This Monday is the 30th anniversary of my marriage to the guy I fell for when I was 19 years old. I wept when I came across the first published piece I ever wrote among my father’s photos and memorabilia when I was cleaning out his home after his death. This was a reader’s write column for the sun magazine, for which I won a year’s subscription. It was 1988, the year our first child was born and I was 26 when I wrote: “He laughs when he tells me, ‘so here you are married to the man of your dreams.’ He’s right, But I often forget that. The memory gets lost beneath the piles of dirty laundry, dirty dishes and frantic schedules. New baby and old family issues dominate the focus. But every now and then, seeing his penmanship or looking at him reading across the room, behind his round metal rimmed glasses, I feel the young girl of nineteen who fell in love with him. Grown up now, I fall in love all over again…But this love is a deeper one, born of all the efforts of conflicts resolved, communication achieved, joy and pain shared. It’s a love that fills all of me and all of my life.”
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Lately, I am having to do a lot of practice with going through the motions of my Positivity work. Meditation, usually a deep solace, is hard to stay focused. I drift into thoughts and concerns for half my time and then awaken to what I have missed. Likewise, with my exercise routines, my clogged head feels like it is dead weight on a body that is weak. My emotions and thoughts pull me back over and over to what is wrong around me or worse still within me.
by Rabbi Allen S. Maller
When I die
If you need to weep
Cry for someone
Walking the street beside you.
You can love me most by letting
Hands touch hands, and Souls touch souls.
You can love me most by
Sharing your Simchas (goodness) and
Multiplying your Mitzvot (acts of kindness).
You can love me most by
Letting me live in your eyes
And not on your mind.
And when you say Kaddish for me
Remember what our
Love doesn’t die, People do.
So when all that’s left of me is love
Give me away.
There are a couple of immutable rules to living a love-filled life, which demand respect and compliance. Although they are simple, they are hard to recognize, as our misunderstanding of them is often built into our identities through early emotional wounds. It is easy to become self righteous about what we believe about love and easier still to never understand that the action of love is the courage to work at it.
These rules become clear often at the moment of death, when we are faced with the loss of one who loved us.
Immortality comes through love. This is what I just recently learned at the passing of my own father’s life. It had been close to 40 years since I felt love towards him. His wounded heart only knew one language- anger, and over the years it hardened into a bitterness that made it unsafe to love him. But now that he is gone, I am struck often, and forcefully, with tears of missing him, the father that I loved, and the wasted tragic years in between when I was unable to feel or express that love towards him.
I was born a middle child between an elder sister and younger brother. We were never close, and now that my father has died, I am able to see not only my relationship with my father more clearly, but also with my siblings, as well. It was a dear friend who shared with me a poem called “Elder Sister,” which described all the ways that she, as the first one, had to break through the barriers and bear the collateral damages of my parents abuses. She was never interested in me or even liked me, but as this poem taught me, her love was a like a shield that kept me from getting the worst of what happened in our family. Maybe that is why she resented me so; I could be playful, joyful, even at times, completely oblivious to the ways she guarded me from the hardships I didn’t even know were happening.
It has been a long time since I recalled being a little girl, in love with her dad; but since my father has passed away, the block that prevented me from recalling what it felt like to be loved by him, to trust him completely, has fallen away. Mostly it makes me feel really sad about all the things that kept me from feeling that way about him again. Even with all of the efforts I made in the last 8 years to rebuild a connection, what occurs to me now is that the places we can’t forgive and let go are our own making. My father was not an easy man to love… but ultimately the love I withheld from him, I actually withheld from myself.
One of the things that death clarifies like a magnifying glass on a dying leaf in the summer sun is the regrets that collect inside of us over a lifetime. These regrets are kind of like soul missions that we missed the cues on. They require an immense capacity for forgiveness. I began to understand the quality of these regrets while listening to the outpouring of love for a young woman who recently passed in my community. She had a challenging illness that brought her great physical pain and limitation, but she was so totally immersed in love that her pain was continuously transmuted to something beautiful and whole in her evolving artwork, in her relationships everywhere she went, even in the tragic ending of her too short life. All you could feel is love. Her father said it best, “I have no regrets, except for what I will miss in a future we won’t share.”
Sometimes, waking up on Monday gives me a stomach ache. I think about all the things before me and am overwhelmed before I put my feet on the floor. I don’t want to have this relationship to life on any day. So I have come up with a few antidotes to the Monday internal crunch. First, I meditate, usually on the powerful Shakti goddesses that fill me up with protective energy and the feeling of abundance. Actually, I start everyday with meditation because it so dramatically changes the quality of how I think and feel.
I have spent the last four years seeking forgiveness with my father. Multiple trips with my family to Florida, a cruise for his 80th birthday… nothing softened him. He was consistent with his anger and demeaning ways right to the end, but now that he is laying in his final hours in a hospice, the secret door to the forgiveness that has been eluding our relationship came clear to me. All this time I had been thinking I wanted to forgive him for the many ways he demeaned me. But in the end, it was never about forgiving him at all. His behavior towards me only worsened with his aging, keeping me from seeing the way toward him. All along, the real block to forgiveness was in me. I couldn’t access any memories of feeling loved by him, or remember when I loved him and that was what kept me from forgiveness.