Pre-Chanukah Message

To all my dear friends,

I did not see December arrive. It may be a result of a mild and beautiful fall in Westchester this year, or it may be a result of many other things, like getting older and being the witness of too many years go by, so that perceptions of time flying increase with each added year to my bones. It may also be the result of burying my head in my own sand, made of grief and denial, anger and sadness, all very unhappy emotions that make depression loom on my usually organized disposition.

Now that the last month of the year 2015 is here, I have reached many deadlines that I will not be able to meet with confidence that things were properly done. Some of those deadlines may seem trivial to others if I were to describe them, some others we all share so those would be easier to tell and get your compassion because I am pretty sure you share the feelings.

A feeling of overwhelm

The feeling of being overwhelmed by the world, the news, the pace. The feeling of guilt when friends or family in need have been neglected, as simple as a phone call that was not returned or a personal letter that was not replied to. Their need may have been dire or just plain simple, like knowing that you are doing okay, it still feels huge to me, because I have always prided in giving everyone as much attention as asked for.

This year, I certainly failed many of you. The reason why I had promised myself to write more often became a big source of procrastination as if I wanted to write good news only, happy thoughts and inspirational stories.

After I lost my mother, I understandably went into grieving mode, with the realization that there was very little I could say or do to explain what it entailed for me. I chose to share as little as possible without really wanting it because I started to be afraid I would bore everyone with repeating myself over and over, as I have often noticed it in these circumstances. It is as if the wheel is stuck and spins without any reason, and it hurts but is nearly impossible to explain. It is a time when those who witness the process may feel helpless and pushed into insensitive remarks if they do not stick to the traditional greetings and phrases that can make everyone feel a little out of place or worse, annoyed, because who wants a constant reminder about mortality, death and all that goes with mourning?

Loss after loss

Losing my friend and choir director Kathy Storfer was, therefore, an impossible conversation. Knowing that Kathy was dying made it worse for me to share anything about my feelings and emotions because I knew of Kathy’s desire for privacy and discretion. As much as my updates had helped me cope with the end of life of my mother, I felt tragically isolated in my process that led to the news that Kathy died on Monday, November 9 in the early afternoon. There was no shock nor falling apart because of an incredibly sad and cruel fact, there was the need to acknowledge that the loss was a public one – and oh so public because of Kathy’s wide influence in this side of the world – and that the many “families” Kathy had been part of were going to fall into that intense mourning I knew o so well from my other experiences with it. It needed to be acknowledged, but it became very soon overwhelming when on top of it another public and tragic incident shattered my personal world with the terrorist attacks that plagued Paris and threw an entire people in shock and post-traumatic stress mode, so early after the already disturbing losses of the month of January 2015.

As much as the terrorist attacks had affected me emotionally and intellectually because of my sense of belonging – to a nation – to an ideal of values – to a generation – I knew of the process of recovery, of political stances. It becomes much more difficult when it comes to personal losses, like the death of Cantor Kerry Ben-David, the shutting down of the Jewish Family Congregation which I had personally opposed for reasons that a lot of my current friends in the congregation failed to grasp despite all my efforts to explain and my attempts to get anyone willing to try to believe we could follow different paths than the only one offered matched with total failure.

Like a shipwreck in the middle of the ocean

Then at the same time, all these bereavements – my mother, all that made my life in the synagogue still hold – were matched with yet another challenge that was tragic, when we learned of our current rabbi’s illness, completely out of nowhere, since he is a young, spiritual, kind, healthy living rabbi. He is keeping his struggles to his personal sphere, and we, as congregants, are left with praying for his recovery, and absolutely nothing else to hold onto, which is totally scary, as if we were on a raft in the middle of the ocean, with no paddle, barely enough life jackets, and water, and little energy to envision the journey to an elusive shore we do not see.

For some like me, this has felt like an antic Greek tragedy that would have cursed the place we once loved, the community that was built and that thrived despite several difficult episodes, until several years ago when tragedies after tragedies started to strike and shove many of us in a feeling of a whirlwind, with no happy ending in sight.

Spirituality as my Buoy

I have explained how spirituality is a key component of my balance and how it has helped me go through personal hardship, when I have had to decide of the course of my life after I made some turns that took me to a foreign place, a foreign land, a foreign territory, a foreign language, a strange maze of raising a child with autism, a demanding responsibility of raising boys without a man to partner with me in the task, and no personal currency to compensate for the lack of help in a place where everything you need has a pretty high cost when you think about it and when no regular income makes it look like a regular expense. Living in a rich country is a privilege that I am always thankful for, but it makes poverty a constant weight to drag at your feet, that slows you more than it should, every day and every night.

So yes, I can be spiritual and find solace in prayer anywhere, I need no particular place for that, just discipline and practice. I have a solid network of friends and loving family that is responsive and caring, and I lack no interactions with social networks either. Solitude should not be such a problem. I have healthy young men as my sons, and this is a blessing that can also bring pain with the fear of losing what is loved so much, and can make me, even more, tense at all times, just trying to show the more relax side of me, so that I do not communicate my anxieties and make them a useless burden to their lives.

Anger as my fuel

But I also have unsaid anger, resentment that is not politically correct to voice and I am very upset at many people for having brought some of the things that I regret are happening upon ourselves because of their own attitudes and belief systems, the lack of commitment to reconsidering their positions as part of a system that they should not have wanted to control entirely as they have done.

The reason why I am mentioning such anger, taking the risk to alienate you, dear friends who are reading this and might feel threatened by an unsaid comment not openly directed at you is that I feel the time is here for me to stop playing along with correctness, with fear of antagonizing others when in reality it has already happened all the time, and I have been backstabbed more often than never anyway. I am pissed, and I am ready to say if it can help things shift and go to somewhere else, in a healthier zone than being sorry all the time.

I am not sorry that I did not want the merger of the two synagogues because I am seeing no end to doing more of the same that took us in the first place to a place of depletion instead of a place of abundance. I am not sorry that I can claim I have kept doing as much as I could to show support and more support without asking for anything more in return, well knowing that it was going to be exhausting only, and it has, and I am at a point where restarting the engine will only take a supply of outside fuel because there is no more personal resource that I can rally to accomplish the miracle.

Light, hope, and love

I will have to say no, and to say no again and no more even more. I will have to pick and choose and make priorities, and it will hurt some if they do not understand where I want to go from here.

At the end of the week, I will start celebrating the holiday of Chanukah, the festival of lights, the Jewish minor holiday that some would wrongly compare to a Jewish Christmas time when it has nothing to do with it. My celebration is a daily meditative practice that allows me to see the light come out of darkness, to see hope grow out of utter despair, to see strength finally win over depletion. My hope is to be able to share with all those I love the miracle that occurs at that time and that goes beyond the glitter or the sparkles that I do not want to be part of when my heart is so full and heavy.

Wishing you all a joyous holiday season, and hoping to hear from you,
With love always,
Laurence

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