A Smile

They say, “A smile is worth a thousand words…” What a genius *they* were. I chose the photo for a few reasons; one it is was a photograph by my oldest and closest friend. Two, I need an updated head shot post life and two children and the pandemic, but I had not been photographed professionally in over two years. Finally it reminded me of what I thought I had lost.

She said my name, I turned and laughed, click. In one click that moment in time was stilled to a screeching halt. If I close my eyes I can see it, I can see it all flash like lightening out the window in the heat of the storm. I see that moment, and I see her and I see me…

The news, the phone calls, the fourteen-hour time difference, the lab results, the surgery, their visit, the return, the results, cutting her hair and her curls falling, falling, falling. Her story, not your story, but still the fall while I was running, running, running. Flying to visit on my first solo trip abroad. The anxiety beating in my chest. Waking up vomiting. Her making me laugh saying, “It’s nice to hear the sound of someone else puking and it not being me.” God she was so funny. Why. Why. Why. Why are good people punished? Is that even something that is valid to ask? Screw it. I said it. It was, it is, and it sometimes still crosses my mind. The flight home and feeling like a chunk of my heart lay in Hong Kong receiving the drip, drip, drip, hoping the life force of chemo would somehow heal the broken body. The waiting, the wondering, and the waiting some more. Time halted with the call; they’re coming home. She’s coming home. Home. What is home for them? The last four and a half months, like a count down before me. The last time we watched a movie together. Choking down popcorn. Fucking cancer. The call from the stupid company thinking that if only they had her take more of their potions it would change things. Leave, my sister alone, for the love of God. That last show. The blood on her tissue. Thinking to myself I should go over and cuddle with her. Texting, calling, and waiting. Curling up in the corner of the hospital bed and holding her hand. Gently waking her to speak with the doctor. Talking, talking, talking, they’re talking at her and she’s not even awake. What the hell is going on? Surgery, for what? No more pain, no more needles, she said no more needles don’t touch her. Losing my mind in the hallway calling mom choking up on the phone. Yelling at, sigh, a priest when he offered me help. I’m not CATHOLIC I yelled. I’m JEWISH. Wow. So that happened. I just sat there taking turns holding her hand, taking turns, and crying and praying that her labored breathing would ease. My God. How selfish could I be, I asked God to make it stop, what is wrong with me? That last moment. I see her hands; I see the soft rounded half moons on her nails. The same hands that held mine. Hands that braided my hair. That took pictures together. That passed book pages. That shared chocolate. That cooled a forehead. That taught me to drive. Hands. Hearts. Hands intertwined. I missed her smile. The audience packed over three hundred souls in the room to honor her. I was numb. I just kept thinking, I can’t lose this one too, in the bathroom praying the blood not to come. Waiting, not feeling right. The blood tests. The ultrasound. Hearing, “I’m so sorry, please wait here.” The look on his face. God, make it stop. Here I go again. Calling out to God and where are… they? The hospital lights dimmed as the drugs smoothed the edges of my raw nerves. “How are you feeling?” she asked, I rolled my head over to her and smiled, “So good.” Hobbling to the bathroom and thanking the nurse for helping me. The blood, that’s to be expected. The color stained behind my eyes. Every month I saw it again and again, and again. The pulsing life force within me that kept me alive, and reminded me monthly I had more to give, I had more to live for, to grow for, I had to reframe my perspective, ‘cuz this ain’t it kid, this ain’t it. What did she tell me?

“Hineni,” Hebrew for, “Here I am.” That was it, here I am, and here I will stay. I am not my sister, and she was not me.

Click. Click. Click.

The rush of the moment. The train station walls illuminated as the dusky lights of night descended upon us. All in a moment, all was still, and the laugh subsided. We sat to take a rest after shooting in the park along the Willamette River. Shooting one another and covering her camera with what we lovingly referred to as the camera condom. The humor from middle school never seemed to disappear between us. Old habits die hard, “Was that a good one?” She chuckles, “Yeah I think I got it, you smiled!”

Click.

“And once again!”

Photo credit to: K. Sciuto. ❤

Church

What does spirituality mean to you as an individual? I was recently listening to a podcast on, “Unlocking Us,” with the Nelson family. They were discussing what spirituality meant to them in their family and I connected to something I hadn’t thought of in a while. There are always these thoughts that linger just below the surface before emerging with impeccable timing. Call it God, call it the universe, call it what you like, but it released something I had been holding onto.

The idea of how spiritual I feel, and have felt when playing music revived itself. They say, “don’t lose yourself,” when you’re mothering. I understand how true that can be. I have worked hard to continue to be myself and evolve with each pregnancy and birth I have been blessed to experience. With each one, I have become a new version of myself.

Is it not amazing to be alive and experience all of the highs and lows of being a human? Over the last eighteen months we have all had a collective experience, and yet an individualized one at the same time. How unique it is that as a whole, the entire earth has bared witness to this pandemic and continued to revitalize and find ways to connect? Albeit connection without touching, at times, but connection none the less. However, I do think that in some ways it has come at a cost and for myself, I have realized how much I have to break away from the technological connectivity I had grown accustomed to…

I often sit on my bed and gaze out the window when I am writing. There is a beautiful cherry tree that continues to grow each day. This tree and I have seen many stages of life together over the past decade. When sitting down to write today I realized something, I am so grateful for this view. The leaves now delicately quiver in the winter wind. They dangle on bare branches reminding me of how much I can dangle on the precipice when I feel at my most raw and exposed. There is something to be said about the seasons and how much it can invoke these instinctual feelings within me.

I often analyze and over think ideas. It is something I have grown aware of with age, and also grown to appreciate about myself. This characteristic, not flaw, allows me to have the ability to be a natural researcher, thinker, and empath. I am constantly considering what I think the other being might feel or be going through. I also weigh choices heavily, and I have learned to release my worries quickly.

The act of mindfulness has been a slow process I have been cultivating over the last few years. It has recently blossomed with my commitment to meditation. Through the act and practice of exercise with a friend’s partnership on social media, I committed myself for four months to a daily ritual. It helped me realize that I can do the same with my mindfulness and take it to another level with meditation. Ultimately this practice helps me two fold: be a more present human being, and be a steadier rock in the turbulence of my children’s springs. I will be the first to admit that their waves of emotion can greatly affect me. As an empath it is extremely challenging for me to not become washed away with their tides, but I am holding firmer ground and breathing deeper now.

Where am I going with all of these collective thoughts? I’m rooting them here, in this virtual ether captured by a moment in time. It had been a while since I sat down and wrote a flow of thoughts without trying to conform the ideas or control the output.

I realized that sometimes we all just need to let things go. Let go and let God. The only thing to fear, is fear itself. What takes up your mental space can consume you, carefully tread my friends and find those spaces that bring you back to what truly matters. This time of year brings back many memories of collective effervescence for me. The act of being together, the act of singing together, and feeling that spiritual moment that you cannot explain. It may look different for me now, but the emotions still rise the same. May this season bring forth a renewed energy filled with hope and light. May we all be taken to, “church,” and find that moment where our souls ring and feel lightened by the load of what being a human means.

Lingering leaves of 2021.

The Art of Letter Writing

What do letters mean to you? They’ve always been the connection that I had to friends and family who lived far away. And, let’s face it, when you live in Anchorage, Alaska, everyone and everything feels quite far away.  My first pen pal was my Grandpa Woody. He was my cowboy grandpa who would come up for a visit every November to spend Thanksgiving with us, most years. I would look forward to my monthly and holiday letters. I loved his spring time letters too. He would write to me in his fashionable cursive handwriting that I would decipher slowly, being the emerging reader that I was. I can vividly remember opening a letter one spring, probably in late March or early April and tucked inside was a furry gray pussy willow bud that he had gathered from a tree outside of his house. The opening of that letter has stuck with me to this day. His letters are now bundled together with a ribbon alongside my sister’s letters for safe keeping.

My second pen pal was my sister. She was ten years older than me and left home for college shortly before her eighteenth birthday. I vividly remember the day she left.  The leaves clung to the branches with a foreboding coldness, brilliant maroon, yellow, and brown hanging by thin invisible threads, similar to how my heart felt when she drove away in dad’s pickup.

She would write to me weekly, send me updates on all the happenings in the lower forty eight, the seasons, the sounds, and the adventures she took. Some of my favorite letters were enclosed with photographs of her adventures or cartoon drawings she created to entertain her tiny sibling. I loved it all. I would mail her cards and drawings, long letters that mom and dad helped me spell out letter by letter. When you’re a dyslexic writer of seven, things take a little bit longer to complete. One Hannukah I received a tape recorder box with a giant speaker and microphone. I recorded a sung letter to Debbie that ended with a rousing rendition of, “Puff The Magic Dragon.” I’m sure the tape is long gone, but I know she remembered that particular letter/package and the enclosed demo. Ha! Who knew that all these years later I would pull out the letters of the past and read her words to hear her voice again. Her letters bring me comfort and make me laugh aloud even now.

The most indelible thing about a letter is that you know the person who wrote it for you, held it, cared enough to write it, and mailed it with love. It always felt like such a gift to receive a letter from someone in the mail.  I want my son to know what that feels like as both the sender and the receiver. So, letters we write together, each season and each holiday. I think it’s important to take time to think about those in your life that you care about and pause enough to reflect upon that and give them a token of your heart.

I had the idea to begin a blog this past fall, to mark the passing of time in a daily way, that perhaps our son could look back upon one day. I decided to use the voice of our beloved dog Kimmy to narrate our daily adventures together. In a way I feel like I am giving him a small piece of what I have in the letters I have kept and cherished throughout the years from family members.

What else can we draw from as humans except knowing that the passage of time is marked in human history through the written word. So I leave you with this thought: think about the last time you wrote a letter, and why. Now, who could you write to today and thank, make laugh, or draw a smile from when they open their mail box and see it waiting for them?

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Spring Thoughts for 2020.

Four Years Gone

You know what the funny thing about death is? Nothing. (Cue the sound effects please. I’m completely aware of the first line’s seriousness.)

What is funny however, is how death can make everything illuminated after the fog has lifted. By fog I mean, your initial emotions, the pain, the constant reminders, it’s the sense that comes after a storm has ceased. I would liken the passing of a loved one to experiencing a fierce storm in your own body that takes time to progress and then begin to calm.

It has been four years, to the day, since Debbie passed away. If I stop and mediate on that day, what transpired, how I felt in those moments, I am taken back to those emotions quite rapidly. Even with the passage of time, nothing can erase how an experience made you feel. I remember saying to my husband, “Now I know why people drink and do drugs. The numbness is a medication to what they’re experiencing in life. This hurts.”

Everything in life is a lesson. Once I understood this, fully, I became more present and open to facing the choices I had every day, and really, in every moment.  Learning how to grieve, face pain, and move through life with it, was and still is a journey. There are times, days, and moments when I am hit severely with a wave of grief that washes over me. I try to recognize my triggers, sometimes it’s just something as simple as a word, or a song. I find it helpful to create a visual of a wave and allow it to wash over me and provide a salve of tears. Nothing and no one can replace a loss because it is an experience that is now a part of your very core. The loss becomes woven into your story. It becomes a part of the framework that trails along with you every day.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: I have learned that I am not my grief, it is a part of me. I lean heavily on the truthful, beautiful, harsh, and comical memories I shared with the amazing person that Debbie was. Carving out an allowance of grace for my emotions and journey is essential. Continuing to learn about how the human brain processes trauma, loss, and growth has helped me tremendously be more empathetic towards myself and others.

If I could tell my sister anything it would be this:

Dear Debbie,

Thank you for always loving me, even when I was hard to love. Even though you’re not here physically, you’re always near to me and in my heart, as cheesy as that sounds. I’m using my elephant memory that you said you’d rely on. You’re still teaching me so many things, thank you. You’d be so proud of your son. He’s grown tall, and handsome and he is still really sweet. He knows how to be kind and he can be humbled by life which is key. He’s so loved and he’s doing fine. He loves his cousin Leo, who holds your initials. You’d love your nephew too. He’s a spunky, book loving toddler who is obsessed, with your Declan. He calls him, “Yea-Yea,” and tries to talk to him with every phone call that comes in. We’re all ok. I love you more every day.

Love,

Your little Sister

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Fall Thoughts

sunflower pic

The end of August is always an incredibly busy time for many people. It is especially so for educators that start their new year of teaching. For the past eleven years I was one of those teachers who would plan, prep, sweat, and build my classroom for the coming school year. Not so this year. My husband and I decided to switch roles after he interviewed and was offered a job. We traded spaces as teachers to be with our son. The largest gift in life is time. No one can buy it or give you more of it. With this being said, the shift of how a person spends their time greatly impacts them as an individual.

Thus, my time and priorities have shifted this fall. There is one thing that remains constant for me and that is the inner teacher, the guide, and the desire to share. So, with all of this being said, I decided to share more regularly, what I am: reading, what I am reading, cooking, doing, watching or inspired by.

READING:

~We re-read, “Roller Girl,” by Victoria Jamieson, I say, “we,” because Leo helped me read it throughout morning snuggles and diaper changes.

http://www.victoriajamieson.com/books/

~Currenly I am reading, “burnout the secret to unlocking the stress cycle,” by Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA. I have a hard time putting this book down, I talk about it with everyone I know, thank you to my beloved friend for sharing this work with me.

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/592377/burnout-by-emily-nagoski-phd-and-amelia-nagoski-dma/9781984817068/

~Leo absolutely loves, Gyo Fujikawa’s children’s book work:

*A Child’s Book of Poems

*Oh, What a Busy day!

*Baby Animals

*A to Z: picture book

gyo fujikawa book pic

There is something timeless about her illustrations. He is transported to the world of the babies in the pictures and he’ll pull her books off of the shelf to read again and again. He loves recognizing other babies, animals he knows, and saying the sounds they make.

There are a couple of interesting youtube videos about her work with Disney and the ethics in the theater available for perusing, as well as a great Newyorker article linked below.

https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/how-gyo-fujikawa-drew-freedom-in-childrens-books

LISTENING TO:

*Podcast: Levar Burton Reads. This evokes the childhood reader in me. I am transported back to reading rainbow days with Levar’s voice and I absolutely LOVE. IT.

Watching:

*BlacKkKlansman: Spike Lee’s film is hands down, the best movie I have watched in the last year. Do yourself a favor and watch it, read about Ron Stallworth’s life and work in Colorado. It is chilling how true to form the ideology of his experience is still true today.

*Nikkivegan: This woman’s youtube channel has really impacted my cooking life. I became inspired over summer to make a new recipe each week. Here was one of our favorites linked below! Easy potato taquitos and bean salad. Tasty!

Exercise:

Something that is a daily activity for me is some sort of physical exercise. We take two walks on average with our dog and baby. I have been trying to wake up and do yoga most week day mornings and it has great impacted my mood, outlook, and mobility for the day. A friend recommended: Yoga with Adrienne on Youtube and I love her work. One of my happy places in town is Diva Den Studio, and it is a place where I can exercise, connect, laugh, dance, and sweat to recharge my batteries.

Challenge:

I have been challenging myself to use my time more mindfully. There is nothing quite like having a young child to put your view of time into focus. This is a daily challenge for me because I can be easily side tracked, interested, or fall down the rabbit hole of scrolling. Sometimes I put myself on a fast from social media in order to refocus on the priorities I have for myself. This often times helps me to be more cognizant and truly appreciate the season, my personal goals, and the quiet times I spend with family.

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7:04

Time has a way of bringing significance to something that you never really considered in the moment. Seven hours and four minutes into the evening in 2018, our son was born. On July fourth, 7-04-2017 we found out we were expecting a child. Up until this moment, on our baby’s birthday, I had not realized the significance.

Life has a funny way of bringing things full circle. Here we are, numbers, moments and life at play later. These events roll past, the day moves by, and we look back over our shoulder at the impact these events have made in the tapestry of our lives.

I had not paid much attention to all of our little one’s numerology, but the idea behind the moment of his birth and the date we learned of his existence, is purely beshert.

Nothing can quite explain the feeling of hearing your child’s cry for the first time, and holding them close. I waited years for him to come. In the first moment he looked at me, and I at him, it felt as though time stood still, and spun around all at once. There are very few things in life that I am sure of, but one of those is the fact that I was always meant to be LDB’s mama. Thank you for choosing us as your parents little one.

L’Chaim!

Risk

What is the biggest risk you have taken in your life?

The first thing that comes to my mind is the risk to stop giving into fear and instead, turning around, metaphorically speaking, and facing it.

For the longest time I was fearful of a great number of things. These included but were not limited to: Saying no, standing up for myself, tolerating bullshit from friends and relationships, worrying about things I could not change, fearing the worst when falling ill, and reading articles about all the, “what if’s,” that could happen in my life.

Then, in the course of one month, over three weeks, I learned a lesson: all things can go wrong, shit has hit the fan, and I am still standing. I am still here. 

I attempted to make lemonade out of the lemons I was dealt. Nothing motivates you more than facing that fear and realizing how ludicrous it is to give into it. Another motivating factor is realizing how imperative the nature of today, really is. The gift of this breath, and the moment you are being given when the person you love, whose hand you were holding, slipped away before your eyes. Life never simply prepares you to deal with the tragic, it merely provides you with experiences in which to learn that you are capable of handling it, because of the experiences that propelled you until you reached the edge of the mountain.

There were a few things that propelled me into 2016:

One: My sister’s death.

Two: Having two car accidents over the course of a month.

Three: Seeing a positive pregnancy result, seeing blood weeks later, and learning that it was not an actual viable pregnancy, but a molar one.

Four: Being told that the D&C was successful, only to find out that the betaHCG results had risen ten fold, I needed a chest X-ray to make sure cells had not traveled and multiplied in my body forming cancerous masses, receiving an internal ultrasound twice, and then taking chemotherapy shots in order to resolve the issue.

Five: Going weekly for six weeks to see an oncologist and receive chemo shots for an unviable pregnancy after walking similar pathways with my sister the year before for different reasons.

Life has a way of providing opportunities for rebirth.

That was my moment.

I hit my rock bottom on a cold, dreary day in January after leaving the hospital. I drove home in a wash of tears and bathed my sorrows away. Later, I found myself still grappling with many frustrations in the aftermath of grief for multiple reasons. I happened upon a video and blog that changed the course of my life. Gabrielle Bernstein’s work propelled me to make a dramatic shift. I cannot say how grateful I am for the book I read, May Cause Miracles, and the course work I practiced. I opened myself up to facing my ego, learning from my fears I had clung to, learning about my desire for control and deciding to grow as a human and not cower in the shadows of comfort.

Here’s the thing: it is never easy to take a risk. Be it in a small change, or a large shift in your life. However, in doing so, committing to the risk will invariably provide you with room for growth. Change does not happen over night. It happens in your daily thoughts, routines, and the patterns that you pave in life.

Risk is what you make of a situation, not what makes you falter.

Learned Hate.

Learned hate.

Ever since I can remember I have identified as a human being who was raised as a Jewish American.  The first time I can recall feeling ostracized was in late second grade at my class lunch table:  “Ew, what’s that???? Why are you eating crackers and meat for lunch, weirdo. Is that like a JEWISH thing?” I had never felt so uncomfortable in my life. I didn’t know how to respond, I felt ashamed, I felt confused, I just sat there and stared. I listened to the snickers and laughter around me. I wrapped up my food, threw it away, and went to the bathroom. Later in that same year my teacher announced that I could make a puzzle wreath and paint it blue for the Jewish Christmas. This was in response to when I had just told her, “I don’t celebrate Christmas, is there something else I could make for my parents?”

In high school my sister received a permanent marker swastika drawn on her locker. She felt paralyzed and didn’t know what to do. However, Debbie was blessed with the gift of a remarkable friend and it was her friend who informed teachers, and took it upon herself to back that fellow peer up to a locker and confront his foul decision herself. She is still a heroine in our family’s life today. The student who attacked my sister was given a specific amount of hours of course work, videos, and lesson work all completed at school on the Holocaust. He was provided with the opportunity to learn about the hatred he had been taught, and reflect upon it. 

Later in high school during, “American Studies,” history class work in 2000 I questioned my teacher about why our text book had no reference to the Holocaust. She promptly replied we could discuss that more later. When we moved past 1945 in our course work I asked her again, this time after class and she replied, “If you want to learn more about WWII or the Holocaust than you’re welcome to take the next history course after this required course, but we don’t cover that in depth. We discussed the dates, the events that transpired in American history, but we don’t go in depth about what happened to the Jews.”  I told her that I felt, personally, that it was shocking and greatly concerning that a part of world history was not being covered in a history class.

Indifference.

One of the most memorable teachable experiences I have had with a student was the following:

I used to pass out math designs as enrichment work after an assignment was completed. There were multiple options for students to work through, throughout the course of a math unit. I handed a child a decimal worksheet that was next in the unit and I moved along checking in with other students. The next morning, one of the tasks for morning work I had assigned was to pull out their math design and get started. This particular child refused, the table team members at this child’s desk started talking about the reason why, the child’s neighbor responded with, “Just pull it out and work on it, it’s not a big deal.” I respectfully asked them to focus on their task at hand. I knelt down next to the child and asked if they wanted to talk about it later. I received a nod.

One on one in discussion the child revealed the following, “My mom said that I’m never, EVER, allowed to like that symbol, it’s a bad symbol, that’s what is on the worksheet Mrs. B. That’s why I don’t want to do my work.” I said, “What symbol?” “The star, the Jews, or the Jewish people star, or whatever it’s called is bad!” I looked at the child and took a slow breath. “What do you mean it’s bad?” I inquired. “Well, in my religion, we don’t believe that the Jews should like, I don’t know how to explain it, I just know that I can see that symbol in that worksheet and I feel uncomfortable.” To which I replied with, “Ok, I hear what you’re saying, let’s have you put that worksheet aside for now and we’ll have you think about it. As for Jews being bad, can we talk about that?” “Yeah!” the child replied. She continued, “Well like my people, or my mom told me that they are not nice, they don’t like our religion, we don’t get along, and that it’s a bad group or something, I don’t really know how to explain it.”

Now, I have to pause here, in my head, as Jewish person, I was extremely torn. I really wanted to respond with, “Did you know that you’re teacher is Jewish. Am I a bad person because I’m Jewish?” However, I stopped and I reflected that I did not want this to become a personal battle, I wanted instead for this to be an opportunity for learning and growth in perspective for this child.

Over the next few weeks, into months, the discussion continued. When the opportunity arose to tie in WWII, the Holocaust, and the President Roosevelt leveled reader book together into a literacy study, the opportunity for more teaching evolved. This child became intrigued by the idea that Jewish people had been persecuted. This child and their friend requested literature about WWII and children during the Holocaust. I provided more children’s literature to which they chose to read during independent time.

Later the following transpired, “Mrs. B. I had no idea that the Jewish people had been killed during WWII. I ….did you know that there were 6 million people that were Jewish who were murdered??? Why would that happen?” Staring at me with wide eyes and astonishment, the child continued.  “It’s like in my religion, being a Muslim, I get really upset when people say that all Muslim’s are bad, because, I’m not a bad person! I love Islam.  My family are good people.” I nodded my head and replied, “So then, I guess there was a lesson to be learned, we can’t always judge someone based upon what religion they believe in or practice?” To which the child quietly looked down at the book and whispered, “Yeah,” followed by, “Did you see the books we got at the library?” This child and friend proceeded to pull out multiple books on WWII, the Holocaust and Anne Frank.

The purpose for me sharing these encounters is this:

Through education, through discussion, through reading, through dialogue, bridges can be built in our understanding of one another. Human beings can connect and unlearn the hatred they have been taught.

Hatred is taught.

Hatred is learned.

Hatred is not an innate ability.

Love is an intrinsic response.

Love is a natural desire.

Talk.

Discuss.

Question.

Listen.

Learn.

Love.

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Elan’s story and Hope

Elan, Son of Two Peoples

By: Heidi Smith Hyde

Illustrated by: Mikela Prevost

On new years day I got on a kick to visit my local library’s website and place on hold books about how the new year is celebrated across the globe. My intention was to bring these books into my classroom to read aloud during the first week back after winter break. I came across the usual books I assumed were out there, and then as I continued to scroll through the website lists I found some real gems.

One of these gems was the book, Elan, Son of Two Peoples.  Written by: Heidi Smith Hydeand illustrated by: Mikela Prevost. What struck me the most about this text was the fact that it melded two cultures Judaism and Pueblo Indian into one beautifully told story based on a real life experience.

Growing up I felt that I had one identity that I truly could understand and that was of being a Jewish girl raised in Anchorage, Alaska. I understood my culture, the religion that tied it together, and yet I also learned about the identity my father grew up with. I was raised in a home with two Jewish parents.  However, my father’s identity shifted in his adulthood after meeting my mother. He studied Judaism years into their marriage before deciding to commit to the religion, study with a rabbi, and accept a new identity for himself. When I grew up I never once felt that because my father converted to Judaism it might even mean for one moment that I was “half” anything. I was Jewish. I was the child of both of my parents. I learned to love and accept all of the family that both sides matriarchal and patriarchal brought with them.

When I was in sixth grade I started having discussions about my bat mitzvah. There was one girl who went to my elementary school (yes, sixth grade was still elementary school, in Anchorage that is), who also went to temple with me once a week.  It wasn’t until a conversation at the, lo and behold, lunch room table where I really had to stop in my tracks and consider what she said in response to a question posed during our meal. Someone said something about religion to her and bat mitzvahs, and then in response she replied, without batting an eyelash, “Well I mean, yeah I’m Jewish, I’ll probably have one, but I’m only half Jewish because my mom’s Catholic. We celebrate Christmas and stuff, but we go to temple. But I’m only half Jewish, ok?”

I just stared at her.

I didn’t know what to say.

It was as if a balloon had been popped and I was left with the pieces surrounding me. I could not fathom why she would think that it be necessary to identify as only half Jewish when we went to services together, Hebrew school on Sunday’s and sat and discussed the historical experiences of our ancestors together. Being a young twelve-year-old girl, I regretfully did not question her much on the issue. When I was asked, “Are you Jewish?” I said yes, yes I am. I felt no need to clarify my parent’s identities or backgrounds. I felt rooted in what I knew for sure, and I did it unapologetically.  Why share all of this background and story you might be wondering?

I first considered this story of Elan in relation to myself. Upon a deeper reflection I considered, what this story might mean for my students. I teach twenty-seven beautiful children each weekday in my classroom. I realized when reading Elan’s story that this was also the story of my students. Past and present children that walk a fine line with race, culture, and identity every day. Perhaps their story is patterned differently, yes, but the connectivity in which I found with their stories, my own, and Elan’s was where the pulse of the matter began.

We are all products of someone’s journey. People who came before us to struggle, find determination and grit enough to bring forth lives they could be proud of and share with their children. Honoring who you are and where you come from, while simultaneously cultivating your own pathway is a gift bestowed upon us daily. I realized that my friend from elementary school’s identify was different from mine. What she said on that day was her story, her life, and her way of carrying who she was in relation to her family, her friends, and her being. I did not have to agree, disagree, or even have an opinion of it. It was not my story to tell.

On this day of all days when, Martin Luther King Jr. is recognized, I found myself drawn towards writing about this book. It is because of Martin’s words and more importantly his actions, that made it possible for our nation to have light shed upon segregation, racism, and bigotry. His action and belief in hope, a hope for change, and a call to action changed our nation. I find myself leaning towards his words and the words of so many like-minded human’s who have had the bravery to stand up and fight for love, for freedom, and for equality. My heritage taught me to, “never forget the Holocaust and what our people have survived,” to question, to read, to give tzedakah, to act with tikkun-olam, and to believe in and have hope. That’s what I’m doing today, holding hope.

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A year in the tides of grief

One year since Deborah Leah Alvarez left this earth has meant that: 12 months, 52.1429 weeks, 365 days,  8760 hours, 525600.432 minutes, 31536025.92 seconds have passed.

~Analytically speaking it means all of the information above.

~Speaking from the heart it means that all of the varying shades of the rainbow and everything in between has gathered, washed, and moved through me in this time frame.~

It has been the crashing of waves.

It is the rise and fall of the sun.

It is every first sighting of a bright shining star.

It is the moon beams slipping through cracks in my window.

It is first moments when a heart leaps for joy and falls in the realization that the one you are about to tell cannot be spoken to directly. 

It is the re-learning to accept your new heart’s layer, with all its flaws and all. 

It is the re-building of faith when seeking through the depths of a hallowed despair. 

It is the first feelings of happiness and allowing the heart to feel joy. 

It is learning that love may not be diminished by the inability of the tangible, yet transpired into the spiritual realm.

It is what Truvy said in Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

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Death has a strange way of bringing the best and the worst out of the people it touches. I have found that through my own grief I have learned to love myself in ways I never thought possible. I have learned that forgiveness is a crucial component to my happiness. Forgiveness has taught me that I do not need to seek a right or a wrong answer, but rather seek to find a state of contentedness that I dwell with and release my tethered connection from anger in order to allow the emotions to turn into love.

Never does a day go by that I do not think of my sister or long to share something with her. She was my closest friend, mentor, and supporter. What she has bestowed upon me and continues to bestow upon all of us is the love and light she shed while here on this earth. So many wonderful humans near and far have shared their love and connection with Debbie over the past year. Connectivity was something Debbie strived for. She believed whole heartedly in the fact that humans need to seek for love, education, honor, humor, forgiveness and generosity. Thank you for connecting so many of us Debbie and continuing to do so. Your rainbow touches near and far.

Through writing I have allowed myself to find solace in words that were far too difficult to communicate in person. Thank you so much to all of Debbie’s and our friend’s, our family members, her colleagues, her admirers, her blogging friends, and her supporters over this last year.

~Like waves crashing upon a shore, rays of sunshine were beamed down upon us, with which we were able to dry our tears with each loving gesture, made by all of you.~

Thank you. 

I leave you with words, as my sister would have wanted.

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For me, I leave you with a song that speaks to my heart:

 

May her life be a blessing: Deborah Leah Alvarez.