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Wondrous Nature

Life Story Club Contributor

July 8, 2020

So through this virus pandemic, I’ve had many silver linings. One of the most joyous moments come every week when I go out at 5:30 a.m. on the ocean and stand-up paddle. This past week, the full moon sets, the pink skies of the emerging sunrise, the magic of the sea, the sea turtles rising from the depths, peaking out at the surface, the shifting silence in the roar of the distance waves all contributes to the sacred time. My angel has been Reid, our standup paddle coach, who brings the boards to the beach wearing masks and takes care of our health and safety. All through those initial months of isolation, when all the beaches and parks were closed, we could still be present on the ocean.

And these early morning outings continue to keep my sanity and my sense of community in spite of the limitations. At times, the water’s calm and glassy. And at times, it’s bumpy and wavy. And now that the beaches and parks are open and busy, I am still vigilant about my safety and my distance. But the turtles welcome me, and I thank them for gracing my morning. So if you can put up the picture of the turtle. We see turtles every time we go out. It’s okay if not.

I probably started about five years ago. I’m a water person. But I actually… Yeah, I just saw a lot of people doing it and wanted to find out how to do it. And met a woman on the ocean who was paddling as we were talking. And she told me about this group of people that goes down there paddling. And that’s how I encountered this amazing group of people. And it’s been… Especially through the pandemic it’s been a real Godsend.

So at this point, especially during the initial stages, we were only going out five people at a time, very distant from each other. But now, in the morning, at 5:30 in the morning, there’s maybe about five of us that go out.

But these turtles are really magical. And they just… They grace my morning. And I speak to them and thank them for being there.

Resilience

Life Story Club Contributor

July 1, 2020

So, in 1964, I, at the time in New York City, at the height of Civil Rights, just, challenges and Civil Rights demonstrations and a lot of discomfort in New York, I married my Kenyan husband. He had come over with the Mboya Airlift from Kenya with a whole groups of other high school students earlier in order to be educated, and the same airlift that Obama’s dad came over. Though, actually, my husband had come over with Obama’s father.

We met at university in the summer of 1964. We found ourselves in New York City, and I married him. And my father was very resistant. He said if I married a black man, and a non-Jewish person, that I would not exist anymore for him. But I was determined at that point. I had been accepted to go to Malawi in the Peace Corps, and I decided that if I married my Kenyan husband, and we went back to Kenya, we would create a school, and it would be my own personal Peace Corps.

So, this was 1964. Fast forward to 1968. My first daughter, Lucy, was born in Kenya, and in 1969, it was very clear, after many different episodes, that this marriage was not going to work. My husband was going to take off and leave us behind. I found myself back in New York City in July of 1969, and stayed, trying to figure out where I was going to go, and what I was going to do in 1969 to raise a biracial child in a time where it wasn’t so easy to be doing that.

She was the essence of my life, and I wanted to provide an atmosphere for her to grow up in where there was a tolerance and an acceptance, an embrace of difference. So, it wasn’t in New York City at the time, because, as I said, my father did not accept… My mother had died when I was 11, so it was just my father. And so, my father was not happy that I was there. And, I stayed with a friend for a week, and it actually was the week of the moon, first moon walk. So that was a really symbolic of transition and opening.

Stayed with another cousin for another couple of weeks, and I was deciding between two places to raise my daughter. It was either going to be Israel, which was very close to my heart. They had a lot of Yemen children that also were sort of of color, and I thought that would be the perfect place to go. Or Hawaii, which was also multicultural and biracial.

So, to go to Israel, which was my first choice, I approached the Jewish Agency and I said, “I want to go to Israel and I want to raise my daughter in Kibbutz.” Kibbutz is a collective society in Israel where money is not an issue. Everybody gets, nobody gets paid, and everybody contributes, and it’s collective society that has a very long precious history. And I wanted to go to Kibbutz and raise my daughter in Kibbutz. I knew that I’d have this extended family, and I’d have a sense of identity, and a deep loving community for her. And the Jewish Agency said, “I’m sorry. We cannot support you to do that because it’s right after the Six Day War. There’s too many mothers with kids who have lost husbands, and Kibbutz are not opening up to accept new people with babies, with children and babies.”

And so, that was my moment of not accepting, sort of, the defeat, and I decided that I really was going to try. So, I got on a plane, and I went to Israel, and I approached the Jewish Agency when I got to Israel. And they said, “Well, you know, there’s an absorption center in Be’er Sheva, which is in the south, and you can go with your child.” And I did that. For six months I studied Hebrew. She was taken care of during the day. And six months later, I got an offer from one of the Kibbutzi up in the northern border, next to Lebanon, to actually be a teacher, because I was a teacher. I had my master’s degree. I was a teacher. And the rest is history.

I mean, I was there. I met my second husband there, had two more children. And actually, it opened up an amazing opportunity for my daughter, who was so dearly loved in every dimension of her life and her being. Today, eventually, 11 years later, we, I came back to the States. And she’s the most precious presence in my life, in so many ways.

So, life unfolds in many, many different directions, and I think if we’re clear in our own minds and our hearts what our intention is about life, we are guided by our angels, and I have had many of them. Thank you.

And you can show the other picture of my daughter today.

Someone Who Changed Me

Life Story Club Contributor

June 24, 2020

Yesterday when I sat down to, we call heartstorming instead of brainstorming, some ideas around these two questions, what emerged for me was my dear friend Jeannie. Jeannie is 87 years old and last September, she’s lived in Hawaii since the ’50s. I met Jeannie when I first came to Hawaii 20 years ago. I met her doing triathlon training. Jeannie is 10 years older than I am. At first she and her husband, Guy, we had triathlon training, marathon training. We did a lot of wonderful outdoor activities together.

When I was 57 and Jeannie was 67, I looked at Jeannie on her birthday and I said, “Jeannie, I want to be just like you and aging is going to be a joy.” When I turned 60 and Jeannie turned 70, I just kept saying, “Getting older and aging, if that’s what it’s like, I really want to be like you.” Then she turned 65 and 75. Then I turned 70 and she turned 80 and she was still active and doing a lot of wonderful outdoor activities. Then turned 75, turned 85 and realized that all of these years that I looked so much forward to aging because of Jeannie, I realized that she was slowly losing some of her memory. She would repeat herself a lot.

Last September, her family took her from her beautiful home in Hawaii here and took her to Kirkland, Washington and got her an independent living situation. We talk once in a while on the phone. As soon as the COVID virus broke out in Kirkland, Washington when many, many people dying, her daughter who was three miles away, took her out of that facility and took her back to her home. Now she spends several weeks with each of her daughters in a round-robin situation.

We do a happy hour every Friday for an hour. Jeannie is now 87. I’m 77. When I turned 77 this year in May and I looked at Jeannie, I somehow changed my mind about aging. That this woman that had been such a star of health and wellbeing for me, even though she maintains her extremely positive attitude, I’m a little bit more skeptical about aging because my friend Jeannie is aging, losing some of her memory. But the happy part of it is that when I brainstormed or heartstormed these topics yesterday, she also came out to be the most kindest person I’ve ever known.

Her house up in the Hills has a swimming pool. I go there every day. Nobody’s there right now. I go there every day. I water the plants and I swim for an hour. So she still remains for me this source of amazing wellbeing and kindness and generosity. As she ages in her own way, I still remember the beautiful and precious experiences that we’ve had together. The inspiration that she’s been to me. If you could put up the other picture, I think it’s a really pretty picture of her. This was after triathlon training. It was her birthday, probably her 80th birthday.

She remains to me a source of deep kindness and respect and love. And together with that, I realize that this is also something that I’ve changed my mind about: that aging is maybe not for sissies.

The Definition of Beauty

Life Story Club Contributor

June 17, 2020

So when I think of beauty, what comes up for me is the work that we’re doing here in Oahu. I am in Hawaii, so that picture is real, even though it’s a screen-share. Three years ago, we started a Taharah, which, in Jewish tradition and ritual, means “Holy friends.” And according to Jewish ritual, when somebody dies, part of the ritual of preparing for burial or cremation or will body programs, is that a group of women for women and men for men help midwife the soul on its journey.

And one of the ways we do this is we, with the person who has died, we call her the Taharah. We gather a group of women who have been trained to do this work both practically and spiritually, and we wash the body, do a ceremony that bathes the body ritually, dresses the body in traditional garments that were worn by the high priests a long time ago, and then transfer the body into the casket, accompanied with a lot of ritual and prayer. We do this by gathering beforehand, sharing a certain intention that we share. And there’s a whole series of prayers that go along with this.

So we started our chevra kadisha three years ago. And our first experience was one of the women was named Miriam. She was a teacher for many, many, many years. And for the past year of her dying, she couldn’t speak, she couldn’t eat, she was in a care home. And finally, her husband decided that it was time to let her go. So she was our first Taharah, which is this ritual washing. And it was a very deeply amazing experience for all the women. We were five women who participated, four women who helped actually do the physical washing and the preparing the dressing and the transferring into the casket, and two other women who were saying the ritual prayers that go along with this.

And when you talk about beauty, of course, I’m in Hawaii. I just came from the ocean, I was paddling this morning, there’s so much beauty around me physically. But I never realized what beauty there is in helping somebody go on their journey. And as a group of women, a community of women, helping this woman together as a community of women, when she is washed, and when she is dressed, and when she is cared for, and when she is put into the casket finally, Miriam was so beautiful. And part of the prayers that we say as we dress her in each part of the garments that she traditionally is put into is acknowledging from the Song of Songs. Each part of her that is radiant and beautiful. And so for me, when I think of beauty, I think about this experience, and our first experience of Miriam, and how beautiful, and how much at peace, and how much love and respect she was cared for as we prepared her for her burial.

Miriam loved chocolate, so now as part of our traditional ceremony at the end of the ceremony, the women gather, we hold hands, we do a blessing over our hands after the ceremony and this ritual. And now we share chocolate, because Miriam loved chocolate. So now every time we do one of these Taharah ceremonies, we share chocolate to remember her, and also acknowledge and our gratitude for her to being our first teacher in this process.

Right now, because of COVID, we’re doing this virtually. We’re not physically with the body, but we are creating a group of women. We just did one last week of eight women on Zoom, on the phone, saying prayers, visualizing each of these steps that we do actually in the hands on process. So beauty comes in many forms, in many shapes, and I think it’s up to us to see the beauty in the world, even through death and dying.

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