Friday, May 30, 2014

Madness and Miracles

We sat in the back row of the Helena Rubinstein Theatre at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, but we heard every traumatic detail of the Mendels family journey toward safety.

Jacqueline Mendels Birn was interviewed by Bill Benson for the museum’s series, "First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors."

She told a story of miracles and madness during the Nazi occupation of France, which began in May 1940 when Germany invaded France.

The madness caused by Hitler and the Nazis -- and the miracles that were attributed to kind people, holy circumstances, and an indomitable father.

Hidden in a hamlet in the south of France, the family of four, and then five, were protected by the French from the Germans for over two years.

Emotional yet articulate, Jacqueline had one last clarion call to the young people in the audience.

"Do good."

"Make a difference."

"Do good."

Jacqueline Mendels Birn is the author of A Dimanche Prochain: A Memoir of Survival in World War II France. She lives in Bethesda, Md., with her husband Richard.

Friday, May 23, 2014

God's Nursing Breasts

The memorial service ended. I unplugged my heart to let the tears roll down my face.

For a few minutes I stood nestled next to the tissue box in the pastor’s study. Reluctantly I stepped into the fellowship of a bereaved community of friends and family and patients and fellow employees.

Barbara Lawson Boston, nurse practitioner, lactation consultant, labor and delivery nurse extraordinaire, friend, colleague, teacher and mentor left this world and our world far too soon. She was a vibrant 66-year-old mother and wife, sister and daughter.

The fellowship hall was abuzz with talk about Barbara’s joyful disposition and her defiant determination to make this world a better place.

I saw a young colleague who had worked at the Center for Integrative Medicine with Barbara and me.

"When did you last see Barbara?" I asked.

"Well," he responded. "Not so recently, but Barbara and I talked on the phone at length after my daughter was born. My wife was having difficulty nursing. I asked for her advice, not knowing that Barbara’s professional resume included lactation consultation. She diagnosed the issue and offered her friend Rachel as someone who provided breast milk for mothers who needed nutritional support while their own supply was being enhanced."

"And," he added, "this same Rachel was also providing breast milk for Barbara in the hope that it would vitalize her during her cancer treatments."

El Shaddai . . . God . . . The One of the Breast*

Barbara Lawson Boston, nurse of God, nurturer and nourisher: May the Holy One of Compassion, The One of the Breast, nurse and supply you with eternal peace.

Shabbat shalom,

* It is thought that Shaddai was an attribute of a Semitic goddess, linking the epithet Shaddai with the Hebrew shad meaning "breast" -- giving the meaning "the One of the Breast," as Asherah in Ugarit is "the One of the Womb."

A similar theory proposes that the name Shaddai is connected to shadayim, the Hebrew word for "breasts." It may thus be connected to the notion of God's gifts of fertility to the human race.

Friday, May 16, 2014

My Wrinkled Life

My white t-shirt came out of the dryer all wrinkled.

How can I wear any shirt with that many wrinkles?

Wash it again? Dry it again? Take an iron to it?

(Could I even find the iron?)

Wrinkles, they say, are a sign of how you lived your life. Every wrinkle tells a tale. Don’t erase your wrinkles or your story line will be altered.


Is my life’s prose written all over my face? Will a little Cover Girl distort the complexion of my narrative?

So I put the shirt in the dryer again using wrinkle control. After several minutes, the wrinkles had diminished significantly. The shirt was smooth and good-looking. Yes, good enough to wear.

I looked into the bathroom mirror with the eyes of a detective. I reflected fancifully on my aging face.

Yes, the years had worn those wrinkles up and down valleys and hills of my unpublished novel.

Perhaps a moisturizer would minimize the wear and tear. Perhaps a light cream would reduce the sharpest of indentations. Perhaps it did reveal my previous decades?

Was it time to engage in my self-imposed wrinkle control?

Promote less stress. Extend more love. Live with integrity. Laugh and hike. Pray with heart. Yes, this kind of wrinkle control will be good enough to wear.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Sabbath Peace in Diversity

I brought my braided challah, my Sabbath candles, and my desire to connect.

I was invited by my Hindu friend, Rukmini, to a Friday night get-together with her "spiritual" sisterhood. I hesitated. How would I perform my Sabbath rituals and practice?

"Bring them along," she encouraged. "Light the candles and say your prayers with us and for us. What a wonderful way to begin our conversation."

Nine feminine spirits circled the dinner table. With a few inward waves of my hands, the Divine light of the Shechinah hovered among us. Our four Sabbath candles kindled the way.

Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, American, Iranian, Egyptian, Peruvian.

We spoke of heartache, losses and dreams. We wrestled with vulnerabilities and imperfections. We shared personal pursuits and disappointments. We valued the deep listening. We paused and spoke our Sabbath peace for two hours. 

How is it that you can create a bold, full-roasted bond with women you just met?

How can you not?

My new sisterhood loved the Jewish concept of Sabbath ceasing for one whole day. Our host, Leslie, suggested a Sabbath on the farm for our next meeting.

I left with true nourishment, a room full of newly ordained sisters and a desire to taste this kind of Sabbath again.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Goodbye to Our Reluctant Soldier

Thirteen months in Vietnam made him a veteran and a wounded warrior. When he returned home to his family and friends, there was relief and gratitude. In the larger public, however, the Vietnam vets were met with disgust. The controversial Vietnam War caused the returning soldiers great personal pain.

Finally, in 1982 the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated, and the names of more than 58,000 Americans who gave their lives in service to their country were engraved forever.

Before Stan died, he requested that we make a pilgrimage to the Vietnam Memorial and pay our respects to his memory and to those who were destined not to return. Last week, I walked with the 15 friends and family of this reluctant soldier in meditative silence perusing the names of the lost ones. How often do the past, present and future form an arc around an event so that it appears that eternity has intervened?

With the sun casting its warmth upon us, we sat on the stairs with our backs to the Lincoln Memorial. We shared stories highlighting his generosity and caring spirit. There were tears when words were insufficient. His sister brought personal effects and shared them with his closest. His three nephews and one niece wrote special notes to express their emotions.

Now the one who had survived had succumbed to cancer. He was more than his past would have suggested. He was a son, a brother, an uncle and a friend. He had lived a life surrounded by loving companions and good deeds.

We offered our inadequate goodbyes by casting our newly found rocks into the Reflecting Pool, thereby substituting the rocks for the stones we usually place on a Jewish tombstone.

We were reluctant to leave our beloved, and our beloved was reluctant to go. As we turned our bodies to exit the plaza, a high school orchestra began to play "Eleanor Rigby" by the Beatles. Yes, the 60s were over but the melodies lingered on only to begin again.