fate · god · TEACHING

“Why do good things happen to bad people?”

https://dug-studios.com/2017/10/26/the-fates/
https://dug-studios.com/2017/10/26/the-fates/

In planning my lesson for our 7th grade novel, I’d toyed with the idea of framing the whole book — and perhaps the year — to center around these questions: Why do good things happen to bad people?  Why do bad things happen to good people?

The protagonists in our novels this year are, by turn, a bully attempting to reform, a distraught girl exacting revenge on her best friend, a social outcast hero, and Anne Frank.

It would be very logical to bring these two questions to bear on these books.  But as I think into it further, I wonder if the answer I want them to arrive at is too prescriptive: “Because they do.”

There was a time after cancer when I felt that, because my understanding was that I had in some ways brought leukemia on myself by denying who and what I am in the world, in remission I must act in ways that wouldn’t bring down that wrath again.  So, I joined a band, began singing, got real headshots, auditioned, flopped auditions, got cast.

The two years after cancer (following a few months of emotional whiplash: “You’re going to die!  …  Wait.  Looks like you’re not going to die.  Good on you.  Bye!”) became a flurry of activity, in part to embrace that I was alive and in part out of desperate fear to be in that circumstance again.

At some point during those two years, I was on the phone with a mentor describing my terror of “not doing enough” (even before cancer, “wasting my life” was my biggest fear…and remains up there today…).  I said to her that if “G-d” was trying to send me a message to engage in my life, will “G-d” do it again if I slow down?  I was perpetually haunted by this question.

So my frientor (friend/mentor?!) told me this:  “Maybe you need to take G-d out of the equation.”  Less G-d, she said.

Less Fate, less scales in the balance, less sword of Damacles.  Less notching up good and bad, useful and harmful, actions toward live Molly and actions toward dead Molly.

This was a huge relief to me.

It was important at the time of diagnosis and treatment to dive into the idea that I could effect some change on my circumstance.  And, it became important after remission and treatment to absorb the idea that maybe it didn’t have anything to do with me.  Maybe it just “was.”

This, is a very tough pill to swallow.

In a world where we (I) do much of what we can to exact control over our circumstances, to accept the belief that we’re not at the mercy, or benevolence, of a force outside ourselves — a force wherein “things happen for a reason” — can be unmooring.

Sometimes bad things happen to good people.  Sometimes good things happen to bad people.

Sometimes “it is what it is.”

I don’t yet know if and how I’ll bring in these questions to my students.  Are they useful questions?  Or do I have one aim, which is to bring the idea that sometimes they just do?

The present book they’re reading (The Thing about Jellyfish; great book, go read it [Thanks for the rec, Marie!]) is an entire attempt to grapple with the question of “Why?” and itself comes to the conclusion of “Just because.”  So maybe it’s a question to hold up for them for this novel, to help us all see that, while our actions do have consequences, sometimes things do just happen, too.

 

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god · Jewish · relationships

Devotion.

2 16 Camp Harlam.jpg
Camp Harlam’s Chapel on the Hill. Kutztown, PA.

The following is a list of the organizations at which I’ve worked during the past 10 years:

The Bureau of Jewish Education.  Congregation Beth El.  Oakland Hebrew Day School.  Brandeis Marin.

Perhaps you notice the clear and obvious trend: Jew.  Jewish.  Hebrew.  Jewey jewness.

I grew up Reform in northern New Jersey, and attended Sunday and Hebrew school, high holiday services, and occasional family services.  For a while (apparently at my and my brother’s behest), my family sat down for Shabbat dinner with a challah and chicken dish every Friday night.  One year, to our father’s ire, my brother and I chose to honor Rosh Hashanah by walking around the duck pond across from the synagogue while our parents went to services.

Ben and I went to Jewish sleep away camp, and learned the songs and more melodic prayers.  I became active in my synagogue youth group which participated in wider NJ-NY events, connecting with high school students across the region, singing those camp songs and new songs, and crafting inside jokes and photo albums.

When I lived in South Korea teaching English after college, I attended a Passover seder on the American Army base in Seoul (where the hagaddah [prayer book] was written in English, Hebrew, and Korean!).  After being abroad, I moved to San Francisco, got a job at a property management company, and fell in with the Chabadnik family (one of our tenants), who were generous and inviting and funny.

Then, I quit that job, became awfully ill with a 104-degree fever, and pondered what in the hell was I going to do for work.  As I lay bedridden that week, I asked myself, “Besides ‘creativity,’ what do I love?”  I answered myself, Well, I like being Jewish. !

I then went on the internet and Googled “Jewish San Francisco.”  The rest, as they say, is history (aside from the 103-degree fever with which I attended my interview with the BJE!).

Yesterday, I got to sit in the synagogue that is attached to the school where I work.  Every Thursday, the school gathers together to sing and pray and learn.  And I love it.

The songs are generally similar to those I learned in Jew camp and youth group, and I like to notice what’s different from East to West coast melodies.  The order of the service is the same; the wave of choral voices and clapping is the same; the eternal flame over the Torah is the same.

I’m not religious.  I love Jews and Jewishness and songs and clapping and “L’chayim-ing,” but I do not love the dogma or doctrine — the very little I admit that I know of it.  I do love the wide-openness I find in Reform Jewry, and how whatever my conception of G-d or Jewishness can fit generously inside the fleshy parameters of the religion.

Yet, what feels the most significant, most comforting, most embracing is that I can sit inside that synagogue yesterday, hear the voices of children and guitar crash over me, and mourn the present (folding and unfolding) dissolution of my relationship, and be witnessed and honored and held by the hand of whatever G-d there resides.

abundance · ambition · deprivation · doubt · god · spirituality · trying

Tuning by Ear.

Because I’ve begun a round of work with a new mentor recently, we’re talking a lot about “god.”
Specifically, this past Saturday, I read to her my current conception of this ineffable “power”:
“My Higher Power is in all things.  It lives & comes from a place inside me where I’ve never been scared & where there is always calm wisdom.  This place doesn’t give me instructions or guidance, it simply can reinforce or reassure my own decisions.  (Though I wish it did give guidance & instructions!)
This force is impersonal in some ways, because it belongs to everybody, and because it also doesn’t act out of reward or punishment because it is not human or personified.  But the force works toward health & wholeness.  It is the source of wholeness & would be satisfied for all to connect to it & recognize it.  This power is one of divine flow and order; it is unrushed.  It is often seen in nature, because it is in the natural cycle of life & death, but it is bigger than that. 
When I feel in touch with this power, I feel calm, energized/alive, unrushed, wise & accepting — accepting of myself & of the outside world & circumstances.  When I feel in touch with this power, I feel a stable ground to stand on, and I don’t have racing questions about my life.  I feel at peace. 
I sometimes get impatient with this power because it is so slow/calm & not clear w/instructions or answers to my questions.”
My friend/mentor listened to this. I anticipated we’ve move on but she said gently that it sounded like there was a bit of conflict there. Did I agree? Hell yes! It makes me mad that I can’t get answers, but I don’t believe that I’m supposed to. That’s not what this power is about. 
Then she sagely suggested something: “You have a belief that makes you unhappy.”
But, what can I do about that, I asked? Am I supposed to reconceive my higher power, or just come to accept that I don’t get answers? I like this conception of a higher power. 
She agreed it’s a good one, but … she has an alternate belief, which I don’t have to subscribe to, but she wanted to propose her own experience: She does get answers. She believes she does get information and guidance and instructions. (Not like, crazy woo-woo hearing voices.)
As we spoke, I posed my own question: Is it possible that I am receiving answers, but I’m simply not hearing them? My ear isn’t attuned to them? 
She said she doesn’t believe in a working toward whatever is “God’s will” kind of spiritual world, but rather toward whatever is for the “Highest Good.” Which makes a lot more sense to me. Because this whole “God’s will” vs. my will thing is a real bitch to suss out. 
And then she said something radical for folks among my kind: The Highest Good often is what I want. Where I get f’ed up is where I believe that “G-d” doesn’t want me to have what I want. 
She said that our desires and impulses and intuitions are often calls and pulls from that deepest place within us. (Surely, that doesn’t mean Ice Cream for Dinner, but you get the point, I hope!)
So, I gave myself the assignment this week of trying to attune my ear to hear the guidance that I feel I’ve been deprived of. 
And this morning, I had an odd experience of noticing. 
I’ve been doing the Deepak/Oprah 21-day meditation challenge, as I tend to do when they come around. 20 minutes, free, a good start to the day (no matter what may be happening in the news about them personally, thank you).
This morning, the “centering thought” was: “I receive the wisdom of life.”
So I tried out my friend’s theory. A bit frustrated and tangled up in my own thoughts: “Alright, “God,” Should I try to go to school this Fall or not?”
I’ve been waffling on whether to go to grad school for my teaching certificate without having the proper knowledge foundation at the moment. There are 3 more exams to be certified, 2 to get entry into the grad program. One of these tests, I believe I can pass; one will need a LOT of studying; and the third, I’ve signed up for a summer Physics course at the local city college, because I need all the help I can get. 
Do I float another year? Do I try to push myself to do it this year? There’s still room in the program, and my acceptance is contingent on passing the 1st two tests before school begins. 
What do I do? 
What happened this morning (in aggro-meditation!) was this: I had a simple thought that sounded exactly like all my other thoughts do: “You can try for anything you want, Molly.”
There was no magic bell or deep baritone indicating whether this was the “Voice Of The Universe;” it sounded like most of my other swirling thoughts. But it held my attention differently, because this is not a thought that I usually have. 
I do not usually believe that I can have or try for anything I want. I am usually talking myself out of things. Flaking on social engagements. Procrastinating with Netflix. I am used to believing that the road to abundance is a scrappy struggle against myself, where I wind up exhausted and often, not having even left my apartment!
You can try for anything you want, Molly.
But it sounds so impulsive to just “try”! It sounds to ungrounded, and I don’t want to take developmentally unrealistic steps and then simply get disheartened. I don’t want to charge into something half-cocked and half-prepared because I want to stop waiting on my life!
But I believe the point of what that thought was saying was that I can try, and I can fail. I can try, and not fail. I can wait for next year. Or not. 
Seems like it’s back to my original idea of not getting clear instructions, doesn’t it???
Yes. And. 
I think what I heard was that the road of life is less narrow and forsaking than I imagine it to be. That the road is wide, and forgiving, and will get me where I want to go. 
The point is to make a decision. To try, however falteringly, to believe that I can have what I want. That the road will be there to support me. That abundance is for me, too. 
I don’t know what I will do yet. This is all very new, as of about 30 minutes ago. But, I’d kinda like to try — and see what happens. 
action · despair · dreams · fear · friendship · god · miracle · perseverance · persistence · spirituality · surrender · theology · trying · vision

Men at Work.

  2/17/09: G-d Jar Projects:
  – My band
  – my mural
  – the play or musical I will be in
  – the songs I write
  – the essays and poems
  – the bass I play
  – the vacation I take to Hawaii
  – the sketches I make
  – the painting I do
  – the creative job I am making
At the time I wrote this list, none of these were true or in my life. Today, of this task list I wanted “God” to complete, all except two have come to fruition.
It would be a year from putting this list in my “g-d box”
when I would apply to graduate school for creative writing in poetry. It would
be two years from then when I would take my first oil painting class at that
college and start writing my daily blog.
It would be 4 years from putting this list in the jar when
my friend would become a flight attendant, and ask me if I wanted to escape winter and my chemo treatments and go to Hawaii for cheap.
A few months from there, a year ago, I would finally accept
the invitation to be a part of the band my friend had been asking me to join
for years, and actually use the bass I’d bought for $5 when I was 19. And not
long from then, I would begin auditioning and taking acting classes, and eventually be cast in a play.
The only items on this list that haven’t come to fruition
yet are the mural and the creative job.
The mural seems less important than it did 5 years ago, though
it would still be very cool to do.
The creative job “I am making” (whatever that means!) is still in
flux, in process.
Astonishing, isn’t it, that things I had no idea how they
would come to pass have all come to
pass? I could never have imagined when I wrote that list that I would actually
be in a band, or be able to go to Hawaii. Those were
the gifts and “rewards” of successful, other people. But, some part of me has
always believed that I can be one, or they wouldn’t have been in the box.
I love looking at this list. It is so concrete. I can check each off with a stroke of joy and elation: I
painted! I wrote! I acted! I vacationed! WHOOP! Look at me, enjoying a life (in spite of my self).
We all know what I’m going to say: If everything else on the
list has come to pass except the last one, then there must be hope that even
that can come to pass as well.
I am not sure I’m exactly an optimist, but I am a believer
in the efficacy of asking for help, not doing it alone, but doing it. Eventually.
Because, I should mention that going to school has saddled me
with nearly $90,000 in student loan debt and sent me into a recovery program
around my relationship to money and scarcity. I should mention that my airline
friend offered me the trip to Hawaii because I needed a break from cancer. And that I only finally reached back out to my
friend with the band as I was sitting alone and bald in my apartment, listening to a CD,
and busted out crying because I wanted to be a part of something like that –
because I didn’t want to be taken from the chance to have that in my life.
It’s not as if this list got checked off according to the
“easy way,” is my point. It took a lot of work, help, reaching out, despair,
action, pleading, and god damned willing it to be.
I would not have
chosen this route to getting these items checked off, and yet, here I sit
elated that so many of them have been. They say that it’s the journey not the
destination, but these journeys sucked. The routes to getting here, to crossing
off these accomplishments that have brought me joy, were really horrible, scary, and
painful.
It’s a strange dichotomy to sit with: The immense gratitude for being where I am, and the questioning
of the benevolence and efficacy of the path that brought me here.
So I guess what I sit with now is whether I want the road
to crossing off the last item on this list – “my creative job” – to be as
arduous as the roads before it. It is true that sometimes we don’t have a
choice, and choices are made for us, but I feel today that I do have a choice
on whether I want to struggle toward this final goal, whatever the
circumstances, or if I want to acquiesce toward it. Maybe not even “acquiesce,”
but move with joy. I mean I have a whole list of accomplishments to buoy this
part of my journey, right? 

Maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t have to be so hard. 

action · anger · faith · fear · god · hope · perseverance · rage · self-will · spirituality · surrender

But, damnit, I *do* care.

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I’ve had “I’ve got you, babe” stuck in my head for the last
few days. I’m catching up on the 2nd half of the final season of House, and one of the characters was singing and playing
it the other day. I’ve been thinking about it, vaguely, in relation to the
whole “turning it over” concept that’s asked of me in my current work. Turn it,
everything, present, past, future, over to something else, something “caring,” it tells us because, as we’ve learned by now, trying to do it, to finagle it on my
own, doesn’t work out too well.
However, this “care” business… Well, we heard me gripe about
“god” the other day. And luckily I still have a few prompt questions to write
through and maybe get somewhere with around … “god.” I just don’t know what
will come of it. Although I’ll do it anyway.
I know I’m “not alone,” I know that there’s healing and
progress and momentum in doing this work without knowing the outcome. But, I’ve
had to up my own woo-woo-ness to help get me there a little. Because, as I’ve
said, sometimes “god’s plan” includes some really fucked up shit. And fuck
trusting that “thing” whatsoever. Asshole.
Jews are supposed to “wrestle and grapple” with god. It’s
part of what we’re asked and allowed to do.
On Saturday night, I saw a play that was focused around a
Catholic family in the 50s and their relationship to each other, Catholicism,
and a nun with a heart condition. The main character is a 12 year old boy,
heading to confirmation, and he keeps on questioning the doctrines. Why did god
put us here, is one of the questions the nun asks. He replies, To have fun. –
That’s not the proscribed answer, by the way.
If you don’t learn this, you go to hell. Well, I’m not sure
I believe in hell, he replies.
He isn’t quashed at the end; in fact, his questioning helps
to open everyone else up.
And so, I have to believe that my questioning, my hesitance,
my ire will do the same.
I am past a point of blind faith. But, sometimes there’s
nothing else than that either. So, what then?
There’s a billboard I drive past on the way to work. For
about a month, it was an ad for a casino, portraying simply the eyes of a
ravenous, coy, coaxing woman. The copy read: Luck will find you.
Each time I drove past it, I said aloud, No it won’t.
Luck doesn’t find us. We find Luck. To quote the 80s: “There is no fate but what we make.”
And yet, … I’m past the point of blind willfulness, too.
I know that a belief in hope and change, in love, lead me to
show up for things that are uncomfortable. I know that my knowledge that I
really can’t do it alone leads me to call people, write this homework shit, and hope
that the next right action will open up to me.
I know I’m not hopeless, or a hopeless case. I know I’m not
throwing off the mantle of faith in favor of self will-ing myself through my
life. I’ve spent plenty of torn-up hours trying to “make it work.” Trying to
change others, my past, present, and future.
So, I know I’m at surrender. I know I’m at the place of
letting go, and trusting “what is.” Or trying to trust it, rather.
But, I’m scared. I’m scared for me, I’m cautious with my
hope for others; I’m a great scoop more apathetic about the god thing, at the
same time I’m more charged about “moving forward” in many places in my life.
I’m tired. I’m grieving the loss of innocence. I cannot yet
believe in the (fucking) “care” of a higher power. I think Fate is an asshole.
The schmuck who pulls your chair out from beneath you when you’re about to sit
and, like Nelson on The Simpsons,
cackles, “Heh Heh!”
I thought I’d given up that one, that punitive idea, that
pull me closer/push me away god.
I could decide to call this all evidence of that god, and therefore defy and reject the whole concept. Every
day I go to work with a woman who lost her baby at 8 months pregnant. Every
day, she and I, simply by our presence, remind one another that nothing is certain in this life. Joy is not guaranteed.
So, like I said, I’m ramping up my woo-woo tools again. I’m
reading affirmations, listening to them, signed up for the Oprah/Deepak
meditation month. I’ve got to. I’ve got to give myself some pudding in which
the medicine is slipped.
I’ve got to tell myself, in a fake it till you make it way,
that I am alright. That 5-year mortality statistics don’t mean anything to a bad-ass like me.
That I am cooler than I think I am, and worth every effort and so much ‘then
some’ that I take toward my health and my goals.
I’ve got to say, I believe in the care of these simple
things. In the care of a little self-love. In the care of a coffee date with a
friend, the soft breathing of a baby.
Anything else can go fuck itself. 

community · death · faith · god · health · order · reality · recovery · spirituality

In Vain.

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God? G-d? Him, Her, It, We, They?
The Great What Is?
The tendency of all things toward progress, perhaps. Toward
health and order.
Cut your hand, and assuming all other things are right with
your body, it will heal itself. In a week or two, it will be good as new.
Sometimes scarred, but altogether, well.
In parallel, cut your spirit, your psyche, and the tendency
of them are toward healing and health. If we don’t hide away the wound, or habitually fiddle with it, we’re sort of compelled to heal. It’s the natural state of ourselves,
and it’s my experience and observation that the order of life will lead us
there.
In this, I can believe.
In benevolence, I have a harder time, these days.
I’m at the part in my personal work where I’m supposed to
think about “god” and my relationship to it, whatever I choose to define it as.
I’m at the part where I come to believe that it wants the best outcome for me
and all creatures. The part where I’m supposed to take a deep breath, open my
arms, and fall into the caring embrace of this power.
Balls.
Because here’s the part that snags my shirttail: sometimes
“god’s” plan includes the death of babies. Sometimes it includes the overdose of
a friend, the death of a parent before you’re old enough to know them. Sometimes “god’s plan” includes rape. And of course, sometimes it includes
cancer in a healthy 30 year old.
I will not stand with those who say it’s part of a plan. I
don’t think it is. I think you can take those experiences, and choose to
integrate them into a theology and a world-view that helps you get through
them. Mostly, you can choose to tell yourself, perhaps truthfully, that their
or your experience will benefit those around you. That others get to witness
how you struggled, railed, and got through it anyway. I do believe that we can
choose to turn our experiences into something valuable.

(Though I do have unresolved issues with being or using anyone as a goddamned touchstone on how to life your life more fully. “I could go at any time, just like him — I think I’ll learn from his pain & in homage and reverence, I’ll paint that portrait; become a doctor; take a trip.” Balls. F’ you, man. My life is not your feeding ground. — … unless of course, it is.)

But I will not say
that I believe that “god” puts these obstacles before us on purpose. I just don’t think it’s
that intelligent.

The intelligence in focusing all flowers toward the sun (or
moon, depending), the intelligence that makes all those little newborn turtles
scurry toward the ocean, the intelligence that turns felled trees into
compost: it’s order, it’s incredible, it’s inspiring, but it’s not benevolent,
necessarily, and it’s not because a force underlies all and declares some of those
turtles will be scooped up by predators in their first moments of life – that’s simply part of the order of
it.
Because here’s another side to the whole “God as
benevolence” thing: it means (or can mean) that we believe we have an ace in the hole. It means
wishful and fantastic thinking that “god didn’t take us this far to drop us on our ass” or “god is
slow but never late,” which translates to, if I hold out long enough, if I pray
hard enough, if I act well enough, I’ll be alright. And buddy, that just ain’t
true.
It’s not really about god at all. Being or becoming
“alright” has more to do with how we chose to interpret and incorporate out
life experiences. God isn’t gonna rescue me, reward me, or punish me. It just
doesn’t care like that. But I do. And you do. And together we can form a lattice of support
that feels bigger than ourselves, that carries us through and over those hard
times. Together, we are aimed toward health, and we connect to improve our
chances of getting there.
In that, I can
believe. I can believe in our collective desire toward joy. I can believe in my
desire to clear out the junk in my heart, so that I can help you
toward joy, too.
Is that “god”? Not really. Is it good? You bet. 

fate · god · grace · sobriety

BFGOG

This’ll be a short one, due to time, and that I feel quite
drawn today (insert cartoon image of me—get it?).
I’ve been sitting with this phrase since last week, when two
work occasions brought it to mind: “But For the Grace of G-d, there go I.”
The 16-year old sister of a student got locked up in a 5150
last week, for mental and drug-related reasons.
An unstable woman my age sought to get all bases of her soul
covered by coming to my work before she gets sent away to jail.
It’s been 10 years, nearly 11, since I was in a padded room
or a barred cell.
But for the grace of god, there go I.
Call it grace, call it luck, call it divine intervention, call it none of these. I don’t know why, and I don’t test my chances. As best I can, I stay in
the middle of the boat, make phone calls, meditate, get outside help, and just continue to try, because there is a gossamer slip of distance between those
lives and my own.
Call it whatever you want, including random chance. Just
call me grateful.