Friday, January 28, 2011

On Death and Hope

I went to the funeral of my ex-wife's grandmother today. I went because I liked Libby, the woman who died, I like my former in-laws, and mostly I went for Noah. Noah has gotten to know his great-gram over the course of the last several years and he wanted to be part of the mourning process. As I arrived I found him sitting with his mom, detached, and sad. Apparently someone in the receiving line told him that he should be strong, this is the first of many. I am not certain that I would have allowed this man to simply smile and walk away. I think I know who it was, a stranger so no one I could regularly encounter, but on the off chance I do, I will, in my way, address the issue. That had me in a sour mood. A mood that was brewing since earlier today. Little things had cause to annoy me this morning. A person who couldn't seem to pick a lane on Michigan road, the fact that my special order I have been waiting all week for has been in at the local grocer and no one called, my computer gave me a hiccup this am and didn't download all my email right away, then I got a deluge, a drink exploded in my lunch as I was going to eat on the fly before the funeral and the nagging concern that I have forgotten something important. But that changed.

At the funeral I watched Noah, receive people again with poise at times, I watched the Rabbis speak of the "kiss of God", Libby slipping into death as she slept, a preferred way of the Talmudists, and I watched my ex speak of being grateful for the opportunity she received doing a simple task for her mom. Bringing her grandmother to services one Friday night and watching the joy in her grandmothers eyes as she sang the Hebrew melodies, followed along in the prayerbook and shook the Rabbi's hand. It was a touching moment too when she shared a story of Noah as a three-year old hellion running around her apartment. Libby first asked if he could calm down and then realized that this spunk was inherited from her.

After the funeral I drove to Target, I really needed a Fix-A-Flat. There I wandered around the store and checked my phone for news of Egypt. I am torn, violent protest is never a good thing. But the people want to get rid of a dictator and maybe, just maybe bring about democratic rule. My fear is that democracy in the land of the Muslim Brotherhood might be much like what democratic elections brought to Gaza. But I have hope that the players will find a compromise and seeing Noah try so hard to be grown up and hearing Tracy's words and dear love and sadness over her loss I knew the world had great things. Then it was reinforced. As I walked to my car, fix-a-flat in hand, I walked behind the vehicle next to mine as the women with two kids was pulling her van out. We did the dance of you go, no you go. I walk around her and opened the back of the car. She pulled out and stopped behind me. Rolling down her window I was ready for anything. Perhaps she noticed my kippah and had a Jewish question, or worse a slur to hurl. Both have happened in this town. Perhaps she was going to tell me that I should be more careful walking to my car and that she might have hit me, or maybe she just was lost looking for directions. None were true. She had noticed my soft tire and on a cold day, in a Target parking lot, with two children in the car, she stopped to write me a note to tell me my tire was low, and now she stopped once again to point that fact out so I would not miss it. On a day that I would have much rather been home doing anything else but standing in a Target parking lot this women took a few minutes to write me a note and a few more to draw my attention to it. I know my response was not adequate to her kindness. I hope she knows I did appreciate it and more so the fact that it made me realize the every day kindness we miss out if we don't watch.

Tonight the people of Egypt sleep uncertain of the future of their nation and people I still think of as family and my own son mourn the loss of a matriarch. But I will rejoice this Shabbat because I know, every day, every where, gemilut hasadim (acts of loving kindness) are being done by everyday people, people like you.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The death of a child is not about me

This is one of the many things two high girls told us they learned on a 4 month trip to Kenya. I heard this on Friday night at a celebration of the connection between Indianapolis and regions of western Kenya. The girls, took part of their senior year, to live apart from family and friends and see how they can help in an area of the world devastated by HIV/AIDS and poverty. Hunger, disease, and lack of opportunity permeate the community. So these two teens went there to help and to learn.

The line about the death of a child came as one related the story of her preparation to go. Knowing the statistics there was a good chance that they would see the death of a child. She fretted over how she would react, how she would feel, how would she get over it. Then the girls met Wellington.

She told the story of meeting Wellington at a Children's home they stayed at and worked with the children. Wellington arrived because of severe malnutrition and a father that couldn't take care of him. The girls played with him and gave him a sticker that said WOW. While Wellington didn't speak much he did learn to say WOW. A few minutes of connection brought joys and smiles.

However, Wellington could not be saved. His body was unable to recover from the effects of lack of food. He died. It was that moment that a young woman who fretted about her potential reaction learned that this death had a face. The face of a small boy. It wasn't about her reaction, it wasn't about how she would recover, it wasn't about how she would feel. It was about the young boy who learned the word WOW who will never again be able to use it. She was able to share that story with us and teach us to keep that in mind.

This quote has stayed with me all weekend. I want to be profound but I can't, I have nothing. All I know is that a boy I will never meet, who had a brief interaction with two girls from Indianapolis, will always live in my awareness as go through my life. Problems will become smaller, working to help others will feel more real, and hunger will never seem the same. At least I hope this is true. Beyond that when I think about these girls and what they taught me all I can say is WOW.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I need to write when there isn't a hot issue.

I have neglected this blog but I think I will go ahead and write on what is the hot topic of the week. My hope is to write more if I know people are reading.
When I first heard of the attack in Arizona I was stunned but not completely surprised. But my first thoughts were not of who's rhetoric might be behind this tragedy but about the people I knew in Tucson and the family of the then unknown victims. I knew a Congresswoman was hit, some initially and falsely said dead, but I didn't want to try to start making this about politics. I was struck by the scrambling of 24 hours news trying to one up each other and the failure of some so-called reporters to realize that reporting is not just repeating what the guy in the crowd was saying. That said I was not prepared for the tidal wave of blame, counter blame and idiocy that followed. As the parents of a 9 year old girl were struggling with the new gaping whole in their life bloggers and pundits started talking. At first we heard a few ramblings about tea party rhetoric. There were veiled threats in the movement's leadership and rank and file. A Senate candidate looking for 2nd amendment solutions and the now famous "Ballots or bullets" sign calling apparently for armed insurrection if polls don't go their way. But it escalated to someone or many someones attacking the most visible person on the planet to represent the tea party. She is not at all innocent so let me be clear and I think she is the greatest example of what is wrong with our current political state, but it seemed like there was an army of people trying to find anything to link her to something that might have pushed this young man to shoot a Democrat. Oh and people found things. Targets on the districts she wanted to challenge candidates using what looked like the image of a sniper scope. Her silly "don't retreat, reload" comment that made her sound vacuous to me but folksy to the minions that follow her. What we had was the start of the pissing contest. Right wing nuts including prominent members of the club like the radio gurus we all know started looking for quotes of Democrats with "violent rhetoric", others tried to link this kid to left wing ideology including interviewing and quoting anyone who even said they knew him. An old girl friend said he was a lefty but she hadn't seen him in 5 years, another high school classmate said he was a pot smoker and what ever the fuck. The young man had some mental disturbance and a stressor that caused him to feel the need to shoot someone and chose a Congresswoman.

But it doesn't stop there. While some on the left continued, long after it was clear that he wasn't a tea party robot, to beat the drum. The right took a new tactic. Attack everyone and everything good coming from this. The Speaker of the House would not go to Arizona with the President (opting to attend a fundraiser instead). Immediately following the ceremony of commemoration of the dead, hope for the injured and celebration of the living and heroes, some on the right looked to criticize everything from where people were sitting to the opening benediction. How big do your balls have to be to be critical of a faith tradition that is meant to inspire healing at a memorial service? I truly am speechless on that. I want to make a joke..but it is easier to just say the people who did this are bigots and hateful or remarkably dumb.

It is time to heal. Finding a way to do that will be easy for many of us. The new news cycle starts and the GOP in the House will tackle the Health Care Reform Act and the Senate will do whatever it is they do lately. The President will continue to learn how to balance politics with leadership and each of us will still have our daily struggles. It will be harder for the members of Congress who may look over their shoulders a little more often, for the people of Tucson who have to add their name to the list of places that Democracy was attacked and especially the families of those who will help families members struggle with recovery from injuries and those who will wake up every day for the rest of their lives with a piece of them missing. Stolen by a man who made a decision that still puzzles me today.

I have tried to avoid using names in this post. I think I have been successful. The reason is while some will try to use this to further their own careers and others will use the fallout as a way of claiming the mantle of victimhood or even calling out what was said a 'blood libel" (I may address that later) the names we should all know are the names of the victims. Those who on a Sunday day were participating in what makes this country great. Direct contact with those that Represent US. For those that died may their memories always bring a blessing and for those that are injured may the Holy One bring them a recovery of both body and spirit.

As Shabbat comes again let us remember the victims of shooting in Tucson:
Names of 13 victims shot, injured and wounded in the Arizona shooting massacre
1. Susan Hileman, 58
2. Mavanell Stoddard, 75
3. Pamela Simon, 63
4. Ronald Barber, 65
5. Gabrielle Giffords, 40
6. James Tucker, 58
7. Kenneth Veeder, 75
8. George Morris, 76
9. James Fuller, 63
10. Randy Gardner, 60
11. Mary Reed, 52
12. Kenneth Dorushka, 63
13. Bill Badger, 74
Names of the six fatalities killed in the Arizona shooting tragedy
There were six fatalities in the deadly Arizona shooting. They are as follows:
1. Christina Green
2. John Roll, 63
3. Gabriel ‘Gabe’ Zimmerman, 30
4. Dorwan Stoddard, 76
5. Dorothy Morris, 76
6. Phyllis Schneck, 79

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