Home Again

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It happened while I was away
traveling alone,
the Jewish teenagers and Palestinian teenager killed by hatred
together with the latest hopes for peace in the Holy Land,
the thousands more around the world slaughtered by enraged extremists
and by extreme weather on a wounded planet.

It happened while I was away
on retreat with community,
our teacher Reb Zalman leaving this world.
We cried with broken hearts for all we’ve lost and all the world has lost.
We laughed in gratitude for all we’ve received.
We witnessed the arrival of this moment
where it’s now our turn to carry on his work
with renewed urgency,
the work of healing a broken world.

Home again today I sit in my garden
while you send your messenger the hummingbird
who sits near me on his little branch,
singing his greeting to the dawn,
filling my heart with tears and laughter.

Yitgadal v’yitkadash shmei rabah.
Being beyond understanding.
The cycles of time will not cease,
and no matter how dark the night,
mornings will return until the end of days.

Omer Day 2: G’vurah b’Hesed

Discipline within Lovingkindness:
Love’s Hidden Architecture

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If [the world is destroyed] due to senseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with senseless love.

Rav Kook, Orot HaKodesh vol. III, p. 324

To rebuild the world we can:

First rebuild ourselves through practicing senseless love.

Grow loving community where we support each other.

Grow, embrace and support loving communities everywhere,
unleashing an unstopable global wave of love-based redemption.

To do this we must become masters of discipline within lovingkindness,
embodying love’s hidden architecture,
hidden ourselves,
leading from behind,
holding the space for others to choose love,
so that, in the worlds of Lao Tzu,

The people will say, “We did it ourselves!”

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 17

Blessings

“Say 100 blessings every day.”
     Rabbi Meir, Babylonian Talmud
nasturshum-4m all blessings to you, being who gods us, presence of the world
for everyday wonders and miracles
for restoring sight to the blind
for clothing the naked
for freeing the bound
for straightening the bent
for loving us with eternal love
for bringing the dead back to life
     from the daily Hebrew prayers

Pathfinding

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn younger days I travelled mostly on land. I never knew where the path would lead, but it was usually there in front of me: school, family, business, community, organizing a project, writing a book.

Now I travel mostly on water. Everything — current, water-plants, bugs, wind, clouds, birds, people scurrying through their lives in villages on-shore, nations, economies, wars, climate, the earth itself — everything is in motion, unfathomable complexity. Where shall I point the kayak? Pathfinding, the kind that works on land, won’t work here. Reaching out beyond the mind to the surrounding dance, I open myself to something bigger.

Reflected Light

tree-3sFrom where I live, on a hillside facing west, I can’t see the sunrise. The only way to see it each morning is by reflection, off the treetops. Sometimes it’s like that with people too.

Last Tuesday was my weekly visit to Mike. He was lying stiff on the hospital bed, motionless, staring up at the ceiling. His mind and body are in a long, irreversible decline, and he can no longer move much on his own. And funding for the assisted living facility has been cut.

I walk up to him and put my hand on his shoulder. “Hey Mike, are you awake?”

“I don’t think so,” he says softly with just a hint of a smile, “just my eyes.”

I go through my weekly routine with him, a few questions, a little kibitzing, readjusting him in the bed, a few songs, followed by a call on the speaker phone to his sister Harriet.

She asks him about his activities over the past few days. Activities are important, because without them the only thing he has in life is lying in bed. He needs the staff to dress him and get him up into his wheelchair. But there are fewer of them now, and they’re busier and more stressed. Did they take him to the art class and the rabbi’s study group yesterday, Harriet asks. It’s hard for him to remember. He’s not sure but he doesn’t think so.

Suddenly without warning, a big black wheelchair bulldozes into the room. It’s Judith. “Mike, I want to talk to you!” she says in a high, insistent voice.

“Judith, we’re on the phone with his sister,” I say. “Can you come back in 10 minutes?”

Judith ignores me. She wheels up to the side of the bed. “Mike!” she says, “I want to show you what I wrote!”

Before I know what’s happening, Judith, Mike and Harriet are all talking at once, and no one’s listening to anyone else. Finally Harriet gives up. “Okay Mike,” she says, “I’ll let you visit with your visitor, and I’ll talk to you next week, okay?”

“Bye,” says Mike faintly.

Judith fumbles with a straw bag attached to her wheelchair. Mike and I watch. “I can’t find it!” she announces in a loud tone of urgent distress.

“What?” says Mike softly, still staring up at the ceiling.

“The paper!” says Judith. “The one I wanted to show you.” I take a deep breath, and control an urge to roll my eyes. “I’m going back to my room to get it,” she announces. “I’ll be right back.”

She swings the wheelchair around and starts rolling out of the room. Just as her wheels cross the threshold of the doorway, she stops in her tracks. Sam in his wheelchair is leaving his room, which sits at a 90 degree angle facing Mike’s, coming right at her. He stops just in time. Judith glowers at him. After his wife pulls his wheelchair back, Judith hurries forward.

30 seconds later she’s back, waving a piece of paper in one hand and rolling her wheelchair with the other. This time she speaks to me. “Put this over there,” she says, pointing to the credenza where the TV sits. The paper is a calendar, with lots of boxes and entries for each day.

“What is this?” I say.

“September activity calendar,” she says. “Can you believe it? They never put it in his room!”

“Is this the paper you were talking about?” I say.

She looks at me without responding, as if to say: that is too dumb to dignify with a response.

Finally she says, deliberately, “The paper I’m writing is a petition to the staff here. They’ve been neglecting him lately, and he hasn’t been going to activities, and I think that’s very sad. So I’ve written a petition. I’m gonna show it to Mike and then get everyone I can to sign it.”

She steers her chair over to the side of Mike’s bed, grabs his hand, and holds it in hers. “I’m sorry honey,” she says. “I get tired very fast these days. I have to go back and sleep. I’ll see you tomorrow with that paper, okay?”

Mike nods at the ceiling.

The following morning I’m up early and see the sunrise reflected in the trees. I take a picture. The fact that I can only see the sunrise here by reflection is not about the sunrise, it’s about where I’m located. The next time I look at Judith, or at anyone whose light I can’t see directly, I’ll be paying more attention.

The names in this story have been changed.

Assisted Living

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Sometimes we learn the most important lessons from stuff that was right in front of us the whole time. That’s how it was for me today when we moved my friend Mike out of Ruby Plaza and into the Home for Aging Parents. Okay — none of these names, nor any of the other names I’ll be mentioning, are real. That’s so I can respect everyone’s privacy. But the friendship is real, and so is what I learned.

After we got Mike moved, I was sitting at a table in the early afternoon sun, on the garden patio at the Home, eating lunch with Barbara and Tom. They live in Arizona. Barbara is Mike’s sister. When they heard last week about his rapid decline, they hopped on a plane and came out to San Francisco to get him moved.

I came today, tearing away a few hours from an impossibly busy work schedule, to help them move his stuff and hang out a bit with Mike. He stared in amazement at the small army of people who materialized at the Plaza to pack his stuff and carry it out of the room, and finally, when only he was left, to lift him onto the gurney and roll him out the door. Then at the Home another small army showed up to reverse the process and get him moved in.

Mike lay rigid on the bed staring up at the ceiling while people swarmed around him, unpacking and hanging up clothes, labeling each of his possessions and listing it on the Resident Inventory List, checking out his dietary requirements, bringing in his meds, filling out endless forms.

I leaned over him and spoke softly close to his ear. “At least here it looks like you’ll get the kind of care you need now.”

He didn’t look away from the ceiling. “Care I need now … ” he repeated. “I’m not so sure I like this.”

Out on the patio, Barbara and Tom and I sat with our lunch, reflecting on the dramatic and unexpected course of events that had brought Mike to this point. There was the day about seven months ago, when his friend Lisa came to his apartment to help him get to a routine doctors appointment, and found him lying motionless, nearly dead, on the floor. And the long series of twists and turns, adventures and misadventures, which finally landed him here in this skilled nursing facility.

Mike is 70. He spent most of his years living alone in the same San Francisco apartment. His life has been simple and modest. But his kindness and wisdom have earned him many friends, myself included, who care about him, and have been visiting him regularly since he became incapacitated. And he’s also been wise with money, building up a significant retirement investment portfolio.

Barbara and Tom told me how time consuming it’s been for them these past six months, dealing with all of his possessions and all the financial, legal and business issues. Most challenging of all has been navigating the twisted tangle of American health care where everyone involved — doctor, specialist, nursing staff, physical therapist, social worker, administrative staff, Medicare, insurance representatives — everyone seems disconnected from, and at odds with, everyone else.

Mike is unfortunate to have a debilitating and irreversible illness. It’s a terrible situation. But he’s fortunate in two ways. First, he can afford the care he needs. And second, he has the people around him.

His sister and brother-in-law have devoted countless hours to managing his situation from where they live in Arizona. And there are 50+ friends on Mike’s visitors list, seeing him regularly, monitoring his care, making sure he’s treated well by the staff, making sure that Barbara and Tom are always up to date on how he’s doing — and best of all, making sure that his mind and heart stay engaged.

We live at a time of great uncertainty about the future of health care in America. Will the Affordable Care Act survive the next election? Even if it does, will there be enough to provide the care that we’ll all need when we get older – including the majority of Americans who don’t have the financial resources that Mike does? And if not, what happens?

This brings me back to where I started: what I learned today. The family and friends who’ve come together to support Mike – in the middle of a shocking, confusing, and scary situation – have made a huge difference, not only to him, but also to each other. And regardless of Mike’s financial situation, we all would have come together anyway.

At this point in my life, I’ve been preparing to start my next project: One World Lights. I hope to bring together a global network of local leaders which will encourage people in all kinds of places – in a world of so much uncertainty, where so much seems outside of our control – to come together in their own communities to make a difference for each other.

What I learned today is that, right here among my own friends, without my having given it much thought, this vision, which I believe holds an important key to a positive future for our planet, is already happening.

Maybe it’s already happening among you and your friends too.

In the Torah, after a visionary dream, Jacob wakes up and says, “Surely God is in this place and I, I didn’t know.” (Genesis 28:16)

That’s how I feel today. It’s a good feeling.