Category Archives: Spirituality, Judaism, Big Life Questions

Yearning

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

All summer, when I was in a recess from teaching middle school, I had
plenty of time to be creative. For me that meant starting to learn how
to paint with watercolors and outlining my idea for a young adult
series. But now that school is back in session, I can’t seem to find time
to write or paint or even just lounge with a book to read for more than
20 minutes at a time. It’s not just grading and lesson planning, but the
complicated schedules my husband and I share, which has made us
put an emphasis on dining together on weeknights and cleaning
together on weekends. I take a yoga class two nights a week but
that’s not the same thing as feeling creative. I miss my freedom. Can
you help?

Yearning

 
Dear Yearning:

It is important to set reasonable expectations. You won’t have the
same unlimited time as you did in summer. But you can carve out two
or three times during the week that are “yours” beyond yoga,
housework, and work-work. Let’s assume Friday and Saturday are
date nights with your hubby, and Sunday night is school prep. If you
can spring Sunday from work you will get three sessions to yourself
beyond yoga.

 
First, set up a room or at least a desk and a chair that is your
designated creative space. Allow yourself to leave your projects there
in whatever state of organization (or even disorganization) that you
like. If you have a door to close all the better. Second, ask your hubby
if he will be responsible for meal prep one night a week, say
Wednesday. When you get home that day, go to your play space and
breathe for ten minutes. Let your ideas for what you want to do later
float around in your brain so they sound exciting. Write down what
seems important. Have dinner with your hubby and kiss him goodbye;
then go to your creative space and let yourself have two-three hours
to do whatever you please, even if it turns out to be reading a book or
napping. Ditto for Sunday afternoons. The first few times you do this,
the freedom to be creative may surprisingly sap your energy rather
than enhance it. But you will find your sea legs and once you start to
write, and your characters feel more alive, you will be drawn to it,
even called.

 
November is a month dedicated to writing. Google NANOWRIMO
(national novel writing month) If you can find even ten minutes a day
to jot down ideas, one paragraph or one scene, or even just an idea, in
a notebook you carry with you or an email you send yourself, you will
become inspired. By next November you may even have made a big
head start on your book. In the interim you will start to develop better
habits.

Struggling

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

How can I forgive my parents the damage that I realize they inflicted
on me? Not just with the obvious impacts of living in a household
organized around parental alcoholism but also because they made me
think I was “a bad girl,” a characterization I realize that I took in much
too deeply. I’m not. But at age 35 I can still hear their voices.

Struggling

 
Dear Struggling:

We all get told many stories when were young. There are the ones we
think we’re being told, the ones we tell ourselves, and the ones others
(parents and more) act like are true even if they are far from who we
really are or think we are at the time. These stories all help shape and
define us even if they are stories we run away from me instead of
embracing. Some people’s stories were told with seeming love and
support, but got taken in sideways or in ways that people felt
constrained by having to enact them to satisfy family (e.g. my smart
son the future doctor, who might have preferred to play jazz clarinet).
Other people who have had bad stories beaten and raped into them go
on to become the most tender loving people, while others stay stuck in
pain all their lives. Inside we’re all battling some version of these
stories, regardless of how they were defined or delivered.

 
Every family is organized around some story. A parent’s mental
problems, alcoholism, abuse, fill in the blank. But whether the scarring
and stories come from ignorance or are willfully inflicted, part of
becoming our adult, healed selves is wrestling with them and coming
to our own understanding of who we really are. If you really want to
grow you will make it through this passage, on your own or with
trained help. But please distinguish between the stories that came at
you, and the better stories that you are making and have already
made for yourself.

 
Two practices of the High Holidays might help. Perhaps do a private
tashich ritual around this, and talk it out at a riverbank the way you
might in a therapist’s office. Then during the appropriate prayers, try
to forgive your parents, and also forgive yourself for ever believing the
stories they told that are not true for you. None of this is easy. But
you can become happier.

Simple Son

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

In temple I’ve been hearing the phrase tikkun olam. Can you tell me
what it means and how to do it? I’m too embarrassed to ask my locals.

Simple Son

 
Dear Simple Son:

Tikkun olam literally means repairing the world. The imagery comes
out of the mystical tradition, which says that in the beginning, when
the Divine essence came into the world, it was poured into vessels, the
spheres on the Tree of Life. The vessels could not hold HaShem’s pure
energy. They shattered, and the Divine sparks were scattered
throughout the universe, into every living thing: you, me, every critter
and blade of grass. Now it’s our job, as conscious, caring beings, to
gather those sparks. To create wholeness. To create the world to
come, whether you believe that means a literal messiah or simply a
happier and more just reality for us all.

 
The concept translates into big ideas like social, economic, and
environmental justice. Also into smaller daily actions, like telling the
truth and helping your neighbor. Tikkun olam is about saying No to
evil, in forms large or small, and saying Yes to goodness, equity, and
compassion. It’s a responsibility that each of us carries, and
sometimes we forget to honor. Tikkun olam is about transcending the
immediacy of personal desire. It’s about shifting your focus, and
raising it higher. To me it always comes back to two aspects of
consciousness that are simple to say but harder to do: live with
greater awareness and greater intention. Living on a higher plane gets
tested by bad politicians or even long lines at Costco. Remind yourself
regularly that what you do makes a difference. Recognize when you’re
living up to your moral standards and when you’re not. Know your
values. Know what you can live with and what you’re willing to stand
up for and against.

 
How to put tikkun olam into action? Pay attention. Speak. Act. Practice
healing yourself and the world in as many ways as you can each day.
If we all practice tikkun olam, perhaps we can avoid more Holocausts
and more 9/11s. Perhaps we can diminish homelessness and hunger in
our communities. Perhaps we can cultivate a greater global
consciousness rather than staying stuck in our small tribal minds. If we
all do that, we’ll heal ourselves, and this place we call home.

Descendent

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Recently I went to a Yon HaShoah service for the first time. My family
has a complicated history. My great-grandmother was hidden during
WW2 with a Catholic family by her parents. All her living relatives
perished and for most of her life she did not tell anyone, including her
Catholic husband, that she was really Jewish. After his death, she
gathered her children (among them my grandmother), and told them
that she would not ask them to change how they lived their lives, but
to honor her own family, she would ask them to tell their own children,
when they felt the children were mature enough to handle it, about
their heritage to honor the memory of her departed and to keep
knowledge alive. I know in a world of increasing globalization,
intermarriage, and more complex identities that my story isn’t all that
unique. But I grew up not knowing much about the Holocaust and I am
not much of a history buff. Can you recommend some books that can
educate me please? I started with the movie Shindler’s List and that
was eye opening in a horrible scary way.

Descendent

 
Dear Descendent:

I have a ritual that I do every year for Yom HaShoah to honor the
many relatives on both sides of my family who were murdered. I think
it is a great place for you to begin, but be forewarned, for a very slim
book it carries a huge punch. Go to a bookseller or library and find a
chronicle of the Holocaust called The Seventh Well by Fred Wander, a
French Jew who was in 25 different work camps. That and Night, by
the social justice advocate Elie Weisel, are my two favorites for
intimate portrayals of day to day life in concentration camps. Another,
far more cerebral but very much about the 20 th century post-war
diaspora, is called The Lost, by Daniel Mendelsohn, a Yale humanities
professor, who tracks down survivors of a small Polish town that a
deceased great-uncle was from.

 

 

There is a wealth of Holocaust literature, movies, art, and memoir. It
is very easy to feel overwhelmed, because the scale of murder and
suffering was so great. In addition to educating yourself, be sure to
think about other people you know who might not have the same
family history but might be as ignorant and innocent as you might
have been without what you learned about your family. We must all be
vigilant to avoid allowing the rise of contemporary anti-Semitism, in
Europe but also right here in America, to create conditions where
being targeted simply because of one’s religion can be seen as
anything other than repugnant.

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. I have no particular interest in attending services or
becoming more observant. But I miss the rituals and the meaning that
Judaism provided when I was young. Is there a way that I can address
liberation themes in my own life, without the full bore ritual of a
Seder?

Lapsed

 
Dear Lapsed:

Consider a Seder anyhow, because attending will have impacts you
cannot predict. It’s more than the historic story. So I would ask around
among your Jewish friends and see if you could get an invitation. It’s
pretty traditional, like Thanksgiving, not to let someone feel alone.
Either way, try asking these four non-traditional questions. You can
see if they work for you:

 

Question 1, Ask: 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: How could 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 is
it the other way round?

 

Question 4, Ask: How do you protect yourself with your gifts? 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. Change is hard and the spirit of the holiday is about
getting ourselves out of the narrow places and into a bigger world.

Second Fiddle

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I come from a big and generally loving family. The only time we sibs
(two gals, two guys) have problems is with competition, as in who
gives what gifts to parents, etc. But every year my sister tries to
upstage me at Passover. We have a family tradition of alternating first
and second nights. When she goes first she puts on such an
ostentatious display that my Seder feels small and average. She says
she cooks everything herself but I’m convinced she’s used a deli.
When she goes second she makes a point of outdoing whatever I have
done. It sounds petty, but if I make one dessert she makes two; if I
make two, she serves three. My brother is single and never has to
host. I know he loves us both, but he knows how competitive she is
and always compliments her profusely. It shouldn’t bother me but it
does.

Second Fiddle

 
Dear Second Fiddle:

Annoying relatives are one of life’s challenges. Silly or not, it’s clearly
gotten to you. A lifetime of sisterhood should have taught you that
you’re unlikely to change her personality. You could create a lot of
tension in the family by trying, but why? Instead, get into the true
spirit of Pesach and try to modulate the game. It won’t be as satisfying
in the short run, but in the longer one, you’ll be happier. Plus your
family will be more in tune with what the holiday is really about.
Bonus: if you master this lesson with your sister, other people will
have a harder time getting under your skin.

 
Passover is about liberation from mitzrayim. For the moment, consider
your personal mitzrayim to be a vulnerable ego and your sister’s
vanity. Since you’re not going to beat her at her own game, move the
goalpost. Instead of buying into perpetual one-upswomanship, strive
for simplicity, piety, and a hamish sense of family and warmth.
Compliment her for what she does well. Smile. Dig deep for sincerity.
Match it with your simplest best. Sparkle where it counts, from within,
and liberate yourself from this annual plague.

Worried Patriot

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My grandparents were immigrants. My grandfather ran a deli in St.
Louis for most of his life (after starting out sweeping up and washing
dishes in one. He served in WW2, which was scary because of what his
family had fled to come to America. The Jewish cemetery where he is
buried was just vandalized in a horrible way that made national news.
Headstones were topped and many defaced with swastikas and
horrible horrible slogans.

 

For a long time I was willing to give our new
President a chance, even though I didn’t vote for him. But now my
eyes have been opened wide in a brutal way. The number of hate
crimes is up, weekly there are rashes of bomb scares called in to
Jewish community centers, and people seem to feel emboldened to act
in anti-Semitic ways with impunity. My friends and neighbors joined
hundred of other volunteers to clean and rectify the cemetery but we
were all left shaken. We were grateful to have other volunteers join us
from different faith communities, both those who are also targeted for
hate crimes and others who would be safe even if the country goes as
badly as the Germany my grandparents fled. I’m too old to run for
office and I doubt I would be very good at it. But how can I help
educate people about how bad things feel like they’re headed?

Worried Patriot

 
Dear Worried Patriot:

You are certainly not alone. Even before the election many progressive
groups were commenting on the rise of the “alt-right” which is to some
at least a fancy name to conceal a very old and dangerous set of social
beliefs, beliefs that have cost many millions of Jews their lives in the
last century alone. Those commentators were dismissed as partisan
politicos at the time, but in the months since November the chorus of
those writing about these issues has grown, and media networks as
politically diverse as The Huffington Post and Fox News have observed
the phenomenon with increasing concern and voice. I agree, this is a
matter that goes far past party or religion.

 
I’m a strong believer in local action. You may be too old to run for
office but your own family’s experience is a story worth telling. It
shouldn’t take you long to identify local groups who are as worried as
you are. If your synagogue has a Tikkun Olam or Social Justice
Committee, start by asking there. Or post something on a social media
site asking about groups in your area where you could attend to talk
over your concerns and learn how to take action. I’m not talking about
armed self-defense. I’m talking about talking, sign making, letter
writing, phone calling, and petitions signing as simple starting places.
There are places to sign up that will send you emails detailing whom to
call about what issues, and will provide phone numbers and info on the
issues. Make sure your synagogue is reaching out to other religious
groups, from mosques to churches, to change local culture and make it
unwelcoming to hate.

 
Retired or working, decide how much time you can devote each week
to making sure your grandchildren aren&'t fighting the same battles, in
America or another country.

Have To Change!!!!

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I feel like my whole life needs a retrofit. My marriage of 25 years has been up
and down for two decades. We love one another but it has always been volatile,
and I don’t mean in the good ways of make up sex. I’m very clear that I wouldn’t
pick him again, but we have a house, kids, dogs, debt, and many more ties that
bind. I’m also in a job I have wanted out of for years, and frankly I’d rather live in
another state, but my husband refuses to relocate. Fortunately our children are
grown, but each of them has approached me so say they can tell I am not the
happy person they used to know. My friends say much much more. My counselor
won’t tell me what to do, and asks me fifty questions a week, none of which I
seem able to answer with anything other than tears and saying “I feel stuck” over
and over. I have a degree and ironically I solve other people’s problems for a
living. Where do I start?

Have To Change!!!!

 
Dear Have to Change:

Here’s some simple advice: don’t change more than one thing at a time. While
I’m sure it’s tempting to move far away now, that seems like a rash over-
response. Jobs are easier to come by than marriages, especially if you may start
over somewhere else. So I think you need to start with marriage counseling.
Somewhere along the way you may decide you want to change your personal
counselor as well, but in the short run, sticking with someone who asks good
questions, even if you haven’t felt ready to answer them, will give you a sense of
stability. Ask your counselor for names of someone you can see with your
husband, assuming he is willing. If he is not, your problems are even bigger than
you describe.

 
Unless your job is severely physically or emotionally debilitating, that would be
last on my list to change. Looking for and starting any new job is stressful, and if
you may relocate anyhow, it seems like a waste of energy. Work on your
relationship, but within a specified period of time to either make it better or agree
to a trial separation, one that would enable you to have a grub stake to start over
either where you live or in a new place. But know that once you leave your home,
the chances you will stay together decline precipitously. So marriage first, then
choose between job and trying out a new place to live. But stay in counseling no
matter what. You will need the support.

Red, White, and Very Blue

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m sinking into what I think is a depression since the election. There
are so many things that have been done to undermine the country
that I love. Each day brings a need for more phone calls, more post
cards, more petitions to sign, etc. How can I not drown under the
weight of all that I feel is needed?

Red, White, and Very Blue

 
Dear Very Blue:

The weight of this nation does not rest on your shoulders alone. Yes it
is important for each of us to make our voice heard, regardless of the
issue or one’s opinion about it. But that’s not all our lives should be
about or the people you oppose have already won. You need to stay
emotionally and spiritually healthy in order to remember that the very
values you are fighting for form the basis of a healthy life. That has to
include time for family, work, exercise, and even some leisure time as
well as activism, or you will burn out much too soon. If you intend to
sign petitions, make phone calls, etc, you will need to have that
become as much a part of your life as brushing your teeth. But it
should not drag you into malaise.

 
Set a daily schedule for your activism that includes 5-30 minutes of
time. Try to avoid doing this just before bed lest you mess up your
sleep schedule with anxiety. Yes a sense of hopeless is a natural
response to what is going on. But if you let it sink any possibility of
optimism you are setting yourself up for much worse problems than
who is running your government. Find some friends who are going
through similar feelings and set up a regular support group to channel
your emotions into concrete action. This should help energize you and
help you out of your slump.

Aggrieved

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

A former friend hurt me very badly during the past year. The details
are not important, but the punch line is that my marriage will take a
long time to recover. My wife and I are working on trust-building, and
alcohol avoidance. But I blame him more than her. He’s on the temple
Board and will play a prominent part in High Holiday services and
receive many honors. I know the spirit of the season is forgiveness but
I have none in my heart and feel it’s worse to fake sincerity if he offers
atonement. What can I say if he approaches me to apologize and what
should I do if he does not?

Aggrieved

 
Dear Aggrieved:

There’s no telling a heart how to feel with your head. If you are not
yet ready to forgive you should not approach your friend insincerely
nor should you accept any seemingly pro forma apology just because
it is offered. The spirit of the season is to cleanse your heart and your
soul, not to fake politeness and/or bury a wound that will continue to
fester.

 
If your friend approaches you, say honestly that you are not yet over
the hurt that his actions (and perhaps your wife’s) have put on your
family. Say you and she are working through things, but you would
like him to respect your process. If he does not approach you, you
should consider moving towards him, and say more or less the same.
The more or less part is tricky, because synagogue is not the place for
the kind of full airing you might wish to do. I suggest leaving the door
open and saying you’re not really ready to talk about things now, but
will be open in a few months to having a cuppa coffee, but not until
you have firmer footing and more perspective. Don’t make him into a
villain or yourself into a victim. Use this opportunity to heal your
marriage and refine your friendship. You may need help, from your
rabbi or a counselor. Don’t be shy about asking for it.

Adrift

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

As always with a change of year I find myself reassessing life
decisions. I know I cannot go back and change the past. But I feel
burdened by regrets about foolish relationship decisions, bad job
choices, even something as silly as twenty pounds I put on this year
brooding and feeling stuck. I have tried getting re-engaged with
Judaism as a way of jolting myself out of my funk, but sometimes the
words in the prayers just get in the way. I am long past any Sunday
School version of God as a man in white robes on a throne. I believe
that HaShem is a guiding force in life, but also that my own
(seemingly very messed up) free will has been able to subvert that
guiding hand into the mess I’m in now. Can you help me find my way
back to some greater clarity and faith?

Adrift

 
Dear Adrift:

That’s a tall order for an advice column, but here goes. Belief in a
power greater than yourself is a useful adjunct to free will, especially if
your faith in yourself is at a low point. Organizations like Alcoholics
Anonymous have used that principle to help people for decades. But
just turning your life over to an idea and expecting a cavalry to the
rescue turn-around isn’t a realistic or likely outcome. You’re going to
have to take more control of your life and responsibility for making
better decisions for anything substantive to change.

 
Take the High Holidays seriously. Go to ask many of the services as
you can. Don’t focus on the words that distract you. Instead focus on
the meaning of the prayers, the trust in the divine, the sincere
supplication of your heart for relief and release. In my shul I once
heard a father say to his son, If you don’t like what’s happening, just
read the commentary. To my mind that’s great advice. Just being in a
place of worship with others and feeling that energy will begin to
lighten you. And if there is a call for an aliyah that you can participate
it, go up to the bimah and receive a blessing from the rabbi.

 

Also, do tashlich. And take it seriously. Find a flowing body of water,
and with every bit of bread you toss (as in many small bits, not just
dumping a was), make an affirmation about the changes you want in
your life. You can make these affirmations in the negative (e.g. I will
not eat any more sugar except on my birthday or at weddings.) or the
positive (e.g., I commit to getting a new job.) Take your time and dot
this ritual with a friend. Say your affirmations aloud and witness them
for one another.

 
Seriously consider getting a counselor, at least for six months. The
kind of turnaround you are talking about is a big life retrofit. It’s hard
to do that alone and even good friends should be able to be friends,
not to substitute for a trained professional. Most of us who have big
life issues to confront also have long-standing habits and emotional
patterns that are more than just superficial. Having someone on your
side who can help you look at your history and how you cope with it is
a wonderful gift. If money is a constraint, see if there are any sliding
scale clinics in your area. Often newly minted folks will work in those
kinds of places while they get their supervised hours under their belt.
Many are very devoted caring people. You can try to address this all
on your own. But having an ally is wonderful way to help yourself.

 

Finally, pray. You can do this in synagogue but also on walks on in
meditation. Try to make at least twenty minutes a day both morning
and evening to be quiet. If you don’t think you can do that, put on soft
music. But sit still and don’t fret about everything in your life you say
you want to change. Practice just being still and focus on your breath,
in and out and in and out If you believe in HaShem then ask for help
on the inhale and think Thanks on the exhale. Say you are ready to
turn things around and you want help, support, and guidance in any
form that it can be given to you. Give gratitude for what’s good in your
life. And try to be as kind to those around you as you would like them
to be to you. This is big important work. But by next year at this time
you should be well on your way. Good luck.

Double Booked

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

A friend whom I know only briefly but like very much invited me to her
wedding. It’s about two hours away, on a Sunday afternoon, on Erev
Rosh Hashonah. LOL no she’s not Jewish. I would like to go but I
usually attend all the High Holiday services. I’m not as religious as I
once was, but this is a great annual tune-up for me, and the timing is
right for some personal transitions. What should I do?

Double Booked

 
Dear Double Booked:

Go to the wedding and celebrate your new friend’s joy. Good friends
are hard to find. You already have a solid relationship with your
community or worship and with Judaism. If you can make it back in
time for services, then by all means attend, even if it means coming
late and sitting in the back. Be sure to go to as many of the other RH
services you can. And do the deep work of this time in your heart and
with great sincerity. All these actions will get your year off to a great
beginning.

Need To Change

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I struggled to support myself without egregious pain or worry. I’m 33
and feel I’ve finally found my life’s work: doing bodywork/massage. I
feel ready and excited but have two jobs now: one is temporary part
time, the other will become full-time permanent in October,
November, or December, but they can’t tell me when!!! I also do
printing work, which I love, but can’t rely on it to pay the bills. Fulltime
bodywork school couldn’t fit with it all right now, though there is a
part-time (Wednesdays and Saturdays) program that starts every
quarter. I think (at least through December) I can go down to two
days at both jobs, take Weds off for school, and do the printing in the
wee hours if there’s a deadline. When the temp-going-to-full-time job
happens, I’ll negotiate for four days, at least for a while. But I really
don’t like it there. Is it okay to walk away from a job that makes me
want to die? I want to love my work instead of sitting alone putting
computer files into folders all day. I’m so sick of making questionable
decisions in fear or scarcity mode. Help…..

Need To Change

 
Dear Need To Change:

What sounds like a great plan on the surface can conceal a multitude
of disasters in the shallow waters. I love the idea that you’ve found a
new career and a place to train for it that allows you to work while you
do so. Going into debt for a profession that might take a while to build
up a clientele to employ you is a bad start. So yes to staying employed
as long as possible while you are in school. You don’t say how many
terms the training is, or what you’ll do if the part full-time job won’t
negotiate. Given their equivocation about timing you should be okay n
the short-run, but employers have the upper hand in most unskilled
labor markets, so you might find that they value their own priorities
much more highly than yours.

 
Start out with a financial assessment for the duration of your training
program and six months afterwards, which should give you time to
find a job. What do you need to bring in each month to pay your fixed
expenses? Can you trim that down at all? Can you get or become a
roommate to save on living expenses? Go through everything on your
list from transportation to haircuts. Don’t forget insurance and other
items you probably don’t want to afford but need. Can you see a path
to making this work? If not, what kind of student loan could
supplement one of the part-time jobs? What happens in an
emergency? Do you have savings? Debts? Talk to yourself the way a
stern parent would. Not to talk yourself out of the change, but to
figure out what it will take to make your new life work. If, in the worst
case, you simply cannot afford to do it now, decide to work for a
specific period with the goal of saving enough to start in six to twelve
months. I know you won’t enjoy the delay, but it will make you even
more committed. In the meantime, get copies of all the textbooks, or
even just a used Gray’s Anatomy and learn every muscle and its
insertion points. Be your own study group while you are doing the
boring work. That will equip you to be a blazing success whenever you
do start classes. You’ll impress the instructors with your readiness, and
they’ll go to bat for you when you graduate. Change is hard and
rewarding. Good luck!!

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.