Chanukah. Shmanuka. Just Show Me the Gelt!

Tuesday was the first night of Chanukah and I saw this as a great opportunity to finally introduce my three-year-old granddaughter, Meghan, to Judaism. Up to this point religion hasn’t played a huge factor in her life. Yes, the “other grandmother” does take her to a Unitarian church every so often on Sundays. Yes, somehow, someone managed to slip into my little associate’s library a book about God—who happens to be a tomato. (Don’t ask!) And yes … not being such a big proponent of doing the synagogue routine myself coupled by the fact that again she’s only three, I didn’t see this as much of an issue.

I come from stock where we’re all one thing. One religion. No muted lines crossing my DNA other than the Judaic ones. Therefore, I got indoctrinated early and all my memories are wonderful memories. Memories so full of tradition, of family, the lighting of candles, the singing songs, the greasy, but heavenly latkes, and the inevitable stories passed from generation to generation. The Maccabees. The battle between the Syrians. The oil enough for only one night. The impossible turned into a miracle of light.

These are the things I treasure the most about my religion. The tradition of it. The connective thread of who we are as a people, how we came to be and despite all the tremendous struggles, we have not only endured, but thrived.

I suppose this is what I want Meghan to know. That she is a part of all that.

So after getting her all jazzed up that she was in for a big treat and naturally lots of goodies, I sat her on my knee and read to her the most age-appropriate book I could find at Barnes and Noble (mind you the selection was bupkus in comparison to all the Christmas books in full display, and stuck in a remote corner of the store that not even the salesman could find).

At first she seemed spellbound by the story as I flipped each colorful page. Her mouth slightly open, her eyes glistening with anticipation. But as I got to the end, I knew I had lost her somewhere between one of the Maccabee brothers racing off for more oil and Judah not sure he could keep the Syrians at bay. The final blow came when I finished and she looked up at me with this what the fuck? Is that it? expression and said, “I no like that book.”

She did though love the jelly donuts that followed, the cache of gold-foiled chocolate gelt, and of course the new Barbie. So all in all, I suppose the night wasn’t a complete failure. I’ll try and imagine that some small seed was planted in Meghan’s head. And while it might pale in comparison, size-wise, to the taste of tradition I experienced growing up, ultimately it doesn’t matter. Because in the end, from every experience, every life lesson, we each take what we need. We each walk away with our own memories thinking they were the absolute best. And so will Meghan.

If not … next year I’ll simply resort to more gelt and perhaps a bigger Barbie.

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In the Face of Hurricane Harvey, This FEMA Girl Will Not Be Backing Down Anytime Soon

Hurricane. Tornado. Flooding.

When I see these buzz words, the message and my response are always the same: People need help. I must go.

There I wait on pins and needles waiting for the call. A storm has hit and I may or may not be deployed. But I have to be ready just in case. I make sure my personal life is button-downed. All the loose ends, the things that need my attention—laundry done, boots cleaned, plenty of Ziploc bags on hand, my prescriptions filled, roots dyed—are tended to. Because if I go, I go for months at a time.

I am one of the many faces of FEMA. And for me it’s not just a job, it’s a calling that makes me whole. It’s not anything glorious as most folks think. Yes, I do get to travel, but when you’re working six days a week, sometimes seven, with ten-hour shifts, trust me, the last thing on your mind at the end of the day is sightseeing. Most of the places I go to anyway are not necessarily on my bucket list. I’m just happy there’s a Walmart nearby.

On Friday night at ten p.m. with winds up to 130 m.p.h. Hurricane Harvey slammed down on southeast Texas between Port Arkansas and Port O’Connor, packing enough fury and might to destroy everything in its path.

And the developments so far tell the story:

Two dead with the death toll expected to rise.

Dozens of injuries. This too expected to rise.

1000 rescued from homes.

32 rescued by the Coast Guard in waters.

24 inches of rain flooding the Houston area.

Numerous tornadoes already touching down.

We know this type of devastation. We know how cruel Mother Nature can be as she takes out her anger in broad swaths, uprooting trees, smashing buildings, snapping up flagpoles and signs from their roots like toothpicks. We’ve seen it. And most of us have also experienced it to one degree of another at some time in our lifetime to know that the worst of it occurs in the aftermath.

“We have nowhere to go.” Jake Lewis evacuated to a Houston hotel only to wake up to a flooded room and his Chevy Silverado outside practically under water.

Yes, Harvey did weaken upon landfall. Was downgraded to a tropical storm. But with all the predicted rain, it is still “turning into a deadly inland event,” FEMA administrator Brock Long tweeted.

An event, as human beings, which has sparked us collectively into action.

FEMA mobilized quickly, sending the first of many teams into Texas even before the storm touched down. American Red Cross, always a magnificent voluntary partner, has numerous mass care shelters in place across Texas and Louisiana to take care of the survivors. Additionally, after experiencing the likes of Hurricane Sandy, New York City and Florida has also sent emergency teams and equipment into the region to help.

This morning, as I write down all these thoughts, I’m deployed in Michigan assisting survivors here with a different disaster. And while my whole heart is devoted to them, a part of me is watching the news, seeing Harvey unfold, wondering what’s next on my agenda after I leave here. More than likely I’ll be heading to Texas. When a disaster rises to this level, as a person, as a FEMA person, my gut reaction is, I want to be there. In the thick of things. Doing my part for the people of Texas.

Because right now they need all the help and kindness we can give them. Even if it’s a small thing. In my world, a mitzvah is a mitzvah. That’s all that matters. God doesn’t judge.

So if you too want to do your part, you can donate to the American Red Cross by calling 800-435-7669, text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 or go to their website www.redcross.org.

To find a sheltering location, call 800-REDCROSS or click here.

To register for FEMA disaster assistance, call 800-621-3362, or go online disasterassistance.gov

 

 

Photo credit: Jeff Piotrowski

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I Went Through Marriage Hell With A Capital H

It happened one night when I wasn’t looking. Perhaps somewhere between putting the children to bed, turning off the lights, or scooping up his dirty clothes from the floor. I don’t know.

David was just sitting there. On the edge of the bed. Watching me, watch him. Before the monotone muddle of his voice broke into my thoughts with such sledgehammer words I was left both stunned and momentarily breathless.

“I want a divorce.”

“What about our lives?” I pleaded, I wailed, instantly numb and drunk with despair. “Our children? And that vow to love, honor, and protect me in sickness and in health till death do us part? Any of that ring a bell?”

Silence.

“Fuck you!” I threw back, no longer numb. The tangent now up and running as I continued to blast into him.

His eyes never left the floor. Not once. How could they? Weighted down with all that shame, that guilt that had been brewing like a storm. Under different circumstances my heart would have reached out to his. But not now. Not for this. For once, I was incapable of putting his suffering ahead of my own, because I was too enveloped in something far greater. The wreckage of a life I believed had been built upon sacrifices and commitments, and was now crumbling into ruins around me.

Enraged and trembling before him, if I had a knife I would have used the damn thing. I would have thrust it into his flesh as far as it would go until I’d exposed him for the fraud he was. But I didn’t. I couldn’t for no other reason than my body betrayed me when I needed a show of strength the most. And cried instead.

The sigh in his voice was audible, was grating. “What do you want me to say?”

“I want you to say you made a mistake. I want you to say we’ll work it out. That’s what I want you to say.”

“No. We’ve been down that road before. And too many times. No more. I’m tired. Of you, of the screaming, the crying, no sex, the endless nights we go round and round with no possible resolution in sight. It’s not the life I wanted. Nor I imagine … do you. The simple fact is things have changed. We’ve changed. We’ve drifted so far apart, and the reasons that had once bound us together, somehow have fallen so far by the wayside I can’t even remember them anymore. Can you?”

For some of us, many of us, it’s hard to admit when you’ve fallen short of accomplishing the one thing you’ve pinned all your hopes and dreams on. Especially when it all began with so much love and infinite possibility.

What happened to us? Where did it all go wrong? Questions every couple asks in retrospect. I was no exception.

I believe the breakdown in our relationships happen when you’re not paying attention to all the things you need to be paying attention to. The respect for each other. The liking of each other. The honest desire to keep the marriage fulfilled and growing in ways that remind you why you’re together. And without those components constantly factoring in or even realizing, bitterness shows up at your door. You allow it into your life where it becomes your daily companion. Burrowing like a cancerous disease into your spiritual fiber day after day, year after year, simply because it’s easier than the alternative.

There are so many valid reasons why you stay put when things become difficult. Or even recognizably unsalvageable. The children, if there are any. The money. He might make more than you. You might not be working at all and a divorce would force you to move, to get a job, or a better job at a time when jobs are scarce, changing your financial picture entirely. The dating thing. The idea of getting back out there especially when after you believed that world was far behind you, is a compelling one. You’ve aged, your body might not be in the best shape, you’re tired all the time, and after years of confidence bashing, seeing what happens to friends after a divorce, being cast off, forced on an excruciating whirlwind of Internet coffee dates, who in their bloody right mind would want that horror?

‘Better the devil you know.’

This was my daily mantra. Every time he would shut me out. When I found myself at the brink, emotionally bankrupt with nowhere else to turn. Feeling like a leaf lost in the wind.

But if that doesn’t work, that and professional counseling, what do you do then? How long do you continue tormenting yourself and those around you when you know the inevitable … is inevitable?

Sometimes the things you fear the most, the obvious things that stare you right in the face, usually end up being the things that hurt you the least.

This bite-size Lauren life-ism is something I pull out of my pocket when the occasion calls for it. And although it seems profoundly simple when held against life’s normal crap that falls into your lap, oddly I didn’t fully grasp its significance until I had sunk so low after years and years of denial that I had absolutely no choice but to see my reality for what it was. Then and only then could I finally accept the fact that I was definitely at the wrong party and you know maybe this marriage thing isn’t for everyone.

Regardless of what society tells us.

Look at poor Bridget Jones. The epitome of a woman on a mission. That scene in the movie (the first one) where she’s sitting at the dinner table surrounded by nothing but couples and one dickhead guy asks her: “So Bridge, why do you think there are so many unmarried women these days?” And in true Bridget Jones manner she smiles and replies, straight forward, “Oh I don’t know. I suppose it could be because beneath our clothes our bodies are completely covered with scales.”

Besides filling up her journal with all sorts of nonsensical crap, what does radiate throughout is a person who wants what everyone else wants. To not stick out like a sore thumb and find Mr. Wonderful. But the bottom line is even if you do find your special person and the bluebird of happiness lands on your shoulder, that piece of paper does not represent any sort of commitment or guarantee. You do. And what you bring to the table.

In a few months my parents will be celebrating their sixty-ninth wedding anniversary. Wow. Such an amazing milestone. To think some people actually do spend their whole lives together. Side-by-side mastering those insurmountable challenges. More than anything I wished David and I could have worked through the mess. But we didn’t. The truth was after eleven years, despite the trying, the love, we didn’t belong together. He was steak and potatoes, I was champagne and a vegetarian. We lacked the critical things that make two people fundamentally compatible: similar personalities and similar perspectives on life. And nothing we could have done or said to each other would ever fudge over something as decisive as that.

“Some of the biggest challenges in relationships come from the fact that most people enter a relationship in order to get something: they’re trying to find someone who’s going to make them feel good. In reality, the only way a relationship will last is if you see your relationship as a place that you go to give, and not a place that you go to take.” ― Tony Robbins

When a relationship dies, you can’t help but feel like you’ve failed somewhere. It’s natural. But you shouldn’t see it that way, rather take it as an opportunity to grow. I understand this seems like a mind-boggling thing to do — especially when you’re in the thick of it — yet I’m firmly convinced once a breath comes your way, like the loss of a loved one, it’s imperative to allow yourself the time to grieve for it, see your part in it, own the mistakes, then pick up the pieces and move on. This is the process. The soulful metamorphosis of a butterfly breaking free.

The day David walked out of my life, I was beyond petrified. Nights after the children went to sleep, I’d curl up on the floor inside my closet and cry until I was bone dry. I wasn’t sure how I would survive. If I could survive. The future didn’t exist for me. Facing so many uncertainties with two young children glued to my side, I only knew I had to. That and nothing else. So I put one foot in front of the other, taking any job I could, forging through eleven more years mired in legal battle after legal battle (that in itself is a novel), until slowly, very slowly I found myself again.

Over the years I’ve often thought that as wonderful as the concept of marriage seems, I’m more than okay skipping that whole shebang. I will though continue in my quest for a healthy relationship where deep sexy kisses, happy meals and love are the norm. Being the eternal optimist that I am.

But if I don’t find it …

Well, let me just say that through all my stumbling and picking myself back up, I’ve learned that the most important relationship I’ll ever have, is with myself. That is the one that rightfully defines me. And at this stage of the age game, like so many of us who have become set in our ways, have discovered passions you didn’t feel ourselves capable of, I’m finally at that place in the road where I love my life, love who I am (wobbly bits and all).

Just the way I am. 

 

Photo credit: http://bit.ly/2qAS2mC

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