Category Archives: Uncategorized

Taking the Time

This has been the longest roller coaster ride of my life… The roller coaster metaphor barely approximates this year without equal, this annus horibbilis.  What a ride…

There were many fraught moments when I remembered the Anthony Newley musical title, Stop the World – I want to Get Off. Where is the exit sign? Where is the Instruction Manual? What next?

This year of surgery, plague and anxiety, recovery, vaccination, and redemption is slowing down; the cars are pulling into the station. Finally, I can see faces again. I can hug again. I can take a deep breath.

Before Shabbat is going on hiatus for the summer, and so am I. The Stern Gang will be away seeking R&R during the month of July. I’m going to Cape Cod – again. It is, as so many of you know by now, my place of refuge. It’s where I excel at sitting in the sun and listening to jazz. I get to watch the ocean’s dynamic, ever-changing rhythms.

My Before Shabbat hiatus comes to make room for new thoughts and themes. It’s a way to consolidate my brain’s hard drive. I’ll be doing some reading, some grilling, and some relaxing. I hope to create some quiet time to think new thoughts about where we are right now and how we move in time.

Vacation or not, High Holy Day sermon themes rush through my head. It’s a long-time habit, a reflex. So I’ve been thinking about the things we learned over this past year. How did we alter our behavior? What motivated us to hold on? What were the sources of our resilience? What were the ways we stepped up and became better citizens? What lessons do we hope to adopt into our worldview permanently? But, just as importantly, what did we learn about ourselves that we vow never to repeat?

To help answer some of these questions, I’m waiting patiently for the first comprehensive history of this pandemic. It’ll take a few years for that text to be written. It must be a study of heroes and villains, of scientists and scholars, of fools and scofflaws. It will feature politicians who endeavored to head off the avalanche of preventable deaths.  It will expose other politicians who betrayed the health of their people in service to shameful preening self-interest.

Until that book or books appear, I’ll be compiling my answers and sharing them with you from time to time. I hope to provide some clarity and shed some light from our tradition. I take my inspiration from the rabbinic tradition, a two-thousand-year-old willingness to process history and experience through Jewish eyes and with a Jewish heart. I have always sought to express myself from that same place of engagement with life rather than retreat and pen commentary from a distance.

For now, though, as Nobel laureate Bob Dylan once sang, “This ol’ world/Keeps on and slowly going/ So I’m gonna sit here on this bank of sand/ And watch the river flow.”

Bank of sand or Nauset Beach, river or sea, it’s all about the breathing free and watching life flow.

We Remember

General John A. Logan, commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, declared that “the 30th day of May 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion [the Civil War], and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet in the land. In this observance, no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.” The holiday would first become known as Decoration Day. Memorial Day became its official title in the 1880s. After World War I, Memorial Day was officially designated to honor Americans who died in all wars.

Wars are vicious. They scar a nation’s soul and the souls of those who fought in them. Like Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who coined the phrase, “War is hell,” those who have fought in war know it better than those who merely write the stories of war and those of us who read or view their analyses. To know war as a soldier is to know that it is horrific. Hell can be defined simply as the furthest away you can get from what is good and right, the furthest away you can get from God; war is hell because whether we succeed or fail in our military objective, everybody finally loses a lot, even those who live through it.

Post-traumatic stress disorder can derail the best efforts of veterans when they get home. Depression, substance abuse, and homelessness are plagues that afflict far too many men and women who chose to serve their country. Since 2006, there has been an 86% increase in the suicide rate among 18-to-34-year-old male veterans. Veterans are at 50% higher risk for suicide than their peers who did not serve in the military.

No one has any cogent theories that adequately explain the shocking, staggering numbers. But we do know that there is something desperately wrong with this picture. These statistics are a signal, a bright red warning flag.

It’s essential on this Shabbat of Memorial Day weekend that we remember the veterans who have died in all wars. They deserve our attention. They deserve to be acknowledged, as do their families.

Those veterans who committed suicide and their families: parents, siblings, partners, kids – all deserve recognition and rachmones [empathy]. On this Memorial Day weekend, filled with sales and races and beer, take a moment. Acknowledge the tremendous loss of life in the wake of war. Consider the pain and the loss. We remember them.

Hoping

It’s all quiet on the western front – for now. Tonight, Israelis had a Shabbat Shalom – a Shabbat of peace. They came out of their safe rooms, hopeful that they will sleep through the night in their beds.

Palestinians in Gaza are taking stock of their situation. Some are seeking temporary shelter, their homes reduced to rubble. They are figuring out how to get water and food.  

There is, at last, a ceasefire, one we hope is durable. History suggests that it will inevitably be breached a few times before it’s accepted as the latest law of the land. But at least, for the time being, the sounds of warfare are not heard.

This latest war, the acting out of chronic political and ideological conflicts between Israel and Palestine, has created an ominous trend. “… We are witnessing a dangerous and drastic surge in anti-Jewish hate right here at home,” says ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt in a statement released shortly before the ceasefire was reached. “It’s happening around the world— from London to Los Angeles, from France to Florida, in big cities like New York and in small towns, and across every social media platform.”

It’s always frightening to read of a marked uptick in antisemitic statements and crimes. Whenever we hear a story of a Jew being accosted – or worse, we feel the vulnerability and draw on memories of persecution that are centuries old. The sordid story of antisemitism is a horrible, ongoing tale of ignorance and malevolence. Yet, no matter how many times we’ve heard about it or experienced it ourselves, it still shocks us.  

It’s also shocking that, throughout history, we’ve often found ourselves alone with our anxiety and fear over antisemitism. We didn’t see any immediate indignation in the media over Jews being singled out and attacked at a restaurant in Los Angeles. Had the attackers been neo-Nazis and the victims people of color, would there be more coverage, more outrage?

Is antisemitism just so de rigueur, deeply rooted in Western civilization, that people take it for granted? It just seems so easy to take figurative and literal potshots at Jews.

The hope is that moving forward, the ceasefire will cool things down in the Middle East and here at home, too. But then, what next? Will the end of hostilities drop Palestine back into the stasis of status quo, where it’s been ignored by the world for years now? And won’t that perpetuate this endless cycle of violence? A ceasefire isn’t peace.

Both Israelis and Palestinians deserve dignity and security. A two state solution is  the only way to make this happen. A Jewish and democratic state for Israel, and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza for Palestinians. For those that wish to replace or destroy Israel, it is not going to happen. For those that want to ignore Palestinians hoping they will go away, that will not happen.

I don’t have any answers right now, just a fragile sense of hope that I pray we all can share.

Od Yavo Shalom – Peace May Come Maiyin Yavo Ezri –Where Will It Come From:

When I read about terrible events happening in foreign countries every day, whether caused by war or sickness, or climate catastrophes, we react with empathy and sadness. We may wonder what charity we can click on to send money. But it’s so far away.

I don’t know what it’s like to be in India now, where the air is thick with the ashes from countless funeral pyres. I don’t have any experience being hunted by my government like rebels in Syria. I could add endlessly to all the experiences I have not – and will never have. I don’t know the streets of Kabul or the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, or the alleys of Lagos.

But over the past week, I’ve been reading about the current war – and it is a war – in Israel. The fish restaurant that marauding Arab rioters torched? I’ve eaten there. I know the guy who owns it. The loud demonstrations in Yafo? I’ve stayed at my friends’ apartment there and walked in the flea market and bought ice cream at the best ice cream shop in Israel from the Israeli Arab owners. I’ve spent time hanging out on the beach in Bat Yam, where a bunch of Israeli thugs pulled an Arab from his car, beating and kicking him.

I’ve been there. I know the cities and the towns and the people. I have friends whom I love and visit. I’m a Jew. Israel is a part of me, which is why the current situation cuts so close to my soul.

I’m swiping back and forth between the Haaretz website and the Times of Israel. I toss and turn, checking the news at midnight, 4 am, and then all day. I wonder what may happen next. It surely seems that a ceasefire is not at hand. The possibility that the war might expand from Gaza to the streets of Israeli cities feels perilously close.

There is so much fear in my heart: for my dear friends. For the Yad b’Yad schools we’ve visited. For all the innocent adults and children, Arab and Israeli, caught in a cycle of hatred and anger.

Palestinian irridentism, Israeli political ineptitude, feckless leadership in Israel and Palestine, long-simmering Palestinian rage after 50 years of occupation, the blind hatred of Hamas – all of these and so many other factors created the perfect storm of war. But casting blame is never helpful. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past year in our country’s political history, blame needs nowhere. It must be about action and amelioration.

I have a long list of grievances and bitter commentary about the situation. There is so much that is so toxic that just keeps playing out, over and over. When will it stop? “I lift my eyes to the mountains and wonder from where will my help arrive?” While there may or may not be a spiritual answer, there must be a political answer – and I don’t know how that will come to be.

In the meantime, I worry. I read. And then worry some more. And yet… I saw a news piece, easy to lose in the endless barrage of missiles and the rain of bombs. And it touched me. Now maybe this is just another manifestation of my babyboomer antiwar marching days. You can call it naivete or projecting a privileged white guy’s conception of hope. I almost didn’t mention it at all. But I must be hopeful, even while I am not an optimist. There was a gathering at a major traffic junction in Israel today before Shabbat. Hundreds of Israelis and Arabs held signs that said: “Jews and Arabs Together Against Violence.”

I know. A small crowd. A far-fetched motto. A tiny speck of calm amid shocking brutality. But it’s something, some hook upon which to hang a vague sense of possibility. “Od yavo shalom aleinu.” Peace may yet come to all of us.

PS Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to Zoom some conversations with folks in Israel. The first one will be with Yonatan Shimshoni . He knows so much about every aspect of the current conflict. I’ll also be connecting with Adele Raemer, a wonderful woman who lives miles from Gaza. Our temple teens Israel trip visited with her last year. We’ll hear from what it’s like to be in an active war zone. That conversation and some others in the works will be announced soon.

PPS Read this piece to get a sense of all the moving parts in this terrible fight.

Shabbat Shalom

The Girls

My mother, may she rest in peace, had a red faux lizard skin case. Inside it was a bunch of tiles embossed with Chinese letters and designs, with pictures and numbers and who knows what else. There were also little plastic chips with the centers cut out to fit on spindles. Additionally, there were stands upon which to set up the tiles.

It may be that there were only two things my mother owned that were off-limits to us kids: her purse, and that case with the tiles and stuff. Along with the case, there was a blue card that apparently changed once in a while. My mother always got excited when “the new card” arrived in the mail. I remember looking at it from time to time as my mother studied it. Even after I learned how to read, I could never decode the cryptic lines of differently colored numbers.

Of course, it was all about mahjongg. Every 4th Wednesday night of the month, Faith and Anne and Lila and Gert would come over the house and engage in this strange ritual of clacking tiles and groans and odd utterances like, “5 Bam”, “2 Dots,” and so on. It was for women only – Jewish women , I assumed.

There was always coffee steaming in the Pyrex percolator, a coffee cake, and something called “bridge mix.” The ‘girls’ would laugh and laugh all night. I had no idea what they were doing, and I still don’t. But whatever it was they were doing, it looked and sounded great.

Children were categorically banned from the dining room when the girls were over for mahjongg. We could come to say good night, but that was all. None of us ever sought to test that law.

No one seems to know why or how Jewish women picked up the Chinese game of mahjongg in the ’20s and ’30s. I don’t know what the analog was for American women of different faiths. But for Jewish women, it was a mainstay, an important outlet for our mothers to relax, take time out, and enjoy adult female company.

The babyboomer generation of Jewish women has not, as a rule, followed in their mothers’ footsteps. Some do know how to play the game. Many have their mother’s mahjongg sets. But time has become so precious. Jewish women professionals are now expected to show up for their kids’ various practices and recitals and games, not to mention work full-time. Discretionary time hardly exists.

It was a mahjongg night the day my father died. I didn’t even think to call Anne or Faith or Gert or Lila. What did I know?  I was 14, with three younger siblings and a rotary phone. Of course, they came over.  I met them by the front door and awkwardly told them how my mother left the house in the ambulance and that father had had what looked like a heart attack. They wanted to know if we were ok. I reassured them that I had it under control, though, of course, I didn’t. They hugged me and left.

Years later, I found out that The Girls went to Middlesex Memorial Hospital to sit with my mother as she waited for the dire results. I remember being so touched that this circle of women existed for my mother, that she had friends who supported her, just as she had stood by them in their times of crisis.

My mother became a widow at age 38. She had four kids, all of whom would come to act out in various ways following our father’s death. She was a housewife who suddenly became a single mother whose husband died without an insurance policy or a will.

The Girls looked out for my mother. The entire Middletown Jewish community – a couple hundred families as I recall – looked out for her. People in the synagogue lent her money, helped pay tuitions, hired her for their stores, hired me for their stores. It was a quiet, loving, menschlich form of tzedakah that allowed my mother dignity as she received assistance without ever having to ask for it.

I never learned to play mahjongg, but the sounds of the tiles and the talking, and the smell of the coffee on a game night remain deep in the folds of my brain. So does my mother’s smile and her anticipation as she brought her faux-lizard case out of her closet. My mom, Shirley – one of The Girls – has been gone now for 12 years. But I still hear her voice: “One Bam, no Crak.”

Happy Mothers Day

Petals

I gaze out the window of my third-floor man-cave all of the time. It grounds me somehow, reminding me that there’s a larger world out there. During this pandemic, such a message has been neither simple nor superfluous. It’s the spot from which I’ve steadily Zoomed for a year. I’ve watched seasons come and go from this attic retreat. The leaves change, fall off, come back. I’ve watched the snow falling and the rain beating down. I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end… you get it.

But this morning, I looked out the window and saw something new and beautiful. The wind began gusting like crazy! As it did so, I watched in awe as a cloud of cherry blossom petals flew past my window. This veil of petals seemed possessed, majestic in movement, graceful as it twisted in the air.

I planted the cherry tree from which these blossoms launched 24 years ago. My father-in-law, Herbie Weiss, brought it over. “Here you go, Keithy!” he exclaimed as he handed it to me. I hadn’t asked him for it. Frankly, I didn’t want to plant a tree in the front yard. I had visions of a flower garden for my new home. I didn’t want to add shade to the yard. I did not want to deal with the care and maintenance of a tree, no less a fruit tree.

But it was Herbie, standing there with this tree. It was his way of celebrating our arrival in Newton. What could I say? He was so exuberant, so sure it was just what I wanted. Of course, I took it from him and planted it.

The cherry tree is so big now. And yes, its shade causes problems and mars my grand plan for the garden. The cherries that grow on its branches are too small to eat – though the birds and the squirrels love them.

There are times when I thought about cutting the tree down (with apologies to George Washington). I would say to myself, “Someday, when Herbie is gone, I’ll cut it down.” After all, a gardener cannot afford to be sentimental. A good gardener will pull out weeds and flowers and bushes that are choking or overrunning the garden. That’s just the way it is. There’s a time to plant and a time to uproot that which has been planted.

I recently walked around the tree, thinking about how the canopy will continue to spread. Yes, the cherry blossoms are beautiful, but… I could use the space. I could use the wood for a table or a nice fire or something…

Herbie is gone now. Six months ago today, we buried him in that out-of-nowhere snowstorm on October 30th. It’s hard to conceptualize what it means to lose a loved one as measured by time. The funeral was six months ago. In this era after Herbie, I see the places he used to be in my memory, in my heart. Of course, for my wife Liza and her siblings, the places are so many and so deep.

Time is like fine-grained sandpaper, slowly rubbing away recollections and images. This is not disrespectful or selfish; it’s just true. This is the nature of memory and the human psyche. It’s why the Jewish tradition encourages us to remember our loved ones who have died with a yahrzeit memorial candle, a light bulb next to a name, attending a Yizkor service. It’s a way to spur our memories as we keep flowing with the river.

All day as the winds have continued to blow, I’ve watched cherry blossom petals. And every petal reminds me of Herbie in a sweet and gentle way. Sure: I could cut the tree down. I could make room for new flowers, expand the garden. But for now, I’m going to leave it alone. And I will remember when Herbie handed me that sapling as if it were a prize. Memory is bigger than a garden.

On the Porch

Immediately after open-heart surgery, my first cardiac rehab assignment was to stand up. I wasn’t allowed to use my arms to prop myself up from my seat. I had to rock back and forth, building momentum to carry me into an upright stance. It wasn’t fun, but at least I got my body moving through space.

During those early weeks of recovery, the doctor’s orders were clear and strict: no carrying anything heavier than a gallon of milk. Don’t overdo it. Get lots of sleep. I was an obedient patient. The days were long and arduous; just doing the simplest things pooped me out. It often felt as though I were living my life in slow motion.

I spent a lot of rehab time sitting on the front porch, looking at people walking by. There were few cars on our street in those days, which isn’t a busy thoroughfare to begin with. As I sat there, I also looked at my garden, slowly making its way back to life.  My eyes were drawn, reluctantly, to a clump of shrubs I’d planted 15 years ago. They were slowly taking over the valuable real estate of my garden, blocking flowers from view, swallowing up the nutrients from other perennials.

Six weeks following surgery, my doctor allowed me to start lifting things. The world around me was upside down, but I felt my strength slowly returning as my body healed. The world was coming back into focus. I looked at those overgrown bushes that I had planted with my own two hands. I had watered them, nurtured them. But now, I realized, it was time to uproot them.

Before I followed through, I wondered. Was it ok to take something I had planted and just get rid of it??  I could just leave it there. What the heck, I thought. Let it be and build the garden around these bushes. No. It was not time for the easy way.

So I walked over to the clump of bushes and started to pull. I had foolishly expected they would come up like a flower or a weed. But as I was to learn, they had rooted themselves deep into the soil. Additionally, they had combined their root systems to become stronger and more resilient. The gardening chore became my cardio rehab. I pulled roots out of the ground, slowly clearing the space, pulling, prying, using a pitchfork and a hoe and a garden saw and a rake and loppers and so forth.

It took me 15 hours of slow, sweat labor to complete my landscaping project. I was exhausted but exultant. I had not succumbed to the status quo. I did not take the path of least resistance. I had a vision, and I made it come to pass.

This experience in my garden last year helped lift my spirits. I was able to do something with a newly plumbed heart and felt terrific doing it. But it’s more than just the exertion that meant something to me. It was, I realized, a Zen activity, a teaching moment. In Ecclesiastes 3, we read that there’s a time for everything: a time to sow, a time to reap, a time to plant, and a time to uproot that which has been planted.

The metaphor is compelling right now as we determine what was and what will be. It’s not like the High Holy Day liturgy, which declares that it is God who decides who shall live and who shall die. No, this is a time for human decisions, our decisions, as to who we will become. What will we abandon? What ways are gone? What new ways are already taking root? What have we learned during this past year of loss and upheaval? What will we choose to remember? What will we choose to forget?

A year has passed, and I look at my garden transformed, enlarged. It is the same earth, but more beautiful than ever. The sweat equity was worth it. It always is when the time comes for change.

“When we get to the end…”

In Stage Fright, one of The Band’s best songs ever, Robbie Robertson tremulously sings about the angst of performing in front of tens of thousands of people. He describes the fear, the physical pain, the dizzying panic that hovers close by. Yet, he declares, “When we get to the end/he wants to start all over again.” Around and around we go…

I was humming the melody to Stage Fright a few days ago. Sometimes a song starts playing in my auditory cortex. I have no idea why. But surely there are reasons… maybe I heard it in the background while on Zoom. Or perhaps it’s because I’ve been going to the deep tracks of Passover this year, thinking about themes and paradoxes in the story and the impact they make.

A particular puzzle has to do with the very end of the Seder. I know that very few people make it to the end of their home seder. It’s tough to convince people with lots of wine, food, and dessert in them to return to the Haggadah. But if you do get there, you know that the last thing we do is sing Next Year in Jerusalem!

The message is more than a little ironic. We’ve just finished a long seder. We’ve learned together, feasted together, opened up our hearts and our minds to a collective memory of bondage and degradation. The celebration is all about one truth. We were slaves and suffered tremendously. We journeyed far. And we made it! Avadim hayinu, ata b’nei horin! Once we were slaves, and now we are free. This is not ambiguous. There is nothing opaque about the meaning of the moment.

And yet… when we get to the end, he wants to start all over again. What do you mean, next year in Jerusalem? Aren’t we done? Haven’t we accomplished what we set out to do?

Perhaps Jewish life is summed up in the cyclical nature of our rituals. We do the same things every year at the same time, acknowledging the flow of time and season. We get to the end of the Torah and then roll it back to the beginning. We finally conclude our Seder, realizing it’s a semicolon and not a new paragraph.

Jewish life is all about acknowledging that we are incomplete. We are never done, never allowed to lean back into our accomplishments. The river pulls us forward. There is always work to do: in the world, in our homes, in our souls. We may have arrived after the Exodus. We may rejoice in receiving the Torah. But we aren’t done. There is so much pain and incompleteness.

Listening to excerpts of the Derek Chauvin trial, I am often brought to tears. The stories about George Floyd, a hapless, loving soul, brutally murdered in a world so deformed by racism and prejudice. Is there any more evidence necessary to prove just how incomplete the world is?

Yes, we were redeemed at the Sea of Reeds. But others were not. So, our tradition teaches us, enjoy the feast, have a good time, take a few days off. But after the holiday, it’s time to start all over again. There’s work to do. We’re not in Jerusalem yet.

Shabbat Shalom

The Smell of Freedom

I smell like brisket right now. The scent permeates my home and my shirt. I’m a cologne guy since 7th grade when I got a bottle of Jade East as a Bar mitzvah present, so how I smell matters a lot to me.   

But I’m not bothered by the heady aroma of onions and ketchup and garlic, etc., that rises off me like the cloud above Pigpen of Peanuts fame (not of the Grateful Dead). Quite the opposite; I wear it a triumph, as a landmark turning point.  

Last year I was immersed in a cloud of post-op depression, moving slowly with my beloved heart pillow clutched tightly to my recently split and reglued chest. The seder table was not much of a seder table at all. Three places set, not the usual 40+—nothing exceptional cooking. In fact, by my wife and kids’ mandate, I was expressly not permitted to even stand in the kitchen no less cook. And, of course, there was the already ubiquitous iPad set for Zoom.

  Don’t get me wrong. I was profoundly thankful to see friends and relatives join us. At least we had that. But how could we think about the legacy of liberation and redemption when I felt so confined, limited, and fettered?   This Passover, I will have my family pod gathered along with relatives and the machatunem (in-laws). Everyone around the pod is vaccinated. It’s such a blessing.

And I am deeply thankful: to the scientists who developed the vaccine, the lab people who helped with the grunt work of performing experiment after experiment, the pharma people who mass-produced it, the government that invested in it, the people who packed it and delivered it safely, the people who gave the shots… and the rest of the folks who all had a hand in vaccinating me and the rest of the country – and eventually, the world.  

I don’t mind smelling like my childhood kitchen before Passover. Because it means I’m making seder dinner, up close and personal. As my mother would say, “What a mechiyah!”   

Last year it didn’t seem right or possible to pray about the Exodus and our redemption. There was so much darkness, so much in the way. But this year, a new day is slowly dawning. This year it feels right; no, it feels necessary to recall our liberation back then and anticipate our future deliverance.    I pray that this Passover heralds a new moment of opening of souls and hearts even as our society opens up.

Can we take all we’ve learned and create a better life based on the lessons of Covid? That’s the question, and I challenge you to bring it up. Make this a Passover of meaning and consequence.    Liza and I and the Stern Gang wish you a zissen Pesach (a sweet Passover).   May we all be healthy and vaccinated, and free. I look forward to hugs and kisses and tears. I miss you all. Next year in Jerusalem.   

With love and blessings,   rebhayim

4am

I woke up the other day at 4am. I wasn’t happy about it. Sleep for me is not a welcome break or a blessed part of the day. I’m not very happy about going to sleep. It’s a chore to be checked off my must-do list – and I hate must-do lists.

My evening ritual revolves around what to do before I give it the old college try – come on! You can do it! – and turn off the light. I’ll read. Or I’ll do the New York Times daily crossword on my phone. Or I’ll send a few emails or look at Instagram. It’s all about brokering a nightly truce between my waking brain that just wants to do more and the primate brain that, seeing it’s dark, wants to find a safe place and sleep for 12 hours.

So I’m up at 4am. Fine. I had a Diet Coke at 11pm. An early morning pitstop are the dues you have to pay. But as I come to consciousness, having been asleep for probably 4 hours, I’m not grumbling about rising from under the covers. I’m thinking deeply about potholders. No, not a stash from a local dispensary, but actual potholders made from some stretchy synthetic fabric.

One of the only crafts activities I can remember from my youth is making potholders. I’m sure that everyone has done this. You start with a metal frame the size of a matzah. The frame has raised nubs along its perimeter. You take rubber band-like rings and stretch them across the frame. Next you weave another set of rings through the stretched fabric. And then voila: you have a potholder.  Well, almost…

My son, Jonah, loves drawing and has bequeathed to his kids, particularly to Sylvie, a real knack for it. Maggie, my daughter-in-law, is similarly gifted in arts and crafts. She shows my grandkids how to create beautiful, interesting art as an expression of their joy and their sadness. They already have an MFA-quality collection of oils and watercolors and sculpture and crafts galore.

And I had potholders… But here’s the thing – 1. potholders shouldn’t even be called potholders. They conduct the heat way too quickly to be helpful. They’re fine as coasters. 2. they ALL look the same. 3. Once washed they shrink, becoming even less helpful than they are.

But there was a problem with potholders in my craft-less abode. To the best of my recollection,  no one knew how to take them off the frame. They’d sit on the frame until I took it off, surprised that it fell apart.

Is this pathetic story about the benign neglect of my childhood, or a telling look into my inability to apprehend reality? I fear, perhaps, it’s a depressing combination of the two.

By now I’m sure you’re asking yourself what I was asking myself at 405am: why potholders? And why am I writing this story to you? As to the first question, I don’t know why I dreamt about potholders, nor do I see a direct unconscious process connection. But why am I sharing it? Why did I scribble the word, ‘potholder’ on the back of an envelope at 410am? Ok.

Our lives are filled to the brim with moments and objects that we wouldn’t buy at a flea market. Products we’ve purchased, used once, and then cast into a bottomless tchotchke drawer. Books we’ve purchased that are never opened and used to prop up an air conditioner. Best of intentions projects we’ve prepped for that we haven’t gotten to – yet.  Vegetables meant for a dinner long past, slowly rotting in the back of the refrigerator… Talk about your deplorables.

The fact is that we all have this miasma hovering around us, this miniature plastic island floating along in our tiny sea. Add it to the volumes of things we’ve said that we regret, and the equally large collection of the things we wanted to say but didn’t.

Our lives are filled with things undone, mindless activity without any sense of completion, potholders on frames. Yet somehow, surrounded though we are by these frustrating little

cul-de-sacs, we can accomplish deeds of meaning. It’s about finding the energy to gently push the detritus aside to see the real goals, to experience our deepest sense of soul.

I can’t make a potholder. I don’t know how to take it off the frame. Arts and crafts aren’t my game. But my waking mind still wants to learn, to dig deep into the cosmos and consciousness. There a lot more projects out there.a