as your doors open progressively more widely.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

They're ba-a-a-a-a-a-ack

Last year I posted about the persistent summer residence of a gang of thug Canadian geese in this small NJ town. They clung to what they felt were their squatter's rights over a small pond in a local park. This little town practically turned itself upside down and inside out to rid themselves of the beasties, but to no avail. Until, of course, they migrated.

Migration is over. The turf-protective, honking, littering menaces are back.

Yesterday I had just gone grocery shopping, but it was too decent a day to go straight home, so I picked up an interesting magazine at check-out and headed for the park. It was unseasonably chilly, but comfy enough in the car. I assembled a quick lunch from bread, cheese, an apple and diet soda, opened the sunroof and gazed off into the park. There they were, the "Advance Team" of geese - an older looking couple, big juicy waddlers. There were a few others in the distance, but far from what I fear will be "peak season" populations.

This old couple, whom I instantly named Clarence and Edith, were pecking in the wet earth about 20 feet from me, digging up what must have been succulent, wormy victuals. Off to the side, a grey squirrel munched on something crunchy. For a moment it felt that we were all having lunch together -- me, Clarence, Edith and the squirrel that I decided to call Hector.

I decided I may have been too hard on them last year. After all, Clarence and Edith had to live somewhere and they surely had to defecate somewhere. They seemed to be co-existing nicely with Hector, so maybe I had gotten it all wrong. I decided to make a peace offering. I reached in my grocery bag and took out the heel end of the multi-grain bread that I had. What could be finer?

I flung it out of the window, frisbee-style, and, clumsy flinger that I was, it landed about 10 feet from the car -- a bit close for wild things to risk. But out of the corner of my eye, I could see Hector starting to zig zag forward, in kind of a slow squirrel dance that said "I'm looking at it, no I'm not, yes I am, maybe I am not, la la la".

Clarence caught wind of what Hector was doing and muttered a few phrases to Edith as he edged his backside into the yardage between Hector and the bread, never missing a chance to peck for a worm or two. His dance was more ponderous - a clumpy sort of "I will just block you with my body" kind of winding stroll. Hector would zip back and forth and Clarence would just insert his dominant self.

Finally, Clarence was close enough to the bread to give it a good sniff. He'd look at me, then sniff the bread, prodding it with his beak ever so slightly. Hector was beside himself, his tail twitching back and forth like a metronome on fire. Finally, Clarence looked over at Edith and they clucked back and forth a few times, then waddled away -- without the bread!!!

They had rejected my bread. My earnest offer. My multi-grains. My peace offering for having thought of them as thankless cretins.

Hector seemed to struggle with himself. Could he trust that the geese had abandoned the site? Could he dare be so close to me? If Clarence hadn't taken it, was it worth the risk for him?

Finally, he ran directly over to the bread and picked it up. This was a creature who knew his multi-grains! He almost swooned in delight as he nibbled around the edges of the slice. The heel of bread was as big as his chest, and would assuage his hunger to be sure. Suddenly he ran up the side of a tree, carrying it between his teeth, his head bent down towards his chest. He got to a crotch in the tree and settled in for some serious eating.

It is entirely unpredictable who will ever benefit from any good we do. Our job is just to keep tossing out the crusts of bread for whomever needs them most.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Funerals and Futures

As many of you know, I am in the process of looking for a house to buy in or near my old home town, a place in western Massachusetts that is a small town made up of a still uneasy mix of old-time New Englanders, families of mostly European and Asian immigrants from the recent and distant past, privileged families, small-acreage farmers, factory and mill workers --white collars, blue collars and as my long-deceased aunt would have said - "people who are Catholic and people who are not".

A couple of years ago I attended the wake and funeral of an elder cousin, who at that time was one of my few remaining relatives. I sat in the back of the small funeral home that every member of my family in that town had used for years.

I watched them file in -- the people who were distant relatives, fifth and sixth cousins - those seen only at weddings and funerals. It was as though they now did a circuit tour of major events after reaching a certain age. Plus, they all had attended the same church, and had lived in the same neighborhoods. After a while they became family to each other by proximity and shared memory if nothing else.

I sat behind a group of good and decent women - farm women who had given every inch of their lives for farm and family. These were hard-working women, women wearing slacks to fend off the winter cold, sensible winter shoes, quilted fibrefill coats and knitted wool hats with matching scarves. Each one of them had raised a family, endured hardships and given up a great deal so that their children could have a better life. They were rough-hewn, but solid, dependable. Theirs are hands that had never known manicures -- chapped, calloused, toil-worn hands, hands made rough in service to family.

I sat quietly behind them and listened as they heralded the arrival of each visitor in hushed whispers -- "Oh, you know her -- she is the one whose daughter married the Puerto Rican boy." "You know him - he is the one who got fired for messing around with the boss's wife." "Oh sure, she's the one with son who isn't 'quite right'." "His son killed himself." "Her daughter is the one who got married five times." If they had been chickens, they would have been nervously raising and lowering their heads, and giving those tiny, low, broody, almost-baritone chest clucks as they nervously picked at the soil. "bwakkkkk scandal bwaaaaaaawk tragedy" They were the biddy Greek chorus of the funeral parlor.

This association of person with controversy or sad event in a ritual recounting is typical of my old town. Despite their fundamental goodness, each of these women could be wearing a button that said "DAMN IT. I DIDN'T GET MY DREAM" on their jackets. So in some sense it was only natural that they would note first and foremost the interstitial places in the souls of others, the cracks where their dreams had also fallen through.

After the wake, the saying of the rosary, the burial, we were told to meet up at one of the town's new and pleasant restaurants to gather and remember the departed. After the meal I was to drive to my father's home -- a place that was not a welcoming place since his remarriage to a rather difficult woman late in life. Let us just say that much water had gone under that bridge, and I spent a long time understanding over and over again what it means to forgive, or to bear the burden of needing to forgive.

As I was about to back my car out of the parking place, I heard a "TAP TAP " on my window. A woman I did not know, but had seen at the wake stood there, motioning for me to let down my window. She reached in and patted my shoulder as she said "We just wanted you to know that we think what your father did to you was awful, really awful, and we are so sad." I looked at her and said "I am sorry, but do I know you?" She told me her name. It didn't ring a bell. (I found out later that she was the daughter of one of the farm women -- my generation of her ilk.) She repeated how awful it had been. I told her thanks, but life moves on. Forgiveness happens. But thank you.

I drove away with the shocking awareness that I had now been toe-tagged for any future event. I had my rural legend attached now..."Oh you know her -- she is the one whose father...." I was conspicuous to those who did not know me, standing in the glare of my family's dysfunction. I was a resident-by-anecdote now.

So, fast forward a year and a half. I am now moving back. My father has died, that dysfunction has been dealt with. I feel free to build a new anecdote "Oh you know her -- she was the one who lived her dream and then decided to build a new one. She came back here because she loves the land and has friends here."

It isn't as exciting, but it is real -- and has the potential for much more joy. I know I can never be one of the women in the funeral parlor. My life has taken wholly different turns.

Yet, part of me thanks them, as well. They watched from afar, saw that hurt had been caused and wanted to let me know that they felt sad for me. While I had not wished for observers during that period, it is a strange sort of comfort that they noticed. My guess is, great praying women that they are, that my name was even carried forward in prayer. And there is goodness in that.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Rain and Prayer

It has rained all day -- a cold spring rain that feels more like a fall rain. It feels like the beginning of cold, not the end. It has inspired me to snuggle down in my comforter. I have had lots of tea. Read some. Cooked some. Domestic things. And every time I get inside the comforter, all snuggled into the warmth of it, with the sound of rain pelting my windows outside, every time - -I pray. There is something about the cadence of rain that is like prayer -- random but persisting. Or maybe it is the safe feeling I have when it is cold and rainy outside and cozy inside. But I love the rain. I love watching it, smelling air that is wet with it, seeing it make the world glisten.

When it is warm I stroll through it, and take long deep breaths of its earth-scent.

And it makes me pray. The prayers are quick - little pitter-patter prayers, snapshot prayers, snippets of intention -- but prayers nonetheless.

The rain is like the sound of a celestial telegraph key, and my prayers the dots and dashes that sing along its staccato.

Monday, April 09, 2007


The car problem is resolved. The repair guy says it is a "miraculous outcome". The problem was caused by the fact that when I had an oil change, the garage had not sufficiently tightened the oil filter. This is the kind of major issue that could indeed have caused my engine to blow out. I had had the oil changed and not driven the car until leaving for this trip. So the oil filter had not been asked to do much until I drove out here. When I had the car towed in, the dealeship manager said that the odds are my engine was toast. Today the repair guy said that I must have pulled over just in time and had enough oil to keep the engine from siezing up. Bottom line, they put in a new oil filter, new oil, cleaned up the undercarriage, cleaned out the oil from the rear brakes and that is that. The engine is fine. Total bill= $104. I called my garage where the oil change was done and they will reimburse me the $104. If the engine had been toasted, my warranty would NOT have covered it, because it was a garage error, not a parts failure. My regular mechanic might have covered it, but that would have been an ugly thing for everyone....fortunately that is not an issue. Pardon me if I sign off as I need to go shout "Hallllllleluia!"

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Easter Evening

He Is Risen!
He Is Risen Indeed!

I am in Massachusetts tonight. I spent easter Sunday with my 85 year old distant cousin Ida, who is dear to my heart, and is my only remaining relative. She resisted all efforts of mine to plan a dinner out, preferring instead to cook for me. So, what awaited me but kielbasa, ham, babka, salads of various sorts, and so on. In some way just eating familiar foods of our past was comforting to us both. Nostalgia is always a part of our times together, and so we shared memories of holidays past and people we both knew and loved who have gone on.

There is such sweet consolation in shared memory. Plus, we both are looking forward to my moving out here. She is a good woman; and she is the last of my tribe, and I of hers.

I had planned to come back to NJ tonight, but my car is at the local dealership waiting to be seen by a car-doctor tomorrow. It was towed in Saturday. Sigh. I was driving here, stopped to stretch my legs. Started up the car and accelerated back onto the Mass Turnpike and sudddenly the yellow OIL PRESSURE LOW light came on; warning bleeps started chiming; and white smoke came out of my car's exhaust. I pulled back onto the shoulder immediately and stopped the car and arranged a tow. I was 11 miles from my destination. Because it was a state turnpike, only approved tow companies can tow on it, so I had to wait for the state police to send an approved tow. $230 later I was arriving at the Chevy dealership to find out that I have probably blown my engine -- through no fault of my own.

This is an expensive repair. THOUUUUUUUUUSANDS of dollars.

The good news is that if my milerage was OK, it might be convered by warranty.

What is the OK mileage? My warranty expires at 36,000 miles.

What is my car mileage? 35,937.

Tonmorrow I find out if my warranty covers whatever needs to be done. Please slip a quick wishful thought into the universe if you are in the mood.

I will rent a car (hopefully also covered by warranty) and drive back to NJ on Mon or Tuesday sol I can write out a check to pay my taxes and my tax guy,.

There seems to be a theme here. I need to get some inflow to match my outgo .

Abundant universe. Abundant universe. This is the sound of me chanting.

What the heck. At least I am safe. No accident happened. I was with family and friends all day. Christ is risen. All in all, a special day. A very special day. And I mean that from my heart.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Goodnight Beloved -- Dobranoc Kochanie!

Good Friday - the most solemn day in the Christian calendar. When I was a child, one of the hymns sung in Polish was titled "Dobranoc Kochanie" (pronounced - dough-BRAH-notes koh-HAHN-knee) which means "Goodnight, Beloved."

It was a song we sang to the crucified Christ as He was being taken to his tomb. After a service that included the Stations of the Cross and the reading of the Passion narrative, several strong men of the church would carry a large statue of Christ, dead, on a bier, around the church, followed by altar boys with little pillows on which rested the crown of thorns, the nails, the hammer.

For that one instant we were standing with the disciples watching the one we loved carried away. It was really sad. To this day I cannot hear that song without weeping. It captured all there is about grief -- saying goodbye to a loved one.

We were not saying goodnight to God. We were saying goodbye to our best and dearest friend. This was not a theoretical goodbye. It was deeply personal, felt as keenly as grief for one's earthly friend or family member. It was losing someone we knew, someone who knew and loved us. It was Mary and Joseph's son, the one who used to help his Dad make furniture. It was Jesus, the one all the stories were told about. Jesus, our friend who healed the sick, raised the dead, celebrated at our weddings with us, fed the hungry. It was the man we knew as a child. We knew him and his family. He was one of us. And he was killed.

There we stand, watching him being carried away from us for what feels like forever.

And it hurts.

I miss some parts of the dramatic and graphic nature of Eastern European pre-Vatican worship. To this day I could not choose a picture of Christ crucified or being deposed from the cross to put here. It just plain hurts to look at them today.

I will find some solemnity in this day, and will be quiet, and will recall the memories of Good Fridays long ago in a small church, the smell of incense hanging in the air, the sound of silver bells being rung in the far background. I will see the big Polish men with serious faces carrying our best and most beloved friend to his grave.

And I will once again hear the voices of the choir singing Dobranoc Kochanie.

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Maundy Thursday - In search of feet

This is Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. The day we commemorate Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. I can barely hold the image in my mind. The Messiah washing feet? I am much more comfortable with Mary Magdalene washing the Master's feet and anointing them with oil as he refused to let her action be criticized as fiscally foolhardy. But there Jesus is, washing feet. Being humble. It makes me think.

Whose feet should *I* be washing?

And what does it mean to wash feet in 2007? It is more than just the act of washing feet. I think in real service to our faith, washing feet now is to do something ordinary for someone else that no one else is doing.

I watch Oprah. I love her generosity. She keeps finding ways to wash people's feet. This past Christmas time, she gave everyone in her audience $2,000 with which they were to do good deeds. Some just gave away their $2,000 to needy people or causes. Some found ways to grow their $2,000 into much more, into sums like $60,000, or into campaigns netting 100's of thousands of dollars of goods and services.

Yesterday on Oprah, she had a few people who just got inspired to do something. A man was traveling in the Himalayas and noticed that kids in a small and extremely isolated rural mountain village had no books. He managed to get them books, an arduous and complex task. Then he got on fire and ended up quitting his lucrative job and now full-time gets children books, opens tiny libraries in villages around the world - he has given away MILLIONS of books.

A woman was overwhelmed at the fact that poor kids had no pajamas. They slept in their clothes. She started gathering pajamas. It is now her mission in life. She has collected and redistributed over 800,000 pairs of pajamas.

I also recall the story of the little girl who discovered that foster kids carried their possessions around in plastic bags. She herself was maybe 12 years old. She now has managed to supply kids with 100's of thousands of backpacks packed with helpful personal items.

None of these people started out with a fortune. What they started out with was an openness to washing feet. Once their hearts were opened far enough, where to wash took shape. They are ordinary people. They are no different from you and from me, except they are doing more, perhaps -- certainly more than I am.

I can do this. You can do this. We all can. We all can decide to make an impact greater than the one we are now making, one of service providing ordinary things in extraordinary circumstances.
My Maundy Thursday prayer is that my heart will open far enough to find the feet that God most desires me to wash.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Easter Cleaning, Lamb Cake, Onion Skins, My Mother, Purple Cabbage, and a Blessing

Easter at our house began with cleaning. Deep cleaning. Fanatical cleaning. The priest was coming! The day before Easter the priest and his altar boys would arrive to bless the Easter table. That meant that the house had to be immaculate (even the parts the priest wouldn't see.) This was not to honor the priest, entirely. It was also to fend off the fact that our priest was a gossip. My mother never wanted to hear "Well, Mrs. Definski is not reallllllllly a good homemaker. The priest said ..................." So we cleaned. We made clean surfaces even more immaculate. We banished bacteria forever. If my mother so much as thought about dust, we were dispatched to vanquish it.

If she could have figured out a way for our cocker spaniel to clean, then my beloved pooch, Princess, would have surely been fitted out with her very own cleaning pail and rags.

I could always be found doing one of my least favorite chores -- cleaning the stairs and railings and banister on the stairs leading from the entry hallway to the second floor. This meant sweeping them on my hands and knees with a dustpan and brush, including the landing, then washing them with a damp cloth (especially into the corners - there would be an inspection later). Occasionally, a light waxing would be added. It was not a nasty chore, just one I grew to loathe.

Not only would things have to be cleaned, everything would have to be cooked. In a Polish household at Easter, that is a tall order. There were certain foods that were mandatory - and literally dozens of add-ons. The mandatory items for the table were babka ( a rich egg bread with raisins), kielbasa ( a fabulous ring of garlicky smoked sausage), mountains of pierogis, ham ( a huge one with the fat on top cut in squares and studded with cloves), Mazurek ( a rich, shortbread-type cake), beets and onions in vinegar and sugar, a special cake with cherries and walnuts and more butter and eggs than should ever be seen in one recipe, and the lamb.

The lamb was a cake made in a special cast iron mold. The mold had two halves, which, when their baked contents were assembled, made a perfect seated lamb. This lamb would then become the homemaker's prime focus. Decorate the lamb. It was almost a mantra. Decorate the lamb. Decorate the lamb. Decorate the lamb.

The idea was to end up with a realistic looking spring lamb -- you know, like the ones on Hallmark cards. That kind of realistic. Of course you could BUY a lamb from a Polish bakery. (Cheater. Cheater. None of that in MY family. That would be like buying Hillshire Farms Kielbasa instead of the homemade ones from the Janek family or from Sikorski's meat market. )

First, the lamb had to be enthroned on the right pedestal cake plate. It should stand above the other foods, discretely calling attention to itself. Then it was frosted with my mother's own combination of butter cream frosting and marshmallow fluff. Then the frosting was patted with handfuls of grated coconut to simulate lambswool. The eyes, nose and mouth were made with narrow strips of sliced gumdrops or jellybeans in the appropriate pastel colors. A narrow ribbon was tied in a sweet bow around the neck. Then my mother would make colored frosting and design a bed of spring flowers, grasses and leaves for the lamb to snuggle down in. One year she even put a little flower behind the lamb's ear. The goal was to either have the priest make a comment about the lamb, and/or to have another Polish homemaker look enviously at YOUR lamb.

Mom's lambs were fun. They always looked a little goofy. It never mattered what she did, you could always imagine that her lambs were the ones needing lessons in Remedial Gamboling. They were sweet, but as I said, a little goofy. I loved them. I never told her they were goofy. No one did. We told her they were beautiful and we meant it. She would step back, wipe her hands on her apron, smooth back a hair from her own forehead and say, "Really? He doesn't look a little funny?" We never had the heart to tell her. Her lambs were never going to be the ones to bleat on-key. But they would be the ones that children would love.

And of course, the table also had to have the boiled eggs. Our family would occasionally use the commercial egg dyes, but it was more often that we would use the old Polish farm methods.

For various shades of brown from tan to the richest terra cotta imaginable, boil eggs with some water and vinegar and a bunch of onion skins. The color is stunning.

For pale through robin's egg through royal blue, use eggs, boiling water, vinegar and cut up purple cabbage.

So our egg plate would have eggs in brown shades and blue shades.

All of these foods would be set out on the table on a perfect white tablecloth in a flawlessly immaculate room for the priest to enter the home and bless the food and leave. This blessing took all of five minutes. Days of work. Five minutes worth of blessing.

Then the food would be refrigerated until the next day.

I loved those years. The priests do not visit anymore, although in some communities, if you can still find a Polish church, they may have an afternoon where you can bring baskets of food to the church for blessing. I did this one year when I lived in Denver -- gone were the immaculate houses to impress the priest. Now we had fabulously decorated baskets to impress him. Denver, as you can imagine, is not exactly a hotbed of Polish ethnocentrism. Because of that, good kielbasa were in short supply. My mother would send them out by airfreight each year. She'd mail them in the morning and we could get them that night at the airport. (This was before express mail). So, imagine me in a strange tiny church with my fancy basket. The priest, surprised to see anyone under 60 doing this, lifts the corner of the napkin covering our beribboned basket. Inside was revealed a dazzling lamb and a fat, juicy kielbasa. In the midst of his blessing in Polish he snuck in the phrase -- "Nice kielbasa. Lovely lamb".

And I, like millions of Polish housewives before me, beamed and beamed.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Living Into The Dayenu

Dayenu -- pronounced Die-yay-noo -- is the title of a festive, up-tempo song sung during the Passover Seder. It means "It would have been enough".

The song lists fifteen blessings and says that any one of them on their own would have been enough.

Had He brought us all out from Egypt --
It would have been enough.
It would have been enough.
It would have been enough.
It would have been enough.

Had He just given us the Sabbath --
It would have been enough.
It would have been enough.
It would have been enough.
It would have been enough.

Had He just given us the Torah --
It would have been enough.
It would have been enough.
It would have been enough.
It would have been enough.

The song makes no conclusions about all of this bounty -- it just celebrates it. It says "Look! Look! See what we have been given -- so many treasures that we are overwhelmed with G-d's abundant love, so many wonders that we can only marvel at the extent to which we are loved and taken care of by G-d. " Interestingly it never says that nothing would be enough. It is an acknowledgment that in a relationship, everybody gives something. -- even G-d.

And to hear this sung by 15 or 20 people who have sung it their whole lives -- what a joy. Each verse becoming happier, louder, accompanied with hands pounding the rhythm of the tune on the table., until it ends with one rousing chorus of Dayenu!

I want more Dayenu in my life. More knowing when it is time to stand up and shout Thank You when a blessing happens. More knowing what enough really is.

I want to be a Dayenu kind of gal.


I spent a day peeling vegetables, helping my extended family prepare for Passover. When you imagine 2 Seders with about 15-20 people at each one, that is a whale of a lot of food. So it involves a lot of peeled veggies. My contribution to this effort is to sit down and peel for about 5 hours.

All in all, it is unremarkable work. Apples, yams, onions, beets, ginger, carrots -- all surrendering to the glint of my peeler. It is sublimely ordinary.

So that afternoon, there I was, in a small Greenwich Village apartment, sitting next to a window, the sun pouring through as I peeled. Jack, the Seder host and chief chef, is hovering about as I peel. We catch up on every shred of old news, our own and everyone else's. He kvells about his grand-daughter. I agree that she is remarkable and fabulous. And I peel more.

That is it. That is how the day went. I walked away from that day, and a dinner later with Jack and Estelle at (where else?) a Chinese place, feeling magnificent - flooded with a sense of well-being, of rightness. On the one hand, for those of us who live alone, it is a great gift to be a "part of" a larger whole. It is also a larger gift that I, a Polish Christian, have been enfolded into this extraordinary and vibrant Jewish family. But the best part of all of it is that we are all so ordinary in this annual peeling event. Ordinary is a grounding thing, a reassuring thing, a comfort.

The past couple of years have had their share of difficulties, frailties, struggles. Ordinary moments with my extended family are treasures, gifts from G-d. Reminders of the simple sacredness of the human family.

Life is a gathering up of family. I see life as this long journey, not unlike the Exodus -- all of us shambling along, trying to get from one spot to another. Gathering up those we meet on the way, some because they are such fine company, and some because they need our help. In my extended family, I confess that I have been both.

We are all born with one family, but our life's work is to build the larger clan - to form the tribe - to gather in on the long trek to the Promised Land - to gently gather in the beloveds, one ordinary act at a time, one simple occasion at a time.
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