Thoughts on a senseless bombing

shabbat candle sticks photoOn the eve of Shabbat, as I am making challah and preparing some dinner, it seems like there isn’t much more that can be added to the conversation during this difficult week in Boston, but I’m a writer and I process by writing so here is my two cents.

On Monday morning, I had a client meeting and when I mentioned to the client that I grew up outside of Boston, she asked me if I’d been watching the marathon that morning. This was early in the day before anything terrible had happened. I thought briefly in that moment about the year after graduate school when I got my first job in Boston how happy I was to have another paid day off in honor of Patriots Day. I didn’t know much about marathon running or even follow much about the race at that time but enjoyed the springtime vacation day just the same. Later Monday afternoon when I learned with the rest of the country about the terrible bombing that had occurred, I was dumbfounded. How and why would someone do something like this? After listening for an hour to the news, I purposely changed the radio station to our classical station because I know that I can not handle the 24/7 coverage that occurs tragedy after tragedy these days. I know that may sound like I am sticking my head in the sand but I know for myself that being plugged into the media coverage makes me sad and angry and scream out loud,  “What the hell is happening in our world?” Instead, I’m likely to try to find the stories on the internet about all the heroes. Monday my google alert for acts of kindness sent me half a dozen stories of those citizens who rushed to the aid of the wounded. Personally, I prefer to read those stories instead.

Yesterday, when I went to the gym, the television was broadcasting the live Interfaith Healing Service being held at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston. It may have only been words that Cardinal O’Malley and President Obama and other faith leaders offered but they felt like hope and light amidst the darkness. The President started and concluded his speech quoting a scripture, that said “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” He told us that as we do this to hold God close and that God would help us remember those who’ve been taken from us too soon. God would comfort their families. I know they were just words but having faith in God felt reassuring.

When my 12-year-old son got home from school, I mentioned that I had watched the healing service earlier in the day and found it comforting to hear what the clergy and the president had to say.  He wanted to know if the speeches offered by the speakers would have made me feel better if I had lost my legs or my child in the bombing on Monday. His question floored and saddened me,  it’s hard to even believe that a 12-year-old is thinking about these kinds of things. No matter how we try to protect and shield our children and try to have them experience a childhood like we did, times have changed and we no longer have the innocence of childhood that we once did. 12-year-olds know about bombings, shootings, war and other atrocities that seemed unfathomable just 20 years ago.

These are new times we find ourselves in. Times when raising children can seem joyous in one moment and fraught with fear the next.  I know that even with the darkness our children must know, they will still know the kindness, love and beauty of others. There is too much light in this world for the darkness to prevail. Spreading kindness, light and hope has become our responsibility as parents and as a nation.

This evening whether it is your custom to do so or not, I invite you to light Shabbat candles to remind yourself of the light, hope and peace that we must fill our world with.

Wishing everyone peace and light this Shabbat.

Searching for Meaning

552009_339609489436023_1481374226_aThe Search for Meaning Book Festival has a fairly big name wouldn’t you say? This is the second year I have been invited to participate in this interesting conference sponsored by the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University. The conference is completely free to attend, and I loved what the dean of the school Mark Markuly said when he welcomed us for the opening keynote, “Our human search for meaning should not be something you have to pay for.” He did also mention, however, that the conference is generously underwritten in large part by the charity of a few specific donors.

This one day conference is an ecumenical dialog about religion and meaning and I was once again inspired to be part of the community for thoughtful discourse about the search for meaning.

I was fortunate to lead one session and though it wasn’t a packed room , those in attendance shared that they felt connected and engaged by the conversation. I have learned during my time as a speaker the past few years, I should not measure the success of a talk by the amount of attendees but by the connections created. I was also delighted to stumble into a session by accident led by Rebecca Walker, whom I didn’t even realize until after the talk, was the daughter of Alice Walker. She discussed her book Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence. I also learned about her book Black, White and Jew and ran to buy it after the session. I am already enjoying it.

photo-165One of my favorite, interesting little offerings at this year’s conference was a “5 senses” interactive art stations area. They had tables set up with activities to stimulate our senses and help us connect to our senses viscerally.

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I especially loved Station 4 or Sense of Smell. I closed my eyes and lifted each paper bag to my nose waiting to see what memory or thought would be evoked with the scent wafting into my brain.

I tried not to look at the table where other people had been encouraged to write what the smell evoked for them until after I had smelled the bag and had my own scent memory. With the scent of dried leaves I remembered my childhood, raking leaves on our farm with literally acres of maple trees.  I thought of the long nights my father spent boiling sap into syrup in his makeshift maple sugar house – I could almost smell the syrup as well from the scent of those dried leaves. A second bag held something that reminded me of chai tea evoking a sense of comfort and nurturing since my husband and I have a custom to have a cup of tea most mornings together before he leaves for work. I loved the cinnamon which smelled like my grandmother’s kitchen in New York City and immediately made me think of her old world Jewish cooking. It was incredible to me that these simple bags with a scent in them could evoke such instantaneous and strong memories. But they did.

At the other stations, we used our other senses to answer questions like,   “What is sweet in your life right now?” when we tasted a sweet treat on the taste table or “What are you searching for?” when we had our hands in a bowl of sand searching for the hidden marbles on the table for the sense of touch. It was a wonderful interactive exhibit of how our senses influence our thoughts which can ultimately influence how we feel and think about things.

Perhaps the search for meaning is simply the ability to be in a moment and live that moment completely and fully. Whether that means enjoying the ray of sunshine on your face, connecting with a stranger by listening and engaging with them, or noticing the food you are consuming and tasting it fully. I love the opportunity to spend time with others searching for meaning, it is always such an incredible and thoughtful group. Perhaps next year you’ll want to join in the search. Save the date for next year’s Search for Meaning 2014.

What would you do?

Today, was a busy day. I was rushing from a training on the east side of town to get to The Heart of the Community Luncheon that I’d been invited to sponsored by Hands On Portland in downtown Portland.

I was late for the luncheon when I finally arrived at the parking garage. I was driving quickly up into the garage eagerly looking for a parking spot. Perhaps I was a bit overzealous as a turned into a spot that I thought I could fit into. Unfortunately, my front end swiped the back-end of the parked car. “Darn it!” I said as the Subaru’s car alarm began to go off. I backed up and knew instantly that I would have to park and leave a note for the car owner. I had to drive away first though because I couldn’t stop where I was in the parking lot. I drove around and up another level and found a big spot and easily drove in. As I walked down the flight of stairs to the floor below to find the car, I honestly considered NOT leaving a note. I mean really what’s the big deal. They’d never know and I wouldn’t be held responsible. My car is a dozen years old at this point and has enough dings that I can’t even count them any more, but when I arrived at the car, I knew that I had to leave my information. I scribbled a note for the owner on a small slip of paper and as I walked away, I was frustrated with myself for mistaking how big the parking spot was but I also knew I had done the right thing.

I thought about the car again later in the day when I returned to the garage and saw that the car was still sitting there with my note on the door. I could just as easily swipe the note away, but I remembered what my mother felt like last summer when someone damaged her bumper and left her with a big dent. I remembered how frustrated she was by the experience. I couldn’t do the same thing. So the note stayed.

Do I hope that the owner won’t call me? Of course! I hope they think, well that was nice that she left her number but no big deal, we don’t need to call her. Now it’s just a waiting game to see if the owner does call. But I know that what I did what was right in this situation and the outcome is now out of my hands. So have you ever scraped another car and left the scene without leaving your name and number? How about a car accident or the scene of a crime? Sometimes the right thing to do is not easy. Sometimes it takes courage to do the right thing and not walk away from something that you caused. I feel better tonight knowing I didn’t do that, but I admit I kind of still hope I won’t get that call…

Grief and Pain

candleGrief. Pain. Loss.Tragedy.

What else can you say when you learn of a mass shooting that takes the lives of 20 innocent children.

This happening just two days after our news was filled with another horrific story of a shooting here in my own Oregon community at a local mall.

The whole situation makes people feel completely hopeless. After posting their sympathy on FB they think what can I really do?  And yet we are not hopeless. We have every ability to speak up and take action. In taking those actions we make a difference. Moved by the Virginia Tech shootings and worried that the world we lived in was not a place he liked, my colleague Bob bought a bus and took his dog Bogard and started out to spread kindness through One Millions Acts of Kindness. He is making a difference everyday in the world, with every action he takes.

After the Columbine shootings, Rachel Joy Scott’s family discovered her journals about kindness and began an organization called Rachel’s Challenge that has touched the lives of more than 18 million people. Taking action made a difference.

Yesterday, I learned from a friend that she and her 11-year-old daughter spent her birthday on December 12th giving out pizza to homeless men and women in our community. She sent me some of her thoughts on the day,

“Mary walked over holding her pizza and water and I had a handful of gloves she had been collecting for this day. The moment we approached the shelter we were greeted with “Hello”. I said, “Hi, this is my daughter Mary. It’s her birthday today and to celebrate she would like to share pizza and water with you.” We received such gratitude for this. There were three people and they all told Mary “Happy Birthday” and “Thank you” and told her how kind and thoughtful she was.

From there we drove into downtown, which was a different experience. We spent the next hour and half driving around finding one homeless person at a time and offering them pizza and water. On almost every occasion the gratitude was overwhelming. One man even offered us some of his potato chips…At times we both had to choke back the tears. It was so touching for me as a mother to hear my daughter’s sweet voice say, “Hi, my name is Mary. It’s my birthday and I’d like to share pizza and water with you.

We seem to live in an era when people are just too busy to even notice what they have or what others do for them. Gone is the day of the Thank You Card much less a simple “Thank You”. I’ve gone to countless bridal showers, weddings, and baby showers where I never received a card afterwards. This continues to astonish me. I set out on this day thinking that the lesson here was how fortunate we are to have what we do, but I went away with another lesson I wasn’t expecting: These people that we encountered that day, that had nothing of material value, still had something that many of us do not, gratitude. What a gift.”

What actions do you take each and every day to pay attention and be engaged with others. Perhaps these horrible events will invoke something in you that needs to be addressed. It starts with the small things like gratitude and kindness, but maybe it will take hold in some larger way as well. I keep thinking about the “sick perpetrators” of these crimes and wonder if anyone had reached out to them could it have made a difference? Clearly they were suffering and now their suffering has made many others suffer as well.

None of us needs to feel paralyzed in our world. Our actions big and small matter and we have the choice to look the other way or do something to make a difference. I want to share a beautiful poem that my friend Eric wrote a few days ago after the Oregon mall shooting. I think it reiterates perfectly that none of us can look the other way anymore. Something is broken in our world and needs addressing. It starts with each of us acknowledging each other, being in action to make a difference in whatever way we can and help repair our world.

This week we have lost more than three dozen innocent people due to senseless acts of violence. It’s enough. Listen to your heart and take whatever actions you feel needs to be taken to help repair the world.

I am lighting an extra Shabbat candle tonight in memory of dozens of souls that can no longer see a candle burning and committing to continuing to share about mitzvahs in hopes of doing what I can to repair our world.