Friday, March 24, 2017

The Climb To Freedom

Holding on for dear life - or enjoying the climb?

As I travel my personal Life Journey, I constantly scrutinize, examine, and sculpt myself. My inner dust is cancer. It’s always there floating around. It’s been known to me since July 22, 2012 and ever since I've had to face the reality of my mortality daily: when will my climb to the peak end? When will I permanently fall from my tree of life? I'm thankful to experience another Spring season, sunshine after the winter cold and rain, and rediscovering G-d's perfection creations; blossoming trees and fruit, wild flowers, and new life. 

In the past, I looked forward to finally shaking off the persistent side-effects of tumors and chemotherapy. This year, I'm coming to terms with a different reality. Chemo didn't work so well last time and I'm at the starting line again - Chemotherapy Part 4: grasping and flailing, hoping for the best and fearing the worst. 

With the Passover holiday nipping at our heals, it’s time to purge our homes and souls of chametz (leaven, or food mixed with leaven, prohibited during Passover).  Dust, dirt, and clutter are NOT chametz. 

While my friends and family countdown to the upcoming holiday of Pessach (Passover), I countdown to a day of dread. It’s that-time-of-the-month for me - CHEMO-time! (Can't Touch This....). 

Every 3 weeks I’m scheduled to have a dose of Taxol and a dose of Avastin. My current situation invites an abyss of uncertainty for my loved ones and me. Right now, it’s compounded by Pesach (Passover) preparations and purging the house of every last crumb, and I no longer fear the purge.

One marvelous difference between other animals and humans is our ability to deny. Our denial allows us to live, breathe, and function as forever-creatures in this temporary life. Life is short so we cannot internalize the reality of our fragile short existence Here or else we would live in a constant state of paralysis and mourning. 

Wealthy or poor, privileged or deprived, every being is equal in our short existence. From birth, the ONLY thing promised to each and every one of us is eventual death. As we grow up we learn to deny and ignore our impending end and for those who get side-tracked, anxiety and intense fear can feel like a heart attack; imminent  death. We focus on frivolities like birthdays and parties, celebrities, sports, sales at the mall, and politics.  If we’re spiritual, we find meaning in faith and the Divine. If we are intellectual, we study, learn, and teach. Every project or focus is a distraction. Every breathing minute we spend on earth takes us that many minutes closer to the inevitable end. We are born with the gift of ignoring that fact because it’s the only way possible to survive the pain and anxiety that would accompany the truth of our fatal human condition. 

Life’s fragile reality gets broken by near death experiences and survival beyond expectations, for example tragedies, accidents, traumas, losses. For me, it’s living with cancer. Being forced to stare death in the face for nearly 5 years freed me from the imaginary infinity of life. The boundaries of existence are clear. I know that it's impossible to survive This World. I can't care about the casual. I can't focus. I can’t sit through fiction. I'm incapable of viewing Life or cancer as a fight or a battle. My physical Life is numbed and my focus is limited to this moment as it happens. I seek happiness and meaning in trying to improve how I act, bonding with meaningful relationships, and fulfilling my purpose on earth, and arriving at my Exodus - may my soul be juicy
The illusion is that illness and death deprives us of freedom. Human slavery is the deception that youth, physical pleasure, beauty, and perfection amounts to freedom and successful happy lives. 

We are all slaves to Life. I know my freedom will come someday - the ultimate Exodus from Egypt.  

This will be my 5th Passover holiday since cancer. For the first 2 or 3 years, I counted off milestones and holidays accordingly, and clung to my metamorphosis from the slavery of illness into the freedom of remission (a decrease in signs and symptoms of cancer, although cancer still may be in the body). Not anymore.

Every year, we tell the story of our ancestors’ slavery and delivery from Egypt. We celebrate the transition from slavery to freedom. I was sick and then healthy. I was dying and then revived. We were slaves in Egypt; now we’re free but are we really free?

The first Passover since cancer, I experienced a spiritual personal Exodus because I’d just finished chemotherapy and was hoping to be cancer-free. My denial magic made me hope I was cured until the cancer recurred and persisted year after year; treatment after treatment. For nearly 4 years I lived with the possibility that treatment wasn’t going work. This year, the time has finally come and the last treatment didn't work well enough. Am I a slave to cancer? Am I back in Egypt stuck in the 9th Plague of Darkness? The Plague of Darkness was complete absence of light weighed down by a tangible thickness so immense that it blocked physical movement.

I’ve been carried out of Egypt again and again. The symbolic deliverance from slavery to freedom in everyday life, whatever they might be, can inspire us to unchain ourselves from our own personal Egypt. Everybody has an Egypt. We are all slaves to Life. We all dream of freedom. 

Life's path to Exodus - lined with flowers and thorns
I live from day to day fully aware of mortality, impermanence, and realization that release from personal slavery and deliverance to freedom in This World are gifted to us in preparation for the Final Exodus: Death – into the Afterlife. I view every test, loss, grief, and challenge as an opportunity to react and grow. G-d's spankings are His blessings and proof of His love - giving me opportunity to make my soul juicy and prepare my eternal soul for the Ultimate Exodus.

We are constantly reminded that G-d took us out of Egypt. We pray on it. We learn it. We teach it to our children. G-d delivered us from slavery in Egypt to freedom; physically and spiritually. My epiphany about existence is that life on Earth is the metaphorical Egypt. We struggle. We work. We search. We strive to grow and become better, and we seek freedom from the slavery of financial burden and worry, freedom from work, and freedom from illness. Humans are slaves to life and life’s boundaries whether physical, emotional, spiritual, or metaphysical. As long as we live and breathe on planet Earth, we are not free; that’s the point of life. We must live it to its fullest, yet within tight frontiers, which constantly remind us that we are still slaves in Egypt.

No matter which journey we choose, in the end, it will be The End. The End has to come sometime. People die and the world will keep on spinning. Those who remain mourn and hopefully they move on. We don’t have to go-there or deal with it until it happens. We can be in a healthy state of denial because we’re humans. Every person lives their own personal Testament, their own Torah (Bible). G-d put us here to live and experience the physical world and I believe that this life is not the end-game. There has to be a reason for all of this and I’m sure it’s to teach every generation the core of our existence; the Exodus. 

I feel compelled to publicize the miracles that G-d gives me. I’m not afraid of The End but I worry about how my Exodus will effect my loved ones if I’m not here to drink the wine or taste the symbolic food on the Passover Seder plate. The bitter herbs and the charoset, the egg, and the bone all have dual meanings that reflect slavery and deliverance to freedom.

Heaven, Gan Eden, is eternal freedom from slavery. Back in Genesis, G-d told Abraham about the epitome of our existence: living for Exodus, before the Jewish People even existed. For over 400 years, generations lived and died under extreme conditions of pain and torture without ever enjoying redemption. The Exodus was anticipated by the Jewish People and G-d yet, only one-fifth of the Jews left Egypt and most died during the plague of Darkness. It was a miracle that any of us left Egypt at all and even though we were prepared for the miracle that would save us from slavery and grant freedom, most of the people were too terrified or unwilling to recognize the value of leaving Egypt. 

The original Exodus defined the Jewish Nation. Human history happened with Divine guidance and intervention, and still we fear death and question the existence of the Afterlife. Redemption. Heaven. The finality of death is so terrifying that most of us will do anything to avoid thinking about it. Denial keeps us safe.

During the Seder, we are obligated to tell the story of leaving Egypt, but why are we commanded to see and feel ourselves personally experiencing the Exodus and why the requirement to tell the story of Passover every year for as long as history can account for? Through telling the story, and reviewing it over and over again with every generation, we are reminded of the heart and soul of Judaism. 

There are no coincidences and no miracle too small to merit our prayers. We are not just a religion or a nation. We are a People who had no chance of survival in the first place, yet again and again we experience Exodus. We’re saved from near death experiences and we survive beyond expectations. This is the ultimate message of Judaism, Life, the truth of Passover, the Haggadah, and Exodus. Egypt symbolizes slavery; spiritual, physical, material, and psychological so eventually and ultimately, we must strive to break free from them all. 

From slavery to freedom, we must live for the Exodus. During our lives we may experience many allegorical plagues like darkness. With love and absolute faith I made the choice to live Life joyfully while taking comfort in knowing that all living beings are slaves to This Life and death is the absolute Exodus to eternal freedom.The End.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Stop The Cancer War

Last week cancer took a few more people I know from This World. As usual, many well-meaning journalists and social media posts announced condolences and grief by equating Death-By-Cancer with Losing-A-War. It inspired me to share my feelings in a Facebook status which, launched a comment thread full of love , support, and understanding.

Throughout my own journey with cancer, I've never wondered, “Why me?” or dwelled on how, “It’s not fair”. I accept that everyone has their own cancer; pain, struggle or challenge. Why is cancer a war?
After a long and courageous battle with cancer, So-In-So lost their brave fight. The funeral will be held at Such-In-Such cemetery....

When someone dies from complications of cancer, why is it acceptable to say that they lost? No one would ever say that a person couldn't beat heart disease, failed to beat diabetes, or lost their battle with an accident.
We wish our deepest condolences to the So-In-So family for the loss of their beloved, So-In-So, to a sudden battle with a car accident. Details of funeral to follow....

Is there a war against life itself?
We regret to inform the community that after an exhaustive 97 year battle with Life, Great-Grandma-So-In-So lost their war with Life. Memorial services will be held at....

Why should living life be comparable to fighting a war? Are we all soldiers put on this earth to fight a common enemy? If so, wouldn't that mean that Life is our enemy?

Life isn’t something to fight with, quit, or run away from. I've taken on this issue with my own perspective which is, I'm running with cancer - not from it. I don’t relate to or appreciate the metaphor of the cancer battle. For me, life is not a war or a fight. Nor is cancer.
When we face danger and the need to fight a threat we feel stress. In an emergency situation, an instinctive, lifesaving, protective mechanism takes over to protect our bodies from harm. The acute stress response, Fight Or Flight, is one of G-d's greatest gifts to living beings.

Stress causes our bodies to release stress hormones: Adrenaline and Cortisol which cause:
  • increased respitory rate 
  • elevated heart rate 
  • elevated blood pressure 
  • boosted energy supplies 
  • elevated blood sugar 
  • the brain to use more energy 
  • stimulation of tissue repair 
The life-saving roles of stress hormones are diminished when stress becomes chronic.

The mindset of war isn't a harmless metaphor. In the beginning stage immediately after my diagnosis, perhaps it may have helped me to hear that I'm a Warrior Princess but as the years go by and cancer is incurable, chronic, or a chronic metastatic life threatening illness, anxiety and stress levels go through the roof.

Scientific studies have proven that chronic fear and anxiety is detrimental to our health. We fear our environment, constantly looking for the enemy because stress hormones, by nature, cause us to perceive everything in our environment as a possible threat to our survival. The fight or flight system bypasses our rational thoughts and shifts our brains into attack mode. 

Living in a prolonged continuous state of alert may cause us to perceive almost everything in our surroundings as a threat to our survival. Fear is magnified and thinking is impaired. Someone in a constant state of battle will likely overreact to things because they see everything through the filter of impending danger. The mindset of war; of fighting, needing to beat an enemy called, cancer means living in a relentless state of fear.

war = stress

Without a doubt, all cancer patients already suffer from high levels of stress, fear, and anxiety. Stress hormones mess with your brain, your mood, and increase fear and depression.

fighting = stress

When the stress response system is activated, it automatically has a negative effect on many of our body's systems including our body's ability to kill cancer.

Chronic elevated stress hormone levels:
  • Have a bad effect on memory and interfere with cognative ability 
  • Are harmful to our immune systems 
  • Are harmful to our digestive systems 
  • Interfere with fertility 
  • Harm growth 
  • Cause depression 
Chronic stress has been linked to life threatening conditions such as:
  • heart disease 
  • high blood pressure 
  • high cholesterol 
  • type II diabetes, 
  • depression 

Constant stress can be the button that activates a multitude of health problems. None of that is helpful when trying to survive a life threatening illness. In the case of cancer, we should completely disconnect from war, fights, battles, and distance ourselves as much as possible from negativity altogether.

Cancer is NOT a war.

Mindfulness such as Yoga, deep breathing exercises, and meditation have been shown to lower stress hormone levels and are therefore beneficial to boosting the immune system.

Killing with kindness is a positive way to deal with negative situations. In order for the killing with kindness method to work, positivity must come from a genuine place. If you're outwardly loving while inwardly judging and hating, the outcome is killing with anger and most likely ending up feeling hurt which will actually increase your stress levels.

My journey with cancer, provided me with the opportunity to recognize some poignant things and over these years, I've grown and learned to first apply kindness to myself. It doesn't matter whether or not my smiles, hugs, and love are reciprocated because you can never err with positivity or kindness. 

I encourage you to be conscious of truly living life. A wise author, Amy Krause Rosenthal z"l, who died of cancer last week once wrote about Plan Be - that's how cancer survivors need to live. I invite you to live life with at least some Plan Be. Live. Be kind, rather than just acting kindly. I believe that our true instinct is to love and be kind and I know from experience how much that mindset lowers stress and it just feels better to truly come from this place. In my short life, I've learned a lot. I have no secrets and I choose to share my heart and soul with you, my friends and family, and countless strangers. The amount of love, kindness, and support I receive far exceeds the love and kindness I'll ever be able to give. Not every investment is profitable but in my experience, I receive more love in return than I could ever provide. I can solemnly bear witness and promise that those who react with love and kindness will also be the recipient of random acts of kindness as well as a life full of love, support, and happiness... and a lot less stress.

Cancer caused the inpouring of kindness and meaning in my life. I left the war. I exited the battle field. The love, support, and prayers that flow magnify and accentuate my somewhat newly heightened sensitivity to the abundance of goodness and even allows me to see something that is almost impossible for most people to see; the blessings that are attached to cancer. I'm able to see cancer from a different perspective; as part of my journey and let go of my attachment to life being perfect. Life is not my enemy with all of it's danger and imperfection.

Stop the war on cancer!
Kill it with kindness!
Find the cure!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Rainbows and Unicorns Required

There might be a colorscheme going on in the chemo-lounge today.
It wasn't easy to walk through those doors and it's an indoors sunglasses kinda day so far.
#rainbows and #unicorns required 🦄❤️️💛💚💙💜💗

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Going Back To Chemo

I'm not cool like LL Cool J... but I ALWAYS laugh at myself

So... I'm not happy about this - Cancer is a jerk and I have to go back to chemotherapy treatments if I want to stay alive. Hopefully the treatments will do that but there are no guarantees. 

I love music.
When I think about having to go back to chemo, I can't help my inner 1980's child from rapping (badly) to LL Cool J's famous Going Back To Cali

If you want to know the truth, this is a VERY serious life-threatening situation (obviously). Silly me wrote my own lyrics to the song and I even recorded myself rapping... AND uploaded it to YouTube. Apparently, it's a huge embarressment to my dear husband and teenaged daughters. (Personally, I thought my video was really funny however it was nixed by my dear husband and my teenaged daughters). I originally didn't post the video and I've changed my mind so.... here it is:
Laughing about chemotherapy and cancer wasn't amusing to my family and I respect their feelings. I already cried my eyes out and got up from the endless pit of... mud. I want to have some fun and, as the girl with cancer, EVERYONE has to forgive me for making fun of cancer and chemotherapy.


Going Back To Chemo (WARNING: if you click on this link you'll either laugh or cringe... LoL)
(With apologies to LL Cool J and songwriter Major Bill Smith)

I'm going back to Chemo, Chemo, Chemo
I'm going back to Chemo hmm, I don't think so
I'm going back to Chemo, Chemo, Chemo
I'm going back to Chemo I don't think so

Going back to Chemo, sighing, beguiling 
Growling, and crying, while in the lounge 
The mood is down, on the ward Cancer
And it's sly, cuz it's growing in A-E's
Liver reeking deal, pushed out, old-beef dammit stop!
and 5 kids waiting....

Doom burdens growing, 'da groan, it's whining 
Bringing all the scars on the way
Constant on ice thinned, smack feels grim
Stop I'm-a upset and whoosh hey!

I'm going back to Chemo, Chemo, Chemo
I'm going back to Chemo, yea y'all, I don't think so
I'm going back to Chemo, Chemo, Chemo
I'm going back to Chemo

I'm going back to Chemo, aching 'en, praying 'en
Tyin' me in knots they never before flung
the chase, I'm upset it's a gyp
Beat the disease old, and the hurls still drip

The uncured grip, but this girl kept dancing
Pleading, grasping, grueling, resisting 
Din't ask fer it so darn, so we should'n quit to pray
Don't want to do this: brutal, but I still want to stay

I'm going back to Chemo, Chemo, Chemo
I'm going back to Chemo - no man I don't think so
I'm going back to Chemo, Chemo, Chemo
I'm going back to Chemo

I'm going back to Chemo, clawing, bloodsucking 
Surprising, realizing, pleas eating me up
Er Almighty - bawl; deals - stall
I said, I liked, the ocean
He bode me to preach, "Save me!" I screech 
Capsuled in doubt - outran burden
How I thought, "That was fast," but this whirl was faster
Freeze! Bearing gore -  withstood the climb
I said, "Woes; more cries, I gotta disguise,"
and I ran away with a chuckle of mine....

I'm going back to Chemo, Chemo, Chemo
I'm going back to Chemo, I don't think so
I'm going back to Chemo, Chemo, Chemo
I'm going back to Chemo, I don't think so....


Monday, February 6, 2017

Blowing It All Away

I've encountered too many dark tunnels on Facebook and social media. I've tripped and fallen victim to the trap of disrespectful dialogues and personal attacks. Keyboards have become weapons of human destruction. How painful it is to witness and endure what lurks from behind infinite screens?! Flippant meanness, grudges, jealousy, and bile inflict misery on friends and strangers alike. Constant tug-of-war inevitably leads us down dark and lonely tunnels with no light on the horizon. 
People are terrified of death but I believe that more and more people have developed a fear of living. You can't cure your pain or fear unless you’re willing to live through it. Happiness is an accomplishment especially in challenging times. Instant information, literally at the tips of our fingers, are both a curse and a blessing. In the end, what really matters? Have you ever hushed a child or ignored a person, who is right in front of you, in order to attend to a glass screen? As of 2017 - who hasn't?
We hunger for acceptance, forgiveness, love, and kindness. It's become permissible to starve the people we encounter, in reality, from our attention because it has also become normal to live behind screens: iPhones, Androids, and their competitors gave birth to a real-life Zombie Apocalypse. The security that inner bliss creates can only be accomplished with acceptance that the ONLY thing you can fully control is yourself and YOUR reactions to what happens around you - in real life and online, whether you're being watched or not. Loneliness and depression are epidemic and I'm not surprised if it intensifies incrementally according to how much time is spent on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

Every new day we can choose to rise from the darkness of the previous night and create light. Living is the greatest opportunity to waste! It's a choice to respond with compassion instead of anger, acceptance rather than judgment, and love over hate. Silent observance (not commenting with sarcasm and insults) is usually the kindest and most appropriate response to things we disagree with in person AND even more so on social media. It's sad to see how many enemy-ships have resulted from refusal to reconcile with differences in opinion while embracing the newly acceptable practices of "unfriending" and "blocking" people from our lives. The ultimate displays of primitive intollerance are now inaugurated via the most developed modern technology.

The baseless hatred and anger is rampant online and I ask, why not kill it with kindness? To err is human and to err on the side of kindness and being nice can never harm you. As one example of a variety of takes on a human truth states: they may forget what you said - but they will always remember how you made them feel.
I'm not perfect and that drives me to try harder. Every act and intention should be for goodness, for light, for kindness, for happiness, and for love. The rest is a waste of precious time. Life is too short to let it blow away. There are no refunds or exchanges. Time is irreplaceable and social media may be robbing us of of our most precious possession: life.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Love, Life, And Death

(I originally posted this 1 year ago, Jan, 6, 2016 for Hevria - edited for Jan. 8, 2017)

“May G‑d console you, together with all mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” This is what we say to someone who is sitting Shivah, who has just lost a loved one to the final stage of life. Death has no parallel on earth. So jagged, paralyzing, and final. Death causes such a surging fallout, is considered so terrible and sad in its finality, that the event stands alone in human experience. Death is the winner of all calamities. Death is the last of all events and it may suddenly pounce on us or lead a slow lingering process of illness and suffering that affects entire communities of people.
I have been quoted many times saying, “There’s only one thing I’m sure of and that’s that I’m going to die – we are all going to die.” From the day we’re born until our final breath we’re on a path of slow decay. Death of our human experience is inescapeable. When the process is concluded, the only tragedy is the pain and havoc created in other people’s lives; the survivors left to pick up the pieces, fill the void, and repair the element that once secured the positions of all of the parts relative to each other.
The symbiotic relationships of mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, or friend – once balanced now disoriented, tortured, and broken. The agony of the empty seat at the table, the cherished photographs, yearning for lost time, and so many tears. Death takes our souls, and leaves behind debris of catastrophe; a mixture of treasure and grief. Depending on who you were while you lived, you may leave a pale sludge, a cataclysmic residue, yet quite often the death of a person leaves behind a celestial ghost which must be apotheosized and ennobled on many occasions.
An utterly selfish and self-centred reality is where I often find myself; in self imposed solitude and contemplation. Happy and euphoric, manic and ecstatic, the existence of my life in limbo seduces my heart and whispers a quiet love song. Why am I here? To make my soul juicy and fatten my essence for smooth entry and illustrious admission into The World To Come. Death, I fear You not. I yearn for you, dream of you, and welcome you in good time. You are my future and I hope we will share an eternal love until the time of Tchiyat HaMetim: revival or resurrection of the dead; one of the fundamental beliefs of the Jewish Religion.
During the vulnerable journey from the physical to the mystical, the laws and practices for the survivors attempt to comfort the newly departed; unraveling a plethora of seemingly odd rituals meant to respect and comfort the eternal soul and providing a framework and structure of action. We’re commanded to abide by the ceremonial rituals and traditions ordained and protected by the ancient Talmud and Kabbalah. Knowing what to say, how to behave and do are painful dilemmas and anxieties for supporting members of society, community, and the mourners themselves. The mention of death often brings a fidget to wellbeing and apprehension to existence.
Dedication and care is devoted to how to comfort the terminally ill – what to say? What not to say? Obviously every individual has unique needs and desires. I am open and invite discussion and sometimes I overshare. Others are quiet and private. We are all sullen, bitter, and utterly tormented at times. Dying is a complex tangled process encompassing a spectrum of anxiety, exhaustion, hope, relief, and dread. It assails my loved ones with great vengeance. The inevitable yet unknown stages of death fondle me and entice a forbidden macabre dance with mortality that is graceful and lovely, grotesque and twisted.
I’m an observant Jew and all too acquainted with the rituals of handling the deceased. My mother volunteers with Chevra Kadisha: an organization of men and women volunteers who accompany the deceased through ritual preparation for burial and known as a burial society in English. She has assisted in countless ceremonies of Taharah: the ritual cleansing process of washing, grooming, and dressing deceased women.  I know of the dedication required to participate in the Jewish process and steps for caring for a body. The honor and respect of breathless bodies is intended to culminate in celebration of the life of loved ones following the grieving period.
We are not alone. The fundamental rules in Judaism, in death and bereavement, are intended to surround the dying and the mourners with a supportive community. The funeral procession, while a show of respect to the deceased, is in actuality an act of the living for the living. The Hebrew word, levayah, signifies joining and bonding which, in my human understanding is an act of living humans – souls still living in their houses (bodies).
The most intense mourning, hours after death, to the seven-day Shivah immediately after the burial, to the 30-day Shloshim period… the mourning period of a year, reciting Mourners Kaddish, lighting candles, saying special prayers on certain holidays, and visiting the gravesite are physical and spiritual practices meant to comfort the loved ones left behind and are taught and believed to increase the wellbeing of the departed soul’s ascent to The Next Life AKA Heaven.
Throughout the world, there are cities built on volcanos. In an unpredictable flash, the gut of the volcano rumbles like a hungry bear coming out of hibernation. The foundation of entire cities may tremor underfoot and hot lava may spew into the heavens, vaporizing every living being in it’s path leaving tons of dust and volcanic stone. According to National Geographic,  more than one billion people (20 percent of the world’s population) live in volcanic hazard zones. Imagine that. I wonder what inhabitants of volcano cities must feel? Do they live in constant fear? It seems they do not especially after eruptions wipe out their cities and they are not slow to rebuild; in the radius of the same volcano.
We are all going to die. I focus my attention on living not remorse or sadness. I cannot control the worrying though I do try with exercise, healthy eating, bringing some sense of order and routine into my home, and taking various anti-anxiety medications. I’m acutely aware; 24/7 that I don’t have time for reluctance, shame, and complicity. Every moment feels like a potential opportunity for assertiveness, determination, and purpose and when I fall short of utilizing my time – that’s when the romantic whisper of death entices me and infiltrates my prayers. I pity the bodies who cheat their souls from a life with inherent meaning. Without faith, who is responsible for giving life meaning? In lieu of knowing the meaning of life, we must create it. It helps that I have a set of rules and guidelines provided by the holy Torah and I respect that it doesn’t resonate with everyone.
Whether you believe in G-d or a Higher Power (or not) right NOW is a wonderful opportunity in which we may never again have the occasion to create: create relationships and bonds, interact with our loved ones, and embark on projects that will bring goodness to This World. Our only certainty in life is death. When our soul’s homes break down everything else will cease to matter but the state of our spirits. Finally, without choice, the decayed house must be disposed of and the soul must leave.
I rarely attend funerals. I tremble as I fulfil my duty to visit Shivah houses and meet with mourners. I feel the suffering of others, strangers, acquaintances, neighbors, and companions on this earth. I feel a purpose and a calling to ease the suffering of people and it helps me laugh and dance along my Journey. Sometimes I'm not sure if I'm comforting the mourners or if they're comforting me. My life has become so entangled with the purgatory of living with cancer and not knowing when the scary Jack is going to spring out of it’s box. I find and create joy and purpose in my life when I’m able to. I believe we can create anything we want and the more passionate you are the greater the creation. I am committed to kindness and hope, but mostly faith that everything is for the good and that I am a tiny yet important part of the Big Picture. I’m here for a reason.
Every hour, around the world, people are leaving their troubles and their ecstasies on earth and their bodies are buried or cremated in any number of religious or secular ceremonies. I wonder what it would be like to grow old? what is old? 70? 80? 90? 100? After a certain point, every step we take in life is as precarious as stepping on trembling ground where the hot molten lava bubbles beneath the volcano cities of Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. The ground grows thinner beneath our feet with every step. The love of Life and the fear of Death are harder to grasp, as I walk the path of my Journey. I have no idea about what death is, so I cling to the faith and hope that apart from the pain and suffering of a disease like cancer, and the terrible consequences to others, this earth is only the beginning. I’m here. I will do my best to live, laugh, dance, and run until my last breath. When I go, I envision a wonderful New Beginning. Death may come knocking yet I have a beautiful future to look forward to.
It may seem twisted to have a love affair with death. People are afraid to die and yet I encounter countless people who seem afraid to live. You cannot deal with your pain or with fear unless you’re willing to live through it and I’ve experienced the contractions of giving birth to happiness in the face of agony. You may waste your life and it terrifies me to imagine the possibilities. Nobody chooses a life threatening illness like cancer and losing control is NOTHING like giving up. Happiness comes to those who accept that the only thing they can control is themselves and their reaction to what happens around them. There is no other way than to seek love, joy, and beauty that surrounds us. A life of happiness doesn’t cure sadness, anger, pain or betrayal. True happiness requires acceptance, forgiveness, and faith. There is no beauty without ugliness, no bliss without misery. Only I can decide how long I’ll visit those dark places.
Life is a journey and so is death – they are harmonious and inseparable. I have a choice to make every single day and what an opportunity to waste! I aspire to view the world with compassion not anger, acceptance not judgment, and most of all: love not hate. I'm not always successful. I fall. I fail.
I still have hope and I haven’t given up so when I go, I wish to have the last word. Those closest to me may hold my body in their arms and I hope they will want to cuddle, kiss, and carress me. I trust that Omnipotent Arms will take me and carry me Beyond. I long to climb into them. I long to leave behind lasting memories of love, faith, and joy. I wonder what it would be like if funerals were celebrations of eternal souls set free.... If we all agreed that The Next World is greater than this one, then maybe the custom would actually be to celebrate. We mourn because we, living people, experience tragedy and loss. If we were 100% sure about the glory and wonder that awaits the soul when it leaves This World, Shivah could be a seven day celebration; without tears, without sadness, but humans cannot live that way.
I know nothing. I merely dare to believe that This is only The Beginning… the rest has to be a wonderful mystery and I must force myself to look forward with complete faith.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Beginning Again - Make Light Not War

2016 was a particularly difficult year for many. Personally, it was one of my most challenging years. 

I'm convinced that we're living through a unique period of time. We are witnessing events and new norms in a world that seems to reject goodness. We're experiencing a very dark period where terrorism is expected and even legitimized as justifiable resistance. The new heroic causes are paved by the failures of the perceived downtrodden and "underdogs". Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children are murdered in wars driven by religious intolerance and hate and the world has become complacent. What was once honorable expression against evil is now considered unPC and racist. 

The bubble that I live in is small and protected. The scary world is out there and I mostly experience it from behind a screen and in conversations - sometimes encouragingly respectful and sometimes unreasonably uncivil. The new way of communication via Twitter, Snap Chat, Facebook, and options to comment on every article written has opened up an uncensored and unfiltered avenue for a battle of words that can be uglier than your worst nightmare. Personal attacks, hateful, and profane language are no longer taboo. It's deflating to attempt dreaming up sustainable solutions when a peaceful outcome seems insurmountable. 

It takes courage, faith, and indestructable optimism to succeed at letting light shine through the darkest times. It's comforting to know that there are still many people on earth who seek the light and are committed to help spread it to those around us. Every moment of our waking hours, we make choices and it can be very challenging to remember the blessings and the goodness when it feels like the world is crumbling around you. I'm so thankful for the people who make the time in their busy lives  to help others and participate in quiet acts of kindness. Without love, faith, hope, and kindness, there would be no point in living at all.

I cannot imagine a life without faith or belief in God. For me, such a life would be meaningless. Why experience pain and suffering if our whole purpose is to live and die in such a short period of time? If this is all there is... take me now. 

On the Jewish Hebrew calendar, our New Year began over 3 months ago. Having grown up following the Gregorian calender, I'm better acquainted with the 12 months beginning January 1st. 

Welcome 2017. Who will live and who will die? Who will prosper and who will fail? Is our fate predetermined or can we each write a part of the present that will soon become history? Does it matter? I think one step at making the world a better place would be if we all lived as if life was eternal. Holding yourself accountable for every word written or spoken and every act ever actualized - even in the dark. Even if nobody but you saw it happen.

Darkness can be manmade but often it's just part of life. Extinguishing of light is a human weapon stronger than any gun or bomb. Spreading light is a choice. Passing the flame is an act that any of us can do from tiny sparks to enormous flames.

Be light. Spread fire.

Don't risk your eternity by spitting on the flames and causing darkness. 

It's a new year, a new beginning; a gift. Think, rethink, and proceed with caution.