I Am A Giver…That’s What I Am

I give…because I can…because I should…because I have to.

I give…even though it hurts sometimes…and resentment builds…bitter.

I give…even though I feel taken advantage of…stepped on…used.

I give…even though it’s hard…draining…tolling.

I give…even though I don’t always want to…because the recipient doesn’t like me…or understand me…or care to try.

I give…because I am a giver…and when I keep it inside…I become a taker…and then I can no longer earn…my worth…my right…to live in a world…that can only keep turning…if people keep…giving.

Three Yellow Tractors

The hills are green this time of year, beautiful shades of green.  Pale pink blossoms are exploding on the branches of the almond trees that dot the mountains.  The grass is lush and full.  There is mud from the wonderful rain that fell.  The red poppies have just bloomed.  You can see them from our porch.  They are hard to spot, but once you zone in on them they seem to be everywhere.  The birds fly low over the valley and then soar up as they reach the incline.  The paths that run through the mountains seem to go on forever.  The colors are breathtaking.  I see green, brown, tan, pink, red…and three yellow tractors.

They came this morning.  First the cars showed up, then the tractors and then the workers.  They came with papers that looked like plans.  The men crouched on the ground and spread the land’s doom over the green.  Then they walked over the red poppies, pointing at different spots.  Then they started up the tractors.  Then they dug up the poppies…and the grass…and all I can see now is the underside of the earth that has spent the past month drinking water and preparing it’s roots for growth.

And I feel violated.

My sister looks out and remembers coming home from school one day to find my mother at the window, camera in hand, wailing in disappointment as the tractors tore down the trees and ripped apart the little yellow house that stood for individuality.  Now, my little girl cries that no one can live on our mountains.  I sip my coffee and think of the hikes we planned and how we wanted to pitch a tent in the field and have a picnic.

The yellow tractors dig and dig and I turn my back on them, enter the home I have only recently settled into, and dream of a little yellow house surrounded by almond trees and poppy blossoms on a mountain top overlooking a bright blue sea.

A dream…a wishful thought…or maybe…a tiny spark of hope.

Why Beit Shemesh Might Mean Something to Me After All

The waiting room in Assuta Hospital in Rishon Litzion is small and by no means cozy.  The chairs are set up in a way that maximizes the seating space while inconveniencing the actual sitting process.  The TV is on, blaring from behind the seats, forcing people to turn their heads up and around, mostly in annoyance, as they pretend not to watch the mindless dribble meant as a distraction.

I am nervous and impatient.  My husband is sitting next to me.  It is too public a place for me to tell him how badly I want him to hold my hand.  I don’t know what to expect behind the sliding doors.  I’m not sure how my children are going to handle this next week.  I don’t like doing things that hurt, regardless of how necessary they might be.  I hate that I will need to ask for help and accept  it in whatever form it comes.  The fears are trembling through my body, wanting to be eased by something other than the typical pat on the back and reassuring smile.

There are two women chatting comfortably nearby.  I am jealous of their relaxed attitude and wonder if they can see the churning in me.  As if reading my mind, one of the women looks up at me and smiles.

“Hey, maybe here’s a customer,” she says, and it takes me a moment to realize she means me.

I look at her questioningly as she hefts a large bag up on her lap and rummages about.

“Would you like some books?” she asks.

Books?

“I’m a librarian at the Benjamin Library in Beit Shemesh” she begins.

“Oh!” I exclaim.  “We’re from Beit Shemesh too!”

She laughs, although she doesn’t seem too surprised.  I get the feeling she’s talked to a great many random people.

“Well, we have something called the Wandering Library.  We give out books and ask you to pass it on when you’re done.  I give books to people all the time.  I go everywhere with this bag, and I always have a selection of books for all types.  So, what kind of books do you like?”

And then she starts pulling out books and I am going through them and I am not thinking about my fears at all.

I choose two children’s books to bring back for my daughter and a Steinbeck novel for my recuperation.  After a bit of a friendly conversation, the women get called in and I watch them disappear behind the sliding doors.  I am no longer afraid.

My mood lightens up and I spend the moments leading up to the operation in casual conversation with my husband, who I can see now is probably more nervous than I was.  We part with a smile.

The next morning as I leave the lobby supported by my husband, I see the woman from the night before with similar bandages on her face.

“Not that bad – right?” she smiles and I feel a kinship that warms me throughout.

I get home, climb into bed and begin a three day journey of “East of Eden”.  I am deep in the book, away from the excruciating pain and the feeling of helplessness as my family quietly functions around me.  I read of relationships formed, severed and carefully mended as Steinbeck rips open the human capacity for love and hatred and exposes the nature of connections.

I close the book on day four and breathe deep with a new appreciation for air.

In my inbox is an email from a woman asking if I am who she met in the waiting room of Assuta Hospital, and if so, wishing me a sincere refuah sheleima.  I am overcome with the thoughtfulness of her gesture.  I think of how I last thought of my hometown.  I had lost faith in humanity.  I had seen fighting that sickened me and had decided to stick to myself and forget about others.  I am ashamed.  I want to be someone who reaches out and brightens the world just a little.

And then I think of the concept of the book, that we, as humans, can overcome our natural disposition and be who we have the strength to be, through choice.

The last word of the book I was given by a complete stranger rushes back at me with force.

“Timshel!”

I resolve to be more proactive in kindness and to never give up on the strength of human connections.

Cha-Cha-Cha-Changes

Anyone remember my saga with my health?

Here’s a quick recap: I went to the doctor after months of weakness and fatigue.  She ordered blood tests, they came back reeking of mono, and told me to rest up. (Ha!)  She also sent me for x-rays of my face to find out why I’ve spent the past five years suffering from headaches.  No big deal.  Took the results to an ENT she had recommended and began a six month process of figuring out what’s wrong.  Anyway – after ruling out everything else, I was sent for a CT scan that showed polyps, tissue buildup, narrow sinus canals as well as a deviated septum.  I was told I needed surgery.

Caught up?

Great.

Now, just so you know, the idea of surgery is absolutely wonderful to me.  For the past five years I’ve been begging my husband to somehow cut my face off and scoop out the pain.  It hurt that bad.  Scalpels scraping my sinuses is totally my thing.  I want this so badly.

The date of the surgery was tentatively set and I went about my business with the knowledge that in six weeks it will all be over.

Except now there’s a change.

The surgery was rescheduled.

For next week.  Monday.  One week from today.  I just found out.  And for some reason that I have no way of logically explaining, I’m freaking out.

The thing about Change is that it takes you from Certain Knowledge to the Land of the Unknown.  It does it fast -dizzily – and then time slows as you realize that you have no choice but to adjust the one thing you think you know best; your brain.

Brain, this is Change speaking.  Get over it.  I don’t really care what you think.  I’m here now.  You. Have. Lost. Control. 

Just Breathe

Life is….a breath.

Inhale….exhale….

…nose…mouth…life.

Air coursing through veins…beating heart…pumping blood…steady pulse…life.

Death is…no air.

Inhale…exhale…stop.

And I…cannot close my eyes…for all I see…is the moment…of no air.

Life In The Poor Lane

My hands shake with hunger as I peel and slice the three small carrots I have been saving since Sunday.  I saute them in oil to add some fat to my meal.  There are two slices of bread left.  I sit at the table, place my little girl on my lap, and begin to dip the crusty bread into the oily carrots, eating slowly and carefully.  I smile at my daughter as she munches her food peacefully.  My insides are churning with anxieties.  I do not know how we will eat again, although I know we must.

We go to the park to pass the afternoon hours.  I watch my child play with the other children and find myself wondering what foods they left over on their plates today.  I turn my head to hide my tears and silently pray for help.

*

It hasn’t always been this way.  It was easy for us in the beginning.  We both worked hard but brought home a decent combined salary with enough left over for some small savings.  Despite an overwhelming bill from a medical situation, we were pulling through remarkably well.  We worked for non-profit chesed organizations that provided us with the means to do work we felt good about and be able to afford to give of ourselves the way we loved best.  Our home was open to anyone.  We thrived on having guests for Shabbos and giving teenagers who had no place to go a warm bed and a listening ear.  Our lives were full.

When the financial world went into a crisis, we felt it first.  No one wanted to support the programs my husband and I were involved with.  Within the year, it was all over.  The doors of our respective institutions closed forever two months apart.  Our savings we had been so proud of did not even equal the amount of one month’s rent.  We entered the world of poverty.

*

I call my husband.  My voice is unsteady as I explain the situation to him.  He will have to ask again.  We must buy some food.  We hang up wearily.  The shame is nearly all gone.  It is becoming easier to ask and even easier to take.

It is long past nightfall when my husband returns home from work with 100 shekels in his pocket and invitations for all three Shabbos meals.  We make a list of essentials, forgoing anything we can live without.  Bread, milk, eggs and basic vegetables will be all.  Fruit is out of our budget, although I know my husband will find a way to buy an orange or two for Shabbos.  I cannot complain as I now have more than this morning.  My husband sees the despair in my eyes and tells me it will be okay.  I try to be strong for him.  I feel so guilty that I cannot bear this burden with him.  I have our daughter to care for, as well as our unborn child who will soon need me to go on bed-rest.  I know we are doing all we can.  I am still unable to let go and trust that it will really be okay.

*

We are managing, and even I can start to see that it is only through miracles.  Somehow, we have become accustomed to this new lifestyle and we have even managed some joyful moments.  I have not yet accepted it.  I still resist and resist, even when it is so obvious, but I am losing this battle.  I am poor.  I am relying on tzedakah to live.  It is a reality I have to learn to face with the joy my life deserves.

*

It is Thursday night.  The kids are in bed and I am waiting to hear what our Shabbos plans will be.  I ache to be the one to nourish my family this week.  I am tired of eating by other people, slowly cutting up chicken to make it last longer.  I want to cook a big pot of soup and bake challah, maybe even some dessert.

A noise startles me out of my desperate thoughts.  The gate to the courtyard closes softly and my heart begins to pound.  I peer outside.  There is something on the floor.  I am not expecting anything.

My husband comes home to find me weeping on the ground.  He rushes to me with concern.  I raise my tearful eyes to him, a smile stretched across my face and laugh with the most joyous feeling in the world.  The three boxes I am surrounded with are full of food.  There are enough chickens for three Shabbatot.  Rice, beans, barley and pasta, tuna, tomato paste and corn fill one box.  There is cereal, formula, diapers and fresh wipes as well as soap and shampoo.  The last box, full of more groceries, holds the items that have given me the most joy.  I take out a bag of nosh for my little girl, and a few bars of chocolate for a tired, worn-out mother of two.

*

It did get better.  With a lot of hard work and the kindness of strangers, we got on our feet.  We now have enough each month to get by on our own.  We recently hosted guests for Shabbos and had the opportunity to help others.  It is a slow and steady climb out of the dark, but we have experienced something we never could have understood before.  The love we felt that one Shabbos lifted us out of feeling so low and forgotten.  It stayed with us long after the food was gone and propelled us into a new dimension where we could believe, trust and hope.

I am not yet in a position to give freely, but I know that when the time comes, I will have that bar of chocolate in mind when I go above and beyond what is expected of me.

It’s Been A Long Time Coming

We always had the “when it rains, it thunderstorms” issue in our life.  Everything bad always went hand in hand with extra toppings of unrelated bad.  Well, I guess when extremes are the norm, I shouldn’t be surprised that the sunshine we’ve been experiencing lately has come with rainbows in every shade of that big box of crayola crayons.  You know the one.  WIth the sharpener in the middle.  And the super metallic colored ones included.

So, my dilemma is that I’ve gotten into such an incredible happy place that it put me into a funk of sorts.  I”ll call it a happy funk, swarming with sticky laffy taffies and peanut chews stuck in molars for days on end.  It’s so good, I can’t help picking at it, prodding it as though it were a questionably dead mouse and I am that child standing two feet away, jumping with each thrust of my stick in fear of the possibility of a not quite dead mouse’s vengeance.

Anyone know what I’m talking about?

Fine.  I’ll spell it out.

This change is GOOD.  We live in a GREAT apartment in an AMAZING area with the BEST neighbors.  My husband found a new job LOCALLY and is home for dinner every night.  People moved in after us and I got to be the welcoming one for a change.  My husband set up a nightly chavrusa already with the guy across the hall.  I’m full of energy I forgot I had and my kids love me again.  (Before you say anything about that – my kids hate me when I’m sitting on the couch staring at them with droopy eyes, making them nap when they’re not tired because I am, and snappy, irritable and discontented.  No blame – I hate me like that too.)  All in all, life is being lived to the beautiful, wonderful limit.

But. There. Is. A. Limit.

And I’m poking it with my ever wandering eye, waiting for it to spring up from the ground with a devilish smile and laugh in my face.

So.  I’m taking stock now.  I’m proclaiming the good to the world.  I’m letting you know that I am not all about downers.  I’m hoping to combat that weak side of me and take my life one day at a time.

One phantasmagorical day at a time.