Tag Archives: friendship

fate or free choice

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blue skies and the snow beginning to melt away

I got the letter from goodreads this week, with the March New Releases. I found interest in a book called ‘The Bookseller’ by Cynthia Swanson. It tells the story of a woman in her late 30s who runs a book store with her best friend and enjoys her life and circumstances. But then she starts having this reoccurring dream in which she lives a different life, married to a wonderful man and the mother of three children. And as the story continues, she finds herself torn between the two lives.

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sculpted by nature; I see two birds facing one another

It reminded me of a poem I read many years ago, by a Chinese author, Chuang Tse, in which he tells us that he doesn’t know whether he is a man dreaming that he’s a butterfly… or a butterfly dreaming that he is a man. And strangely enough, the book, and the whole idea of alternative lives or alternative universes integrated well with some ideas I’ve been having about our national elections, coming up in less than a month.

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red anemones raising their heads between patches of snow

I have noticed in recent years, that the democratic contest at election times has become more and more desperate. Where once we listened to ideological arguments regarding the economic system, or the best way to insure the national security, we are now bombarded by insults and accusations coming from both sides of the barricades. Accompanied by hysteric claims that life won’t be worth living if the opposing side were to win the election. Charges of corruption are heard every day. And the mood that is felt in public seems less like that in the halls of academia, and more like that in the football arena, each side shouting their support for sporting heroes, and insulting the opposing side. I have seen this happening in England too, and in the US.

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cultured flowers whose seeds were blown by the wind… and came up in the middle of the park’s grasses

How and why this has happened, is interesting. And I have some thoughts on the subject. But more important to me, is whether we can overcome the urge to look at the political determination as a life and death struggle. The truth of the matter, is that when we live among friends or as a family, we have to accept that we are not all the same, nor are our desires identical. We make compromises. We forgive all kinds of irrational behavior, difficulties… even pain. My beloved cat Nechama, scratches me at times. She has bitten me. These are momentary outbursts; the expression of disappointment, or of frustration. Sometimes, frustration just because I didn’t understand her.

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clover amidst the grasses

Even within ourselves, we have to make compromises in order to live this life with some sense of wholeness. One of the most valuable lessons, is that which we heard as children, ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too’. On a national level, we should keep in mind that our society is made up of a whole lot of people, some of whom have needs very different from ours. With great difficulty, we’ve tried, as human beings, to find the mechanisms which will reflect the majority, with care and insurance for the very small minorities as well. Nothing is truly guaranteed. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone sins now and then, And still, if we look back in time, just a few hundred years, we can see that the majority of people lived a much lower standard of living than we are living today. They had shorter life expectancies, and suffered more from disease and ignorance. Let’s not turn a blind eye to all the advantages we have today, and only focus on what we’re missing, and what we want for ourselves. How much happier we could be if we were to appreciate our riches and not envy those who have more than us.

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a little park in our neighborhood, with fantasy meant for children

Today, many of us tell our children, ‘you can do anything you wish if you just desire it enough, and work unceasingly towards your aim. But this too can be misleading. We can do anything, just so long as we understand our strengths and limitations. For our lives are a tapestry of fate and free choice. Chance has delivered us to the parents that raised us, to the country in which we were born… has given us talents and capacities at birth, certain physical characteristics… and perhaps certain mental and emotional dispositions as well. And within that framework, we have the ability to make choices, to learn or not to learn… to look and listen, or to crave attention. By way of our choices, we can direct our course in life. Or we can allow ourselves to be continuously buffeted by the winds of fate.

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And there is nothing so warm and so consoling as the love of our brothers and sisters, our friends, and our fellow human beings that have to face the uncertainties of life’s challenges the same as we do. These have been my thoughts as I watch the snow recede after the last storm, and listen to the excitement about the upcoming election. May we accept the choice of the majority, even if it requires compromise on our part. We are all part of the family of man.

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a place

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one of my favorite places in this world

Einstein in Tel Aviv

Yesterday, a reblogged post on LensScaper’s fine blog, lead me to Michael Fiveson, who had posted a beautiful graffiti image of Albert Einstein http://m5son.wordpress.com/2013/05/23/einstein/, and this in turn reminded me of a trip I took to the Tel Aviv University a few years ago… and how pleased I’d been at the time, to discover a street named after the great genius. And it was on that fine street, that I found the first graffiti portrait of him I’d ever seen.

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a portrait of Einstein drawn by Doron Wiener

The four lines that Mike had written under his photograph of a graffiti portrait of Einstein, brought a wave of thoughts and memories. Mike mentioned that he shared a birthday with the great man. And while I don’t have much faith in astrology, I was able to understand and share his pleasure at having been born on the same day. He also mentioned that he would have felt lucky to be either a chauffeur or a friend of the noted physicist, and this reminded me of two friends of mine, who had actually offered their services as a driver to men they regarded as heroes. The first had been a full professor and had visited our greatest writer, here in Jerusalem… just to get to know him. Upon hearing that he was about to take the bus to the center of town, he volunteered to drive him, and after they had both enjoyed the trip together, my friend offered to drive for the writer, whenever he might need transportation. Back in those days, a car was quite a luxury, and the writer accepted his offer, and my friend learned a lot from the time spent in his company. Some years later, I heard a similar story from another friend, who offered his services as a chauffer to a much loved Rabbi we both knew; a man whose company alone was a precious gift. This friend had the pleasure of driving the Rabbi all over the country.

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Well, it’s too late to offer such services to Einstein, but it is a great pleasure for me to discover that graffiti artists have paid tribute to his genius even in far away cities. When he died, he left all his papers to the Hebrew University here in Jerusalem, and I had the great pleasure of reading parts of his journals, written with beautiful penmanship in green ink on white paper. Like others, I fell in love with his personality without any connection to his accomplishments in physics and mathematics. I am unaware of any street that bears his name here in Jerusalem, but I did find Einstein street in Tel Aviv, and I offer you a picture of the street sign, topped with an advertisement for BurgerRanch and CocaCola. I like the picture because it brings together the banal and the sublime, and reminds us that we’re all part of the same package.

grooming Charlie

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Charlie is a solid cat
he’s lived in a few places in his life
he’s lived with people and he’s lived with a dog
and knows how to take care of himself
we’ve taken walks together
he’s not insecure
not worried about getting lost
not worried about being loved
he can descend and climb the stairs
of a multi storied building
no problem
he’ll stay out all night
if he’s in the mood for romance
he knows his place in the world…
and Janne, she’s a tough lady too
she’s been living the real life
since her teens
she’s been tested, and she’s true
through thick and thin
and down and out sometimes
she didn’t lose her head
her troubles have just added
to her savvy and her soul
she’s a good friend
and nobody’s fool
and the both of them
know how to appreciate
the pleasures of life
with dignity

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on blackbird’s return

(response to shadows)

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You see,
what could I add at the bottom of such verse…
to let you know I’d been here
and appreciated your words…
to let you know I sat beside you,
as the fire dwindled…
listening to those embers,
in the quiet space…
all the more quiet,
after you’d finished your words.
Even saying I liked it,
would have been an anti-climax.
The dog didn’t wag his tail.
And you didn’t notice
that I nodded my head in the dark.

an unusual trip

As the years have passed, my life has become more and more systematic, planned out, and stable. Once I was willing to set out on a new adventure at the drop of a hat; to stay up all night because ‘something came up suddenly’; to take risks, or to change my plans because something new appeared that interested me. Friends could and would drop by any time, day or night. And when I was working on something that fascinated me, it would not be unusual at all for me to work all night. Nowadays, I make plans for visits with friends. My calendar is very organized. I try to take a walk every morning. I try to take a nap in the afternoon. I’ve become a creature of habit.

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But even so, the habits aren’t iron clad. There are times when I’m willing to make an exception to my regular schedule, and do something completely unexpected or unplanned. It doesn’t happen that often. But when it does, there is that sense of the immediacy of life, and I am reminded once again that nothing can be taken for granted.

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In the last few weeks, I have been a little busier than usual… and at the same time, a little weaker than I’m used to, for a number of reasons which I won’t go into here. It has been cold in Jerusalem. And I had pushed myself a bit too hard some weeks ago. All of which supported my being as methodical as possible in order to get my strength back. But then I got word that a very dear friend of mine was quite ill. He lives in the Galilee, which is quite a distance from Jerusalem. Visiting him would take a half a day’s drive, and if I visited, I would have to stay there for a few days. And to make things still more complicated, I knew the holiday of Purim was approaching, and it is my custom to celebrate the holiday with friends and family in my home in Jerusalem. I didn’t really feel up to the trip. And I had some work that I wanted to finish before setting off to do anything else. But if a friend is ill, it’s not something you can put off for a better time. I knew that if I was going to do this, I had to stop everything and just do it.

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As it happened, after the cold and the storms, we were blessed with a bit of spring weather. The sun came out, and it warmed up some. I packed up everything I might possibly need, and set out in the middle of this week for the north. Packing up, for me, meant transferring any sort of files and work in process to my little computer, and that too was a bit of a job. And of course, I had to cancel some plans, and make some arrangements to cover the time I’d be away from home.

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Fortunately, luck was with me from the moment I set out on this trip. I managed to pick the right hour to get on the highway, and avoided the more exasperating traffic jams along the way. The music that I picked out was just the right thing to supply a fine sound track as I headed north in my trusty car, and though there was a fog bank around the Tel Aviv area, and what we call the central area of Israel… and it may very well have been smog and not fog… by the time I got into the Galilee, I was overcome by the beauty of the greenery. There were wild flowers everywhere, and it was a pleasure to observe them.

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When getting together with my friend David, I had some long hard thoughts about illness and infirmity, and what it really means to reach the end of the road. I found myself remembering how I had felt when I was very ill myself. I hadn’t wanted visitors, or cheering up, or social contacts. Yet, it is a precept of our religion to visit the ill. I thought about that, and wondered how we can ease the discomfort of a fellow human being when we encounter their suffering. Regardless of what they may think they want, or be in the mood for. And remembering how I had been quite willing to leave this world, and ready for it in every way… I couldn’t help but notice that it was harder to be a witness to another’s incapacity and illness than it was to be aware of my own.

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And then, I became aware that in such a situation, we have a much greater capacity for empathy than we have at the celebration of a joyous event. How often have I been at a wedding, and had a good time, and truly celebrated, without spending too much of that time trying to connect to the souls of those whose celebration I was joining? It made me realize how precious such a meeting really is. And there is the hope that the experience is in someway mutual and strengthening.