THE LIGHT IN THE LAND OF PLENTY

Two days ago I wrote about my return from Santa Barbara, California. I called Santa Barbara home. In the blog, I wondered whether I knew we were in heaven in those early years.

I had left New England a week ago in summer and I came back to fall. It’s raining now and a few yellow leaves are drifting earthward. Ahead of us is sublime October, a heaven of its own.

The truth is that when I was in heaven I didn’t like it. Santa Barbara, with the ocean waves below and the whales making their way down the channel in January, felt too perfect. “It’s full of blonde, thin people,” I complained to a friend who lives there.

It had its hidden parts, such as the homeless people and the many service employees who couldn’t afford its rents and lived in adjoining areas like Goleta and Carpinteria, or farther away in Ventura. But we were offered heaven, and it was hard for me to accept it. A neighbor greeted me every morning without exception (Santa Barbara prides itself on having 300 days of sunlight a year) with the words: “It’s another beautiful morning, Eve.”

Another morning in paradise, I’d groan silently to myself.

My name notwithstanding, I didn’t believe I belonged in paradise. I belonged in low-income neighborhoods of southwest Yonkers, at street retreats, in bearing witness retreats at concentration camps or in places of massacre. I couldn’t relate to bliss. I felt (and still feel) called to spend time at places of great suffering.

Long ago my mother was a hero, saving her own life and the lives of others in the Holocaust. I heard those stories from babyhood and it became my measure for life, as though no one had a right to live any other way except the way she had, through unending service to others.

Before flying to Santa Barbara I spent three days in Denver, Colorado, in the annual conference of Healing Beyond Borders, with its focus on Healing Touch. I was asked to give a keynote talk. They said they got a lot out of my talk; I got even more out of them. I never sat with a group of such open and connected people. Everywhere I felt a heart beating strongly and fervently, connected at one hand to the healing hands of a practitioner and on the other to the deepest place of earth.

“What I’ve learned here all these years,” said the first Healing Touch therapist I met, “was not just the healing I bring my clients, but first and foremost to stay in deep connection with my heart.”

Others said to me: “I’ve learned that I have to heal myself first before I can heal others.”

Bernie might have said: I have to heal myself as I heal others.

We all know this, don’t we? Nothing very original here, I’ve heard this all my life. And yet the temptation to run out the gate to do more, witness more, save more, wins out time and time again.

October is no month to leave New England as the earth puts on one of its most spectacular shows, and I have a front-row seat right in my own back yard. And yet I am already considering leaving for a long weekend to attend a gathering of the Descendants of Wounded Knee in South Dakota. I haven’t yet settled on my feet, or on my seat, and already I’m looking to fly again.

One voice says: “They’ve asked for our support. They’ve asked for witnesses, even for help.” Another says: “And what about you? What do you need?”

I never felt that last question had much legitimacy.

But now something prevents me from booking that flight, and it’s not just finances. Rather, it’s a wish to settle close to my heart and hear its whispers: Good idea, go! Or: No, you have your work here, and you need to rest.

The decision doesn’t matter, more and more I want to keep the channel open to that beating organ inside, the one that pumps oxygen and blood throughout my body and sends me messages that I don’t listen to in the rush and stumble of saving all sentient beings. The one that says: Wait. Listen. Just listen.

There is a Hebrew word: oneg. The closest English translation I come up with is enjoyment. Deep enjoyment. I hear it in the hum of bees still collecting nectar from the waves of goldenrod at the entrance to the woods. The exquisite pleasure of getting into a warm bed with Toibin’s The Master. Running my fingers through Aussie’s black hair and never checking the watch, not even once.

Most of my life I chose not to live a life of oneg, but this is slowly, so slowly, becoming my very own private frontier.

And what about climate change and the demonstrations scheduled for tomorrow? And the immigrants that need rides for doctor appointments in Greenfield? And yes, our Lakota friends in the Black Hills?

My widower friend in Santa Barbara sent these Leonard Cohen lines to the widow in New England:

May the light in The Land of Plenty
May the light in The Land of Plenty
May the light in The Land of Plenty
Shine on the truth some day.