Monday, January 19, 2015

Quit your whining. It isn't always about you.

I'm aggravated.
I'm agitated.
I'm actually losing sleep.

I saw the movie, "Selma" last night. I'd like to tell you I went with my friend, Allesha, because we decided we wanted to hang out on a Saturday night and we thought seeing any old movie on any old weekend in any old theater would be a jolly good time.

But Allesha and I decided to arrange an "field trip" with our respective faith-based communities because we live in New York. 
And she's black. And I'm white.
And when I saw a bunch of white Jews sitting in the street in a posh Upper West Side neighborhood in the beginning of December to protest moral injustices against the black community, I wrote to Allesha: I feel like our houses of worship have a relationship and where are we now?! We should be holding you in our arms and saying, "We stand WITH you just as we sat FOR you."

Our goal was fellowship. The occasion to come together, to continue the relationship that our clergy have been fostering for years, mostly through our annual Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. concert. 

We met at the theater, we ate popcorn, we went home. We didn't hold hands, we didn't sing, "Kumbaya," (And you haven't heard "Kumbaya" until you've heard the Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir sing "Kumbaya.") we didn't even debrief. Maybe next time. 

I had seen the critiques of the depiction of LBJ. It wasn't something I cared that much about. (I'm sorry if that offends you. I can only care about the things that I care about.) A struggle was portrayed. I had been told of the critique of the absence of Abraham Joshua Heschel in the movie, but as soon as the camera panned out over the first rows of marchers, I saw a white man with a large black skullcap (carrying a briefcase. Was that a thing?) in the front row and another white gentleman with a colorful skullcap a few rows behind.
An allusion to Heschel. 
I watched the rest of the movie, acknowledging that the man whom I assumed was SUPPOSED to be Heschel didn't LOOK like Heschel but without being terribly bothered by it.

When I got home I looked up one of the most widely circulated critiques of the movie vis-à-vis Heschel's absence and found that it was written by his daughter, Susannah. Frankly, if a Hollywood movie about the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda hit the theaters and the man we were supposed to assume was my dad was depicted by, I dunno, Benjamin Pratt...(Sorry, Daddy. Bad example.) What I'm saying is: no. There was no one in the movie who LOOKED like Abraham Joshua Heschel. There was no mention of Abraham Joshua Heschel. But that should in no way undermine the message of "inclusiveness" portrayed in the movie. The movie "is not called "King"; this is Selma." Hardly anyone is drawing attention to the "misrepresentation" of the firebombed church. 

This wasn't about us, people. Not everything is.

I went to the movies last night, in the Bronx, with members of a Baptist church. Allesha and I don't fancy ourselves modern day Drs. Heschel and King. There was no Edmond Pettus bridge and we didn't "march" into the theater. We shared popcorn, we posed for pictures, then we went home. 

Our communities will join together tomorrow night to commemorate the legacy of Dr. King. I pray that this is only the beginning. That we continue to support each other as part of the extended family that we are. That we continue to appreciate the unique blessings each of us bring to our relationship as well as the powerful lessons taught by leaders such as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. That we all recognize that sometimes it isn't just about us.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Some of us just don't have a clue.

He didn’t know.

But she did.

When my “younger man” climbed the steps to the school bus for the first time Thursday, he didn’t know he was my baby.
But the stranger watching from the street corner, she knew.
When she saw my nostrils flare and my bottom lip quiver, she knew.
She knew I prayed for God to give me a healthy child and that I cried in Thanksgiving when he was born. She knew he says, “Good morning” pleasantly every day and that he ran into my bedroom to show off his first loose tooth just yesterday.

She saw me place my big girls calmly on the bus but watched my eyes fill with tears as I said goodbye to my little boy.

I don’t know what she thought. Maybe that I was sad that my baby was growing up. Maybe that commitments prevented me from taking my children to school by myself and I was feeling guilty. Or maybe she understood my realization that he didn’t know who and what he is to me.

We don’t all know. We don’t know what we are to whom, what we mean to the people in our lives. There really is so much we leave unsaid. What would our world look like if we shared these thoughts, these impressions, these feelings with our loved ones?

The first time I saw you, I thought you were a movie star.
I still get butterflies when you lean over to kiss me.
I would be happy to spend all day doing nothing but cuddling with you on the couch.
When I’m in pain, I picture your face and a feeling of calm washes over me.
I realized my dress wasn’t fastened one day when I passed you on the street and I turned to ask you to zip me up…

So rarely do we share these pieces of information with the important people in our lives. We live life, assuming they know. But how would YOU feel if someone told you any of these things?

That your spouse finds you more attractive today than she did the day she met you.
That your girlfriend would sit on the cold floor of a dark long as she was sitting there with you.
That the neighbor you’ve known for years has always considered you stunningly handsome and remarkably trustworthy.

A whole season of birthdays is about to begin. I wonder what will happen if I make the effort to share with everyone in my life exactly what they mean to me. The “secrets” I’ve been keeping for so long.
I wonder what will happen.
What will happen...when they know…?

Friday, July 25, 2014

...And your husband's a life saver.

"Your husband saved my LIFE," I heard last week. The grateful friend was holding a pile of papers James had xeroxed for him in a pinch.
"Yeah," I said. "He does that a lot."

Let's see, here...
Go-to person for last-minute errands: check.
Trusted advisor for major life decisions: check.
Counselor for the "confused" (Isn't that all of us?): check.

OK. How about...

Regular blood donor: check.
Platelets? Those, too.

July 25 is James Lapin's birthday. For the first time EVER, I bought him a sappy, gushy birthday card. Because when your husband is the mensch mine is, sometimes it's a challenge to be all "Birthdays are like baths!"* about it.

Join me in wishing a happy birthday to one of the finest of God's creations.

*The rejected card read something like, "Birthdays are like baths. You have to have one once a year whether you like it, or not.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Tit. For. Tat. With an addendum.

This is not about you.

OK. It actually may be.

As with so many things in life, we see what we want to see, even and including ourselves in someone else's writing.

If you think I am writing about you, I very well may be. I may also be referring to one of the other 2000 people in my life right now or one of the 10000 who have walked through my life before.

Either way, here it is:

Life is not tit for tat.
I thought it was.
I thought if I called you my best friend, then you called me yours and we'd wear two halves of a "BE FRI/ST ENDS" necklace and share a seat on the bus and chew ABC gum.
I THOUGHT if you invited me to your home or cooked for me when I was sick or picked my kids up at school then I HAD to do the same for you.
But I don't.
And neither do you.
As painful as it may be, we feel the way we feel...and we're free to participate in each other's lives however we see fit. Personally, I will proofread your work, host you as a last minute guest, and DEFINITELY listen to your relationship woes ad nauseam. And, of course, care for unborn babies. But I stopped doing things I don't enjoy AGES ago EVEN for my friends. And I don't feel the least bit guilty about it.
That's a lie.
But I'm working on it.

The one thing I DO have unresolved feelings about? The "best friend" thing.
If you are my absolute best friend in the whole entire world, does that mean no one else can be as close to me as you? And if I identify you as my best friend, do you have to do the same? What if there's someone else who makes your heart sing?

Well, that would suck.
But that's life.
Let's try to make the most of it.

Seems to me there's more. So let's continue the conversation, shall we?
What's your job as my friend? Maybe that's your own business?
I'll be honest. I have expectations. I have great hopes and desires. But maybe that sets me up for failure.
What's MY job as YOUR friend? To give you whatever you need. If I'm up for the task, that's what I have to focus on: You. *I* don't actually exist in the equation.
Think I buy it? Think I can make it work? Let's see. I'll keep you posted. ;)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Why do you ask?

Ask the question to which you want an answer.
Say what you mean.
Not everything has to be said.

Call them New Year's Resolutions.
Call them personal philosophies.
Call them late for dinner.
Whatever you call them, these statements have been guiding my interpersonal interactions over the past few months.

Instead of, "Hey, what're you up to?" I've been trying, "I need to talk. Are you available to speak by phone?"
Instead of, "Hey, can you get off that glass coffee table?" I've been advocating, "Get down. Now."
Instead of, "The paper goes in the PAPER RECYCLING," I've actually just been sorting the recyclables by myself. 

Here's where I'm still challenged, though: 
People asking ME questions.
"What's for dinner? Why do you wanna know? In case you don't like it?"
"When am I teaching next? You don't like when I teach so you won't come to class. Right?"
Seriously. Blows my mind.
What should I do?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

So This is Love

I don’t think James and I were even engaged the first time his father hit me.

No, no, no, no, no, no, NO. Not like THAT. It was a swat. A slap of my knuckles, or something. I had said something snarky. (I know. You’re glad you were sitting for that one.) He swatted my hand. “Yes! I’m IN,” I thought. A few months later, my father did the same to James. It was as though he had given us his blessing.
It’s a little ridiculous, right? The things we do—the ways we show people we care?

A friend called last week. I wasn’t feeling well.

“Go to the doctor.”
“No?! Why can’t you be NORMAL? If you’re sick, go to the doctor!”

“Well, now, THAT’S not nice,” I thought. Immediately followed by, “He LOVES me.” Naturally. Because only if he loved me would he berate me so.

My girlfriend and I say attention equals love. That may be a bit of a stretch. But attention CERTAINLY equals attention…or the implication that you somehow matter to the person with whom you’re interacting. I’ve been giving a lot of thought over the past year as to how I’m showing the people in my life that I value them. I consider how I “know” I matter.

I ran into an old friend, recently. Actually, we see each other quite frequently, but some time had passed since we were last together. “Hi! How are you? It’s good to see you.” He turned towards me. I couldn’t get over the fact that not only did he think it was good to see ME but that as he spoke, he turned to face me. Whatever he was about to do (retrieve his sons’ books or dole out snacks, perhaps) was not as important as giving his attention to me, in that moment.

I could go on but I think really my point is just to encourage you to think: how do you tell someone you care? Do you call them by their name when you speak to them, or use a diminutive reserved just for you? Do you turn off the television or ignore your cell phone? Or do you pick on them, make fun of them…hit them? OK, in retrospect, those might not be the *best* ways to show someone you care. Maybe make more of an effort going forward?

The woman who sits next to me in synagogue is wheelchair-bound. She suffered a stroke more than a year ago. Speaking is a challenge for her. Communication is not. Lost in thought (or prayer?), I was picking at my nails. My husband grabs my hand when I do that. I had a college boyfriend threaten never to speak to me again. My father once “reminded” me that our religion frowns upon self-mutilation. Mrs. B. saw me torturing the skin around my fingernails and slid her hand off of her prayer book. She covered my hand with her own and stroked it gently with her thumb.

“Now THAT’S love,” I thought.

Monday, December 30, 2013

You don't get to have me.

Barbie has recently reared her ugly head. I mean that figuratively. I don't actually care about Barbie. This isn't where you tell me she's evil and bad for me and bad for my girls. This IS where I tell YOU she's a piece of plastic. And I actually have something in common with her:

I can't point my toes, either, Barbie Doll! 
Fight the power!

Then there's the Duchess of Cambridge. "Flawless" she was recently called. Is she pressuring me to look a certain way? Have it "all?"
Um, no. She's royalty, people. And, I'm...well...just no.

How about Gisele? Did she stress you out when she "multitasked?" Would you like to hear all the places *I* practiced that version of multitasking?

Forget all that. You don't have anything in common with those people. 
Forget that only two of them actually ARE people.

There are real people out there with whom you DO have something in common. 
The woman who just walked by your table at Starbucks: you both dated the same guy in high school except her hair looks a *little* better after a rainstorm. Your college roommate: you wear the same color lipstick except she's chair of the philanthropy you merely volunteer for. Your sister: it's so cute the way you teach nursery school. She just made partner at the largest law firm in the city.

What happens to you when you're with those more beautiful, more successful, smarter people? Can you still see how awesome you are? Or do you forget? I do.

Do you know what I caught myself saying to someone recently? "I could never have dated HIM in college. He was totally out of my league. Still is." 

Wait, WHAT? Hold up now! "HE" couldn't have dated ME because HE was too wrapped up with THE WRONG GIRL. And "he" still can't have me because I'm MARRIED. (nanananabooboo!) OK, maybe he is, too. But that isn't my point.

My point is Barbie's a doll, the duchess is royalty, and Gisele...well, come on, that's just not real life. But the mom with the rockin' hair and form-fitting leggings (I know they're "not pants," but they look so good on her!): SHE'S real. And I compare myself to her regularly. Even though I know I'm awesome. I've always compared myself to the "hers" in my life. But the degree to which I would succumb to pressure to actually BE like her--to BE HER--is minimal. 

I met Baby T's birth mom last week. When the social worker opened the door to introduce us, a child was staring back at me. T's biological mother isn't old enough to drink, she's not old enough to vote. She isn't even old enough to drive. I don't know every detail of every story. But we know that sometimes, young women--girls--are pressured into relationships they're not ready for. Does the same thing happen to guys? Sure. Of all of the babies I've cared for and birth moms I've met, have I ever met more than two biological dads? No.

I doubt it was a doll and it's hard for me to believe that it was a famous person who put pressure on T's mom. (YES. I KNOW TEENAGERS WATCH TV AND DECIDE THEY WANT TO GET PREGNANT. That's not this blog post. OK?) It's more likely it was pressure from someone she thought was cooler than she, possibly older and more sophisticated. "If you really love me," "All the older girls are doing it," and even "I promise, nothing bad will happen," could have all been words uttered.

Tell me, if one of those beautiful, successful, smart people in your life wanted you to do something for them, would you do it because they're "out of your league" and you're so LUCKY that they're even asking you? What would 14-year-old you have done?

It's tough to know where to end this one.

To be continued...perhaps by you.