Category Archives: Spirituality, Judaism, Big Life Questions

Seeking Inspiration

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I had a really rough year. I lost a beloved friend and a beloved
pet. I had medical issues that were difficult to diagnose and to cure. I
had to cut far back on my social life to accommodate all the
immediacies of family and healing. Now I am feeling isolated,
somewhat vulnerable, definitely poorer, and very protective of both
my body and my soul. I miss being the optimistic and outgoing person
I have been most of my life. I am wounded and fragile. Do you have
good advice for getting my mojo back?

Seeking Inspiration

 
Dear Seeking:

That old saying about the Chinese character for “crisis” also represents
“opportunity” is highly relevant. You’ve been through the worst of it,
one can only hope. Now’s the chance to create a better life, not just
re-create the one you had before all the bad (as if you could). Instead
of being in resistance to the changes, look for ways to become the new
and happier you.

 
Think about hummingbirds in a late summer garden. They’re attracted
to the bright colors, the reds and oranges, and they come seeking
sweetness. Your mojo’s only going to come back when you make an
attractive landing zone for it. Instead of cowering in your room hoping
the world turns into a friendlier place, go out and engage with it. Seek
out the sweetness life offers. Try new things and even new people.
You’ll have dead ends and misses. But you’ll also have surprises and
delights, and those joys– both hoped for and unanticipated– will start
to fuel your spirit again.

 
Think about your time: what’s fixed and what’s malleable about your
schedule. Identify zones that are available to pursue happiness. Then
go after it in a variety of forms.

 

 

Get into counseling: Even if you think you understand what’s been
going on in your life, heart, and soul, it can really help to get fresh
perspective. Friends know us inside and out. A new person, especially
someone trained to listen, probe, and help us open and see ourselves
differently, can add new perspective and insight. As you do the more
worldly things below, invest in your heart to keep your motivated
change pumping.

 
Do for others: Look for volunteer opportunities, from your local food
bank to a Habitat for Humanity build. See a bigger world than your
small life.

 

Get involved with a cause: Commit to helping, whether it’s for your
favorite candidate or a local or environmental issue.

 
Learn something new: Take an art class, study a language, or explore
a new way of cooking. But push your gray cells to work and play.

 
Get physical: All the gyms have New Year’s specials. Try Sufi dancing,
weight machines, Nia, spin, or restorative yoga. Look for ways to get
back into your body.

 
Get metaphysical: Start reading uplifting writers. Meditate regularly.
Even ten-fifteen minutes a day of quiet breath or life-affirming
mantras will impact your soul. So will going to synagogue more often,
both the prayers and the music.

 
Get mental: Join a book group by asking your friends if they know of
an opening, or start one based around your own reading preferences.
Share opinions and tastes, and get to know other people’s worldviews.

 
Make time for old friends: Get deeper with the friends who stood by
you in your tough times. Have them over for dinner one-on- one, or
start a monthly salon.

 
Meet new folks: Tell people you’re interested in expanding your social
circle. Ask to be invited to parties. Look at the “happenings” section in
the Weekly and go to gatherings that are a little bit of a stretch to
push you out of your comfort zone.

 
Cultivate curiosity: Like a child learning to walk, every baby step will
help move you down the road to happiness. Don’t isolate or clutch
what feels safe so tightly that you cannot embrace the new. Leave
room in your life for unexpected joys. Ask for and welcome surprises.

 

 

Give gratitude regularly: Times were hard. They’ll be hard again. The
best insurance policy is a warm personality and a resilient soul. Believe
in and cultivate goodness. Practice tikkun olam. Help the world heal
and you will heal too.

Worried Momma

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My youngest child just got on a plane for South America.
Waaaaaahhhhhh!!! He and his girlfriend are taking a gap year between
college and grad school. They are great kids: smart, responsible, and
hard-working. All the applications are turned in, with a cover not
explaining that he’s on the road but will check email at least weekly so
he can answer any questions. But they are traveling in youth hostels
and without any predictable itinerary. So other than fitting him with an
embedded transponder (an idea I seriously googled until he made fun
or me and refused) I have no way to know what’s going on other than
the weekly updates he swears he will send, and phone calls/skypes we
have asked him to make. He’s a great guy but also sheltered and a
little too trusting in the idea that people are inherently good. Can you
help me cope with all the disaster scenarios my brain is conjuring?

Worried Momma

 
Dear Worried Momma:

Anyone with a child has had all the same fears every time their kid has
walked out the door, even if they are walking to school in a clean safe
neighborhood. The bigger world is indeed a scary place, and bad
things do happen to good people. But not to all of them, and not
nearly, by a thousand thousand times over, as often or badly as your
worries will lead you to believe. Sure, he may lose some money or
even his backpack. But he knows your phone number, and short of
damage to his body, there’s very little that a transfusion of money
won’t fix. The young bounce better than we do.

 

You cannot protect him with worry. Instead, send him emails
encouraging to have fun, be careful, and come back with many stories
and pictures. You can send him links to safe travel tips, and ask the
girlfriend’s mother to do the same. But he is not alone, and if you’ve
been a good parent, this is the time to let him leave the nest with both
love and support.

Long Lapsed

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

It’s been a long time since I been a good practicing Jew. I support my
synagogue financially and I attend the High Holiday services, but it’s
mostly to connect with family and legal clients, not because I’m truly
drawn towards a deeper relationship with religion. But one of my best
friends has just been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, and another
died of a heart attack in his 40s right after we went to the opera with
our wives. One minute he was humming along and an hour later he
had dropped dead before he got back home. So I am thinking more
about both my mortality and what it means to use the days of my life.
How can I use the HH to make myself a better person and change
some of my life priorities? I don’t expect a radical makeover, but I
miss feeling like I am more than a workaholic machine.

Long Lapsed

 
Dear Lapsed:

One of the most intrinsic concepts to the High Holidays is teshuvah,
which means return, where return is to both a relationship with God
and to your true self. It’s often discussed in terms of making amends
for what you’ve done wrong, with all the discussion, apologies, and
atonement that accompany admitting your lapses and sins, large and
small. But it’s also about understanding, and committing to, what you
need to do better. Doing teshuvah with real sincerity will help energize
you to live the best life you can, not merely for yourself but for others,
from sick friends to work colleagues. It will stretch the crack in your
soul that your friends’ experiences have opened in you. It’s not easy,
but is a wonderful annual reminder about honesty and humility.
The rabbis describe how different teachers discipline students. One
would reprimand, demanding the student acknowledge the wrong and
agree to make amends. The other would say, I’m disappointed you
didn’t live up to who you really can be. Your soul is much greater than
that. Follow whichever teshuvah practice helps you live more awareness
sensitivity in the New Year. Stick or carrot, keep striving for
goodness.

 
A year ago I almost died in a fire. It generated a deep form of
teshuvah. I looked at each aspect of my world anew, and paid very
close attention to how I felt in various situations. I became more
discerning about when/why/how I was restless, lonely, annoyed,
hungry, and bored, as well as when I was joyous, attentive, playful,
and creative. I started to meditate regularly (there are many strong
meditative traditions within Judaism). I found myself gravitating more
towards silence, kindness, and happiness, and choosing to move away
from judgment and negativity, whether it was in myself or in others.
 

Don’t pressure yourself to change too fast; and don’t set the bar
unreasonably high. Allow yourself to actively experience what it feels
like to shift how you think of yourself (and how others may perceive
you), to change what you do, and with whom you spend time.
Teshuvah is self-generating. It will soften and lighten you, heart and
soul. It will change you deeply.

 

Working on your soul and on how you live your life is important work.
Help your friend with cancer. Being an active part of his support team
will keep you from being too self-centered. Visit your friend’s grave
and talk to his spirit. Go to services for the High Holidays but also
more often during the year. Ask for help in prayer and make time to
listen to your own heart, whether that’s through meditating or nature
walking. Take a class in your synagogues community ed program.
Read some great Holocaust fiction (not an oxymoron). Talk to your
older relatives about what being Jewish means to them. Volunteer
time with a local organization that helps those with less. Participate in
dialogues about racial or income inequity. Feel more and do less. Just
practice being more of a human instead of a working professional.
You will feel a state of renewal that will impact each future choice you
make. Your life will become more conscious and less reactive. This is
the beginning of tikkun olam, of healing and repairing the world. Like
the phrase Think globally, act locally, you are starting change within
your heart and soul that will flow through you to those around you.

Quicksand

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’ve had a pretty tough year. I had health challenges that left me
debilitated, lost a beloved parent and a beloved dog, and had the
company where I’ve worked for twenty years skate perilously close to
the edge of bankruptcy. I’m feeling fragile and shaken and not very
secure in any sector of my life How can I use what’s left of the High
Holidays to set a firmer footing to go forward?

Quicksand

 
Dear Quicksand:

Much of the discussion about Yom Kippur is about interpersonal
relations: asking for and offering forgiveness for slights real and
imagined. It’s a chance to clear the air and enter the New Year with an
emotional sense of solidity. It won’t cure your work or health
problems, but it should make you feel as though your friendships are
intact. So do that and know you have friends.

 
Another way to think about atonement is internal. Think back a year
and see what gives you a pang, a sense of regret, even a caught
breath, a feeling that if you had a chance you would take what golfers
call a “mulligan” and kids call a “do-over.” Yom Kippur is a chance to
forgive yourself and move on. You might wish you’d done things
differently. Next year you should take every chance to do exactly that
in similar situations. But for now, clear your soul.

 
Go back and clean up whatever messes accrued in your wake. That
may mean conversations with bosses or co-workers, children or
partner. Then change how you talk to yourself about whatever
happened. And also how you talk to other people, from your doctor to
your next beloved pet. Nothing lasts forever, even grief and sadness.
A lot has to do with your attitude. Resolve to write a new, better, and
different story for the next year.

Help!

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

For the last five years I served on a very sensitive committee in my
synagogue: religious affairs. There are lots of political issues involved,
including a chairperson who thinks she is a rabbi (she’s not), another
woman who wants to be a lay leader and sing (she can’t), and a
former major lay leader whose cognitive decline may make him unfit
to track page numbers let alone lead a congregation (it does). I’m
ready to be off the committee but the newly installed rabbi has instead
asked me to be the chair, saying how difficult it is for him to say what
he thinks in these meetings, but that I am always “so level-headed,
honest, forthright, and dependable” that he fears what will happen if I
leave. I feel like I’ve served my time and earned the right to just be
able to go to services and pray, rather than being caught in
congressional-level mix of inefficiency and backbiting. But it’s hard to
say no to your new rabbi.

Help!

 
Dear Help:

Yes you have served your time and you have the right to decline. But
you could also choose a middle path and accept the position with a
firm commitment of serving for exactly one year, “a term to begin now
and end with the next High Holidays.” In a private meeting with the
new rabbi explain that you are not going to seek anyone’s approval
during your tenure. If you are wanted for your forthrightness then
demonstrate it. Ask what his role will be in crafting guidelines for
services, selecting and training lay leaders, and making final decisions
about ritual and observance.

 
You can treat this the way you would an assignment at work. Help get
everything in order to pass on to your successor. Get the committee to
address long-standing issues that the prior chair was unwilling or
unable to do. Help the committee identify guidelines and criteria for
everything it does. Meet with the rabbi often to steer the committee to
a set of outcomes you can be proud of. Who knows, maybe you’ll be
inspired to stay on.

Frustrated

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My synagogue has a weekly Torah study group that I and a pod of
close friends have attended for years. It is “open to the public”
because the synagogue is trying to attract new members. Lately we
have been invaded by Jews for Jesus, atheists, and people who seem
intent not only on taking the conversation away from text-based study
but are very interested in talk, talk, talking about their personal
problems, including WHY THEY ARE NOT JEWS!!!! I feel like dues-
paying members should get the right to set the rules, including that no
rules of Shabbat should be broken, Judaism not be defamed, etc etc
etc. how can we persuade our Board to close this group, or do we need
to meet outside of our own temple? BTW, the rabbi comes only once in
a blue moon, which is fine with us.

Frustrated

 
Dear Frustrated:

I’d be shocked if your synagogue does not have either a religious
affairs committee and/or a temple administrator, in addition to the
rabbi. They are the people with the authority to either “close” the
group to members or set rules that would allow members to tell
“invaders” to be quiet or leave. But you need to approach them in a
thoughtful, articulate, and consolidated way.

 
Draft a letter that will be signed by everyone in your pod. Think old-
fashioned outline format, where the big, bolded, capitalized headings
are issues like Rules of Shabbat Being Violated, Non-Text Based
Discussions, Non-Jewish Advocacy, etc. Identify the problems simply,
and make the rhetoric hard to ignore. Then detail examples that have
occurred. The final heading should be Requested Interventions, and
the subentries should also be bolded. They should be ranked by
preference, as in (1) Close Torah Study to Dues-Paying Members, (2)
Appoint Authorized Members to Keep Discussion to Text, and so on.
Your goal would be to have specific rules be identified, authorized by
the religious affairs committee and the temple board, and announced
for a few weeks by the rabbi who should attend till things settle down.
Members should have the right to ask non-Jews who violate those
rules to leave. It is sad that Shabbat is being violated and that Torah
study cannot be a refuge. But this process will strengthen the group,
once you are through it.

Ready for Ear Plugs

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

There’s a new rabbi in our synagogue. One of my friends and I
disagreed throughout the entire search process about what we wanted
in our next rabbi, and who that person should be. She has been very
defamatory and negative about the congregation’s eventual choice. I
like the new rabbi, and while I like my friend, I do not want to
continue to have to hear bad things about a man who is sweet,
sincere, spiritual, musically gifted, and honestly someone I think I
could turn to in times of trouble. Everything I have asked her to please
contain her views when we speak, but she is like a broken record. How
can I make her hear No in a way that will stick?

Ready for Ear Plugs

 
Dear Ready:

You are going to have to sound like a broken record yourself. The next
time this topic occurs, let her get out a paragraph of complaining even
if it is a whining rant. Then say, We’ve had this conversation before.
You think the rabbi is X and I think the rabbi is Y. Then detail out the
various attributes you listed above and others that may have shown
up in her paragraph. Say I like this rabbi. I come to services to pray
and to lighten my soul. I’m sorry you are not happy. Feel free to talk
to the Board, the rabbi, or people who agree with you about what they
want more or less of. But I cannot take on the burden of your
unhappiness any longer. It disturbs my equanimity to have you be so
disrespectful when speaking about someone whom I consider my
spiritual leader. Can we please agree to disagree?
If she can stop complaining, you will get your way. If she cannot, tell
her you prefer not to sit with her at services. Each of our actions has
consequences. Both of you will have to deal with them. I hope you can
be kind to one another as you figure it out.

Shunned

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

This is somewhere at the intersection of politics and friendship. Almost
two years ago I was asked to serve on a rabbinic search committee. A
beloved rabbi of decades was retiring; a junior rabbi had been hired a
few years ago (NOT as a successor); the search was to be national.
The committee was made up of a dozen people who represented
various stakeholder groups in the congregation. Most of us had never
met, but as the process unfolded we began to learn and trust one
another’s discernment, reliability, and integrity.

 

We conducted a multi-stage process that included a community dialogue
to identify priorities for the new rabbi, completed the affiliation’s application
form, assessed applicants, interviewed by Skype and in person, and
conducted weekend teachings (services, committee meetings, open
Q&A forums) for three finalists. The local junior rabbi was one of the
finalists. Even though he had not been hired with the idea of a
promotion, many in the community felt that we should just not bother
with a search and promote him. A more silent majority had not been
inspired by him, or had not received the pastoral care or spiritual
guidance they wanted. The community split in a very vocal and
divisive manner during the process.

One of my friends, whom I see regularly socially, was on the other
side of the argument. She complained bitterly throughout the process.
I relayed each of her complaints to the committee and we incorporated them
as best we could. She remains convinced—completely inaccurately–that the
junior rabbi was the victim of a conspiracy to out him. I cannot describe the
immense number of hours that everyone on the committee invested. It
would have been far easier to recommend a promotion than go
through the process. In the end, a three to one majority of the
congregation approved the committee’s choice, a different candidate.
But she has decided I am somehow responsible for the loss of “her”
rabbi. How I can repair the damage?

Shunned

 
Dear Shunned:

Nothing is more toxic than politics. I suspect synagogue politics equals
the US Congress or is even worse, because holiness is at stake and
every feels more self-righteous. There’s the old joke about the Jewish
man rescued after thirty years alone on a deserted island. The
rescuers ask about the two buildings the man has constructed. He
answers: They’re both synagogues. One is where I prayed every day
for God to rescue me. The other one? I wouldn’t step foot in there!!!

 
If indeed the decision is made and there was a three to one majority of
congregants supporting the committee’s choice, your friend will either
have to learn to assess (and hopefully embrace) the new rabbi, or go
off in search of a different congregation. As for the repair to the
friendship, people with closely held beliefs surrender them very rarely
and even less often embrace the person who told them truths they did
not want to hear. If the degree of suspicion is that great, then it is
more likely time that will heal this than words, and preferably words
from others as well as your own.

 
You can try to communicate one on one, or you can suggest to the
powers that be in the congregation that some sort of public healing
process (think Northern Ireland, South Africa, etc) be undertaken. It
may feel weird to encounter a friend in a public setting like that, but
without a formal structure you may do more damage to what’s left of
the friendship. Perhaps you should attend services together often and
pray.

Traditionalist

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Last year’s Gaza war was a wrenching experience in our family. Our
youngest daughter was in Israel at the time, on a summer trip to learn
about her heritage. My family is descended from Holocaust survivors,
one of whom made is to Israel after WWII. So in addition to learning
about cultural and political history she also got to meet a great uncle
and many cousins whom none of us had ever met. We were terrified
for her the whole time, but none of our family was hurt. Ironically, she
returned not dyed white/blue and wrapped in the Israeli flag, but
convinced that the current government is responsible for creating a
situation of permanent war in the region. My wife and I think of
ourselves as pretty liberal, but some of her statements have gotten us
thinking we may not be as liberal as we thought we were. Passover
has always been a very important tradition in our family (about thirty
local relatives). Eliana has said that in addition to doing the regular
Haggadah readings, she wants to have a dialogue about politics. My
wife thinks it is highly inappropriate. I am torn. I suspect many of the
relatives would be horrified. What do you think?

Traditionalist

 
Dear Traditionalist:

I think your daughter got more out of her trip than anyone could have
expected. She is to be commended for her engagement in the messy
world of Middle Eastern politics, even at the now safe distance of
observer and commentator. I’d opt for a compromise. It may, like the
Solomonic offer to slice the baby in half, satisfy no one, but at least
you will have tried.

 
Tell your daughter that you want her to respect family traditions and
not to disrupt the Seder. Explain that not only is it a requirement for
Jews to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, but it is a very
important family tradition of togetherness. Tell her that after most of
the official readings are concluded, during the meal, you as the host
will give her the floor to invite people to a second night discussion of
what she learned about Israel and Palestine. Coach her to make it
sound invitational, not confrontational, or no one will appear. Tell her
to invite any of the various generations to come to a listening session,
where each person will be able to share their complex feelings of grief,
fear, confusion, anger, and yes even strident militancy. Explain that
the point of the listening session is for everyone to feel heard, not to
convert people to a particular way of thinking. Explain that only when
all people, kids to adults, learn to have constructive dialogue around
difficult subjects, will the world improve.

 

 

Lapsed

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I am not a particularly religious Jew, though Passover was always my
favorite holiday growing up, for the familial get together, the food, and
the story. Is there a way that I can address liberation themes in my
own life, without the ritual of Seder?

Lapsed

 
Dear Lapsed:

Consider a Seder anyhow, because attending will have some impacts
you cannot predict. But it’s more than the historic story. Even those
who attend two Seders may want to know about the meaning of
Passover in our personal lives. I study with a teacher who suggests
also asking these four non-traditional questions. You can see if they
work for you:

Question 1: Ask yourself what your special gifts are in this world. Why
are you here? What do you do for others? Is it your kindness, your
intellect, your willingness to help? Think about what makes you you.
Write it down. Name it and claim it.

Question 2: Ask yourself how those gifts become a problem to you
through overuse. For example, if you’re a giver, have you failed to
learn about boundaries? Pay attention to when you use your gifts in
your daily life, and how you overuse them. Taking notes is good.

Question 3: Ask how you resort to your gifts in time of stress and
difficulty. In a crisis, do you fall back on a core strength but fail to
energize other aspects of yourself? Do you always use your heart
when your head might be more appropriate to a given situation? or the
other way round?

Question 4: Ask yourself how you protect yourself with your gifts. This
question helps you understand how you enslave yourself and prevent
yourself from growing. For example, if you’re always so smart and
rational, do you forget to listen to your heart when it might help more?
Get this far during Passover and see if you feel more liberated
afterwards.

Mom and Wife

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I was raised Jewish-ish by a single mother who was more of a new-age
hippie Buddhist pantheist than a practicing Jew. Surprisingly I married
a man who is far more devout than I am and have grown to love
keeping a kosher house and all the rituals of the seasons. This year for
Chanukah my mother sent our three children three books, for them to
share with one another and with us. Two were spiritual books about
astrophysics, which didn’t bother my husband at all, as he works in the
sciences, and often quotes Einstein to prove that God and science are
not incompatible. But the third book was a collection of Buddhist
bedtime stories. I recognize that my mother (who is good-hearted
even if she doesn’t totally understand my life choices) does not mean
to offend, but my husband sees is as undermining their faith. They are
11, 8, and 5, so still very much malleable in their learning. What
should I do with this book?

Mom and Wife

 
Dear Mom and Wife:

What a wonderful gift of a learning opportunity your mother gave your
family! The world is filled with people who are devout members of
religions other than Judaism. For your children to be raised in a bubble
without knowing that, or understanding that other religions offer their
adherents many of the same values, rituals, comforts, and emotional
sustenance as Judaism would be a horrible disservice to them. Surely
even your husband has to negotiate multiculturalism in his workplace,
and has learned to treat others with the same respect he wishes to
receive.

 
I would use the stories as teaching moments for the family, with or
without your husband’s participation. Among my favorite memories
from childhood is talking and sharing with my mother while we cleaned
up after dinner. Perhaps have the older two rotate reading the stories
a few nights a week. Then talk about what they are about in terms of
values such as compassion and generosity. Then compare those values
to Jewish teachings such as goodness and tzedakah. Focus on what is
best in each religion and what unites us as people instead of what
divides us. If Jews and Buddhists cannot do this there is not much
hope for the planet. And thank your mother for her thoughtful gift,
telling her it’s a teachable moment for everyone including your hubby.

Free, For Now

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I lived with my ex for twelve years after a long engagement. It took
me far too long to extricate myself from the marriage. Fortunately the
house had always been in my name and he did not contest ownership,
even though I had built him a small cottage on my property so we
wouldn’t be under the same roof every day. I have ten acres of
country property, so there were advantages to having someone else to
feed the pets and help out with property care. But I have loved living
on my own.

 

Now my contractor has asked if he can build an eco-
friendly model cottage on a different part of my property, and use it
for marketing as an example of what he could build for others. He
doesn’t have any land of his own to build it on, and says I could use it
as I please, unless he is showing it, assuming I pay for materials. All
his labor is free. I like the benefits, but am wary of having strangers
coming in and out of my place on someone else’s schedule. Is this just
a bad idea?

Free, For Now

 
Dear Free, For Now:

This is an issue that requires a contract. Repeat: c.o.n.t.r.a.c.t.
Without a written agreement about who is responsible for what, and
who has access when, this is a scenario that has catastrophe written
all over it. The saying “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” came
about for a reason. You may hope for the best but that will be a very
thin layer of protection if or when things unravel.

 
Before you agree to the cottage, ask yourself what benefits you will
gain. For example you might like another guest cottage, or art studio,
or have another use for it. All good. Ask what you would be willing to
pay for that benefit without the contractor involved and what the offset
is worth. Think not only in dollars, but also in terms of privacy,
schedules, and generalized aggravation. Then think about ways to
protect yourself. Will there be a time limit on this, as in how long does
he have access, or how often and when? A budget cap, so that if the
project runs over his original bid (very common, assume 30%) you are
protected? Will he commit that no one will sleep there, including him?
To have a lock-box like a for-sale house would, and to get your sign
off on scheduling? Those are a paltry few of the things to consider. You
may be friends with your contractor now. But to ensure this remains
good, be sure to build a quit-claim clause in that keeps things explicit.
The money you spend on a lawyer now will save you grief later.

Confused

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’ve been widowed for seven years. You can imagine the number of
well-meaning friends who tried to set me up long before I was finished
grieving my beloved wife of twenty-seven years. Recently, after trying
a fix-up or two with the last remaining single women in this social
circle, I went on the Internet to a nice Jewish dating site. I emailed
back and forth with various women. They were nice but boring and not
nearly as active or interested in travel as I am. Then I met someone I
genuinely like. She’s a year older than I am but she her profile was
great, and when we met for dinner the conversation and stories flowed
like wine. She is funny, articulate, smart, and seemed like just the
independent soul I would like to explore the world with.

 

Here’s the hitch: On our third date she told me of her youngest child
(no mention before this), who had severe brain damage at birth (now
mentally about six though almost forty) and needs 24/7 care, provided
primarily by my date, though occasionally by other relatives or paid
caretakers. She made a point of telling me that she has travelled with
this daughter in various countries, how “independent” she is, and that
it has never been a problem. Maybe not for her! Am I a churlish SOB
for not wanting to take this on as part of my retirement? Of the “many
fish in the sea” this is the nicest catch yet. But I can feel a hook my
cheek as well.

Confused

 
Dear Confused:

Everyone has a different life path that they walk. This woman has
clearly not buckled under a burden that other people might find
crippling. That is to her credit. Though I might understand why she
might be gun-shy about not mentioning this daughter until her third
date, it also speaks to a selective honesty and a different way of
looking that the world that you are right to be cautious about.
I’d reply with a simple email, after waiting a few days. In it ask her
very simply whether she assumes that you would be travelling with
her daughter if the two of you get into a deeper friendship or a
romantic relationship. That’s really the only question. Because if she
says No, you will still need to face the issue if you proceed. And if she
says Yes, you can face it now. I see it as a choice for you, not a
judgment about your character if you decline to take on an adult
disabled child. Other people might. You do not have to be one of them.

Sprinter

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I don’t want to seem trite, but it is end of year and the time when I
traditionally take an inventory of my life. Here goes: I am at the tail
end of my career but still plan to work for two-three years (my choice
– no danger of being fired because I am the boss, ha ha). I have
various health issues (osteo, weight, insomnia). I feel less inspired
than I remember feeling when I was young. I’m single and a little
lonely and bored, but do not want to compromise again just for
companionship. I make resolutions but feel silly weeks later when I’m
no longer going to the gym, eating fewer sweets, etc. Can you give me
a way of improving my life that will last past January 31?

Sprinter

 
Dear Sprinter:

In games like golf and table tennis, we’re told “keep your eye on the
ball.” That’s my advice to you. Figure out how to stay focused by
making all your resolutions and behavioral changes actions that give
you joy, make you laugh, and make you feel lighter.

 

Career: If you are really measuring in a handful of years, and are the
boss, vision your working life as a legacy investment. Think about
what contributions you can make while you are there. I’m talking
mentorship of deserving and aspiring staff in the generations one and
two younger than you. Go out to lunch with people you think have a
special spark and get to know them. Ask if they want to be mentored
and tell them No is an okay answer, and Yes means you will work
together to help them reach their goals. Write a vision statement for
yourself for your last few years: what you can contribute and what you
can accomplish. Meet with your financial advisor to be clear when you
can afford to stop working. Set a tentative retirement date and make a
countdown clock that ticks off on the first of each month.

 

Relationships/Social Life: Choose to be happy. Be nice; be kind; be
mellow; be generous. Tell people you love that you do, sincerely and
often, with words, flowers, phone calls, soup, or special events and
treats. If you see someone in trouble or pain, interrupt your life to try
and help. Think “pay it forward,” “do unto others,” and other platitudes
that turn out to improve life on the planet for us all. Pick a non-profit
that works in an area of change that you care about. Volunteer several
times a month. Hang with those who make you laugh and feel good.
Tell them you are ready to date and ask them to think about you when
they encounter other single people. Smile at strangers when you do
your errands. Listen with sincere attention. Open your heart and see
what moves it.

 

Health: I can’t say it better than my mother or your doctor, though
you should probably meet with him/her to set goals and review your
medical stats. My guess is that message will be: Eat less; move more.
Find exercise you‘re passionate about, something you look forward to
rather than dread. I recommend table-tennis for aerobics, bending,
and feeling like a kid again. Look for a team sport; get a wii; whatever
exercise that your body can tolerate without risk of injury. Focus on
play, not counting reps; you’ll do more of it and look forward to it. Find
a food program you genuinely enjoy, or change it monthly. Understand
what your body needs: smaller quantities with healthy nutrients and
treats that don’t disrupt good choosing the rest of the time. You don’t
have to forsake all things sweet and caloric. Balance them with savory
and fresh fruit. Retrain your taste buds and your gut. Find a favorite
outfit that’s too a half-size too small; try it on weekly; repeat until it
fits.

 

Spiritual/Emotional life: At least once a day, do something
spontaneous that gives you joy. Go for a walk in a completely different
part of town; have a drink in a new café or bar; read poetry or a great
book; let yourself fart around online without judgment. Make time to
look or howl at the moon; watch grass grow. Taking good care of your
heart and soul will boost your emotional resilience and your immune
system. The glow will show and people will be more drawn to you. The
more often you choose to be happy, the more likely you will be. Make
yourself a priority this year by lightening up. Sing in the shower or the
car. Let yourself indulge in people and experiences. Learn something
new or practice something old. Whatever makes you feel good, wise,
or holy, give yourself a little more of it each week. Remind yourself
regularly: You are a good person and you deserve to be happy.

At My Wit’s End

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have had the worst year I can remember. Here’s a summary of bad
parts of my life for the last nine months: My old cat got sick, but we
put him on new meds and he revived (temporarily). My dentist found a
lesion on my tongue, and two oral surgeons disagreed about whether
or not it could be cancerous (did you know that tongues fall in a gap
between medical and dental insurance?). I developed insomnia and
started sleeping in one-two hour bursts. I began a construction project
that is now six weeks and many thousands of dollars over budget. My
cat got sick again; more new meds. None of the insomnia medicine
worked, after many trials and errors. I had what turned out to be a
small house fire, but another five-minutes slower by the alarm
company or the fire department and I might not be writing you. The
cat became incontinent and my house was papered in pee pads; he
recently died. The good news: My skin doctor identified the tongue
lesion (after a biopsy of another spot) as a side effect of a diabetes
medication I have been on that I hated and am now off of. I took
money from my 401K to pay for construction. I pleaded for new meds
from doctor and have actually gotten three-four hours sleep in a row.
The fire damage is repaired for less than my deductible and the smoke
smell is abating. People tell me I am stressed and depressed. Stressed
and exhausted, yes; depressed, no. What can I do to get my life on an
even keep once construction ends (very very soon).

At My Wit’s End

 
Dear Wit’s End:

You’ve convinced me, you need a vacation!! But I assume that it is
unwise to raid your 401K a second time to pay for one. So I am
prescribing and intense “stay-cation.” Here’s how it works: Other than
life and death obligations to your family, you unburden your calendar
and make your emotional and physical health your prime priority. If
you have accrued vacation time at work, now’s the time to use it. If
you do not, then do the below in all non-working hours.

 

 

From the moment you get up until the moment your head hits the
pillow, all you should be doing is focusing on being calm, mellow, and
very gentle on yourself. That means getting caffeine or other
stimulants out of your life, and focusing on healthy eating with as little
sugar or “treats” that cycle your energy in spikes and crashes as you
can do. It also means creating a fixed time every day to meditate. My
idea of meditation probably wouldn’t satisfy a guru. It can include time
holding or reading a book, staring at a hummingbird feeder, watching
lawn sprinklers turn and twirl, and other similar mindless activities.
Take the idea that you need to be productive and shelve it. Avoid
making social commitments more than a day or two ahead of time.
Practice saying “No, I’m on a retreat.” When people ask you to do
anything that genuinely doesn’t sound healing or fun. Avoid angry,
toxic, or negative people at all costs. Practice good sleep hygiene (look
it up), and avoid violent or loud TVs, books, and music. Sign up for
some “quote of the day” inspirational emails, especially ones that
focus on gentle and calming thoughts. Choose one or two friends with
whom you feel safe to process your feelings of grief, but avoid telling
and retelling the stories of your trauma to everyone you know. Do
these things for at least a few weeks, until you begin to feel calmer
and your lifestyle feels more supportive and nurturing. When you go
back to “normal” I hope your life is a lot softer and sweeter. If not,
find a good counselor.