Yahrtzeit: Six years passed.

There are days that feel so heavy to be a human. I felt those all weighing down on me when I woke up today. Each passing year feels so different.

Some years (pauses), God, I just wrote years, as in plural. As I shake my head at the realization of the length of time, I visualized something. The distance of days, turned months, turned years feels like more and more time built between the two of us. Maybe I need to talk that one out… Regardless, unpacking my thoughts and feelings is a daily task these days.

Back to my thought: the heaviness. Sometimes humanity weighs heavy in the heart. Maybe it’s the turning of the season today, the official beginning of the hibernation period, the winter solstice begins. Maybe it’s the remembrance of what we all lost when you left this Earth? Maybe it’s the fact that so much humanity is ever changing? The world still feels frozen, but why? Maybe it’s the fact that I’m feeling all of the things I allowed to become numb?

Maybe it’s all of it.

It is all of it.

All at once.

The crashing waves. The water washed over me, and I just let it all flow. In ways, like these words. I always turn to here. Let it all out in writing. Maybe that’s why I hadn’t blogged in so long. What do we say when we have too much to say? Or if we find ourselves without the words to fully express our feelings, where do we begin?

I turned a lot to podcasts this year. Unpacking, and repacking what I’m experiencing, listening to, mulling over, and chewing on in my head.

Often I take the feelings, and I weave them into an armor of something in my mind. The fabric of this life. The frayed edges worn with time. Here I stand alas, holding onto that scarf and hoping it still warms me, even after the years have unraveled it’s thread.

Golly, I’m at a loss. I hate that. I don’t like not understanding, or not knowing. That is definitely the type A coming through…

My patience runs very thin these days, it reminds me of ice. Cracking and refreezing, and the water still moving beneath the surface. What is it like to full submerge, and feel that sting? I remember all too well that frigid cold feeling in 2015, of knowing the inevitable was coming, and I was incapable of stopping it. That’s it. Right there. That knowingness of watching the inevitable unfurl. That was the submerge, the slow spiral, and the waking up knowing.

Sometimes I turn, and I think that I see your reflection in the mirror. I hear the same sound in my voice, that I once heard in yours, and the ice cracks. Perhaps it’s knowing that all things have changed, and so many remain the same.

Humanity keeps spinning in it’s web. The universe is still shifting, and yet in the quiet hours of the morning, in the repeated numbers on the clock I have seen the: 222, the 444, and the 555’s, I think of you. The buzzing of a picture frame on my birthday. The song titles you loved, as recent discoveries of unknown artists sing. These are universal signs. The dragonflies that passed us by in Fall. The shooting star that Andy saw last week. The birds that stop, and meet my eye. All of these are natures way of saying, keep going dear heart, I see you there. These reminders repair the frays. I turn my head and the breeze gently sways. New winds begin to blow.

I cried more today, than I can remember in the last 365 days. Maybe it’s because I feel you more, and I feel you less, all at once in the caverns of my heart. Maybe it’s because the fleeting feeling of time ticking becomes ever present with the growth of these two babes. There’s nothing quite like being needed to remind you of what’s important. I heard a new song by Ashley Monroe titled, Gold, and I thought about you. Her voice reminds me of Alison Krauss. These little things help reweave the threads hanging loose.

I don’t know if I believe the phrase, time heals all wounds, is accurate any longer. Maybe it’s more like this: time cloaks the wounds, and your heart grows less heavy. Regardless, here I am. I broke a few stress cycles with the tears today. You would probably say, “Look at you, healing, and stuff, haha, and be healthy you. I’m proud of you.” I’ll go hug the babes, and take a walk now.

I’ll leave you with this Big sis:

Your son’s doing well.

He’s nearing six feet.

He’s driving now too.

Imagine that.

We all love and miss you.

The books you should see coming out in 2021, ahh, I hope you do see.

I saw a hedgehog on google today.

I chuckled aloud, and thought you’re so funny.

Leo said you wink at us when the stars twinkle bright.

I hope that he’s right.

xo,

Your little sister

RAB 2021.

Blow out the candles

They say age is like wine, it gets better with time.

I’m not sure who they are, but I couldn’t agree more. Life’s bit bittersweet with a flaky exterior. If I were to define age it would be the conscious knowledge of a number, and yet the fleeting feeling of freedom. When I was a child, I would wonder who I would be one day. What does it even mean to be? In the Spanish language it conforms to: ser, to be….

To be or not to be, that’s always the question, isn’t it? I have been an official adult for twenty years now. I am not sure of everything I have learned and how I could possibly put it into words. I think the description would need to be written as multiple stories instead.

All I truly feel is: gratitude. This gratitude for just being, going back in time to my writing of the Hebrew phrase: hineni: here I am.

Being here.

Being still.

Being in motion.

Being.

How lucky am I? I think I am similar, and also very much changed. I don’t make room for as many things anymore. I shed them like a cloak each year that I realize the lack of importance they held. Take for instance, doubt.

If I had given into doubt, I wouldn’t be here, writing, this, sharing it on the ethers of the internet.

If I had given into doubt, I wouldn’t have the memory of us holding hands in a foreign land and comforting her in the largest trial of time.

If I had doubted my gut instinct and not held his hand that one day, I wouldn’t be here with my family today.

If I had doubted my abilities, I wouldn’t have sung in that room with a panel of music faculty members judging my every move, and been awarded a scholarship.

If I had doubted my kindness, I would not have made my lifelong friend again and passed her paper in study hall.

If I had doubted my hope I would not have believed in rainbows after the storm and held both of my babies close to my heart.

If I had doubted my self-worth I wouldn’t face my fears and discuss them monthly with a trained professional therapist.

If I had given into my doubt I wouldn’t submit and submit, and revise, and edit, and resubmit my stories again and again.

If I had given into my doubt, I wouldn’t have crossed the 13.1 finish line and completed a half marathon three years after taking my first steps as a runner.

If I had given into doubt, I wouldn’t have made countless friends and spent hours at a dance studio I called my second home.

If I had given into fear I wouldn’t have a fifteen minute birth story and a beautiful human to care for.

Doubt is like your shadow. It tags along for the ride, trying to pull you back, or pull you down. But at some point, you must know how to embrace it. Remember that first time you discovered her? The shadow friend waved back, didn’t she? Sometimes doubt, and fear can high five you, just to see how far you have come, and give you a nudge to keep going.

Life is like that too. All the shadow friends fall behind, as you turn and face the light. It’s better if you look up most days. Take a power stance, and find the light of the sun, or the moon, and allow its shine to lift you up towards the sky.

Cheers to 38, the strong years, and all the ones that came before. They made me into this human form that helps me charge forth with passion and integrity.

Rain drops on roses.

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.

Blooms

Spring came upon us in the midst of the crisis that lingers world wide today. Our world is blooming while we seemingly are distancing. What can all of this mean? Perhaps an analogy of spring itself is one way to consider the current situation human beings find themselves in.

A small bud rises forth from the growth of leaves that surround it. It is this bud that brings color, hope, and joy to the viewer. Mother nature herself has been flourishing while we wait and give space to ourselves and others. Consider the following: Color has now returned in waters unseen for decades, foliage is beginning to grow where earth was once scorched, wildlife is returning to waters uncharted by creatures for years, because of human activity being ceased. Perhaps all of this brings forth a deeper meaning: when we are able to still our minds, still our activities, and focus inwards growth does transpire. I ask myself, what truly can grow with a bit of nurture each day?

Ask yourself, when was the last time you watched a plant grow? I formed the habit with my son to stop and talk to our plants and flowers every day. As silly as it sounds, after a year of doing this he will now go up to plants and say hello on his own. I chose to make this a priority in our home and environment because what better way to foster an appreciation for what helps you as a to human bloom? Our plants are the providers of  oxygen, beauty, and food. Here are some recent photographs of nature in our midst from our morning and a song of beauty to inspire your inner and outer day.

Photographs taken by, Rachel A. Becker.

Link to youtube of Yo Yo Ma and Mr. Rogers playing and singing, “Tree, Tree, Tree.”

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.

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.

start with sparkless pic 1

Unveiling your thoughts

Some time has passed since I have felt like sharing my heart or thoughts in a blog. There has been too much noise swirling around. My days have been filled with, I should’s…I ought to’s, to do lists and requirements.  I have worked towards completing these on a daily basis in both my work and personal life.

Then I was brought back to the quiet voice of reason which reminded me to pause.

I started re-reading, “The Universe Has Your Back,” by Gabrielle Bernstein. I watched a beautiful session by Iyanla Vanzant about the power of your thoughts and uniting through positive prayer.

To say that what is happening in the world at large is upsetting, unsettling, and raw would be an understatement. Death, destruction, and despair, seem palpable right now. Yet, they do nothing but drag you down spiritually into the depths of muddy fear and darkness.

One of my favorite films is, What Dreams May Come. There is a scene in which R. Williams is desperately searching for his wife in her depths of despair and isolation. He clings to the hope that seeing her, speaking to her, and reliving the positive hope that they shared will bring her back to their union as spiritual partners. He is literally and figuratively clawing towards her all the while being pulled down by the inferno of the hellish imagination that is his partner’s fear and reason for attempted suicides.

This scene came into my mind as an image of desperation while contemplating what continues to boil around me in society, life, and our world.

When I stop and ask myself, “What can I do?” I feel like a small human standing upon a mountain calling into the wind and being pushed by her force.

Yet, something brought me back from the whiplash of society, and it was my learned ability to pause, re-center my focus, and become aware of my thought process again.

There are many things that I can do as a human to help my personal energetic field which in turn will impact those around me, and that in turn have the potential to become ripples in the tide that we are all connected by.

Iyanla Vanzant called upon people who listen to her work to find something to write on consistently, a notebook or something of that sort. She asked that her audience join her and write down every negative thought that comes to mind throughout their conscious day. This act will engage your nerve endings through writing with your hands and also form a realization of just how many thoughts, and ideas you have. It will allow you to fully become aware of which ones are negative and consider the why behind the thought process. Becoming acutely aware of your own participation in the energetic field that is our world helps you take ownership over what you CAN do. This, in turn leads towards what I perceive as action.

Actionable efforts for positive thinking, positive minds, leads to positive, empathetic, and understanding interactions with our fellow beings. It leads us towards asking ourselves, “How can I become involved in my community? Who can I dialogue with in order to bridge an understanding in the discord between our belief systems? When and how can I bring change to the laws in my district? Where can I be an activist for change and how?”

Small steps towards change must start within. Self reflection and complete honesty about your own belief system, our personal thought processes, and our fears is the basis for making strides towards something we cannot predict, which is the future.

Iyanla Vanzant prayer

 

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.