Teaching is Just the Sharing of Your Heart

Last Friday we had guests for dinner. Husband was out of town so it was just me and five boys. We had our traditional roast chicken dinner, mashed potatoes, and what according to son the older is the best part of the meal, my gravy.

Afterward, we replaced our standard Shabbas Table Talk, our weekly study of ethics, with a reading of a prayer which hangs on our dining room wall. Each boy took his turn reading aloud.

May this home blossom with love and learning. May those who dwell within treasure goodness and generosity. … May happiness, hope, and good health nourish all who enter and all who depart.

I had left out the drums from our Monday night lesson. Son the younger demonstrated the rhythm he had learned. One of the guests sat at the second drum and took up the beat. Another guest went to the piano and added to the music. Each boy took his turn demonstrating and encouraging, learning and teaching.

I stood in the kitchen, washing dishes and listening. A warm happiness in my heart.

May creativity and kindness be valued within this loving environment.

Rain and Rumi

Last week I headed down I-80 in the opposite direction, toward Iowa City. Nervous, both over the destination – a writer’s workshop – and the journey, a heavy rainstorm.

As I drove, I listened to a recording of poems by Rumi. Halfway to Iowa City, the storm turned electrical. As a bolt of light tore the sky in half, illuminating the crest of my road, Rumi said “love is both lightning and the “ah” we say after.”

The Laying of Flowers

When my sister and I were young, one afternoon around Memorial Day we would help our grandmother load mason jars of peonies and black-eyed susans, roses and sweet peas into my mother’s car and go to the cemetery.

There, along with my brother, we would lay on our bellies and watch the fish in the pond while my mother and grandmother brushed grass clippings off the tombstones of my great-grandfather and my mother’s sister, who died before my mother was born. My grandmother would send us to a nearby faucet to fetch the water with which she would fill vases set deep in the earth before dividing her flowers between the graves.

Today my sister and I made our annual trip to the cemetery together. Now there are many more graves to decorate: my great-grandmother, my grandfather, and my grandmother herself, as well as my mother and my step-father. As we work, my sister and I, to brush clipping off the tombstones and fill vases with water and flowers, my sister tells me family stories. I listen, marveling that she has collected the lives of people I only vaguely remember.

Before we leave, my sister offers to show me the grave of my grandfather’s stepfather. I don’t remember ever visiting it before. We find it finally, on the far side of the large tree rather than the downhill side. It is a simple white stone with his name and dates of birth, 1860, a year before the outbreak of the civil war, and death, 1913 (of an accidental overdose of morphine).

A few feet away we find a stone marked simply BABY, a family name, and the dates June 25, 1925, and August 25, 1925.

After the heat of the afternoon pushes us toward the car, my sister tells me that there was an epoch in which she and her husband spent the summer traveling from cemetery to cemetery, to visit the graves of the hundred or so relatives in the area.

One of the cemeteries is so old, she says, that almost no one remembers that it exists. At this cemetery, she continues, she and her husband had learned of the grave of a small child and had adopted it, visiting it and decorating it with flowers. “No one but us even knows it’s there,” she said, getting into the car.

In the newer part of this cemetery, behind us now as we drive out, there is a section reserved for babies. Wind chimes hang from trees, pinwheels stuck into soft ground turn furiously in the breeze. Balloons tug at their strings, straining for the freedom of the sky.

I think this way of people, the living and the dead. Both anchored to the earth and heaven-bound. And that we all, the living and the dead, like to have the clippings brushed from our gravestones, and to have our lives, however brief, remembered.