Welcome to Ask Gail – a place to share questions and answers about what matters to us most: family, friends, community, health, peace, books, favorite resources, what feeds our soul… Ask Gail is also where we can create and share very important information like “Gail’s Guide to Going to the Hospital” and “Gail’s Storm Checklist.” Stay tuned for more…
This is the wind that
strips the trees naked
baring their outlines
to the coming winter.
This is the wind that
shreds the leaves
blowing branches and
garbage can lids
down the street
car doors and stoops.
This is the wind that
rips the clappers
from the wind chimes
and tears my Peace flag
from the back porch
bending every growing thing over
and sending all that’s left of summer
careening around the yard
with the lawn chairs.
Begin by feeling how year after year you have done your best to care for your own life. Then begin to acknowledge all that has supported you in this care:
“With gratitude I remember the people, animals, plants, insects, creatures of the sky and sea, air and water, fire and earth, all whose joyful exertion blesses my life everyday.
With gratitude I remember the care and labor of a thousand generations of elders and ancestors who came before me.
I offer my gratitude for the safety and well-being I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the blessings of this earth I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the measure of health I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the family and friends I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the community I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the teachings and lessons I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the life I have been given.”
It is September, a time of harvest and a turning from summer to fall. Vacations are mostly over, the children are back in school, and the promise of time off and trips away fades into memories and photographs. It is also the month of Elul, a time of reflection and repentance, which prepares us for Rosh Ha-Shanah, Yom Kippur, and the new year.
I love this time of year: the change from hot to cooler, the fresh breezes, the changing light, the bountiful harvest from the garden. And I always loved going back to school—I still do. The new binder, paper, markers, books—the look and feel of possibility, of new beginnings. I also love the heightened sense of the holidays approaching.
And yet, even as the season changes and my spirit calls me to reflect and repent, I am struck by how “stuck” I am in my old patterns of behavior, thinking, and feeling, and expectations both of myself and of others. Still walking down the same street and falling in the same holes, and only sometimes getting out before I do too much damage.
So, once again, I prepare to let go of that which does not serve me or others but to which I am wedded, either by fear or habit or ignorance. I think about who I have harmed this past year. Am I truly sorry? Is it time to make amends? And what about forgiveness? Am I ready to forgive myself and others for our human weaknesses?
The High Holy Days are a sacred pause—a time to make public what each of us faces every day in our interactions with others. We hurt and are hurt. We are all wounded. We are all in need of forgiveness. In the spirit of Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur, I seek to forgive and be forgiven. The Talmud teaches us that every minute we begin again. Let us begin.
I must have been born willful,
looking like my Dad
such a disappointment
How else to explain
the beating down
the not encouraging
the relegation to
Clean the house
cook the dinner
wash the dishes
take care of my brother
and then my sister
who was the golden child
blond curly hair
loving, like the doll
my mother wanted the first time
My brother cowered
when they hit him
I hit back and ran away
even in my sleep
I was always running away
At night, in the summer,
in the Catskills,
they nailed the windows shut
and locked the door, but
I still ran down the country roads
Away from them
toward my own
maybe defiant, self!
© Gail Ostrow, revised 2014
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why. And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.
Mom’s shiva candle will go out tonight.
Seven days since she died.
Where to put her picture?
It doesn’t matter, nothing does,
except that Dad died and then Mom died
and I am no longer a daughter
of anyone in this world.
Kayla choreographed and danced this piece as her final memorial project for our Literature of the Holocaust class Fall ’13. She has been dancing with this group for over 10 years. It is a powerful and moving piece. Please feel free to pass it on.
His eyes and lips shut
as if in soundless sleep
silent as the snow
that embroiders the old oak leaves
covering the ground
and spreads a cloth across his lap
as he cradles a nest of frost
as if fledglings lie beneath
protected from the cold
protected by the unheard hum of Om
and the strength of his presence
beyond the permanence of stone.
by Janet Krauss