Archive for May, 2013

Dis-assembly and Re-construction

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

I’m moving through a few weeks that are going to be hairy. My annual trip to Nantucket had arrows shooting at it from every which way – from any angle of resources it was the worse time to go, then JetBlue cancelled my flight; I had to spend the night in Boston, and buy an additional one-way flight to Nantucket, and my 3.5 day girl trip turned into a 2 day trip, and still I have this to say about that – I NEEDED TO GO. I truly believe I cannot go more than a year without seeing these women – they always renew my faith in friendship.


I went on my trip with a heavy heart though, a friend went in for surgery on a mysterious lump only to learn it is Stage III ovarian cancer and kidney cancer. The months ahead will be challenging as she undergoes chemotherapy. She is a beautiful woman through and through, a good wife, a good mother, and dutiful and loyal and I just shake my head over this diagnosis. She is or was the very picture of health and wellness. Why? has no answer.

This week, I’m covering my first conference with Transracial Parenting and day one almost kicked my ass. But that’s another story for another post.

I have a major report in the field, I have a silent meditation retreat coming up, I close on my new house and will be moving over the course of the next two weeks – all of these things are distracting and discombobulating and yet, they are life and living and messy and wonderful, and it is all going to be okay. If not fabulous.

And I give to you – Perspective

Friday, May 24th, 2013

Perspective is what we all need a lot of in our life. I moved out of a house that I built and it had everything just so – bookshelves a plenty, cupboards a plenty, entertainment and art boxes all built in and all there to be filled with all my stuff. Then eight years later I was crying salty tears as I packed all that stuff into boxes to prepare myself for the next chapter of my life. And later I was cursing that stuff because there was too much of it that needed to be moved, store, boxed and crammed into some spot.

Lately, I have fallen in love with a vintage redwood cupboard and shelving that came out of the estate of a woman, now gone, who had preserved said furniture in such a state as to make it glitter and dance before my very eyes. Read: I wanted it. Interpret: I felt I needed it.

The truth is it would be extending myself to furnish this house right now and there is plenty of time for that. Plenty of time for projects. Plenty of time to sit with things the way they are. And as my friend text: There is always plenty of gorgeous vintage furniture available. So I reeled in my expectations and reoriented my thoughts to gratitude of what I do have.

Delaying gratification is not something I’ve grown accustomed to nor had to, but it is a worthwhile lesson to learn so that I might be able to teach my child its value.

This morning, I was flying out to Nantucket for my gal’s trip and severe weather rearranged those plans. This might have been cause for me to think why me, as it now cost me a hotel room and another flight I couldn’t afford, but a few days ago, I learned a dear friend is going in this very morning to have her kidney removed and all of her female organs because she has suspicious tumors and right now they don’t know if it is cancer or not. So while I might bemoan my travel plans gone awry, I am acutely aware my friend has no choice this morning but to have surgery and her family has no choice this morning but to worry about her outcome.

As New York city floods, and hurricane season begins a week from now, again I have to bring awareness to a greater uncertainty that we all must live with, to greater needs than my own, and to be grateful for this day no matter what happens.

The Art of Saying Goodbye

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

The art of saying goodbye takes one last look, remembering where you were when you arrived and where you are upon leaving, it’s sometimes sad and sometimes not, sometimes happy and sometimes not, and oft times takes courage.

Clothes drying on the line in the backyard


The money tree Tommy gave me when I was building the LaLa with a weathered Kuna still attached

The Virgin Mary statue Katell bought me at a shop on Magazine Street for good luck when we moved in.




Moss grows fat on a rolling stone (that would be me)


The stuffed elephant and rabbit Tin gave me the first night he saw me sleeping on the day bed – “Here’s you’ll need these,” he said.



Boston gargoyles that have protected me from my hater neighbor (twice over)



The end of the Grand Route St. John weighing station chapter is about to come to a close. The rest is unwritten.

And now I lay me down to sleep

Monday, May 20th, 2013

The world has gone bat shit crazy – Oklahoma wtf? and this heat suddenly in New Orleans – I fell asleep at the playground as Tin was on the jungle gym. Really? We live in uncertain times, so we need to learn how to bob and weave through this insane ride.


Accepting the gifts of the day

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

We were invited to a pancake breakfast this morning and so as soon as Tin rolled out of bed, we rolled over to our friends’ house toting a fruit salad of fresh apricots and blackberries. While Tin jumped on the trampoline with the kids, I sat in the kitchen and talked about re-evaluation counseling with my friends who have been into it for over two decades. I listened with rapt fascination because I had never heard of this effort or group.

My friend told me it is a community that nurtures being heard and how to listen, as well, it is a group interested in social change by processing hurt and fostering healing – the subject could pertain to woman’s issues, it could be racism, or any cause or individual in need of being heard. On the topic of racism, my friend was saying they found that white parents who wished to speak to their children about racism found it impossible to even broach the subject. Because we as a people have a history of not feeling – don’t cry, don’t be angry, don’t be sad – we’re taught from early on feelings are bad and so when white parents feel so badly about our racist history they don’t speak to their children, to keep them insulated from hurt, sadness, guilt and anger.

Our pancake playdate started earlier than planned because my friends had learned their minister was leaving the Unitarian Church and her last sermon was going to be at 10:30. So while we were enjoying each other’s company and our conversation, when it was time to leave we were all rushing and on a whim, they invited Tin and I to come with them to church – so off we all went rushing to get there, hoping not to miss the minister’s talk.

The kids were deposited in the kid’s group and we walked in and sat down near the front as the minister began reciting a poem by Elizabeth Bishop:

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

– Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like a disaster.

Then she described her wishes for the church she was leaving and for the congregation. Finally, her husband (I later learned) sat at the piano and played John Lennon’s Let It Be while the minister sat with him, facing the opposite direction and wiping her tears.

My friend wrote a note and passed it to me, “More than you bargained for today, eh?” And I told them both afterwards it was a message that was actually quite on point as I have found closure in my life lately on many big topics – the LaLa, Steve, my mom, along with many decisions I have made that seemingly had led me astray but actually urged me towards a rich journey of growth. It all looked like a disaster. Yes, at first sight, it/I seemed like a disaster.

I came home to a friend’s email that was a reprint from a blog whose tag is the world will be free by women who are free:

As women, we have 2 choices: feel or go numb. When you’re numb, your relationships are shallow and your ambitions lack deep meaning. You can cross things off your To Do list, but when you’re not working, you’ll reach to every possible distraction you can (food, television, gossip and alcohol) to keep the feelings at bay. When you’re numb, you’re alive, but not living.

My journey since the 2005 Federal Flood has been a lonely one at times because I have chosen to not medicate, to not become an alcoholic, to try to not smoke, to give up pills that take the edge off, and to throw myself into the vast cauldron of emotions that have sent me to my knees more times than I care to admit. But I can tell you today, resoundingly, I’m not numb.

It’s two o’clock in the afternoon and the gifts I have received on this beautiful Sunday are already too numerous to list, but wait there’s one more, as it seems there always is when your cup runneth over – my dear friend in Boston (who I get to see very soon) emailed me that I should get this book, which I am adding to my reading list and will purchase sometime after the packing and moving is over.

My friend said the book is right up my alley – and I say it is the right book on the right day in the right life – watch the author speak here on numbness and vulnerability and connection:

His Holiness Was Here

Saturday, May 18th, 2013

We all filed into the UNO Arena today to hear His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak to us New Orleanians about resilience – um, we know a little about it already and I, know a lot about it, but I wanted his perspective.

And he didn’t disappoint. He’s got a simple message – compassion, love and kindness, and save the planet, peace not war, and humor.


Asked what to do with children that have been victims of abuse, he wondered aloud if there was a neuroscientist that might figure out a way to cut that part of memory out of the child’s brain. But seriously he said, a child needs someone there, a caretaker, to give them steady affection and having this, the child builds trust, and having trust, the child learns affection and to be affectionate. And if the world is about love – and love requires trust – then this is the anecdote to such horror.

Two quotes that came through loud and clear to this resilient woman were:

Question: How do you remain positive in the face of so many problems?
Answer: Frankly, there is no other choice.

“Peace is not obtained through prayer, peace is obtained through action.”

If I am somebody

Friday, May 17th, 2013

If I am somebody
It is only by standing on the shoulder of giants:



Took the boys to see the Drepung Loseling monks perform a ceremony after completing the mandala – guttural singing, horns blowing, cymbals tinkling and then the dyed sands were swept up and a procession led us through Mardi Gras World to the river (a truly New Orleans ceremonial experience) where the sands were loosed into the mighty Mississippi to re-imagine our world through loving kindness.

He won’t remember, unless I show him the photos and tell him about the time we went to see the Dalai Lama and the monks. The Dalai Lama’s message today: “Spend more time with your children. Your children will be happier persons.”

Rodger Kamenetz’s Welcoming the Dalai Lama

Friday, May 17th, 2013

Welcoming the Dalai Lama to New Orleans, a City Still Rebuilding
Posted: 05/17/2013 11:51 am

From a talk given at Temple Sinai in New Orleans on May 9, 2013. This is part one in a series.

The Dalai Lama has come to New Orleans. If I were to speak with him, this is what I might say.

Your Holiness, you are coming to New Orleans at a time of some optimism, some hope. Eight years ago, after Katrina, there was some concern we might not survive as a city. Many of us had lost everything, our homes, our community our relatives and friends, and most of all our trust in the large institutions and government we thought should have protected us. The levees broke and so did our hearts, and out in the country there were many dark voices who said we had no right to exist, to continue as a city. We might have lost all faith in each other, but somehow we did not. In the first place, from all over, there was a tremendous outpouring of love and help, of compassion. There was a new influx of young people with energy and hope. We have not exactly triumphed, but we have rebuilt much of our city, our schools.

Yet we still face terrible problems many of which we had before the storm: We have tremendous poverty and hopelessness in our streets; we have violence and a terrible murder rate; our young people are killing each other; we still have corruption; we mistrust our institutions, our police and our jail; the rich and the poor still live very separate lives; and while we often come together to celebrate and party, black and white also live very separate lives. And we are still living on the front line of a world wide ecological disaster. So while we look ahead, with some confidence, that perhaps our city will be safer in future storms, in the not very long term, the destruction of our protective wetlands continues, our land is sinking and the sea is rising and our margin of safety grows thinner every year. So yes we have survived, but the question of long-term survival for our city as a community and as a culture still is very much in question.

Your Holiness, survival was the question you brought to the Jews in our dialogue in Dharamsala in 1990. It was an historic dialogue between two exile peoples, Jews and Tibetans who had never met before at such a high level. And it was a religious dialogue, a dialogue of philosophy, faith and soul — you would call it Mind, your Holiness. When we met with you in 1990, a group of eight rabbis and Jewish teachers, and me as a modern day scribe, your question to us was, can you tell me the secret of Jewish spiritual survival in exile?

What a beautiful question it still is, and one we might ask ourselves also here in New Orleans. Not only for Jews but for all of us here: Do we have a secret for survival?

Some of us smiled at your question as we journeyed through the Punjab. Have we been doing so well as Jews that we can offer advice to others? One of the rabbis on the trip said, I don’t know that you can tell the Dalai Lama, eat chicken soups, send your kids to Sunday school and it will be OK? Some said if there is a secret of survival maybe it’s because it was God’s will and how can you tell that to a non-theist like you? But mostly Your Holiness we were deeply honored by your question, For 2,000 years we survived, and up to now, no one ever thought to ask, how did you do it?

That question was really how you started dialogue with us, so sweetly. When I was sitting in your temple in your exile home in India, that first day, I saw a Buddhist thangka, a sort of wedding cake of Buddhas piled up, and before them was a reflecting pool. And I said to the man next to me, “Is that a pool of water?” And he said, “No, it’s a pool of nectar.” So that is how you reflected us in your eyes, right from the start, sweetly, maybe more sweetly than we knew how to see ourselves, for Jews are a very self-critical people, as you now know, Your Holiness, very contentious and very much opinionated and given to arguments.

So right from the start, the dialogue with you was never going to be just one way with the Jewish side teaching and you receiving. As my beloved teacher Reb Zalman — Rabbi Zalman Schachter — said, “We didn’t come just to sell, but also to buy.” And oh what you had to sell us Your Holiness, was so precious — we are still feasting on the light.

You know, Your Holiness, as we told you then, we Jews have a prophecy that tells us that our suffering and our exile, our collective trauma as a people, has some redemptive meaning. Because of exile we were able to share our teachings our wisdom, our story of redemption from slavery, our Torah. And it’s true also that our Torah, thanks to our sister religions Islam and Christianity, is now known through every corner of the earth, as our greatest philosopher, Maimonides, pointed out. We even found a mission in exile, to be “a light unto the nations,” and yet at times how bitter those words can sound to us and how far from their meaning do we live, caught up in practical concerns.

That you saw something of that light in us as Jews was not just wishful thinking; it was a kind of visualization of us, a meditation in itself. And the Tibetan people have their own theory of their brokenness and exile — that they had stored up so much wisdom behind the barrier of the high Himalayas, and that this wisdom was intended for the whole world. So exile and destruction came to your people too in the 20th century so that at long last this light might also be shared with other nations. And you have been one of the chief carriers of that light, and have gone all over the world with it, and now you are coming to us here in New Orleans. And we are grateful.

In that historic dialogue in 1990 there were two important teachings that still seem relevant to us, both to Jews and really also to New Orleans in general.

Two important secrets of Jewish spiritual survival in exile that you received, and then with a bit of a twist, turned back to us. For your contribution, your response proved to be incredibly powerful.

The first was an historical answer, and the second I might say was a spiritual answer. Or I might say the first was how we speak as Jews to Tibetans, exile people to exile people, and the second, the deeper dialogue of soul to soul.

We sent rabbis to speak with you, mainly. And one of them was Rabbi Irving Greenberg, the founder of CLAL, who later became chair of the Holocaust Museum — an unusual figure at the time, an orthodox rabbi given to dialogue between Jews and other religions. And we joked he was preparing for the more difficult dialogue between Orthodox and Reform Jews. Rabbi Greenberg, Yitz we called him, looked through the long history of Jewish trauma — and we can think of so many: the destruction of the first Temple, the Babylonian exile, the exile from Spain, and looming over all of them and still today, the Holocaust. But of all these historical traumas and destructions, he chose to speak of one: of the year 70, in which the Jewish people were dispersed, Jerusalem itself was renamed for a Roman god, and the destruction of the Second Temple, which still lies in ruins today. And in speaking to you, your holiness, Yitz told of a secret of Jewish survival, which is a kind of spiritual democracy, in which instead of entrusting all the authority in a single figure, it was spread so that everyone had some responsibility. It began with a small group of teachers who we know as the rabbis or rabbinic sages, who founded a small school in northern Israel in Yavneh, and of how they essentially invented a new form of Judaism to replace the old Temple worship that had been conducted by priests.

They faced a choice then, that we have also faced here in New Orleans, as we’ve tried to make our choices. The choice comes down to renewal vs. restoration. When everything is destroyed, there are two impulses, and the Tibetans know this as well. One group wants to rebuild the old monasteries and the old system and keep everything the same, and this is a very human response. Get things back the way they were. The other group recognizes: No, we are in an entirely new situation now, and we cannot go back to the way things were before. We have to renew our institutions and make up new ones. And that’s essentially what the rabbis did. There was no longer a priesthood, no longer a Temple, no longer a central place of pilgrimage called Jerusalem, and the whole meaning of the Torah, the redemptive history of a people who’d lived in exiled and returned home in triumph, was shattered, seemingly forever. So Yitz explained — to you– that the rabbis moved many of the Temple ceremonies into the home, and instead of the priest and the altar, there was the father and mother at the family table, and the blessings for the bread and the wine were now said there. And new observances were created like Tisha B’Av to remember the destruction, to never forget it, and new prayers recited to speak always of the longing for the hoped for return — such as when we say at each Passover, “Next Year in Jerusalem…”

And your Holiness, you heard all that and you grasped it in your hand, and you said, “Now I understand the Jewish secret, in everything you do always to remind, always to remind.”

But that is when the selling turned to buying. For you twisted your hand and you said quietly in your special way: So now that you have returned to the land of Israel, do you still need all these prayers and customs?

And of course you’d nailed it because after all, when my grandfather was a boy in Zhegare and said “Next Year in Jerusalem” at the end of the Seder, it was a hope or a dream, but today it is a call to my travel agent.

Rabbi Greenberg acknowledged how you had turned things around. That we thought we’d come to advise you about exile and trauma but we ourselves are living through a very new kind of situation that has not existed for 2,000 years, a situation that is in fact causing the Jewish people every where tremendous stress and anguish — a mixture of hope and fear — and that is the continuing drama of the state of Israel and its existential conflicts within its borders and without. So Yitz joked, “Your Holiness, we should make you a chief rabbi because that’s exactly what we are wrestling with today,” and Your holiness, you joked, “Then would you get me a little hat?”

So right there you’d turned the exposition into a dialogue, and showed us what we already sense, that though we have survived so much over 2,000 years, we are still struggling with questions of spiritual survival — that is, in what form will Judaism take when exile is a choice rather than a condition?

Even though as Jews we have survived, our struggle is not at all over. It reminds me of what one of our great contemporary Jewish poets, and part time New Orleanian, Bob Dylan said,
The rabbis built a good strong boat after the fall of the Temple. It carried us along for about 1,800 years. Then it started to fall apart. We’ve been drifting on planks of wood and life savers for the last 250 years. But that’s an amazing boat. It lasted for 1,800 years and even the wreckage is pretty amazing.

But as beautiful as that exchange about suffering and history and destruction was, there was a second exchange that had an even more profound effect on many Jews. And this one was soul to soul, and angel to angel — the Jewish soul and the Tibetan soul, the Jewish angel and the Tibetan angel. For the spiritual dimension of reality is so often neglected, despised, even hated in today’s world, but it is a major part of what makes Jewish survival worthwhile in the first place. And right now it is in the midst of our wreckage I speak to you, both as a Jew and as a New Orleanian, because survival is not just a matter of urban planning, or of financial aid, or willfulness. It is something deeper. It is of the soul, the soul of individuals and the soul of the city, and the soul of nation. To rebuild is important, but to recognize a new historical moment and to renew is a matter of soul I do believe, and without soul nothing we do can ever really be new.

Rodger Kamenetz is the author of ‘The Jew in the Lotus.’

Thinking of dogs

Friday, May 17th, 2013

I’ve been thinking of a dog – again – I know, it’s crazy to think of these things. Loca is out in the country grown fat and happy at cousin Brian’s house. I secretly love that she visits my Aunt Sue – smart dog. Since my mind is on dogs, I see them everywhere. The corgi that came up to me the other day smiling ear to big ear. And then yesterday, this guy walked up:



Repurposing your life

Friday, May 17th, 2013

Recycling a life is not new for a lot of people who have experienced war, tragedy, and near death. Here in New Orleans, I keep meeting people who are losing their hair and I wonder to myself if hair is not a casualty of the 2005 Federal Flood. The stress of Katrina is something we all felt we have been handling, but maybe we weren’t.

For me this journey through tragedy has reaped more and more incidents of disconnect and awakening. I became disconnected from the mercantile pursuit of corporate wealth. I am disconnected from those who believe we are simply rational beings with no magical or mystical component in our nature.

The Dalai Lama is in town, and if you haven’t been paying attention, he is a prophet of peace. He has been in exile from his home for decades and he has avowed one concept – his religion is loving kindness. I’ve watched my Facebook feed come alive with those who dismiss the Dalai Lama as a mere religious leader they feel no part of because they are anti-religion and therefore anti its leaders. So Mother Theresa – so what if you dedicated your life to feeding the poor children of the world – the fact that you were connected with the Catholic church makes you dismissible. And Dalai Lama, you are merely the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama and are believed to be the manifestation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion – but your religion is loving kindness and that is dismissible?

I lived next door to a nun, who became a nun on the bus, she traveled around to depict the horror of what would happen to the poor children if the Republicans elected Mitt Romney and passed the budget plan they were seeking. I’ve been to the Zen center to find others who are also seeking stillness in a world gone mad. I’ve listened to spiritual leaders like Ram Dass, the Dalai Lama, and Bob Marley preach about one love. I’ve repurposed my life away from the rat race of getting and spending, and found my life.

But as Zen will tell you, you don’t have to go anywhere to find yourself, you’re already there.

Yesterday, I snuck quickly to the Convention Center to get a glimpse of the Drepung Loseling monks creating a sand mandala in honor of the Dalai Lama here visiting.

The lamas begin the work by drawing an outline of the mandala on the wooden platform. The following days see the laying of the colored sands, by pouring the sand from traditional metal funnels called chak-purs. Each monk holds a chak-pur in one hand, while running a metal rod on its grated surface; the vibration causes the sands to flow like liquid. From all the artistic traditions of Tantric Buddhism, that of painting with colored sand ranks as one of the most unique and exquisite. Formed of a traditional prescribed iconography that includes geometric shapes and a multitude of ancient spiritual symbols, the sand-painted mandala is used as a tool for re-consecrating the earth and its inhabitants.

I purchased prayer beads to wear on my wrist and bought some for my friends I will be seeing in Nantucket. Some call these beads the Buddhist rosary. I have hung my prayer flags outside my door in a tree. I do believe in the mystical and magical nature of life and I am grateful for anyone whose purpose in life is to heal. New Orleans needs healing. I need healing.


Today the monks will take the sand from the beautiful work of art they have created and bring it bit by bit to the Mississippi River in a similar fashion as the Jews take bread to the water and throw it in during Rosh Hashana, similar to how some bury their dead and throw dirt into the grave and say ashes to ashes, in many ways like the Jews throw a rock into the grave to represent the same sentiment.

The Dalai Lama said:

We are visitors on this planet. We are here for one hundred years at the very most. During that period we must try to do something good, something useful, with our lives. if you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true meaning of life.

You don’t have to wait for death to be reincarnated.