Tag Archives: love

Limitless Compassion for All Beings

What did you expect?” he murmured.  “Time passes.” 

“That’s how it goes,” Ursula said, “but not so much.”

-Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I tucked a napkin into the dog-eared copy of Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and stared at the ice crystals splayed across the tiny airplane window. The clouds swirled beneath like the surface of oceans, broken only by the islands of the Rockies and the fecund and unpredictable bodies of the Cascadian volcanoes, thrust upwards out of the Pacific sky like whales or mermaids.  We were on our way home to Seattle after three days in Philadelphia, where we had traveled to bury my grandfather.

My grandfather Morris with his great grandson, my son Callum.

My grandfather Morris with his great grandson, my son Callum.

At his funeral, it was recalled that he was the only child in his family born in America, that he spoke Yiddish growing up, that his father Zuffa died just before the Great Depression and Morris began to care for his elderly mother Ita-Molie, known as Betty, when he was still a young man.

Morris's father Zuffa, his mother Ita-Molie, known as Betty, and his siblings. Taken just before the family emigrated to the United States, where Morris was born.

Morris’s father Zuffa, his mother Ita-Molie, known as Betty, and his siblings. Taken just before the family emigrated to the United States, where Morris was born.

His older sister Esther died at the age of 20 and Morris lost one of his lungs to illness while he was a teenager. He and his mother moved from one flat to the next across the neighborhoods of 1930s Philadelphia, her continually convinced they were being cheated on heat and rent. He once showed up for a job at a soup factory once with a few hundred other men, only to be told that the promised wage had been lowered.  When the men grumbled, armed Pinkerton agents appeared on the rooftops.  He watched Jackie Robinson play baseball, an experience he later recounted to a rapt audience of second graders in my husband’s classroom.  He fell in love with a beautiful and kind woman named Frances and with her raised two children. He survived a heart attack in his forties and more heart problems later.Frances Saller Fox

Morris with his daughter, my aunt Ellen and his son, my father Howard in the yard of their home on Baldwin Street, Philadelphia.

Morris with his daughter, my aunt Ellen and his son, my father Howard in the yard of their home on Baldwin Street, Philadelphia.

He road tripped across the entire country with Fran and explored Alaska while visiting his son Howard. He picked his grandson up from soccer and read books to his grandchildren and built things out of blocks and played dressup with us with unabated joy. He contributed to our educations, inquired about our pursuits and adventures with love and without judgement, and gave money to Doctors without Borders and the the Nature Conservancy and the Southern Poverty Law Center. He was a proud progressive and he played on the floor with his four great grandchildren right up until the end of his life. He would have been 98 this July.

Morris's great grandchildren: Emily, Audrey, Callum and Charlotte.

Morris’s great grandchildren playing after his funeral.  Emily, Audrey, Callum and Charlotte.

He lived at home until a week ago Tuesday, when he broke some ribs and was taken to the hospital. I was watching the Stanton Moore trio play at Jazz Alley with my husband and son when my dad called to let me know Grandpop had fallen.

After I spoke to my father, I returned to the dark booth to sit with my husband and son. The band played “A Waltz for All Souls.”

In a few days they had begun to stabilize my grandfather’s pain, but they worried about pneumonia since he had only one lung. I heard that he had eaten some hummus and challah, and took this for a good sign, as they are some of his favorite foods. My son and I made art and chose photos to cheer him up in the hospital, and I went off to work a Friday night shift at the pub.  On my dinner break, I read an email that suggested he might be improving. A few hours later I dragged a sodden bag of compost out to the dumpster in the alley and called my father.  It was then that I learned that my grandfather was gone.  He had died on the 23rd of January, his wife’s birthday.

I walked into the edge of the construction site next door to the pub, knelt in the giant clods of upturned mud next to an excavator, and cried without restraint.  It was almost midnight, and there was a sliver of moon.

In the morning, we told our son his great grandfather had died, explaining that Gpop’s body stopped working because it was old, and that he would be buried next to his wife, my Nana, a woman he loved very much. Several days later, sitting in the funeral procession, Callum asked “where is Gpop?” I reminded him that Gpop had died, and his body was in the wooden box we had seen at the funeral home. “But where is the box?” he asked from his carseat. “Its in a special car up front,” I told him. “Grandpop gets to lead the way to the cemetery.” Callum was quiet for a minute, then asked thoughtfully: “But how will he drive the car if he is in the box?”

buddies.

buddies.

It was bitterly cold at the cemetery, and the headstones leaned against each other for support, some fallen off their bases, Hebrew characters etched in granite against the wind. We stood in the snow and the mud and the syllables of Kaddish were spoken into the winter air. After the service, my parents and siblings and my son and my husband and I wandered deeper into the cemetery, picking our way through the snow.  My chest felt bruised from the inside, and the air was sharp and painful against the skin of my face. We rested our hands on Nana Fran’s headstone, remembering her sweetness, and stood in front of Morris’s mother’s grave, and his sister’s, his brother’s and his father’s. We reflected that Morris mourned where we stood that day at five different points in his life, twice as a young child.

A flock of wild geese banked overhead and flew over the cemetery, and I turned to watch them beating their wings against the grey January sky, their cries eddying across the field of graves.  I recalled Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese.”

IMG_7596

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Later my brother and father would send pictures from my grandfather’s apartment: his baseball cap, hanging on his desk chair. His Sunday copy of the Milwaukee Sentinel, opened to “The Week Ahead.” His copy of my recently published book, sitting on his nightstand.  His robe, folded on a chair. Staring through my tears at these artifacts of his final days at home, I remembered the wild geese over the graveyard, and it seemed to me that there is nothing more precious than this unbroken chain of ordinary moments, family and solitude and breakfast and love all tangled up together in a narrative without beginning or end.

I miss my Grandpop because he was my friend, because he was kind and good and dear, because my world has always held him and now he is absent. I miss him in the way grandchildren miss their grandparents. When I allow myself to consider that my father has lost his father, and his mother, that my mother has lost two fathers and will someday loose her mother, that I must someday say goodbye to my own parents, my husband to his, that our son must someday say goodbye to me, and his father, it begins to feel like a I am falling into a canyon of grief, a canyon so deep the bottom will not reveal itself for some time.

And then I remember that a force cut that canyon. Like a river over a thousand years, or a perenially gusting wind, love and living have carved out the space in which we grieve. Gratitude and grief make each other possible.

On the airplane, I set aside One Hundred Years of Solitude and pulled up Sogyal Rinpoche’s Tibetan Book of Living and Dying on my phone, a minor miracle of technology and spiritual transmission.

“when we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us,” Rinpoche wrote, “we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings.”

Fox, Morris Born 1917. Passed away Friday, January 23, 2015 at the age of 97. Beloved husband of the late Frances (nee Saller) Fox. Loved father of Ellen Lang and Howard (Theresa Trebon) Fox. Beloved grandfather of Erika (Michael) Shanik, Mark (Melissa) Lang, Sarah (Ryan Reilly) Fox, Izaak (Danielle) Fox and Emma Fox. Cherished great-grandfather of Emily Shanik, Audrey Shanik, Callum Reilly and Charlotte Lang. Preceded in death by his siblings Nathan, Frank, Benny and Esther Fox. Funeral services will be held on Thursday, January 29 in Philadelphia, PA. Memorial donations made to Doctors Without Borders or Jewish Home and Care Center appreciated.

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Filed under basic goodness, Change, death, Family, literature, memory, mourning, poetry

15 august

They do not stop, the stories.
Just when you’ve had time to return to your ordinary life, finish the dishes, get caught up on the laundry, have a glass of wine with a friend, feel selfish,
they come cascading down on your shoulders,
rending your heart,
teaching your lungs and your pumping muscles
things they may have always known
loss is coming
death is imminent
the ones you love will perish too.
And you bend over the sink,
sobbing into the dish water,
tasting the truth of love
you cannot keep bad things from happening
even if you
curl around your core
keep the world from your heart,
or smother the ones you love under your wings,
you cannot hold pain at bay.
and your heart becomes a weaker organ
your skin loses its thickness
becomes brittle
and so you open
again
and again
and again
making yourself stronger through surviving
bearing witness doesn’t have to break you down.

it feels that way at first, sure.
and you think about your Jewish ancestors
who tore their clothes in grief,
and you lean in to the power of ritual.
learn that if you allow the grief to tear you open
it will teach you things

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Filed under basic goodness, cancer, death, fathoming, love, Nevada Test Site, Nuclear weapons, Ordinary, stories, unrepentantly unedited

Fishing Family

My friend Heather’s husband Ross is headed to sea today,
or maybe yesterday or tomorrow.
They never know the exact date when he’ll ship out,
and they don’t sit around waiting for the phone to ring.
They chop firewood
plant gardens
rebuild portions of their house
hang nets for the summer salmon season
teach their sons to climb ladders,
use tools
prepare food,
practice kindness.
They go on dates in canoes,
birth babies at home,
and snowshoe a few miles into the wilderness
to have family time
in a primitive cabin.
They volunteer in their community,
preserve hundreds of pounds of food from their garden,
and eat well.
I’m fairly certain that between the two of them,
there is nothing they could not do.
While Ross pits himself against the elements
to make their living
in the wintry Pacific a few thousand miles to the north,
Heather will keep everything going
with grace
and humor
while training to be a doula,
caring for ailing elders,
building furniture,
traveling cross country to see the grandparents,
and growing more gorgeous all the time.
Sometimes she takes the kids camping as a solo mama,
and laughs that its easier than being at home sometimes.
Depending on which fishing season it is,
she can talk to her husband daily,
or only once a week, for ten minutes,
or not even then,
but after a while,
the call inevitably comes
that he’s headed home.
Until then,
they labor through the seasons,
adding weft
and strength
to the warp of a marriage
seasoned by saltwater
struggle
and joy

my fishing family. Ross, Haven, Heather, and Liam.

my fishing family. Ross, Haven, Heather, and Liam.

(To read more about their family and their work, check out some of the words and pictures here).

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Filed under basic goodness, blue collar, Family, Food, Garden, habitat, Labor, love, marriage, motherhood, Ordinary

newyorkminute

photo 4

It wasn’t until the last day that I sat on a corner bench and raised my collar against the cold and cracked my journal: for four days I followed his tall and purposeful stride through the subways and the sidewalks and the elegant lobbies, beneath the sky-filling spans of bridges and down the hallowed and corrupted aisles of urban cathedrals, through the temporary winter foyers of artful restaurants and past the legions of doormen, (some of whom i am convinced we have interrupted in the midst of composing poems), along the curving sidewalks of frozen Central Park and over the very ground where John Lennon breathed his last on the day my mother heard my heartbeat for the first time, in and out of taxi cabs and up the stairs of the Jane hotel for a cocktail but not a 99$ room, into the darkened bustle of gay bars without women’s restrooms which makes me laugh, buzzed on gin and freedom while musicals are projected onto the walls and the scarcely clad bartenders ply their trade, past graves marked and over graves unseen and through gusts of paper confetti drifting onto sidestreets after a Lunar New Year parade, taking refuge from the biting wind over yet another cocktail and elegant scallion pancakes, seitan marsala with figs unrolling on my tongue and fennel soup eddying across my notion of what is possible, exorbitant shop windows and resilient beggars, and meanwhile there are ghosts, millions of them, Ginsberg ogling muscled Puerto Rican delivery boys in the East Village and Dorothy Parker tapping her pen on the tabletop next to her drink at the Algonquin, the woman who shares my name who was murdered in Central Park a few years back and whose face I know from the pictures, precious babies who died from adulterated milk in the tenements by the thousands because their malnourished immigrant mothers couldn’t produce breastmilk what with all the stress and work outside the home, each of us here chasing our own particular version of the American dream in this island city built on ancient bedrock and washed over by the storms of the Atlantic and I’ll just stop there for now because the laundry won’t do itself.

KP and RR… crazylove and wildgratitude.

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Filed under Americana, basic goodness, death, Food, gratitude, History, Homeland, love, meditation, motherhood, poetry, stories, travel, watching it all go by

turn of phrase

we lay close,
conversing
while the toddler slept
and the year moved inexorably forward
in the thawing dark outside

these conversations are rare
we are reminded to be grateful
for each other

like old times, eh?

we ask our dog, who has been with us nearly six years
she rouses herself
shakes her thick black brown white coat,
and pads to the other room
and you laugh quietly
and say

too many atoms in the room
for the dog

and i am delighted by the turn of phrase

in the morning i set out ice cube trays of water
uncorked the food coloring,
and set our son loose to play with hues

i am sending out a prayer to Robert Sund
and the Fishtown poets
and Vi Hilbert
and Sherman Alexie
and Richard Hugo
and Chogyam Trungpa
and Terry Tempest Williams
and my vast and resilient lineage
let me be inspired
by all of this
here and now

#montessoriinspired art project #januarymorning

#montessoriinspired art project #januarymorning

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Filed under basic goodness, Family, marriage, memory, motherhood, Ordinary, Peace, stories, watching it all go by

warrior

When I was young,
you lived with two dogs in a teepee in Eastern Washington
and did tae kwon do

I watched you break boards with your feet and hands
and marvelled that you were not afraid to live in the woods alone

You crewed helicopters that flew into the thick of forest fires
and hiked miles into danger to dig firelines

As a young forest service ranger,
you once spent the night watching over a dead body by a mountain road
a story which sends chills down my spine even now

You took me on my first backpacking trip
and a few miles in, we met some men who warned you
that you ought to have brought a gun
You told them we would be just fine
and confidently led my little brother and i past them and down the trail
and i believed you
although i confess i laid awake to listen for bears

You taught us how to start a fire with one match
and instructed us in the ways of ponderosa pine,
how it smelled like vanilla if you leaned in close.
(which is still the first thing I do when I cross paths with one)
you pointed out how the pieces of bark fit together like a puzzle
forming layers of armor in a forest fire
and I marveled at the wisdom of a living thing that knew hard times would come
a tree that could stand in the midst of an inferno
shed its armor
and survive.

You seemed fearless to me,
a Warrior amongst ordinary people.

Later you built a home with your hands
brought twins into the world
went to grad school
ended a marriage
and found a new home.

I am 31 now, and my son is sleeping in the next room,
and as the coldday afternoon light refracts off the windowsill
I find myself thinking of you.

I know now that fearlessness is not living without fear

but rather:

facing it

and though you are less often on the fireline these days
and spend more time helping someone with their homework than you do
practicing martial arts

you are more Warrior now
than you have ever been
in my eyes

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Filed under Family, motherhood, outside, stories

Offerings to the Utter Brilliance of the Present Moment

As we were leaving, the sweet Vietnamese woman at Chu Minh Veggie Deli on Jackson and 12th bent down to stand face to face with our son in his rubber boots and his raincoat, and handed him a crispy vegan springroll wrapped in a napkin. “Because you are special,” she said,

and I felt my heart in my chest, standing by the window in the cramped deli as the birds took off in a mass from the telephone line outside and swirled into the grey sky, feathered bodies reflected in the puddles of rainwater laying on the pavement.  There was a sign on the wall behind a potted plant that said “We care more about compassion and protecting your physical and spiritual health than we do about making a profit” and it was as if they didn’t need to advertise it, they just needed to affirm it, somewhere, commit it to the visual world in case someone bothers to look closely,

which is how i feel about the tattoo on the back of my neck, which says

basic goodness

and is usually covered by my collar and my hair.

:like a declaration of compassion tucked behind the leaves of a potted plant,  like the reflection of birds swirling into a grey sky in a puddle of rainwater on the pavement, like the momentary connection between that woman and our small son

Offerings

to the utter brilliance of the present moment

 

 

 

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Filed under autumn weather, basic goodness, community, Dharma, facing east, Family, Food, gathering, gratitude, love, meditation, memory, migration, on writing, Ordinary, outside, Peace, poetry, stories, watching it all go by