Monthly Archives: January 2017

How Does God Give Life to the Dead?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops an illuminated cactus plant to illustrate how god, with great mercy, gives life to the dead.“I hear you have some questions about resurrection,” the rabbi I’d been referred to said over the phone.
“No, I’m not asking about bodies rising from the grave, I don’t think – It’s just one question,” I tried to explain, not wanting to take up too much time from this renowned scholar of Jewish law, philosophy, and mysticism.

Days earlier I’d been sitting in a synagogue in Tucson, at a young cousin’s bat mitzvah. A prayer book had been shoved at me and I was skimming through the translations, wondering when the service would end. I was a trespasser. The last time I’d tried talking to god was six years earlier, when my daughter lay dying. After that, I prayed to her instead. Marika’s ghost was less of a stranger to me than god. She should have been there in Tucson, sitting with me, celebrating her cousin’s coming of age. Blinking back tears, I buried my face in the prayer book.
“Turn to page 292,” announced the cantor officiating at the service.

That’s when I came across the line about how god, “with great mercy, gives life to the dead.” It was written in three different places on that page. Whoa. What did that mean? I wondered, as I read it over and scoured the page for clues. The same line appeared several times more as the congregation turned to page 48 and then 10.

Later I asked the cantor, how does god bring life to the dead? And I asked my cousins. Then there was a conversation I was not part of, and afterwards they directed me to the Chabad rabbi back in my hometown. They told him I would call.

“Listen to the voice of your soul,” the rabbi said. I’d never thought in terms of “the soul.” Mostly I write about messages of the heart. Or sometimes of ‘one’s spirit,’ which offers an intriguing other-worldly dimension. But the rabbi spoke exclusively of “the soul.” My soul. My daughter’s. “The soul that continues to live long past the body.” My “soulful need and yearning to connect with something more, with the world beyond.”

“Souls departing the world gain freedom …take on a more vibrant life after leaving the body,” he said. “Your daughter is aware of you.” And then, “The soul gets immeasurable joy from every good deed we do on earth.” What? My daughter’s soul? Or my own?

“Don’t ignore that voice, the voice of the soul… Do things on behalf of that soul. Do good things in her honor.”

The rabbi would be pleased if I learned more about Judaism, to feed my daughter’s soul as well as my own. And I may. But a small voice (mine? or Marika’s?) keeps nudging me, “What about seeing a medium? What about organizing a grievers walking group? and helping elderly gardeners? and telling someone about the cruel treatment of the horses at the stable in Tucson?” Maybe it’s through us, the survivors: We bring life to the dead.

 

What do you make of the idea that god “with great mercy, gives life to the dead”? Really, I’d like to hear. It’s still haunting me.

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Don’t Look for Happiness

When I looked for my yellow scarf I found my old pearl necklace. I searched high and low looking for a flashlight, thinking, it’s gotta be here somewhere, but it didn’t show up until two days later, after I’d forgotten about it and was on a hunt for double-AA batteries.
This is how it is with joy; if you go seeking it, most likely you will find something else.

For the last five years I’ve been telling people, “look for joy” and “I’m looking for joy.” But chasing after joy is so – graceless. It’s an embarrassingly poor use of one’s time. Even though the Pursuit of Happiness is one of those unalienable rights granted in our country’s Declaration of Independence, right after Life and Liberty, it seems like a shallow and self-indulgent thing to be pursuing.

So now I’m changing my song: don’t look for joy.

Joy is a follower. It tags along behind, or is the result of something else. It doesn’t simply sit somewhere waiting to get plucked up like a daisy. Don’t bother searching for joy. Instead, be ready for it. Be open to it. Adopt the attitude that happiness can be a heartbeat away even when you’re drowning in grief and misery.

Joy is too elusive a thing to try to capture for oneself. It’s easier to make joy happen for someone else. Look for opportunities to create it. It lives deep inside you, waiting to be shared. You may not be able to bask in it yourself at that moment, but you can still grow it and give it away.

The really neat thing is when you bring joy to another it boomerangs back to you. You end up feeling good, maybe even looking good. And then friends stop bugging you about how you should “go see someone” and “get anti-depressants.”

I know how it is to deliver joy. Even in all my sadness, after I do something to make someone else feel happy, it’s kind of like I’m standing tall on a hilltop in a gentle wind, wrapped in a warm pink blanket, watching all the lost yellow scarves and pearls floating down to me from under a rising sun.

 

Many thanks to my dauntless friend Annette who posed, trying to be joyful when she was really hungry and in pain, before I completely exhausted her.

 

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A Friend is Someone Who Likes You

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops images of birds and bare trees in winter as she talks to herself and her dog.At seven o’clock in the morning, in the small woods next to my house, there was birdsong. Three different calls: melodious chirping, shrill cheep-cheeping, and clucking. Sweet welcoming sounds. Enticed by the opportunity to talk to someone other than my self or my dog, I called out to the birds, “Hey! It’s January. It’s a freezing polar vortex. What are you doing here?”

In answer, a sprinkling of birds dotted the sky overhead. Those birds. They were all out there singing, “Bring it on” and “Together, we can beat this thing.” And even though they were simply heralding in the new day, it reminded me of Facebook where recently I stated I wanted someone to say goodnight and good morning to (which is really kinda what birds do). Then, before I knew it, right on my laptop there’d been a whole chorus of cheering greetings. Good morning! Good morning. Goodnight.

Does anyone else remember the little book first published in 1958, titled A Friend is Someone Who Likes You, by Joan Walsh Anglund? She was right. Okay, I can hear you saying those people online aren’t really my friends. But Facebook brings new meaning to the words ‘friend’ and ‘likes.’ I got 83 likes from that single plea. On my birthday I got close to 200 birthday greetings. Strangers have stopped me in the gym saying, “We’re friends. On Facebook.” And because of all this attention I’m feeling warm and fuzzy as my dog.

The days may be dark and short. It may get stormy, with winds gusting fifty miles an hour and weather advisories warning to stay home and keep off the roads. Black ice. Temperatures and chill factors dropping below zero. Blizzards. Advancing polar fronts. Pipes in the house may freeze and burst. If the birds can thrive in this, so can I. I’ll cuddle up with the dog and a mug of cocoa, and go to Facebook where friends hang out at any hour of the day or night. Together, with all the likes and virtual hugs, we’re gonna make this winter great.

 

What do you do to survive the winter? What will you do to thrive in the next polar vortex?

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Expectations

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops an incomplete healing mandala of herself and her daughter who died of leukemia.Something has been bothering me. A couple of weeks ago when I blogged about how to handle holiday stress, I posted all over Facebook, “Stay in bed with a hot water bottle…. You don’t have to do the holidays this year.”

“No way. Expectations,” a couple of Facebook friends replied. And it took a while until I remembered my many years of being The One Who Made Joy Happen in our house. Back then I couldn’t have simply turned my back on what was expected of me. I would not have wanted to. There are times in your life when people look up to you, depend on you, trust you. And when you are in that position you do what you can to keep their world intact, and you do it with grace. I apologize to the ones I offended or disappointed. I’m sorry for forgetting how important it is for us to hold our tribe together.

Sometimes you lose track of what others expect of you, or what you expect of yourself. With the loss of my daughter, I lost a lot of my expectations. The biggest one was that children would outlive their parents. There were others:

The expectation that life will return to normal. That there ever was a normal in life.
That grief has an ending point, that at some time we should reach the end of our grief.
That one day you will be the same person you used to be. That one could ever be the same person she was before losing her heart.
That the first year of grieving is the worst. That time heals all wounds.
That if I followed all the rules and did what was right, everything would turn out okay.

That I would always complete my photo-illustration before putting it out on the Internet for all to see.

So much for what we believed.

You were expecting something joyful here? You’ve been so patient, putting up with my moping through the last weeks. There is some good news: We don’t have to worry or fret over any of this. Expectations – I’m pretty sure that’s one of those things our president-elect is working hard to rescind.

 

What expectations have you come to let go of?

 

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Reaching Out

The best relief from my own grief comes when I reach out to help someone else in their troubles. But one thing I still find impossibly hard is to reach out for help when I’m the one suffering.

Last week, driving back from the airport after saying goodbye to the one I love most in this world, I had to pull off the road and stop the car several times, unable to see through my tears. Finally arriving home, I howled in the driveway, begging, pleading, praying, …sobbing into my dog’s fur. I tried to summon my courage, strength, the spirits of my dead father and daughter. I even called on god. But the aching grew worse.

“Love the grief. Learn to live with the pain,” and “You are not alone, you can do this,” I went through all my mantras aloud. I desperately wanted to go back in time, to the night before, when we’d clinked our glasses of whiskey. “To you and your adventure,” I’d said cheerfully, looking more at the ice swimming in the whiskey than at the eyes of the one I love. Now there would be no eyes to watch, no celebrating, no more late nights toasting to the future.

Empty-nest-syndrome. A hole in my heart almost as big as when my daughter died. No need to bother anyone else about this, I told myself. Don’t be a burden, don’t be a wimp. It was late enough I could simply take a pill and go to sleep. And I thought how sad it was, having no one to announce to, “I’m going to bed.” And that started the tears and howling all over again until I thought of someone who might understand. Gasping for breath, I phoned her.

After sputtering out my story I said, “I’m okay, I just needed someone to say goodnight to.” That was pretty much true. So every day since, I’ve been phoning family and friends. Good morning. Goodnight. And sometimes I don’t know anymore if I’m reaching out to help or be helped. But maybe it’s all the same in the end.

 

What does reaching out mean to you?

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