Sunday, January 9, 2011

Debbie Lost

I was shocked to hear on Friday night that Debbie Friedman was gravely ill. I spent much of the weekend listening to her wonderful music and sending out healing prayers. I even asked for help from my friends on Facebook. Today, as I was downloading more of her music into my itunes account, I googled Debbie to see if I could learn of her progress. It was then that I learned that Debbie had died this morning in L.A.

She was said to be in her late fifties. When is the age when it is okay to die? Certainly, not in your late fifties. I feel so bereft and saddened at her death. I remember the first time I saw her at a Jewish Federation meeting over a decade ago. I was so moved by her music. Debbie took much of the traditional liturgy and translated it into songs that grace modern Judaism. I remember standing outside Jerusalem with a group on a mission and all singing Debbie's songs. "L'chi Lach to a land that I will show you...and you shall be a blessing L'chi lach..." She touched such a deep place inside of me. And then, I remember that Debbie came to a synagogue on Miami Beach soon after 9/11. She seemed truly broken by that event. This is the woman who sang of Shekinah keeping us safe. I think she just couldn't really fathom such an occurrence. Some of her zest had deflated.

The song I had just downloaded this afternoon was one I'd never heard before: Until the Morning Comes. "With steady hearts we'll stand by each other and we will raise our hats to the sky until the morning comes..With steady hands we'll touch one another. I'll carry you with me as I go along until the morning comes..With open hearts and when I am lost you will help me find the way until the morning comes."

Debbie sang our deepest feelings and I listen to her voice as I write this blog. Her words, her music, her essence will never be lost. She's lighting up the next dimension.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

It's As Simple As That

It occurred to me this morning that there are 26 letters in the English alphabet, ten numbers and eight basic musical notes. From those simple structures, all of our experience is constructed. Every poem, every article, novel, love letter, blog for that matter derive from those 26 letters. Every musical composition comes from those basic notes, and mathematics from those numbers. How awesome is that really?

Everyone who writes anything is utilizing those very same bits of raw material and somehow combining them in a new way. This came to me today as I was humming something in the shower. I kept singing some notes that I don't recognize as belonging to a particular song. Maybe they are original; who knows? But that is exactly the point. They might be and yet they are drawing on those eight basic musical notes. The same ones that Beethoven and Mozart and Billy Joel used.

Such a vast universe is created from these basic elements. These letters and notes and symbols can combine to create greatness or banality. They can inspire us or lead us into darkness. But, we all start out with those same 44 basic pieces.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sherry Delivers

Back in 2002, I suddenly heard the screen door slamming. I sat down to write about that door which opened a portal in my mind to those lazy summers I'd spent as a child in Westport, CT. Bit by bit, stories both true and fanciful sprang up and before I knew it, I was journeying toward my first novel, Sherry and The Unseen World. Many of the characters were drawn from that long ago time and as I wrote, I was back in those halcyon days.

I thoroughly enjoyed promoting the book. People told me how the book brought them back to their own childhoods, how they as one person said, "... remember crushes, falling in love, camp, Hamburger Heaven, returning to the city after spending summers away, and attempting to like a sport for my “new man of the moment."

Every time someone new tells me how the book touches them, I know why Sherry needed a voice, as did Sherry's marvelous Aunt Geraldine who brought intrigue and magic and helped Sherry find her own way in the world.

Only now I am in the process of selling the house with the screen door. Now that my mother has died, I know that my infrequent visits to that time and place do not justify the costs of maintaining that residence. The house is on the market, it's been stripped of the old furnishings and it awaits the new family that will delight in the colonial architecture, the spacious grounds and the proximity to the beach.

Yet, my heart yearns for over fifty years of all that living I did there both as a child and on into adulthood. My children spent parts of their summers in that same place. We will all miss the tiny door that led from the main house into the charming little apartment over the garage. Sure, you could access the place from the separate entrance up normal stairs, but the charm of that tiny door was priceless and still is.

Over the years, changes affected all of us. We mourned the loss of the charming old stores on Main Street that were replaced by the inevitable Gap, Ann Taylor and Starbucks. How the town could give up the Remarkable Book Store and Kleins is beyond my comprehension.

I wake up and smell the soft air, the freshly mowed lawns and the privet hedges. I am transported back to family cook-outs, to the parents and brother who are no longer on this earth, to the crunch of cars entering the gravel driveway and the excitement of each new day's promise. And, then I am so very grateful that I wrote all that down in my novel, that I can revisit the house on Danbury Avenue any time I want, not just mentally, but in the pages of the book.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


I am reeling from seeing Blasted, a play that just opened at the Gables Stage in Coral Gables. My husband and I have been subscribers of this edgy, challenging theatre for a number of years. The artistic director, Joe Adler, is someone we admire and enjoy (I sometimes think he should just appear alone on stage and do and An Evening With Joe.)

However, I seriously part company with his judgment in the latest production. He says he thinks this is the most important play they have done in 12 years. My worry is that if he truly believes that and plans to follow it with more of the same, I will have to go elsewhere after this season. The play runs for 90 excruciating minutes (a device that Gables Stage has implemented frequently over the past several years)and catapults the audience into inescapable sadistic horror. After the play, our friend, who has served on the board of Gables Stage, proclaimed that it is important for people in our part of the world to understand that terrible things are happening simultaneously with our existence and that this exposure is important for us to comprehend.

Anyone who is an avid reader of two daily newspapers, and countless other news magazines as I am, knows that there are atrocities taking place. I do not wish to be trapped in a theatre on a Saturday night to be reminded of these things. As a psychologist, I am frequently reminded of how inhumane people can be. I don't choose to have my nose rubbed in it by Blasted. I was half tempted to hand out my cards to the audience for the treatment of post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) when the play ended.

I will say that the acting and staging were fabulous. It was the gratuitous violence that left me angry, horrified and crazed. If that is what Joe wants his audiences to feel, that is fine for him and them. At least, then, he should provide the intermission that would allow an escape.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Happier Mornings

Never thought the day would come when I would not look forward to reading the New York Times Op Ed pages. Typically I read two newspapers a day: The Miami Herald because I live here and the New York Times because I grew up there and still go there quite a bit and think it's a pretty good paper.

I've looked askance at others who say they don't read newspapers because they can't take knowing about all the bad news. My father was a journalist and my childhood home was awash with every kind of New York newspaper.

And, yes, I know we are living in hard times. Unemployment, wars, terrorism fears. It seems as if every writer can only lament and give dire predictions. Somehow, I think that makes everything worse. Doom and gloom with my breakfast cereal doesn't inspire me to meet the day's challenges. And we need to feel some inspiration so that we can cope with the current world. What if I told my depressed clients that the world is a hopeless place?

Yes, we need to know what is happening. But, I don't need to read day after day about how demoralized Bob Herbert is. His columns used to give me a lift, help me feel that there was something worth salvaging. It's not that I disagree with what he is saying. We have squandered opportunities to improve on the current situation. We do need a much more comprehensive program than the piecemeal bits we've been getting. I'm not sure what the answer is because I do know that the purpose of journalislm is, as Heywood Broun once said, "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

I only know that constant focus on what is not working promotes depression and hopelessness. When I work with my clients, I look for their inner resources and strengths. I help them see how their survival skills have gotten them through hard times and help build their confidence by increasing their self-esteem. I'd like to have a jolt of optimism in the mornings. And, coffee won't do the trick.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Loving What I Do

I am so glad that I chose the career that I did. I go to work eagerly every day and have no intention of retiring. Somehow, in my senior year in high school, I decided that I wanted to be a psychologist. That took my teachers by some surprise, as I had not been very academically motivated. For years I'd been told that I was not working up to my potential. And, then, boom! I knew what I wanted to do and set upon pursuing my goal. To think that my private school refused to recommend me to some of the colleges I wanted to attend! I was told that all I was going to do anyway was "to get married and have children!" This was in the mid sixties. When I finally did obtain my Ph.D., I fantasized about sending that woman a copy of my degree.

Anyway, over forty years later, I am so glad that I followed my own convictions. I feel so privileged to be able to work with my clients. And, as the years have unfolded, I've learned so much from them as they grant me access to their very private journeys. I've learned so many different techniques and approaches. I have such respect for the whole person and for the way that our minds and bodies communicate. I've delighted in helping people reach their potential through helping them integrate their inner and outer experiences.

And to my high school doubting Tomasina, I would add that I am happily married and have wonderful children and grandchildren.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Grief Revisited

Each year brings more insights and growth. Just when you think you really understand something, you encounter new perspectives. For example, I have considered myself someone who understands the grief process. I've worked for many years helping others work through their losses. I've had some significant losses myself (brother's death at an early age, father's death, sister-in-law's premature death, and some very dear friends)and I've managed to work these through.

I was very close to my father and his death when I was just 36 was devastating. It took me three years to begin to integrate that loss. I was lucky to have had a wonderfully close and meaningful relationship with my father. I was not as close to my mother and really didn't get to know her until after my father's death. I sometimes think that if he had not died, I might never have gotten to know my mother the way I did in the years since his death. And, then, it took lots of time and required both she and I to open to each other in a new way.

So, at some level, I always imagined that when my mother died, I would be better able to cope. After all, she lived to 92! And yet, her sudden death last summer has deeply affected me. I think about her all the time and just cannot believe that she is no longer on the planet. Now, I do feel her presence and I do believe that she is with me, but that just isn't enough. As I told a friend this evening, I think about her more since she died than I did when she was living. The loss is painfully acute. Maybe this is because I was not close to her for more than half my life.

We lived in separate cities, she in New York and I in Miami. We only saw each other about six times a year, but we spoke at least once a week, we emailed, and we had just reached the point of comfort to profess our feelings about each other. I have no problem expressing love to most of my dear ones, but with her, because she was not one of those who ended phone conversations with an I love you, it was difficult for me to tell her how much she meant to me. She did tell me in an email last year that she loved me very much. That meant the world to me.

I wasn't one bit ready to have her die. Isn't that so often the truth? I have always said that the deaths of those with whom we've had complicated relationships are the hardest. And now, the truth of that is so poignantly with me.