July 20 – Gesher Tzar Me’od – The World is a Narrow Bridge

by Mary Connerty

© Pat Young | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Pat Young | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The best conversations I have with my son seem to happen in the car. A few weeks ago, while driving home from our synagogue after teaching in our religious school program, my son asked why we call Sunday school “Gesher” and not Sunday School or Hebrew School.

Hmmm . . . I tried to rack my brain to remember what I had learned about this moniker, but could only think to tell him that Gesher meant “bridge” in Hebrew and, in true practiced educator fashion, turned the question around and asked him why he thought that might be appropriate.

After a “harrumph” and a “Mom, why can’t you just ever answer my question?” I got him to suggest that the bridge referred to bridging childhood to adulthood, to leading to a knowledge of Judaism, to paving the way for living in the world. Pretty good for a 15-minute drive, I thought, but something felt missing. So I began to research:

Gesher (Hebrew: גֶּשֶׁר, lit. Bridge), according to Wikipedia, may refer to:
•       Gesher, a former political party from Israel
•       Gesher, a kibbutz in Israel
•       Camp Gesher, a summer camp in Ontario
•       Gesher, the former codename of a microarchitecture computer chip

Not very helpful.

A deeper search led me to a quote from Rabbi Nachman: “The whole world is a very narrow bridge; the important thing is not to be afraid.”

Rabbi Nachman was an amazing 18th century Hasidic Jew who combined Kabbalah and Torah study to teach that one should face life with simplicity, faith and joy. In fact, for Rabbi Nachman, experiencing joy was a mitzvah, a commandment. When he teaches that the world is a very narrow bridge which we must not be afraid to cross, he transcends any peculiarities of his 18th century Hasidic Jewish world and gives us a timeless roadmap for life. After all, fear is not particular to any one group of people, and living fearlessly can be a real and daily struggle for many of us.

For me, the Nachman quote explains perfectly why Gesher is the perfect name for Sunday School lessons of any faith, but also can serve as an anchor for all of us, particularly women, to live beyond our comfort zones. Mustn’t we try to teach our children and to remind ourselves that life is precious, that care must be taken, but to live in fear is not to live–it is to stay stuck on one side of the bridge?

Each day, we all face bullies, spiders, pressures from school or work, family illness, cyber hackers, potential terrorists, and who knows what else.  So, as strange as it may seem for 21st century women (who may or may not be Jewish) to learn from an 18th century Hasidic rabbi, we learn from Rabbi Nachman that if we have faith, we don’t need to be afraid, or, at least, we can move forward in spite of our fear. This is a lesson for us all, and a reason to keep walking across the bridge.

Mary Connerty

Mary Connerty is a mom, wife, Linguistics Ph.D., runner, gardener,  and writer. She is tentatively, yet daily, stepping out onto the bridge.

July 17 – No Explanation

by Patricia Roop Hollinger

“I don’t believe this,” I exclaimed to my husband. “The caregiver at ARC informs me that Stephen needs a new wheelchair. The one just purchased last year is already missing a headrest and a foot rest.”

Stephen lives in a home for the disabled; as he was born with profound disabilities and was predicted to die within weeks, then months which now have become 50 years this August 17, 2015.

Oh, I made an attempt to keep him at home, until sleepless nights coupled with uncontrollable seizures gave me no choice but to relinquish his care in a setting where caregivers had 8 hour shifts; thus relieving them of the constancy of his care.

These caregivers are only paid a minimum wage. Thus, the constancy of his care is compromised by the frequency of staff leaving for a better paying job. And, yet, the legislature drags their feet regarding any increase in the minimum wage for workers caring for the ‘least of these among us.

Their primary concern is to halt all abortions. You know their spiel about the sanctity of life, blah, blah, blah. Does that include quality of life as well? Have any of them visited or cared for a child who is profoundly disabled in all facets of their bodies?

Stephen needs touch and a constant pair of eyes and ears. Vicky, a massage therapist, gives him a massage twice a month and then reports to me the state, or lack thereof, of his home and care. She has become my eyes and ears regarding his care.

Stephen, I pray that when you and I both are not bound by the limits of the physical realm we can have a conversation about all these years and the profound impact they have had on each of our lives.

Patricia Roop HollingerPatricia is a retired LCPC/Chaplain from a inpatient/outpatient psychiatric hospital as of 2010. She is a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and the daughter of a mother who will be 102 on July 12th, 2015. She is a voracious reader, musician, lover of cats, and is currently exploring her writing skills.

June 20 – A Father Extraordinaire

by Patricia Roop Hollinger

William Roger Roop a father extraordinaire
Whatever project he tackled it was done with flair.

Determined was a word that described him well,
When he tackled a project it was accomplished with a spirit you could not quell.

Heifer Project began on his farm,
In spite of neighbors who shook their heads with alarm.

He designed and patented a milking machine,
Even though a high school degree he never gleaned.

His passion was farming–it ran through his veins,
He knew how to guide horses by pulling their reins.

The ponds he had dug were fulfilled wishes,
And he stocked them with a variety of fishes.

He desired a son who would love the farm,
But when three daughters showed up he never expressed his alarm.

Why girls could drive tractors, milk cows, and rake hay,
Women’s role was not just for housework, he would say.

It was in church that Olive Main gave him a wink,
Her forthrightness took him aback and made him think.

“She might be worth checking out for a date,
And I had better do it before it’s too late.”

With just horse and buggy it took awhile,
But when he arrived he was greeted with her stunning smile.

They were married December 27, 1931,
Yippee! Yahoo! He had finally won.

They were married just shy of 70 years,
His death, of course, brought Olive to tears.

However we celebrate his life well lived,
As another Father’s Day has arrived.

Patricia Roop HollingerPatricia Roop Hollinger is the middle daughter of Roger and Olive. She is a retired Chaplain/LCPC from a mental health setting and married her high school heart-throb in 2015 after death of both their spouses. She loves cats, is a voracious reader, a musician, and hospice volunteer, who is now in pursuit of her writing goals.

June 4 – A Long Distance Graduation

by Patricia Roop Hollinger

silver-cup

“You want to do what?” my husband asked when I announced that I would like to drive 700 miles to Jacksonville, Florida to attend my great-nephew, Grant’s, high school graduation.

Travel has become a hassle that I try to avoid as the aging process has diminished my stamina, and my learning curve to figure out where and how to turn on bathroom lights in an unfamiliar toilet is, well . . . daunting.

As wary guests we arrived at the homestead before the big event. Yes, it is a big event when there are 400 graduates; I was a graduate in a class of 24. There were the usual hugs and “Hi, how are you?”, “My how you have grown”, “Long time no see” chatter.

The chaos began when the kitchen stove was being dragged out the front door. A smoking stove with guests and an upcoming graduation was an unanticipated annoyance. We sat back and, in the blink of an eye, the newly arrived stove was installed before the mother of the graduate returned home from work (she was covering for a co-worker who had a death in the family). We wondered when the next crisis might evolve.

Another co-worker arrived with enchiladas, casseroles, and all the necessary eating devices. We just lined up to fill our paper plates and grab a plastic knife and fork. Any plush decorum was not the order of the day.

“So, Grant what are you required to wear tomorrow?” my niece asked.

“Oh, I am going to wear the black trousers I wore for that freshman event,” he replied.

“But, Grant, they don’t even fit you anymore!” she exclaimed.

A hasty shopping trip was in order.

On May 29, 2015, thousands of family and friends arrived at the Fleming High School graduation. Parents were in the bleachers while other family members, with lawn chairs in tow, marked their territory. There was nary a storm cloud in sight. The golden eagle flying overhead was Grant’s great-grandfather who died in 2001. Uncle Matt, the professional photographer, got a perfect shot of this magnificent bird soaring the graduates to their individual destinations. Afterward, with great efficiency, these thousands of people were back on the highway to return to various sites for further celebrations.

Packages awaited Grant as we gathered around to ohhhhh and ahhhhh as he opened his gifts. I waited with bated breath as he opened the silver cup that was given to his great-grandfather on the occasion of his birth in 1909. Grant could see his reflection in it and stared with awe and wonder. This silver cup was very symbolic for me. While recovering from rheumatic fever as a child my mother would serve me crushed ice and orange in this cup.

“Grant, cherish this cup and may orange juice be the strongest drink you ever guzzle from this cup during your college years,” I told him.

Patricia Roop Hollinger married a high school heart-throb in 2010. Grant, Grace and Graham were her attendants for this event. She now lives in a Retirement community in Westminster, Maryland. She is retired as a Pastoral Counselor/LCPC, hospice volunteer, cat lover, musician, voracious reader and now in pursuit of honing writing skills.

June 3 – The Art of Dying: Rehearsing for Death

by Lily Iona MacKenzie

I’ve been reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead, intrigued with a section on meditation that seems important to me just now: The art of dying begins with preparation for death. As for any journey, there are innumerable preparations one can make. Known in Tibet as The Book of Natural Liberation, the book suggests at least five main types of preparation while still living: informational, imaginational, ethical, meditational, and intellectual. (52)

I think my interest in taking up a more focused spiritual practice again is to experience some of these things listed as preparations for death and the wisdom texts can help with that need. I don’t want to be like the ostrich with its head in the sand; I believe in preparing for life’s various stages, being knowledgeable, being ready.

Meditation as an active practice attracts me again. I did it daily for many years when I was living alone before my husband and I met. The Tibetan Book of the Dead has a good section that gives an overview of the various meditations one can do, from the basic calming meditation of one-pointed attention, to using ordinary daily activities as opportunities for contemplation: This involves using sleep as a time for practice.

As the authors say, “You can convert the process of falling asleep into a rehearsal of the death dissolutions, imagining yourself as sinking away from ordinary waking consciousness down through the eight stages into deep-sleep clear-light transparency. And you can convert the dream state into a practice of the between-state, priming yourself to recognize yourself as dreaming when in the dream…. It is very important, for if you can become self-aware in the dream state by the practice of lucid dreaming, you have a much better chance of recognizing your situation in the between after death.” (57)

I have had numerous lucid dreams over the years, but I hadn’t thought of them as vehicles for preparing for death! I feel I’ve had fewer since I’ve stopped practicing meditation regularly, as I did for so many years when I lived alone. It’s harder to make time for it in a relationship and while raising a family if your partner isn’t interested. Now that my husband’s son and daughter from a previous marriage are no longer living with us, I can pursue this practice again.

I’m using OM MANI PADME HUM as a meditation, especially when I awaken in the night and have trouble getting back to sleep. I found it in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and I like the idea that it evokes a universal good in all things, which can prevail even in times of misfortune. Of course, you need to believe that there is a universal good in all things for this mantra to be effective. I want to believe that.

LilyMac_3-12-15hires (1)Lily Iona MacKenzie has published reviews, interviews, short fiction, poetry, essays, and memoir in over 145 venues. Fling, one of her novels, will be published in July 2015 by Pen-L Publishing. Bone Songs, another novel, will be published in 2016. Her poetry collection, All This, was published in 2011. She teaches writing at the University of San Francisco.

May 31 – Morning Moments

by Linda Hoye

Finch-1-4

One of the great gifts of retirement is the opportunity to wake naturally in the morning when my body is ready. After so many years being jarred awake by the clamour of an alarm–too often after a mostly sleepless night and with my mind in go mode before my feet even hit the floor–to wake according to the rhythm of my body is a precious luxury.

These days I wake gently, often with the dawn in these late spring months. With the windows open, morning air fresh in the room, and the sound of birdsong filling the room, I surface slowly to a wakeful state. I stretch, perhaps holding lightly to the remnants of a dream, and listen to the calm cadence of my Yorkie Maya’s snoring and the peaceful resonance of Gerry’s breathing. The day stretches in front of me rich with possibility.

I take time to pray for those who are on my heart. I think about the day ahead–not in the hurried stomach-churning way I once did—instead making plans with gratitude and anticipation. There is work to be done: gardening, things around the house, and errands to run; there are also creative pursuits like photography prompts, writing projects, and even some quilting projects I’ve been thinking of getting back to.

There is satisfaction in knowing I have the gift of time and I can choose which activities to focus my attention on that day. I find deep satisfaction in living, not according to unrealistic deadlines and unrelenting demands all too common in the corporate world, but instead moving to the ebb and flow of this simple life we have chosen.

The June garden calls to me like a siren and, on those days when I can tell from the early morning air that it’s going to be a hot one, I make plans to head out early to work. On other days I consider the harvest that is already beginning: the canning, freezing, and dehydrating projects that are ahead of me; and I plan how I’ll fill the pantry this year. There is always something to think about; something to work on. I am busy according to my own schedule and pursuing passions that fulfill.

There are still challenges in this life: concerns about situations that cause angst; circumstances I can’t control; burdens that, at times, feel too heavy; but in these early morning hours when I linger in bed listening to the sweet melody of the finches waiting for the first rays of sun to come through the window, I am at peace and filled with gratitude.

These still morning moments strengthen me. I am blessed.

meLinda Hoye is a writer, editor, adoptee, and somewhat-fanatical grandma who recently retired from a twenty-five-year corporate career. She lives in British Columbia, Canada with her husband and their doted-upon Yorkshire Terrier and finds contentment in her kitchen, at her writing desk, behind her camera, and in her garden.

She is the author of Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude and blogs at A Slice of Life.

May 24 – Two Spare Rooms

by Barbara Churchill

pedicure

I am dead committed to writing now. New vows and I’m sticking to them. I write at least two hours every morning, sometimes more, ferreting out journals accepting submissions, and joining organizations. Surely there’s a critique group somewhere that has room. I go to workshops.

I’ve received an unemotional, but polite, e-mail rejection so far, so that means someone actually read the thing, right? My spirits lift. The others are pending.

The really difficult mornings are when I have to find somewhere else to write because my cleaning lady is here–noisy–and lawn services are everywhere. I have Starbucks and noise-canceling headphones for such emergencies.

After my morning’s labors, I have other obligations: making worm casting soup to spread on my vegetables, reading, sometimes a volunteer commitment, and answering e-mails from friends. My spam filter gets rid of annoying email and of course I have caller ID so I only answer the calls I want and block the others. I check the mail and some days there’s the tedium of the grocery store and drug store shopping. Occasionally I reward myself for these tedious afternoons with a pedicure.

Today, for example. I went back to a new place I just found– quiet with brand new massage chairs. It’s second time and I have Tu again who runs me a hot foot bath. I nod, signaling the water temperature is right, and carry on answering e-mails. I have a book in my bag too–just in case.

But today, Tu draws blood. It hurts! I jump a little and frown. She offers a heartfelt apology and pours nail polish remover into the wound. While I writhe, she commends me on how quickly I stop bleeding compared to those who have “sugar in their blood” by which I assume she means diabetics.

Now, much to my dismay and pain, I am stuck chatting with Tu.

She begins:

“You live around here?” Yes.

“House?” Yes.

“You have kids?” Yes.

“They live with you?” No.

“You have husband?” Yes.

“He work or retired?” Works.

“Here?” Here and in LA.

“So, just you in house?” Sometimes.

“How many bedrooms?” Three.

“You want to rent me bedroom?”

Tu is six years in the U.S. from Vietnam, divorced from her second husband, and with no children. Because she lives on a manicurist’s salary she’s forced to rent a room in her ex’s house which they share with his mother. His mother is old, smells, and is mean to her. Her ex sounds like no prize either. Tu does the cooking and cleaning and works six days a week. She assures me she is never home. There’s also a cat who smells.

She needs to rent a room. Why don’t I?

Barbara Churchill is am a retired English teacher trying to make her way back into the world of writing. She has published a little but publishing isn’t really her main goal now. Writing is.