Winter Has Come

Winter                                                                                Waxing Moon

Dominant white. Black Mountain is white. The lodgepoles have white flocking. The solar panels have disappeared under individual mounds of snow. The sky is a whitish blue. The steps up here are still snow covered. No new snow though since yesterday. Huge piles of snow from Ted’s plowing twice. 14 degrees. Winter on the mountain. This is, however, Colorado and the next few days have sunshine. The roads are clear.

This morning

                                         This morning

These last three days I’ve had no obligations. Love that. SeoAh and I went to Walmart yesterday in Evergreen. She has glaucoma and needs eyedrops, like I do, but had run out. Thanks to modern tech the Evergreen pharmacy could contact Georgia, Georgia could, as the pharmacy clerk said, “Push a button.” Then, a text would go to SeoAh’s phone as we shopped. Not a fan of Walmart due to its low wages and small town downtown busting habits, but in this instance a good deal for SeoAh. It happened that way. While she shopped for bleach to give her hair highlights, a text came in.

Ran into a mussar friend at Walmart. Her husband has prostate cancer that has spread to his spine and, perhaps, his lungs. MRI tomorrow. He’s starting radiation and is already getting hormone treatment. Doesn’t sound good. I do like running into folks I know at the store. Small town living.

Apparently Saturdays are for new recipes. SeoAh made a sweet tofu wrapped rice confection, Japanese. Wonderful. Also, an egg drop soup with dumplings and rice cakes.

Jon’s got a new printing technique, one he used yesterday to “print” a paper bag. It’s amazing. He’s using found objects, mostly metal, to create colorful prints of shapes that look vaguely familiar, yet also abstract. He said in a later text that he’s glad Ruthie and I are exploring oils together. Me, too.

Latest

                          Latest

Awesome, Dude

Winter                                                                              Waxing Moon

Yesterday

Yesterday

I’m gonna say between 12 and 15 inches over the last 36 hours. We’ve been plowed twice and our contract specifies 6 inches as the minimum for a push. I’ve cleared the back decks 4 times, or 5, and this morning it was as much as it was yesterday morning, maybe more. I’m pretty weary from it. With the new palette/deck it increases the amount of snow I have to move and reduces the places I can put it. Creates a tough situation.

All of us up here love the snow, in part for the beauty and in part for the practical reasons I mentioned yesterday. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy to remove or a joy to drive in. Right now, I could wait a bit for our next big storm. Nothing on the horizon right now.

Considering some snow shoeing. I’ve not done that much here. Great cardio and beautiful, quiet here in the mountains.

Yrah tornadoGonna look at material for the religious school class on the 16th. Alan will be back from Argentina. Our lesson theme is yirah, awe. Getting fifteen inches of snow over 36 hours creates yirah. We do not impact the weather, at least not directly. Yes, climate change is effecting the sorts of weather we get, but we don’t get to choose the diverse effects of our self-genocide. Fifteen inches of snow is like a volcanic eruption or a tsunami or a tornado, sudden, unpredictable except just before the fact, a natural act that changes the immediate environment dramatically. Though not as devastating as those violent manifestations, a great snow storm does show the power of the natural world, something to which we have to adapt rather than something we can manage.

Those of us inside homes with heat, water, plumbing, a full refrigerator, a kitchen can, and often do, ignore the rain, the snow, the high winds, perhaps only remarking casually, “Listen to the rain.” “The snow’s so beautiful.” “Those winds are really howling.” In doing so we shield ourselves from yirah. Yirah is the Hebrew word often translated as fear in the Torah, as in fear of the Lord. Remember Moses and the burning bush? Yirah.

yirah volcanoYirah and kadosh, holy or sacred, go together. Rudolf Otto defines sacred as an experience of awe, yirah, and the mysterium tremendum et fascinans: mysterious, awesome, urgent, attractive in spite of our fear. “As mysterium, the numinous is “wholly other”– entirely different from anything we experience in ordinary life.” Kenyon College. I disagree here. We experience natural acts, acts that have a cause in the world we know, that are so far beyond our control that though we do find them in ordinary life, they are also, at the same time, wholly other. Ask anyone who’s seen the ocean recede, then come blasting in as a tsunami hits. Ask anyone who’s felt the earth, the solid stable never-changing earth, shake beneath their feet. Anyone who’s been been faced with pyrocastic flow.

When I was 10, back in 1957, I visited my aunt and uncle in Mustang, Oklahoma. About 3 am one morning, my uncle Rheford came in and shook me awake. “We have to go.” I followed him out the backdoor of the house and into the ground. Wind and rain battered us as we went down the steps into the storm shelter. The wooden doors closed behind us and a thick chain was passed through inside door handles then linked to a hook set in the concrete floor. When the tornado crossed over us, the oxygen got swept up and out of the shelter, the doors banged and clanged like living things. Afterward, we went back up the stairs, fearing what we might see. The post office, attached to the front of Uncle Rheford and Aunt Ruth’s house, was gone. Just. No. Longer. There.

Yirah Roaring_Forties_300Something experienced in ordinary life but also wholly other. I’ve been following a sailing race, the Golden Globe, in which several skippers competed against each other in solo jaunts around the world. Ask any sailor, solo or not, who’s navigated the roaring forties about yirah and mysterium. They’re manifesting every day, every hour in places most of us will never go; but, a few do. Wholly other, but also part of the same puzzling universe which coughed us up into life.

A long road to an old observation, the sacred in the ordinary. Religion has too long tried to cordon off the domains of holiness, of the sacred, of the divine. And not only cordon them off, but claim control over the experience of them. This is human, yes, to identify our own experience as unique, as special to us and ours. But it is not true that either awe or mysterium tremendum et fascinans, is only wholly other, and it is especially not true that Christianity or Hinduism or Tibetan Buddhism or Islam or Mormonism has the only safe way to encounter them.

In just a moment I’m going to go back downstairs in a world transformed by snow. It’s awesome and mysterious. And right here, right now.

 

 

Simcah

Winter                                                                              Waxing Moon

kate 1200Kate’s wanting to get out and not just visits to medical facilities. Her stamina has improved some, she’s eating more. She’s still in the 80-82 zone, but I’m looking forward to her cracking 83. Then up from there. She’s laughing and smiling, things I didn’t see often over the last three months. Enjoying these moments. Both of us.

My Jewish Studies January event is past. My solo act as teacher of the 6th and 7th graders was yesterday. Both of these, the Jewish Studies and the religious school class weighed on me. In both cases I had the full responsibility for them and that old bugger, what if things don’t go well and what can I do to take make sure that they do syndrome. Not a bad thing under normal circumstances, even ordinary, but in these two instances I felt exposed, reluctant. I suppose it was garden variety anxiety, but it clouded my days for a week plus.

Tara teaching Hebrew with my class

Tara teaching Hebrew with my class

When I went to H-Mart with SeoAh, I picked up ingredients for an Israeli salad. I had collected stories of loving-kindness, made a plan for using them. When I got to CBE, the vegetable dicer came out, a knife from the drawer and I got to slicing and dicing. Red pepper. Crunch. Whack. Roma tomatoes. Deseed, cut. Whack. Crunch. Persian cucumbers. Garlic. Parsley. Whack. Whack. Whack. A little olive oil, some lemon juice, a bit of mint. Toss. All the time I was talking to Leslie, a retired architect and city planner. She wanted to know how Kate was doing. The conversation veered to art. Leslie’s a docent at D.A.M., the Denver Art Museum. She offered to sponsor me when the next docent class comes up.

The kids began to come in. Isaac and his brother from the charter school up the hill. Sam from gymnastics. They trickled in, signing their names in Hebrew as an attendance check. Ryan, always on Ryan, came in with his mischievous smile. Robbie, tall Robbie. Charlie Mulvihill, whose bar mitzvah is on the 16th of February. Gwen. Liya. Jordan and Adam. Aaron. Gabe, who keeps bees with his dad, Dan.

Ryan, Tara, Liya

Ryan, Tara, Liya

The class went well. The kids were attentive during a discussion of loving-kindness. I read stories of kindness from within the Jewish tradition and asked them to match me story for story. Soon they were pulling out stories from movies, books, their personal lives. Several mentioned Hunger Games. Witness. Wonder. One girl bought her sister a toy her sister couldn’t afford. Another gave $20 he’d received for toys to a homeless man. Tara, the director of religious education, then came in and did a Hebrew class on chesed, loving-kindness, reinforcing what we’d experienced from stories.

At 5:30, we start at 4 and finish at 6, they’d been so responsive, I suggested we play games. These are 6th and 7th graders and they have a lot of energy. They come to religious school directly from school so they’ve also been behaving all day. Fortunately we have the whole carpeted social hall for our class. We played (yes, I got down on the floor, thank you work outs) duck, duck, goose. Statue. And zap, the rules of which I never understood. At 6 they weren’t ready to leave.

My point in recounting this is to say why I continue to do these things. They bring such joy, if I can manage my anxiety. Which I usually can. With a little help from Zoloft, years of analysis, and a generally positive disposition. It’s a balance, taking responsibility and living a retired life. It can, and does, get out of whack like it has for me recently. When other matters keep up a drumbeat of stress and vigilance, the teeter totter can suddenly take a dive.

A good class, for example, reminds me why I put myself out there. Sheer joy.

 

The Four Elements

Winter                                                                                        Waxing Moon

jan-van-kessel-the-elder-allegory-of-air

jan-van-kessel-the-elder-allegory-of-air

Every once in a while up here on Shadow Mountain, winds. Today, and they haven’t gotten fully underway yet, I’ve already heard gusts that my anemometer clocks at 40 mph. I imagine we’ll see 60 later. Glad it’s not Wednesday, trash day, when we have to put our trash and recycling containers out near the road. I chased a run away trash container last year. It got past the neighbors before I caught up with it.

Reminds me of the meditation Deborah did. She focused on this coming week’s parsha, but she utilized breathing techniques learned from her studies in Sufism. There are four breaths. Inhale through the nose, exhale through the nose. Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. Inhale through the mouth, exhale through nose. Inhale through the mouth, exhale through the mouth. Each breath corresponds to one of the four ancient elements: earth, water, fire, and air.

(This is Maxwell Falls, about a mile and a half from our house)

Up here in the Rockies the four elements are ever present. The mountain itself. The mountain streams. The ever present threat of wildfire. The wind. In the mountains it’s not difficult to follow the logic that these elements were responsible for everything we see.

Fire mitigation, first tree cut

Fire mitigation, first tree cut

Did the third Jewish Studies Sampler Sundays yesterday. Minor technical difficulties, but a great discussion focused on the Coursera offering, Israel State and Society. I felt reluctant to go in. Sparse attendance. Technical problems. Not sure the model worked. Coming home though I felt again the warmth of CBE, felt good to be supporting the synagogue. It was the folks who showed up: Marilyn, Irv, Stan, Deborah. Engaged, bright, quick.

Zoom yesterday with Tom, Bill, Mark, Paul. It’s good to be able to talk back and forth, to see each other. The miles become irrelevant. So much of interest going on, very nourishing to follow how friends confront challenges, respond to opportunities.

I’ve allowed myself to focus on Kate, on our domestic matters since September 28th, date of her bleed. That has, at times moved me away from writing and exercise, two core activities for me. Back to the exercising, going to push it a bit by adding back in cardio on the non-resistance days. Want to get to writing the new novel, but it’s still gestating. I don’t have a foothold yet on where to begin. That will emerge. Painting and astrology, still pretty new in my world, have allowed me to have time off, to wander down new ancientrails, see the sites.

 

 

Seeking the myth beyond reason

Winter                                                                             Waxing Moon

ta phrom

ta phrom

A year theme. I mentioned buddy Paul Strickland’s choice: Bumping into Wonder. A few resolute type sentences* laid out some trails I want to follow in the new year, trails I’m already on, none of them new.

If there’s a thread underlying them, I don’t see it. There is, however, a potential theme occasioned by my reading of Cosmos and Psyche. In it Richard Tarnas taught me that skepticism is a tool, not a lifestyle. He chooses to deploy this insight as he begins an apology for astrology. I’ve followed him down that rabbit hole, ending up in a Wonderland that has Chesire cats, Tweedledees and Tweedeldums, Red Queens, and a few rascally rabbits.

enchanted aliceWhat I’m seeking in Wonderland is a synthesis Tarnas contends is necessary for us now, a different sort of Great Work than Thomas Berry’s, yet related to it, I think. Berry, if you recall, said that the Great Work of our time is the creation of a sustainable human presence on earth. Not goin’ so well. Tarnas wants to take the ancient, ensouled universe that prevailed until the Enlightenment, mash it into the disenchanted universe occasioned by rationalism and the hegemony of science, and come up with a Hegelian synthesis that can move us out of the stuck place created by their tension.

Ensouled and disenchanted, the sequel. Living into the next. Curing metaphysical skepticism. Myth and reason, together at last. Seeking a new enchantment. (note: not a re-enchantment since that implies a return to the old ensouled universe.) This is hard. These two worldviews are so far apart it’s difficult to see the path forward, past them.

Not there. Hmm. Mining for ohr. That’s not bad. Ohr = the primordial light of creation now inhabiting every thing in the universe, fractionated, but wanting to be whole. Dreaming a new world. Also not bad. Seeking a new ancientrail. Well, these are a start.

Unergründlich (The Unfathomable), 1874.

Unergründlich (The Unfathomable), 1874.

Seeking a myth beyond reason. I like that. Might be it.

*Eat no processed meats. Write new novel. (primal ensouled universe/enlightenment disenchanted universe. Next?) Keep painting, learning more techniques. Back to 3 days resistance, 3 days cardio. Learn how to read birth charts. Become a better teacher. Cook Korean and salt/fat/heat/acid. Continue kabbalah and mussar. Hike.

Crullers, Empanadas, Goddesses, and Mussar

Winter                                                                                Waxing Moon

20190104_104318_001Made a big circle yesterday. Drove into Denver on 6, a six lane version of 6th Street between hwy 470 and Santa Fe. Wanted to try LeMar’s Donuts since Kate needs weight and likes donuts. It’s right at the intersection 6th and Santa Fe. I like Bismarck’s and crullers, Kate prefers original glazed. The Bismarck at LaMars was about twice the size of the usual. It was quiet there, mid-morning, after the before work rush. This picture is the counter.

Maybe 6-8 blocks further on 6th is Broadway. Turned right and headed south toward Louisiana Street. Broadway is fascinating. After it passes under I-25, just north of Mississippi, you could call it the Green Mile thanks to the number of dispensaries between there and Englewood. There are also funky bars, used bookstores, antique shops, design studios. Meiningers, the art supply store I mentioned earlier and the Wizard’s Chest, a magic and costume shop fit right in. At Louisiana sits Maria’s Empanadas.

cookingKate wanted more mushroom empanadas, corn, and spinach. Lisa Gidday, our internist, had recommended the spinach. “Your new favorite food.” I got an Argentina which has steak, onions, and red peppers.

The woman behind the counter had a very thick accent, Argentinian, I assume. Even with hearing aids accents often defeat me and with the ambient noise, we had difficulty communicating. I hope, in these situations, that I don’t come off as insensitive because I keep asking, “What?” The bill was more than I expected, but after my discomfort with our interaction, I just paid.

I have the same frustration with Vanessa. She’s a member of our mussar group at CBE who has MAS, a neurological disease that makes it very difficult for her to speak or swallow. It is, for her and me, a perfect storm. She can’t speak very well and I can’t hear very well. Third phase life.

20190104_112922As I drove further on the Green Mile, I came across Goddess Isis books. I thought it was on Colorado. I’d always wanted to stop and this was my chance. I’d accomplished my errands and had some free time.

Goddess Isis books used to be Isis books, but the turmoil with Daesh, or Isis in Iraq and Syria, occasioned the name change. Isis has books on astrology, Celtic magic, love magic, shamanism, Hinduism, chakras, a wall full of different Tarot decks, multiple statues and figures ranging from dragons to Kali to cutesy fairies. There’s also a magical apothecary with jars not of herbs or granola, but ingredients for spells.

I picked up Indian Temple Incense, a coloring book of the Tarot deck (to implant those images in my mind), and a magazine called Witches and Pagans. Wanted to see what the broader community was thinking. When asked how I was doing  by the owner, an older woman in a flower print dress with a flowing outer cover, I replied, as I often do, “I think I’ll make it.” She laughed and said, “I know I will.”

Our mussar groups sponsored a potluck last night. First time I’d been to CBE in a while since religious school shut down for the holidays. Lot of questions about Kate. “She’s improving, but had a setback the last couple of days.”

Still strange to me to be picked out as one of the mussar leaders, but I was, working with a small group to talk about the middot of responsibility. A quick example of how mussar works. When it came my turn to read, I had a long paragraph with a lot of Hebrew. I felt shy since the others all did much better than me at pronouncing it. And, I was leading.

Had a cruller after I came home. Unusual, but hey, it had been a long day.

 

 

2018

Winter                                                                         Stent Moon

January 2018

January 2018

Buddy Paul Strickland, living in Maine very close to New Brunswick and the Bay of Fundy, has a year theme: Bumping into Wonder. I haven’t discussed it with him so I’m not even sure what a year theme is and I don’t know why he chose random acts of amazement. (though it’s a wonderful idea)

But. I like the idea of a year theme. Our men’s group, The Woolly Mammoths, of whom Paul and I represent two-thirds of the diaspora from Minnesota/Wisconsin, often had year themes. Pilgrimage. Mothers. Fathers. Like that.

Numa's Janus Temple on a Neronian coin

Numa’s Janus Temple on a Neronian coin

Not sure I’m ready to declare a theme quite yet. Maybe later today. I am inviting Janus to take up residence with my psyche for today only. Today is the gate of my Numa shrine. It closes at midnight until February 14th when it will swing open again for a day. I’m putting on the backward looking face and the forward looking one, try to see the last year as it was and the next year as I hope it can be.

At the VRCC, Jan. 2018

At the VRCC, Jan. 2018

 

2018. September 28th was the date of Kate’s bleed and the events since then dominate my thinking about 2018. The misery of Kate’s illness the nausea, cramping, weight loss, and food aversion existed, and worsened, over the whole year.

She was not the only one in the family with intestinal issues. Rigel had begun losing weight in 2017 and we feared liver cancer. A visit of to the Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Hospital however found she had an allergy to chicken proteins. We shifted her to rabbit based food and she began to thrive. A year later she’s bounding around the yard like a puppy. At 9 years old. Very old for a large sight hound.

Rabbi Jamie and Kate, Purim

Rabbi Jamie and Kate, Purim

In February Kate went on a quilting retreat at the Liar’s Lodge in Buena Vista. The drive out was a joy, all the way across South Park, the high plains, past the headwaters of the Arkansas river and into the Collegiate Range which rises to the west of Buena Vista. At Purim Kate got into the spirit of the day and dressed up in the coat of many colors she made for our youngest.

 

Kate’s shoulder surgery in March marked the end of a sleep wrecking, daily life function disrupting arthritic shoulder joint. We met Dr. Schneider, an orthopedic surgeon, and a helluva good guy. He would not be the only surgeon we met in 2018, but the work he did ended a source of constant pain for her. I was deep in my third kabbalah class, this one focused on Hebrew and its mystical qualities. Since I was already playing with sumi-e, I focused on creating Hebrew letters with Japanese brushes, pairing them with quotes focused on that letters deep meaning. I also got to use my chop bought in Beijing in 1999.

Kate at Domo

Kate at Domo

Both Ruth and Gabe are April babies. Ruth on the 4th and Gabe on Earth Day, the 22nd. Ruth loves Domo, the rural Japanese restaurant in Denver, so we took both of them there. SeoAh came out to help with Kate’s recovery, a gift she would give us twice more in the year. The Sjogren’s Foundation had its annual conference in Denver, so Kate went. Gabe was at Children’s Hospital for an operation occasioned by a port problem. April is also an annual art show by art teachers in the Aurora School District. Yam Hashoah, a holiday added to the Jewish liturgical calendar after the holocaust, fell in April. A wonderful ballet memorialized the day at CBE.

Rabbi Shapiro at Alan and Cheri Rubin's, talking about his book, Holy Rascals

Rabbi Shapiro at Alan and Cheri Rubin’s, talking about his book, Holy Rascals

More lumberjacking in May. There was still some fire mitigation to do and I wanted to clear a spot for an outdoor room. Kate recovered well from her shoulder surgery and was able to attend a CBE sponsored tour of the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit at the Denver Museum of Natural History and Science. May also found controversial Rabbi Rami Shapiro at CBE as a visiting scholar. An important, iconoclastic figure in the Reconstructionist movement (and, therefore, Judaism as a whole) Rami considers himself a Holy Rascal and has a book with that title, among many he’s written.

 

Leaving for Durango

Leaving for Durango

Visiting ancient pueblo dwellings at Mesa Verde with buddies Paul Strickland, Tom Crane, and Mark Odegard was the highlight of June. We stayed in Durango and Mark bought his first legal marijuana in a dispensary there. Our hotel was on the Animas River, recently of Gold King mine spill fame, was running blue and clear. In 2015 it was a sickly mustard color. I finished my fourth kabbalah class with a sumi-e enso drawing exercise for my project. Somewhere in this time period Alan Rubin asked me to co-teach the 6th and 7th grade B’nei Mitzvah class in CBE’s religious school.

ICE detention facility, Aurora

ICE detention facility, Aurora, July

Never written a lesson plan. Started in June, continuing in July. Alan and I started almost weekly meetings, our goal: plan a full year of classes. We did it, though we didn’t finish until late August, just before CBE’s religious school began. Some more lumberjacking, continuing the earlier work. After a powerful presentation on the detention and fragmentation of refugee families by ICE, Kate and I decided to join other Jews from the Denver/Boulder area in a protest outside a Geo detention facility in Aurora. The wonder of it (bumping into wonder, eh?) was rainbow which came to earth right over the detention facility.

Lake Minnetonka. Tom's boat

Lake Minnetonka. Tom’s boat

I’ve been back to Minnesota only twice since we moved. Once in May of 2015 for an annual Woolly Retreat near Ely and August, 2018. Groveland UU invited me back to speak at their 25th anniversary.  I took the opportunity to visit old haunts: everywhere I lived in Minnesota, except for the Peaceable Kingdom near Nevis, the Walker and the MIA, neighborhoods and restaurants in both St. Paul and Minneapolis. Also connected with Tom and Bill, plus other Woollies, and some docent friends at a small jazz club listening to Hoaxer, fronted by Grace Goggin’s son.

 

20180928_070847

ER, Sept. 28

September started with the Days of Awe at CBE. Kate and I helped set up and serve the Board’s luncheon during Rosh Hashanah and attended Kol Nidre, then Yom Kippur. It was also the start of the religious school and I had my first encounter with a class of bright Jewish tweens. Oh, boy. I felt exhausted after that class.

The big event though held off until nearly the end of the month. “I’m bleeding.” This at 5:30 a.m. Didn’t know it then, but this was the start of a month away from home for Kate, two weeks at Swedish Hospital and two weeks at Brookdale Rehab. The three days left in September found her in the E.R., then on the 8th (surgical) floor. She had several units of blood, a colonoscopy, a nuclear imaging study of the bleeding, an attempted embolization of the bleed site which failed, and finally a decision to cut out part of her large bowel as the likeliest source of the bleeding.

20181030_121656

Kate at home wrapped in the friendship quilt made by the Bailey Patchworkers

Institutionalization. That was October for Kate. Ten units of blood. Post-surgical disorientation. Deep pain. Nights in a hospital bed, days ruled by hemoglobin results, morphine, and a slow, often literally painfully slow, recovery. Gastric tube for feeding. Slowly back to solid foods. Then, not home, but off to Brookdale, a home, a very nice one, but one that would reveal the limits of even a well-appointed place. She had to learn to walk on her own again, though with the aid of a walker. She did get her diet back to sort of normal.

Installing the new pump

Installing the new pump

SeoAh came again, driven here by Joe with Murdoch. She stayed two weeks and made life much easier for both me and Kate. She cooked, cleaned, smiled, laughed. A joy to have around. One evening she came down and said, “Charlie. There is no water.” What? Sure enough. No water. Kate home now, but still in recovery. Perfect. Quick diagnostics the next day showed it was the pump for our well. And so we have a brand new stainless steel pump installed by the folks at Living Waters.

Near the end of October I went into Dazzle Jazz to hear Frannie and the Jets. Frannie is Alan Rubin’s daughter and this was, at 22, her swan song as a jazz singer. It was a touching evening.

20181022_174724

SeoAh on right. Birthday party at Brookdale. Oct.

SeoAh stayed into November. The bad news in November was that all the medical care Kate received after her bleed had done nothing for her nausea, cramping, and food aversion. She was miserable and weak from the weeks at Swedish and Brookdale. The nausea and cramping meant she couldn’t keep down enough calories to gain weight, even slipping back some.

Jon’s big news in November was an arrest and subsequent court appearances on a violation of a court order charge. I went with him both times, at the preliminary hearing and the hearing where he entered his guilty plea. Gabe had his fifth grade choral concert and because of the restraining order changes made in the last hearing, Jon couldn’t attend, so I went to represent him.

Kate and the machine

Kate and the machine

The good news in November came near the end of the month. After another round of visits to our internist and to Kate’s G.I. doc a last round of imaging studies was ordered, sort of a last gasp. She had two studies, an ultrasound sonography of the arteries feeding her bowels and a small bowel follow through study which checked its efficiency. And there it was at last! A diagnosis. The ultrasound picked up a stenosis, narrowing, in the superior mesenteric artery. A narrowing of this vessel can lead to nausea, cramping, food aversion, and weight loss.

Some frustration after the diagnosis. We saw an interventional radiologist who confirmed the stenosis and offered a procedure, a catheter placed stent in the effected artery. A couple of weeks passed and nothing happened. We decided to push. After a round of phone calls and e-mails, we got a date for the procedure in January.

Our Korean angel

Our Korean angel

Then, on December 19th Kate turned to me in bed and said, “I have news.” An hour later we were once again in the ER at Swedish. She’d had another bleed and determined not to let it to the point it had in September. This one stopped and there was no recurrence. She went again to the 8th floor, this time of observation. After two days of observation, the interventional radiologist decided to go ahead and place the stent while she was already in the hospital. Dr. Mulden positioned the stent without incident on the winter solstice, four years to the day after we moved here.

Going for calories

Going for calories

SeoAh and her husband came for the holidays as they had planned. She’ll be here for another two weeks, maybe three. Their support, and hers in particular, has made this whole unfortunate mess bearable for us. She deserves, and gets, our deepest gratitude.

The nausea and cramping after eating has stopped. The food aversion may take a while to reverse, but Kate’s eating better now. It took a long time for her to decline to her current weight and it will take a while to get it back. She’s visibly less stressed and happier, though still pretty tired.

 

 

Hark, The Herald Angels Sang…

Winter                                                                                    Stent Moon

20161203_083509

Happily in pain.    2016

ChristmasNot long after my December 1st, 2016, knee surgery, I had an odd moment. It was Hanukkah. Gabe and Ruth were plowing through their presents, and I sat on the couch, my leg up and some combination of pain meds circulating, morphine and oxycontin, I think. Ruth lit the menorah. A sudden, overwhelming (undoubtedly drug accelerated) sense of dislocation came over me. Sadness, too. What was I doing in this house? No Christmas tree. No decorations. This exotic holiday had pushed all that away and left me on the outside.

It was true nostalgia.* And it was painful. I swirled down, feeling a deep longing to get back to the seasons with which I was familiar. To push away this foreign intervention. To put myself under the Christmas tree on 419 N. Canal Street. All the way back. Not Colorado. Not Minnesota. Not Wisconsin. Indiana. An old fashioned, true to my culture Christmas.

Meanwhile Gabe was click-clacking a Rubik’s cube. Ruth held a money jar Kate had made for her. A fire crackled in the fire place and the menorah burned quietly on the dining table. No one knew I was somewhere else, sometime else. Here’s something from that day’s post:

                                                   2016

The Christmas spirit that still flows around this secular, pagan heart saw them. (Hanukkah presents) And rejected the moment. What followed was a period of dislocation, the closest analogy I can give is culture shock.

What was I doing in this house with this holiday underway? Mom, Dad, Mary and Mark rose up. I missed them all, a lot. Further the friends from Minnesota. Why was I here in cold Colorado, in the mountains, when my family and friends were dead or far away?

Having experience with the not so subtle influence of drugs on the mind, I knew this was both a false response and a true one. It was false in that I loved these kids, Kate, Jews all, and had begun to get more involved at Congregation Beth Evergreen. It was true in that Christmas spirit is a real thing, a tangible and mostly positive emotional state engendered by the church, by family, by memories of Christmas past, and, of course, by your favorite retail establishments. And at that moment I missed it.

Two years later the knee is fine, better than fine actually. I’m not using any drugs. (except at bedtime) And I’m much further along in the assimilation process I mentioned a few posts ago. My peri-Jewish identity has congealed around my membership at CBE. I’m part of a community I love, surrounded by people who love us and have shown that over and over again in the last few months. Love is a verb, after all.

Angelic host proclaiming the wonder of your birth

               Angelic host proclaiming the wonder of your birth

Last night was the night before Christmas. Today is Christmas day. The festive part of the day will be the big meal at noon and seeing Jon, Ruth, and Gabe at 2 pm. I’m ok with that. It feels like the right amount of celebration for us.

So. Christmas now has two components. One is much more tempered nostalgia than I felt in December, 2016, a warm spot from days now gone by. The second, and more important to me, is as a festival of incarnation, a celebration of the divine and human mixed inextricably together. As the bells ring out this Christmas day and churches the old familiar carols play, I’ll recall the folks I love, the animals I love. I’ll see past the mundane and look into their souls. There is the ohr. There is the divine. There is the sacred. And guess what? When I look in the mirror, I see the same thing.

*”…the term was coined by a 17th-century Swiss army physician who attributed the fragile mental and physical health of some troops to their longing to return home — nostos in Greek, and algos, the pain that attended thoughts of it.” The Guardian, Nov. 9, 2014

The Sacred Marriage

Winter                                                                            Stent Moon

ohrOn the drive over to Tony’s Market to pick up Christmas dinner I got to thinking about ohr, the shards of divine light kabbalists believe actually make up the known universe. When I bow to the divine light in you and you bow to the divine light in me, we say that makes sense in that framework. So there can be the ohr, the light of the divine blasted apart at the moment of creation; but, I thought, there’s also the more immediate light, that of the sun.

It’s correct in every important way to say our life spark comes from and looks back to the sun. Photosynthesis creates the food we eat, whether at its primary source in plants or in a secondary source like meat. So the divine light could also be solar, the power of the fusion engine that is our star.

More and more I see the divine sun in sacred marriage with the holy goddess, mother earth. It is through the constant and intimate play between these two that all life emerges. In this sense then the celebration of the incarnation observed tomorrow can be seen as a holiday created to honor us as children of the sun and the earth. Of course, not just us, but all of the animate creations here.

We differ from the rest of the animate world, as far we know, primarily in our capacity to know our creators, the creature knowing the creator, or, said another way, the creators looking on themselves through their creation.

sacredIt is this dance, the days of the dancing star, that we are thrown into this world to execute. Sure, you could take this and conclude a scientistic flat-earth humanism, minus the divinity, but it seems to me you end up in the same place with a reductionistic refusal to see the simcha, the joy, of life as part of, not separate from. It is the bondedness we have with our star and our planet which is divinity, we are part of a dialectic between power and fertile elements, a fruit, in fact, of its creative tension.

Sure, you could also take this perspective and place a whole pantheon in and around it. Aurora. Shiva. Mithras. Yahweh. Even baby Jesus. But I believe it is this pair, this vital union of star and planet that both makes us and teaches us about our sacred relationship to the whole universe through the example of their intimacy. I see no need to add more deities though I don’t think it hurts. Not exactly. As long as we keep our hearts on the source, we can names its elements as we wish. That creative and destructive nature both sun and earth have. Sure, Shiva. The still point, the apparent stability of the earth below, the mountain above, the ocean spread out. Vishnu. The sun appearing as the earth turns on its axis. Aurora. The dangerous interplay among humans and among humans and the rest of the creation. Yahweh. Your presence as a manifestation of this sacred marriage? Jesus.

I come back now to the Great Wheel, that cyclical turning of mother earth around her sol, how it reflects our lives as they grow and change. It is the great scripture in which we can read of our gods, know their moods, and how we can celebrate their deep meaning in our lives. Blessed be.

Assimilating. In reverse.

Winter                                                                           Stent Moon

Black Mountain, this month, from the loft

Black Mountain, this month, from the loft

Sol Invictus has risen, not daunted by the long night. Unconquerable, life giving, a true light for our world. Black Mountain and its lodgepole pine, its groves of aspen, its slashes of ski runs is visible against a bright white clouded sky. A great wakin’ up morning if you’re a devotee of the two who give us life, Sol and Gaia. Blessed be.

Wanted to make a quick note of something I realized the other day. Assimilation. Assimilation assumes, correctly I think, that each culture is a semi-permeable membrane. Varying levels of porosity create more endogenous, more exogenous groups. Our immigration debate, for example, is an attempt to adjust the degree of porosity of American culture. One side wants less permeability and that only under strict expectations of full assimilation. The other side wants more permeability and a recognition of the vitality that blending and mixing of cultures engenders.

Inside subgroups of a dominant culture, say Latinos in the U.S., Jews in the U.S., for example there’s always a tension between maintaining group norms, those things that keep the subgroup distinctive and recognizable, and the necessity of living and working and loving in a culture different from their own. This is neither bad nor good, it just is. As I understand the American experiment, we’ve intended a greater level of porosity than most other nations, defining ourselves by the American Dream:  “The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, the set of ideals (democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity and equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, as well as an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers.”  wikipedia

An ancestor who lived almost two hundred years after Richard Ellis arrived

An ancestor, Demick Ellis, who lived almost two hundred years after Richard Ellis arrived (1888)

I love China towns, Korea towns, Japan towns, Latino neighborhoods, black neighborhoods, Italian and Greek and Russian neighborhoods. African restaurants, Cuban restaurants, Japanese restaurants. You get the point. Jewish delis.

Since my folks arrived on these shores in 1707, Ellises, and during the American Revolution, Spitlers, assimilation has never been an issue for me. I represent and live in the dominant culture, the one which assimilates, in the dominant world power of our time (until, maybe, right now), again the one which assimilates other nations. So it came as a surprise to me the other day when I realized I had begun, under the radar of my consciousness, probably for the reason of white, long standing US family history and privilege, the process of assimilation. You might call it reverse assimilation, but I don’t. It’s just assimilation.

ChesedI’ve begun to assimilate into Jewish culture. Different from becoming  a Jew, just like Jewish assimilation into American culture is different from no longer being a Jew, my identity is largely intact, but I find myself much more aware of living life through a Jewish lens. Their holidays are now mine. Their community, mine. Their marginal reality, also mine, though this last requires a full choice on my part, not just acquiescence. That is, I choose to stand with my new culture against all elements domestic and foreign and not to retire into privilege when things get hairy.

I’m at a point in my journey where I feel no need for formal conversion. I’m a person of my own religious persuasion and Beth Evergreen allows me to give it full expression even while immersed in Jewish life. Like I said long ago here I’m a fellow traveler, but now a fellow traveler who’s close to becoming a quasi cultural native. Strange, huh?