Here I am, still in the Holy Land, boarding a plane late tonight and arriving 4-1/2 hours later at Logan Airport. That’s the miracle of plane travel and jet lag. You can take off from Tel-Aviv at 1 in the morning of Christmas Eve, sleep a long time huddled against the window in one of the back rows, and open your eyes after an 11-hour flight when the plane lands at 5:30 am on Christmas Eve in Boston. Not an hour wasted.
Make your way slowly to the off-site parking lot, look at the snow and ice shrouding your car while standing in socks and open-toe shoes, and contemplate how to clean everything up and get on the road home.
I leave an ailing mother and a loving brother and sister and go home to Tim, Aussie and Harry. I think about what it used to be like to go back home to Bernie after his stroke. I’d come in and find him either at the table or up in his bed, and he’d sing aloud: “Here she comes, Miss America!” I’d bend down and he’d look up to catch my kiss on his lips. No great background crescendo music, no loving, passionate photo for the ages—and what I wouldn’t do to do this again with him.
I watched my mother almost disappear three days ago. She’s dry and bent as an autumn leaf, and the slightest breeze can bring her down. It can happen tonight, it can happen as soon as I land in Boston, it can happen a year from now. No big cancer, no big illness, just old age claiming more and more of her.
She looked at me today: “Were you in the camps?” she asked.
“I was born after the war,” I tell her.
“How many years are there between us?”
“Twenty-one,” I reply.
She’s astounded. “Twenty-one! You’re 21 years older than me!”
Yes, mom, right now I feel 21 years older than you. Which reminds me of another koan in our Book of Householder Koans coming out in February 4, 2020 (you can pre-order it here): How heavy is my mother’s diaper? So many of us now become our parents’ parents, even our parents’ ancestors. We decide whether to listen to the doctor and leave them in hospitals or bring them home and live with the results (as we decided last Thursday), we monitor their oxygenation, we tell them to eat, we keep to date on the medical insurance.
The goodness of people blows my mind. I have had to struggle with the shallow breaths and exhaustion of asthma (have begun a second course of steroids after the first didn’t work), and voices and events feel several dimensions away, like echoes making their way into a tired, weak brain.
But everywhere I feel surrounded by the goodness of people:
I received a text about Harry: “This dog is at my house. His collar has this phone number on it. He has a hurt paw. I am at [address]. My phone number is: –.” They sent a photo of Harry, seen above. A few calls revealed that Aussie and Harry had run away (due to the high snow they can now leap over the fence); as usual, Aussie came home. Harry, on the other hand, made it to the next town. Tim picked him up and brought him home; he has a broken nail on his paw. I thanked my neighbors, and they wrote back: “It was a pleasure to take care of him. He is a very sweet boy!” I will bring them a gift from Israel tomorrow and leave by their door.
I am deeply moved by the care my mother gets. What a hard time this is for her as she not only ails physically but slips more and more into dementia, living and re-living the Holocaust. But love surrounds her all the time from both family and Swapna Santosh, who arrived from India, calls her Mother, and begs her Hindu gods to heal her.
And now Ram Dass has passed. He deserves his very own post, and I will write about him and the time we spent together in Maui which meant so much to Bernie and me. He went through such travails since his big stroke, and I have to frankly admit I feel relieved that this can finally end. He was heroic through all these years, and just kept on teaching through it all. So when I think of love, I think of RD.