Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Your moon shall not go down by night...

Our Sages say that it is better to visit a house of mourning then one of celebration, for there is more to learn from sadness then from gaiety.

This week I went to a funeral for my friend's mother.

She was laid to rest on a cold, winter's morning with the sun a thin rag bleached of colour. It seemed just the right weather to be buried in, suitably mournful with the faint comfort of sunshine.

Her name was once Hazel but she had tired of it and changed it to Nina instead. Like the singer, I suspect. Her daughters have spent their whole lives unravelling the threads their mother used to tie herself to them. They were so vague and flimsy those threads, yet so difficult to loosen themselves from.

Nina left when they were very small. They still remember the journalists hiding in the bushes outside their house in the hope of photographing them. Their parents were socialites of a sort, and the divorce had made the papers, especially when their father became the first man in South Africa to win custody of his children. Nina left in a flurry of Italian underwear and French champagne.

She was a glamorous, free spirit unable to bear the shackles of suburban domesticity. She smoked cigarettes with a long protractable black holder and dressed like a movie star. Nina was not like other mothers at all. She did everything before it's time and surrounded herself with artists, intellectuals and the spiritually inclined. She considered herself a Bhuddist and would already be an urn full of ashes if not for her faithful daughters.

She went through several fortunes. No sooner did she run out of money then another relative would die and leave her a tidy sum! She went on lengthy cruises and once married a man seventeen years her junior. But only for a while.

My friends sat vigil over their mother through her last days. She was frail, emaciated and in pain but died peacefully surrounded by their compassion. Nina never gave them much as a mother in the conventional sense. Still, in the strangest way they are the beautiful ,strong women they have become because of her. Her leaving made their search for inner strength and meaning an extraordinary and urgent possibility.

How strange we all are and how carefully life offers us the right questions.

Answers are for the world to come...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My hands are small

The Divine has no body on earth but yours,

no hands but yours,

no feet but yours,

Yours are the eyes through which the Divine compassion is to look out on the world.
Yours are the feet through which He is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands through which He is to bless men now.

St Theresa of Avilla

You are so beautiful

It was Saturday.

Summer was everywhere: in the green, green of the neighbourhood curbs; in the warm blue of an early morning sky. It felt like a good day to walk down to our synagogue and give a little thanks. And so we did.

Me, in my tottering heels and Mr Nielson better known as Sid, strolled arm in arm to our place of prayer. Of course, prayer is everywhere and our Amidah teaches us how to step out of the world and into a sacred place of prayer no matter where we are. It's like a bracket that we can escape to when ever we like.

But that is another story.

Mr Nielson and I chatted merrily along the way, when I espied a workman on the side of the road, plastering a wall. From his vantage point at the top of a ladder, he had a very good view of Mr Nielson and I as we made our way into the synagogue.

He wore muslim robes and a head covering. I could feel his eyes boring down on me and I expressed my dismay at this uncomfortable observation.

Lamenting somewhat dramatically that someone I had never met should hate me so, I turned to Mr Nielson and protested. 'I'm such a lovely person,' I proclaimed, 'This man doesn't even know me and yet he judges me because of my faith.' Mr Nielson knows, that like Woody Allen, I hear 'How Jew do' quite frequently, so he simply assured me that the builder was most probably thinking about other things on this fine Sabbath morning and wished me no harm.
This did little to appease me and I went into shul, all the while muttering to myself about prejudice.

Mr Nielson stayed for a meeting once the service ended so I walked home alone. There was the wall being plastered, there was the man on the ladder in his muslim robes. I tucked my head down and picked up the pace. 'You are soooo Beautiful', the man on the ladder called out to me. 'I hope you have a wonderful day.' I might just as well have gotten down on my knees and begged his forgiveness.
Instead I simply thanked him and wished him a wonderful day of his own.

Monday, May 11, 2009


'There is no use in trying,'said Alice. 'One can't believe impossible things.'

'I dare say you haven't had much practise,' said the queen, "When I was your age I always did it for half an hour a day. Why sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.'

Alice through the Looking Glass

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother in training

Even after all these years I still feel like a mother in training.

I look at the things that signify motherhood and feel a deep yearning to be more.

At the heart of that longing is a sense that beyond school lunches and car pools is a vast realm of mothering that needs my attention.

The truth is that everything seems so much easier when children are small. From the moment they take their first breath, and you gaze in wonder at their being, a simple love story begins. There are those quiet moments in the silence of the night, when the two of you share that timeless connection as you nourish their small bodies with your own. There are days when their unfolding physical mastery of this world gives more joy then can be imagined. And even when you stay up all night with a feverish child, motherhood feels like an easy thing to do...

(Then they get older!)

As our children begin to shift from that universal place of dependancy to individual knowingness, they take on a life of their own. It takes more than a loving hand to comfort them, and an admonishment will no longer suffice when they push the limits you have marked. They are interesting, opinionated... magnificant.

They see all of you.

They see that beyond your all powerful archetypal role as mother, you are also flawed and human. As they grow up, so in their eyes you grow real and being real makes mothering more interesting. More rewarding.

If you are really lucky they begin to teach you new ways of being and you will find that in time you begin to grow and grow and grow!

So today on Mothering Sunday I give thanks to my mother and my children for showing me the way.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sometimes late at night I sleep...

Mr Nielson, better known as Sid and I, retire to bed at a very late hour.

Sid says it is like having a sleep-over every evening, and he is right; being alone in our room with Mr Nielson is my favourite place to be.

Until we sleep.

Lying next to my Mr Nielson in the dark quiet room seems to send a signal to my brain that encourages thought. Deep, prolonged thought. Thought that spans the universe and the back yard. Thought that sits out on the front porch rocking beneath a black sky. Thought that knocks at the front door, that fills the kettle for tea.

Sometimes, Thought quietens itself and at last, sweet sleep beckons.

This is when Mr Nielson starts to snore.

A tractor is more graceful, a chainsaw makes less noise. Chalk scraping against a blackboard illicits less chills.

Mr Nielson snores.

His repertoire is extensive. From small popping noises that are emitted through a tiny opening between compressed lips to a full throttle combine harvesting crescendo, Mr Nielson is the genius of snore.

I manage these small nightly disturbances with a repertoire of my very own. A gentle, 'No, darling please turn on your side.' is usually my opening gambit. This may lead to small nudges following by tiny kicks. A gentle hand placed over Mr Nielson's open mouth is also employed. I have been known to practically turn the man over onto his side myself.

I used to get very angry about this snoring business.

Then a girl I once knew, told me how she used to shout at her husband about his snoring, assuring him that her favourite evenings were when he was away on business so she could get a good nights sleep. That story ends sadly, suffice to say that now the poor girl sleeps alone and longs for the snoring husband she once dismissed.

So, once I have administered a few well targeted nudges and kicks I settle down for a good long think.

If sleep comes, when it comes it's a bonus....