The power of writing is exhilarating. When I write I feel this power in my veins like a stream of hidden lava bursting at times. In life though I can be like a kitten, searching for warmth and affection.
Mowing our extensive lawn is my acknowledged job.
While we rotate other chores, no one will ever try to take that one away from
me. I spend endless hours on the riding- mower and wonder time and time again
how I was pulled into doing it almost from the moment we became the owners of
this piece of land our motel occupies.
This is a complicated question seeing that I am so
technically challenged. Every machine from the car I drive, out of pure
necessity, to the printer in the office, even a simple stapler dares me to a
mind duel, one I usually miserably loose.
Yet the lawn-mower is my private escape, my mode of
deliverance, and in some odd way, my direct touch with nature from a safe and
From the top of the mower, roaring along, there is no question
that I am in control. I dictate the pace, the course, and the depth of the cut
into the grassy lawn. I get to decide which part of the yard will be cut and
which left to grow. Flowers nod their head with respect (perhaps fear) when I
zoom next to them, and most of the small insects and other assorted living
things, hiding in the tall grass, make sure to stay out of my way.
But it is also about bonding.
As I travel along, sideways, and around my kingdom, I
can inspect and marvel at every small detail. Far but not really out of sight,
I can see every blade of grass, every tiny flower, every new rock that emerged
out of the earth to threaten my smooth sail along the lawn.
The newly planted flowering Weeping Willow trees I
placed in the ground last fall after careful consideration of their growth rate
and flowering ability, I ride by them to check their progress. I look with
pride at the wild lilies I planted along the border, so small when I uprooted
them from someone else’s garden they are now thriving in the wet environment
next to the front conduit. The Nine Cattail that sways slowly in the breeze, my
modest contribution to the assortment of flora in its muddy bottom.
Back and forth,
riding from one side of the lawn to another, I watch with satisfaction how the
tiny blades of freshly cut grass are flying out of the mower’s side chute.
Every few minutes, I look back over my shoulder at the clear lines I created in
the overgrown grass. It’s the sense of fulfillment deriving from a task well
done but also the pride of an artist inspecting his creation.
It is like an allegory I did not fully uncover, but
one day will reveal itself to me and until then the lawn-mower, green and
yellow John-Deere, and me, will keep on cruising along, from one side of the lawn
to the other, keeping an eye on its inhabitants.
I reflect on a sentence I
read on the front page of Yahoo while I stir the coffee and watch the milk
swirls and changes the color from dark brown to tan.
“Human connections are
important. Try to encompass at least ten of them every day.”
I wonder if I can
accomplish this challenge without leaving my home on this dreary rainy day.
1. The first thing I do is look at my
cellphone– David from 7 cups is looking for me.
2. I log into the site that connects volunteer
listeners and members who need a captive listening ear. David and I have a
short conversation about his aspirations to take on the world. He says he likes
to talk to me, and this time he ends the conversation by himself. I joke about
– David and Goliath – he gets it and sends a smiley.
3. I check my online writing group, no one
responded to my last post, so I move on.
4. I send the daily Hebrew word to Sara. Later
she will send me a letter composed of these words. Today’s word – The eye of
the storm. She texts me a thumbs-up.
5. An email from Beth. She just found in her
DNA test that we are third cousins twice removed and is overcome with
excitement. I suggest a few possible surnames for her to check. None fits she
writes back, adding an icon of a sad face.
6. An unknown caller from Honolulu. A formal,
somewhat scary male voice announces that I should call back in the next 10
minutes; otherwise, the police will intervene. I know it is a prank call, but
for a brief moment, I stop breathing. What if it is true?
Fifty-five minutes passed,
and I scored six interactions, I am pleased and reward myself with another cup
of coffee and yesterday’s donut.
7. In my Facebook, I find
two birthday announcements and a picture from two years ago of my dog the day
we got him. I send birthday wishes and marvel at how small he was only a short
8. I sit down to write a long-delayed letter to
my pen pal in Scotland. We’ve been corresponding for over twenty years. We’re
doing it in the good old-fashioned way; paper, envelope, stamp then the wait.
9. My daughter calls to
ask for a recipe. I pull my cookbook that is held together with will power and
sticky fingers and read the ingredients to her. This is an old recipe my mother
used to make. I am happy to pass it on and keep the generational food
10. Outside on my
birdfeeder, yellow Goldfinch shares the grains with a small red squirrel. Above
them, on a bent branch, a blazing red Cardinal performs its metallic chip.
Patches of bright colors against the gray backdrop. I snap a quick picture.
Later I will post it on Facebook.
“Life is like a landscape. You live in the midst of it
but can describe it only from the vantage point of distance.” Charles Lindbergh
On the road to my daughter’s home, this morning, I
drive by the river. I look at its shimmering blue, now that it got freed from
the winter ice hold. I never lived by a river, I never woke up to look at its
slow up and down movement, how the changes of the seasons are reflected in the
water’s color and flow. I never lived next to the ocean in a proximity that
enabled me to listen to the waves break on the shore and watch the white foam unfurl
on the sand then backwash. But I did
live in the desert and was captured by its palate of colors and desolate
beauty, and for a short time, I lived at the foothills of the Rocky mountains
and savored the infinite sea of green.
I easily connect to symbols and metaphors that
originate in the world of natural scenes and concrete landscapes. A mountain, a
stream, the ocean, the vast unending desert, they go right into me and stir up
the words. The external landscapes evoke an intense resonance inside me. Often,
they revive images long forgotten, and with that, they bring in their wake a
sense of ambivalence that never leaves me and going back and force between two
homelands just makes it stronger.
The air in one feel so soft around me, the sounds, the
smells, and the colors familiar and with the people who knew me from the day I
was born I share a common history, going back thousands of years. But most of all
it is the language; that wraps around me
caressing, accepting, signaling “here you are never foreign.”
Then I think about the soft snow cascade of white, and
the spring eruption of colors. The luscious green of the warm summer days and
the blazing reds of fall.
Which of these landscapes is mine, which one reflects
on my life?
Where is my vantage point of distance? the one that
will enable me to see my life with clarity and precision? Or perhaps I am the
lucky one. For a few months each year I get to change my distance and with this
change alter my vantage point of view. As a writer get to describe that point
of view in words.
This morning I
look at the old oak tree towering over the yard and realize that the snow is
receding. At the bottom of the tree I can see a small heap of stones. It is
there that we buried, my cat, Sheleg (snow) last October. She died before the snow came and the ground
was still soft. My husband and I rushed her, in a shoebox all the way from the
motel where we spend our summers, to our winter home, two and a half hours to
the south and dug a small ditch under the tree.
Meir, my other
cat, the one we shipped from Israel is buried on the other side of the same
tree. He died several years before, in the dead of winter. The ground was
frozen and for hours I tried to create a shallow ditch to bury him in.
I tried everything. I lighted a small fire on the
exposed soil. I read somewhere that even if the first 4” from the surface are frozen solid
underneath the ground becomes warmer and softer. When this didn’t work, I tried
an assortment of digging instruments, I found in my husband’s toolbox,
resorting from time to time to stamping on the ground in frustration. I even
considered storing Meir in the freezer until the spring thaw, but the thought
of having to face him every day gave me renewed strength to continue.
Do graves makes
a person feel more connected to the land, I wonder.
Eighteen years since we left Israel, the long, gloomy
winter brings back images of the house we left, clinging to the side of a cliff.
The road, a narrow strip of black asphalt meandering until it gets lost in the
desert. And the small cemetery, at the bottom of the hill, only a dozen of
graves, marked by a few Salt Cedar bushes with their broad unruly crown, and
low to the ground stature, engulfing the soft whispering desert wind or bending
with resignation to its immense power.
My husband does not think that burial is an issue. He
told me many times when we had these bizarre conversations that he wants to be
cremated and his remains spread in several chosen locations. Cremation is
against the Jewish religion I remind him. We Jews go back to the earth where we
came from and preferably in Israel, so we will have a first-row spot when the
promised resurrection of the dead will happen. And besides, I always had an
unexplained affection for land.
The thoughts of my final destination trouble me. Will
it be back to Jerusalem, next to my parents, on the hill looking over the city?
Or perhaps in our small town in the desert, the one where we lived for
twenty-five years? Or under a big oak tree in this land that I see now as my
home, covered in winter with a blanket of snow.
My daughter asks if my husband and I can babysit for
her for a few hours while she and her husband participate in a class for
parents who have behavioral issues with their toddlers.
In the past I would say;
“Why do you need
a class, an outsider, to give you a piece of advice when here, in front of you
stand two people who raised you and your three sisters with decent results.”
In the past I would offer my opinion. As a savvy educator, and a parent I would give
a detailed lecture on what will work and what will not accompanied with true
“Remember how your youngest sister used to cry all the
“And how your older sister never went to bed without resisting
it for hours?”
“And how your gramma, my mother, got me to stay in bed
on Saturday mornings by leaving sweet surprises?” this one she remembers but
nod her head in disagreement.
Wiser with the years I know better. I just smile and
say, “sure, no problem, whatever you need.”
From the corner of my eye I can see how my husband
looks at me and winks. We finally got it, he says without words. If we want to
stay part of our grandchildren lives it will not be in the role of a sage, but
that of the sitter.
The readers may raise an eyebrow with surprise or
perhaps disagreement. Grandparenthood so I learned on the know-it-all net is
nothing but a bundle of joy. It is life fulfilling, it’s a unique, sweet
connection, it is everything we were not as parents. In other words, it is a
second chance to do it ‘right,’ now that we are older and wiser and have a lot
of free time.
When I reflect on my frequent conversations with my
friends most of whom grandparents themselves, I realize that here again, I am witnessing
a marketing ploy of a product that is not real, a bit like the golden haze
around the final stage of life – the golden years of our retirement.
I have no qualms about my years as a full-time parent.
In fact, I am still a parent only now my children are adults who are
themselves, parents. They matured into ‘know it all’ contemporary,
Facebook-style parents. This change makes me almost overnight – a relic.
It took me some time to understand that what I once
considered true and trusted ways of parenthood are looked upon as old and
useless, even though the proof of their success is standing right in front of
me holding their own children.
My sixth grandchild who was born last week brought
back this question of naming I often contemplate. For nine months I tried to
guess the name, somewhat hoping, for a name that will carry a meaningful family
connection, yet troubled by that old conflict of naming newborns after dead
relatives. I was relieved but with a tinge of disappointment when the name was
revealed, and it had nothing to do with either dead family relatives or any
obvious cultural references.
Am I putting too much emphasis on names, reading too
much into their place and meaning? Is a name just a name and nothing more? The
answer to this question is elusive.
When I was born, in the middle of a legendary winter
snowstorm, in Jerusalem. My parents decided to name me after my grandmother, on
my mother’s side – Levia (a lioness in Hebrew). I can almost see the discussion
that went on, at the time, between my mother, insisting on preserving her dead
mother’s name, and my father, arguing for a modern name to go along with their
new life, in the young state of Israel.
The compromise, as is so often is, was two names
instead of one, Ariela, Levia. Consequently, I was blessed with two names that
are almost one. Ariela, the one I use, means; let God be her lion resembles my
This is a good story, I believed, as I kept repeating
it, over and over again. I have no idea where I got it from as none of the
facts except my actual name is true. I discovered it years after both my
parents passed away and I had to put the puzzle together all by myself.
According to the Jewish tradition newborns were often
named after a dead family member; to honor and keep the memory. Being born to a
holocaust surviving family, there were many naming options, and so I was named
after my great aunt who ‘did not make it.’ My grandmother, her sister, was
alive at the time I was born. I find it ironic that two names, not one, were
not sufficient to keep the memory from altering itself in such a capricious
Perhaps this is the reason that I keep mulling over
the naming issue, about weighting a newborn with a name that is heavy with
emotions and old memories, on one side, and wondering about the importance of
keeping memories alive on the other.
Repeating a well-known quote “…you die twice. One time
when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says
your name for the last time.” (Banksy). I can see how when one grows old names
start to feel like a symbol, a continuation. A person searches for this thin
thread of immortality to obtain comfort. I can also see that without the
memories attached, a name is just a name and nothing more.