Saturday, September 26, 2009

kol nidre

There are many ways observe the Jewish faith. The most observant go to shul daily, some three times a day, for prayer. There is the Shabbos Jew, who goes to Shabbos services every week on erev Shabbat, Friday evening, and again on Saturday morning, perhaps on Saturday evening, to usher to Sabbath out with the fragrant havdalah service. Lately, Shabbos services have been abbreviated to Friday nights, or even twice a month in smaller congregations. These are different ways--perhaps degrees--of practicing the faith.

Then there are the Jews who only go to shul on the high holy days, that is, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. You have to pay for tickets for these popular services, they are long affairs, with much standing, prayer, meditation, and socializing. Then there are those whose only absolute must-attend service is on erev Yom Kippur, which this year is tomorrow evening. This is when the Kol Nidre is chanted. It is such a beautiful melody, so evocative of centuries of Jewish faith that many of us cry when we hear it sung.

Rosh Hashanah is the celebration of the new year in the Jewish calendar, and Yom Kippur is the "Day of Atonement" when Jews fast and publicly announce our personal and collective guilt and sins, ask for forgiveness and to be "written in the book" for another year of life.

Kol Nidre is an odd prayer, sung not in Hebrew, but in Aramaic (the common-people language that Jesus is thought to have spoken) asking for release from all vows and oaths that we have not kept, and may not keep in the coming year. There are many rabbinic and esoteric (and of course, some antisemitic) explanations of this prayer, but I think it is a lovely way to remind ourselves that we are human and do not, cannot, always keep the promises we make. As the day is spent in repentance for acts of commission and omission, the failure to do all that we hoped to do is certainly a source of regret and sadness.

I certainly regret promises that I did not keep this year. There is the funeral that I promised to attend, but was unable to because I had to work that day; the promise that I would bring a patient a Reuben sandwich , and then forgot, and he died before the next time I planned a visit. My list of small promises not kept is quite lengthy. In my work-life, people often die before I can do what I hope to do, offer to do, vow to do to make their life a little sweeter.

We dip apples in honey on Rosh Hashanah, hoping for a sweet year. Most of us want another year, although I know many people who hope to die, rather than endure another year of suffering. We cannot assume that we have another year to live, or that the year will be good. Certainly we cannot assume that we will be able to fulfill all of our promises this year. I am learning to promise less, so I will feel less regret. Still, I will go to shul tomorrow to hear Kol Nidre chanted as it has been done for centuries, bringing past into present, absolving me for being human, imperfect, less than my promises suggest.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Seattle Air

Today I noticed the air in Seattle. It’s soft, spongy, almost silky. As waters in different places differ to the mouth, local air has a unique sensation against the face, upon bare arms. The soothing Seattle air makes me happy I moved here. It’s the kind of surprise that keeps me plodding on through my life, taking risks, hoping for the salvation of discovery. Not same-old, same-old every day, but something entirely fresh and welcome to consider.

Yesterday, in yoga, during shavasana—the corpse pose that conclues every yoga class—I spun off and left my body. This is not an experience I have often, maybe once in a decade. I don't know if most people do or do not have out of body experiences, but in my experience they can be quite seductive. Floating away from the body, hovering nearby, observing all, fully at peace. As the singing bell sounded, softly, softly, a little louder, a little louder, I knew that I was much too far away to re-enter gently. I crashed back into corporeality. There was a dense and painful impact in all of my senses. I was unable to wiggle toes, roll on my right side, and sit up. I felt totally miserable because for a moment, I’d had the sense that I could be alive without my body, without the cumbersome, achy, pain of this body. And yet, I know that I don’t really believe that the consciousness I know as “me” will survive the life of this body. Recovery, re-entry took a while.

Later, continuing with my plan for the day, I picked up Pete from the nursing home and we went shopping at the Village Thrift Shop, Pete making good progress with his cane, 79 years and more spry than I expected. And I needn’t have worried that we would have trouble finding the place. As we circled a promising perimeter, Pete would say, "hmm this looks so familiar" and then lean out the open window and ask for directions willy-nilly at every corner, until someone told us how to get there. I got a parking spot right in front of the store. Pete bought a winter coat and scarf, a spiffy blue sweater, and two pairs of shoes. Very good taste, I thought. We stopped at Rite Aid and he picked up underwear and socks. In less than 90 minutes we were back at the nursing home, Pete humming as he put his new things in the half closet he shares with a roommate.

Here's the thing. Pete moved to the nursing home from the hospital and never once got to go back to his apartment and get his things. He has been without shoes for 5 months, shuffling along in plushy slippers that someone at the home found for him. No one—and this includes me—thought to take him shopping for basics. He had money, but no wheels. He was pretty happy about the outing. To tell the truth, so was I. It’s like the soft Seattle air. The sensation of weightlessness for a moment. The idea that there are discoveries yet to make. Alongside the drudgery of the body, decaying day by day, until it goes. I think it might be enough.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Reform? No. I still want Revolution.

So is it accepted that health care reform should not include "undocumented" people living and working in America? Why not? I can't understand any of this mess. I thought the point was not insurance reform--what a joke--but making sure that each person in this country has access to health care services. To me that means every man, woman, child. Anything less than that is just not good enough, I say. I hate to be confronted with the selfish faces of those lucky enough to have access by private insurance or a government program, but who are not crying out for universal health care. As if it is OK to just leave a huge population to fend for themselves without health care. Without a flu shot. Without a mammogram. Without a doctor or nurse who knows their names. Without pain relief or treatment for diabetes. Without any choice but to show up in the emergency room with pneumonia or a broken wrist or an ear infection. Or to die. What's that about, if not pure selfishness?