Tuesday, March 30, 2010

One More Trip to Paris

My dreams are often quite explicit. No, I didn’t say “sexually explicit.” Don’t go there. Explicit in that you don’t need to buy one of those dream interpretation books to catch the meaning.

When my brother turns to me and says, “ You act like a guy who thinks he has unlimited opportunities to go to Europe,” and I think to myself that the mirror response to him sounds too awful to utter, that says volumes about how we are living our lives.

I look at him and wonder how can he manage another trip abroad in his ever-increasing frailty? He wonders—how can he not. If life has decided he has room for only one more trip to Paris—Jeffrey, by God is going to take it. It makes me wonder how many trips to Paris life has allotted me. Given that I have taken exactly zero so far, in my vast sense of limitless opportunities, for all I know the answer may be “zero.” While for Jeffrey, on the other hand, the answer is always “the current number of trips to Paris + 1.”

Ya gotta admire that spirit.

How many weeks do I have left to work from Huntsville AL, hang out in Jeff’s house, drive up to the Jack Daniel distillery in Lynchburg, eat bad food, and cry together about our mutual certain uncertain fate?

In the dream that punctured the darkness of my unconscious, Jeff has not only planned a trip to Paris (as he has done for true life), he and a handful of others have entered an experimental chamber for some indecipherable adventure. I stand by in horror and observe as the glass container with brass pipes sticking out seems to run into some trouble. I immediately determine that the occupants are getting no oxygen and take all my strength to bend the pipe until it snaps apart allowing air to reach them. This was apparently a time before the importance of oxygen had been discovered. My brother’s bravery and my response lead to this important discovery.

I have to wonder if we are not in the act of rediscovering spiritual oxygen in this moment. Jeffrey doing things that those of us with seeming “unlimited opportunities” would never consider doing, while I watch carefully and sustain his life, if in no other way than in these few words of love and admiration.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


My son, Jacob, and his fiancée, Alana, decided to mark their betrothal by performing a practically unheard of ritual called Tenaim. It apparently harkens back to an age when an engagement was in itself a legally binding agreement between families. The dowry was established, as were penalties for failure to abide by the terms of the contract. For Jacob and Alana Tenaim provided an opportunity to document a sacred agreement between them as to how they choose to live as a married couple. They preferred to do this now, as a separate ritual, rather than to insert personal vows into the traditional wedding ceremony later this year.
The parents’ signatures are part of the legal document, so the couple asked both sets of parents to join them for this. They also asked us to be prepared to say a few words. They planned an evening wherein the six of us would meet privately for an hour and then be joined by a few other close friends and family for the actual ceremony.

We gathered in our living room as Shabbat was growing to a close. Since Alana’s brother, Micah, had come up from Los Angeles to join us, Alana invited him to sit in on the "parent" meeting. We pulled up some extra chairs and clustered close together. Jacob spoke first, then Alana, reiterating their intentions about Tenaim

Barbara, who often expresses herself through her art, presented the couple with a beautifully rendered quilted wall hanging. The Tenaim ritual is culminated by the two mothers breaking a plate, so Barbara chose a quilt pattern known as “broken plates”. Within the pattern she integrated verses from a blessing for the home. Bruce followed with a few words of appreciation and acknowledgement of the couple. Debbie read words of Kahlil Gibran on Marriage that my father had read at our wedding.
... let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. ...
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
...stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow. 

She also read an additional selection from Gibran on Time that seemed pertinent in that it acknowledges the past and the future much as the entire ceremony did.
... that which sings and contemplates in you is still dwelling within the bounds of that first moment which scattered the stars into space.
Who among you does not feel that his power to love is boundless?
But if in your thought you must measure time into seasons, let each season encircle all the other seasons,
And let today embrace the past with remembrance and the future with longing. 

I had asked Jacob some weeks ago what they had in mind regarding the parents' offerings of words at this occasion. He suggested that I create something like the ethical will that I had previously presented to the family. This was a statement of some of my observations of life, a reflection of my values, and a bestowal of blessings. I was touched that he had taken that in and felt it a worthy model for this time.
In the creation of my ethical will I developed a pattern by writing a short page of observations followed by one or more blessings that the observations evoked in me. I also developed a graphic format when I compiled these into a book that I have been giving to a few family members and friends. Therefore I followed these patterns in creating my Tenaim remarks.
Jake, Alana—I know that this moment makes both of you exceedingly happy and want you to know that it brings happiness to many others as well.

Alana—We note with delight the deep affection your family has for you; your new family joins them in this and we welcome you most enthusiastically to our family circle.

Jake—You have gladdened our hearts by the family feeling you have shown and we commend you for the good judgment with which you have chosen your mate.

All of these words—with different names—were uttered almost forty years ago by my father at our wedding. For me to have demonstrated good judgment at that time was far more of a rarity than for Jacob—nonetheless, it is surely one of life’s greatest pleasures to stand where my father once stood in watching the next generation launch their adult lives in such a beautiful manner.

L’dor va-dor.

Whether it is reciting the Four Questions or bringing children to the chuppah, rituals bring meaning to life.
Rituals are transformational.
They provide connections between generations.
They provide connection to God.
Your choice to create this intimate, reverent, loving gathering to celebrate the ritual of Tenaim, is a true reflection of your values as individuals and as a couple.

May your values continue to guide you to a lifetime of celebration of one another with your family and friends.

May you provide a solid link in an unbroken chain of generations who honor and revere Torah and contribute to tikkun olam.

May you be blessed with many years of joy, companionship, and love. 

It would come as no surprise that I would become somewhat emotional. I had not anticipated, however, how emotional I would become. I barely choked out the words. It was a deeply felt sentiment, linking me to my father and my children, and essentially all generations.
We all chatted some more until the guests arrived. After some “social” time Bruce led us in Havdalah, after which Jacob and Alana read their Tenaim document to us. It was an amalgam of traditional text, some of which they revised, and a list of vows. They perceive this to be a binding document under Jewish law so they crafted their vows carefully, being sure that they were truly achievable (such as a promise to spend time together once a month even though they plan on far surpassing that).

They signed the document as did the two sets of parents. Barbara and Debbie then took a plate that was once used by Debbie’s grandparents. We all stepped out to the patio and watched the two of them let the plate fall to the concrete. Perhaps this tradition symbolizes the change in state of the parent/child relationships. Perhaps it foreshadows the breaking of the glass at the wedding. Regardless, we toasted Jacob and Alana with champagne. Dinner and a joyous evening of stories and conversation ensued—all in all, one of the truly great events of a lifetime!