Archive | November, 2012

Modern Family

23 Nov

Yesterday at Thanksgiving, a guest at the dinner table asked me how I was related to the family who was hosting the event. “I’m Chuck’s step-daughter,” I replied. The gentleman gave me a funny luck, so I elaborated.

“Chuck was married to my mother years ago but they divorced. The man then turned to Tiffany who is Chuck’s biological daughter.
“And you’re her daughter?” he said nodding towards me. Tiffany and I smiled.
“No,” I replied.
“Although technically speaking, she could be,” Tiffany quipped. We smiled at each other as Tiffany is in her early twenties and I’m in my early forties, so I am old enough to be her mother. The man looked confused.
“I’m Chuck’s biological daughter,” Tiffany piped in. “After my dad divorced Lise’s mother, he married my mother and had me. And then he divorced again and now he is married to Cindy.”
The man now understood, shook his head and said, “I’ve never been married. It’s easier that way!”

As the popular television show “Modern Family” attests, we are living in a time of complicated family dynamics. We have step-parents and step-step parents. Half siblings and long lost siblings. Some of us have no children (other than our pets) and some of us have never married. Some are estranged from our parents while others no longer have parents. And then there are those of us who have been close to particular families for so long that we think of them as our blood family.

When I lived on the East coast, I was geographically closer to my biological relatives, so for holidays, I would often take the train from NYC to Virginia to spend time with extended family. I loved those times and they reminded me of my roots. However, I can’t always get to the East coast for holidays now that I’m on the West coast, and I learned long ago that I had to somehow create family around me. Otherwise I was going to feel like Little Orphan Annie.

This holiday I am grateful for many things, but in particular, I am thankful that I am loved by so many people who are not necessarily my family of origin. I am appreciative of people who have insisted I be a part of things even when I’ve wanted to recede and who haven’t got caught up in having one more person at the dinner table despite the fact that I don’t share the same DNA.

For all the looming reports that family values are dead and no one cares about anyone anymore in this society, I actually think love is alive and well. And that is the true spirit of the season.

Who is Mary

19 Nov

I tried on my Mary costume today and yes, there will be a live camel. I haven’t seen a camel since I was actually in Israel… But in all seriousness, as I think about playing Mary for a day, I can’t help but ponder, “Who was she?” Who was Mary beyond a virgin, and beyond a mother? Who was the real historical woman who spread her legs in a bed of straw and delivered the son of Man to the world?

As theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson writes, “The simplest feminist analysis makes clear that in the case of actual women in all their historical concreteness, the categories of virgin and mother come nowhere near summing up the totality of what is possible for women’s self-realization.” So who was Mary in her full dimension?

In church sermons, Mary is often talked about as having far more gumption than we sometimes realize or give her credit for. The Magnificat then is cited, yet too often this portrayal becomes eclipsed by the more well known passive image of her quietly participating in salvation. In fact, after her initial grand entrance in Luke’s gospel, I am ashamed to say that Mary basically recedes into the backdrop of my mind. Rarely do I give her any further thought. But since trying on my robe and head mantel, I feel her beginning to come to life within me. And I wonder when she began to feel Jesus coming to life within her.

Okay. So I have no lines. I’ll simply be part of a living picture tableau. However, I am welcome to improvise and to answer any questions about the baby Jesus. I’m sure there will be some little boy or girl who will ask me something like whether it was cold out that night, or if it was fun to ride on the camel. Did Mary ride on a camel or a donkey? Or did she walk all the way to Bethlehem – beit lechem – house of bread. Did she and Joseph quarrel? Did she cry? Did her water break and did she have labor pains?

But there are bigger questions. What was it like to be approached by an angel? And what was it like to raise a child like Jesus? And when they crucified him did she collapse with grief or did she scream with rage? Did she echo her son’s words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and tear out her hair? Or did she curl up in the fetus position and hope to die herself? Or did the Holy Spirit envelop her gently telling her everything would be okay?

I don’t know.

When I put on my head mantel and looked in the mirror, I noticed that because the material covers the lines in my forehead that have formed over time, I look young. Because I am little in stature and because my body hasn’t really changed since I was a teen, I can imagine being her age again. Mary must have only been twelve or thirteen; sixteen at the most. But how old did she feel on the inside? What was her degree of spiritual and emotional maturity? And what kinds of lines formed in her face later on?

Yes, acting requires that we use figments of our imagination, but it also helps us seek truth. It opens us to Mystery and sometimes even shows us glimpses of it – heaven here on earth.

Joy in a Bottle

18 Nov

The other day while walking in the early evening, I passed a neighbor’s house and saw two toddlers on the porch dancing with their mother. I paused to witness their sheer joy and complete lack of inhibition.

Although children learn much by imitation, rhythmic movement is one thing that is innate. Babies will begin swaying and rocking their bodies long before they parrot moves or attempt to attract attention. Dance is self soothing; it is primitive; and its rhythm correlates with the very beating of our hearts. Indeed at the end of life, even when bodies appear to be waiting at heaven’s gate, where there is music, you will notice a foot tapping in a wheel chair, or a flutter of one’s finger. Even when the body is close to expiring, the soul still celebrates through movement.

I’m a firm believer that if dance were required in schools, on par with english, mathematics, history and science, kids would have improved concentration, discipline and decreased aggression. Dance both releases and sublimates feelings. It cuts through language barriers and receives all peoples. It shakes off crap and invites others in. It allows us to momentarily forget the past and worries of the future by urging us to be here now. Dance is joy in a bottle. If prescribed on a daily basis, we would live in very different world.

Dance is also a form of praise; a form of worship. We incarnated in a body that is our vehicle of expression. We were made to move and to leap and to shake our hips.

I forget how much I need to dance until I have periods where my bones ache from too much sitting and I’m locked up in my head from too much thinking. I know I need to dance when my mood turns sour, my nerves are on edge and I feel a thousand years old. When I put on a pair of stretch pants, jump into the car and get myself into a zumba or hip hop or Bollywood class, the years suddenly peel off me. The forty-three year old woman glances in the mirror and reflected back at me, smiling as she shakes, rattles and rolls, I see my inner toddler dancing, waving to me from the porch.


And “The earth braces itself for the feet of a lover of God about to Dance.” Hafiz


6 Nov

I moved back to the West Coast from NYC nine months before 9-11. I remember thinking, “Oh, my Lord. What compelled me to leave and what of my friends still there?” Similarly, when the tsunami hit Indonesia, I experienced a similar reaction. I could have been there. After all, I lived there for a year. Why had I been lucky and others not?

In our ever shrinking world, where media outlets provide us access to global news instantaneously, now more than ever we can empathize with the plights of others. And yet, paradoxically, we can just as easily tune out the day’s news with the flick of the remote, settling into our regular programming of “The House Wives of Orange County”, “American Idol”, “Survivor” or “The Amazing Race.” And we call these shows “reality t.v.” There is something quite incongruous in that what is fantastical we call real and what is real, we observe as if it were fiction.

I am just as guilty. If we’re not immediately impacted, we typically go back to our regular lives.

I had almost stopped thinking about hurricane Sandy but I have friends on the East Coast who were impacted and I am currently in Pittsburgh, so am tracking news of the incoming Nor’Easter that could wreck more havoc on the North Eastern seaboard.

I watch the news. I pray. I call in money to the Red Cross. And then I wonder how it is that I am in a warm hotel room with a full belly.

On the plane out here, I indulged myself in a light novel called “A Gift from Tiffany’s.” It’s a lovely little read set in NYC at Christmas. I remember the holidays in NYC and indeed, they can be magical. But NYC can also be a very tough place to live and New Yorkers themselves are strong for this very reason.

It is my deepest hope that NYC will soon be aglow in holiday cheer. That Rockefeller Center will soon have skaters and a gynormous Christmas tree. However, right now I’m aware that thousands are still without power, that temperatures are dropping, and that the winds are set to rise again. FB tells me it’s 91 degrees in my home town of San Diego and I wonder at how luck divides – us and them.

Whether it’s Hurricane Sandy or conflict in the Middle East or genocide in Africa – I am them and they are me.

Yes, some of us live in alternative universes, but we must never lose sight of the fact that we’re all on the same planet.