The Bliss Blog

The Bliss Blog

Feathers On The Breath of God

 

“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its
restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?”-Kahlil Gibran,  On Death

As I am writing this, a friend is by her father’s beside, taking a journey with him  that will only allow her to go so far. At some point, he will take a step away from her and she will remain here. Perhaps her mother will hold out her hand and invite him to join her,  since she made her transtion 10 years ago Christmas Eve.  Another friend said goodbye to her mother a few weeks ago. A year ago, on the day after Thanksgiving, my mother continued the dance with my father that was interrupted 2 1/2 years earlier and on December 21st,  I said Kaddish for my husband on the 13th anniversary of his death. Each of these souls are feathers on the breath of God, wafting through life on a different level.

So many of us avoid the subject of death, but for me, it is as intimate as corporeal existence; nothing morbid or frightening about it. I have worked as a nursing home social worker and home care social worker and witnessed the death of residents and patients. I have been a bereavement counselor and teach classes on the subject.  As an interfaith minister, I have officiated at funerals (including those of both my parents and an uncle)  I have been at the bedsides of  my father in 2008 and my husband in 1998. I was not present when my mother took her last breath, since she had orchestrated it that way. It feels very much like being a midwife on the other end of the life spectrum, very much an honor.

I remember the experience of being in hospital rooms with my parents and Michael, footsteps echoing down corridors, sleep eluding me and being eagerly grasped when it would blanket me in fleeting comfort. ‘Normal’  felt like it was out of my reach for the time being. I wondered what it be like to experience ‘normal’  again. And of course, I live it now. As I think about my friend who is witnessing her father’s transition now, I feel an odd sense of gratitude that I have survived the experience and that are no more parents to bury and no phone call to await, summoning me to their bedsides.  Even as tears of sadness flow and a longing for one more hug, one more laugh with them, one more smile, one more loving word, is with me,  I have every certainty that they are experiencing a joy beyond anything I might imagine at the moment. Knowing that, heals my heart and I offer that same sense of comfort to my friends who are where I was a year ago.

 

http://youtu.be/RMTKb-pgxGI  Keep Me In Your Heart For Awhile  by Warren Zevon

http://youtu.be/qkG7XE-uBSk  There’s An Angel Watching You   by Barry Goldstein

Two of my favorite books on the subject

Glad No Matter What by SARK  www.planetsark.com

Loving Grief by Paul Bennett  www.lovinggrief.com

 

Unseen Hands

My friend Annabella Wood (a.k.a. Truck Driving Mama)  is a woman of faith, pure and simple. She is also a consummate story teller which comes in handy, since she is  a professional singer-songwriter and recording artist.  Annabella had a 30 year career as a long distance truck driver. She shared a story at an interfaith service recently that gave me goosebumps. It is a reminder that we are always looked after and protected and sometimes there are no other explanations for why things happen as they do, but that unseen hands guide our steps and turns. Her guardian angels were certainly busy on the particular day she describes.

For a number of years I hauled limestone powder down from a mine high up in the desert side of the San Bernardino Mountains. The mine was off a two lane desert mountain road. My 18 wheeler was a cab with no sleeper and two trailers called pups. The whole rig stretched about 65’ from stem to stern and when fully loaded was right on the mark at 80,000 pounds. I know that because to get the truck loaded I drove it onto a great big scale and sat in the truck while a mine worker loaded it so that they could watch the rig weight go up and stop the loading process right at max weight.

This particular day started out just like many other days. My truck had been in the shop for routine maintenance. I got to the yard, checked the lights, kicked the tires to make sure they had air, jumped in and headed off to the mine. Our shop
mechanics were good. My vehicle inspections were always pretty short when the truck had just been in the shop.

I had made this trip hundreds of times before and today felt just like the rest. The empty truck was very light and bouncy as I headed out of town into the dry foothills of the high desert in southern CA. For 45 minutes I traversed the high desert plateau until reaching Lucerne Valley where I turned right and started up the mountain roads that took me to the mine.

Soon I was at the mine and pulled up onto the scale and  felt the truck shake and bobble as the powder fell into the
trailers. It was a comfortable feeling to me, something like being bounced on a beloved parent’s knee. I had been feeling it for nearly 10 years and the familiarity had its own comfort as well.

Soon the trailers were loaded, paperwork done and I was ready to roll to Los Angeles to deliver my limestone to the USG plant in Torrance where they made drywall products. Sitting in the driver’s seat I looked out the windshield at the incredible expanse of the desert mountains. I could see for probably 80 miles or more from this vantage point. There were no trees to obscure the view.

Instead there were hundreds of Joshua Trees, which are a type of slow growing cactus which eventually forms a tree shape if it has enough time. You can live in the desert your whole life with a Joshua Tree in your yard and never see it
change except for an occasional blossom which appears and then falls off. They grow imperceptibly slowly and live for thousands of years. The oldest ones grow to be about 20 feet high and their branches spread about 15 feet across.
Joshuas of that size are about 2500 years old. Most of the Joshuas I was looking at that day were much smaller and younger than that, with a few old timers interspersed. The small trees appeared as dark spots on the light desert sand. I always loved this view. I took it in one more time, released the parking brakes and headed off down the mountainside.

As always I turned on the engine brake as soon as I was rolling. The steep grade ahead required braking from the engine as well as the wheels. In the next 3 miles I was going to fall into Lucerne Valley, some 1500 feet below. This was
not a switchback road either. It was a straight road with only 2 turns between the mine and the town of Lucerne Valley. One turn was a 90 degree right hander a few hundred feet out of the mine. It was not an intersection, just a bend in the road. Before the turn you were on a pretty good but gentle slope leaving the mine. Once you finished the turn you were headed straight down the side of the mountain. A little more than 2 miles later, the mine road ended with a “T” at another two lane, Hwy 18. If you followed Hwy 18 to the right, or uphill, you would eventually end up in Big Bear, CA, a vacation town on the forested side of the mountains. I was going to turn left and continue downhill into Lucerne Valley, where another left would eventually take me out to main highways and cities.

The engine brake held me back pretty well on the gentle grade leaving the mine. As I approached the right hand curve I eased on the wheel brakes to aid in getting around the curve safely. Not much happened to the speed of the truck when I hit
the brake pedal. I pushed harder and could feel some slowing, but not nearly what I was looking for. I found myself steering around the curve faster than I should have, not only for the safety of getting around the corner, but I was hitting the main grade way too fast. I would be on fire by the time I got to the “T” at Hwy 18.

I started pushing with everything I had on the pedal. To my horror, the truck wouldn’t slow. The engine brake was still holding on, but it was not made to hold back an 80,000 pound rig on a grade like this. It was merely an assist at best. While I still had the chance I grabbed the next gear down so that the engine would be of maximum benefit as a brake. So with the engine screaming at very high RPM’s and an unresponsive brake pedal I headed down the mountain side.

My truck was a runaway and I knew it. I had a little over 2 minutes before I got to  Hwy 18. I had to get it under control
NOW. I continued pushing on the brake pedal, not believing that it didn’t work. My truck had a guage on it that told how hard the driver was pushing on the brakes. Normal driving it stayed under 40. The max I had seen it at was 60. Right now I was pegging the needle at 100 and my truck wasn’t slowing down.

I had great visibility of the intersection and traffic both ways on Hwy 18, so I would know if anyone else was in danger. If there was traffic when I got there, I would swerve the truck hard and flip the rear trailer. That would stop the truck in about 2 seconds! Of course I would have to do that without also flipping the front trailer and the cab in order to escape injury. Thank God I had put my seatbelt on. That was one of my good habits.

If I swerved the truck and didn’t roll the trailer then I would have to drive offthe road, but that would be a big mess. The shoulders were soft and the truck very heavy. The side that left the pavement first would slow down instantly and the rig could flip end over end with the cab winding up under the trailers, spilling the limestone. Even if I survived the injuries of the crash, I might die of suffocation under 30 tons of limestone. That was a last resort action only to be used if absolutely necessary to save the life of another motorist.

In the meantime, I kept pushing on the brake pedal. If I pushed hard enough I could get a tiny bit of slowing. The faster the truck went, the less difference the brakes made, but every little bit helped. I was approaching the intersection with Hwy 18 fast and I took my eyes off the mining road for a moment to check for traffic on Hwy 18. There was none. I was going too fast to make the turn without rolling the trailer, but since that was the only way to stop the truck anyway, why not try and make the turn? Either way it’s a rolled trailer.

As the 100 yards turned into 100 feet from the corner I stood on the brake pedal once again and pulled up on the steering wheel with everything I could muster to push even harder on the brakes. I needed every tiny bit they would give me.
The engine was screaming, not yet to the red line on RPM’s but pretty darn close to it. I stayed standing on that pedal pulling on the steering wheel until the very last second when I turned the wheel to the left.

Everything went silent and happened in slow motion. I hung my rig on the far right side of the road, flirting with the sandy shoulder. At about 25 feet from the stop sign, I turned the wheel. In order to stand on the brakes and turn the wheel at the
same time I put both hands together on the lower part of the wheel, never releasing it from my upward pull. Centrifugal force pulled me and the truck to the right, but I kept holding her steady left. We whispered across the left lane of the mining road and then the left corner of pavement at the “T”. The rig lurched left because of the crowing of the roads as we rolled onto Hwy 18. We crossed into and over the left lane of Hwy 18 and I caught a glimpse of my trailers in the mirrors. They were swaying ominously as they crossed the lane crests and the dip in pavement at the corner of the pavement, but they were still upright. The wheel pulled to the right again as we crossed the top of the crown on Hwy 18 going into the right lane. I held on and pulled back to the left hoping to straighten the rig out in the right lane without going onto the shoulder or flipping the rig. Between the slope of the lane and centrifugal force pushing us to the right I was sure I was headed into the sand. But somehow, the truck stayed on the pavement and did not roll over.

The grade on Hwy 18 was gentler than the mining road and my engine brake and what little wheel brake remained slowed me enough that I could pull into Lucerne Valley’s General Store parking lot (which was empty) and headed the truck uphill enough to get it stopped. I pulled the parking brakes and got out of the truck, very happy to have my wobbly legs on solid ground again.

In that parking lot I found and fixed the problem with the brakes. The mechanics had left one valve on each trailer open such that the trailer brakes didn’t activate. I had only the brakes on my 2 axel tractor. I had made it down that hill with 4 of my 10 brakes. I stood there shaking for a very long time. There was no one to yell at or to blame. It was as much my fault as anyone else’s. I was supposed to check those valves, particularly after maintenance. It was all right. I was all right. No one was hurt and I had another story to tell. I was so grateful. So grateful there was no one else on the road. So grateful that I had enough brake to make that turn. So grateful that the engine held and hadn’t spun apart. So grateful to be alive and uninjured.

After calling the company and unsuccessfully trying to beg off driving any more that shift, I got in the truck to continue on into Los Angeles. As I turned the wheel to get back onto Hwy 18, I noticed the strangest thing. The steering wheel was bent… right where my two hands had held onto it going around the corner. It was bent up. How did it get bent up? Did I do that? Is there any physical way I could have enough strength to bend a truck steering wheel? They are made out of steel and are strong… very strong. The truck mechanics didn’t think it was possible I could have done that. Did I bend my truck’s steering wheel as I went around that corner, or were someone else’s hands on that wheel that day?

After hearing Annabella’s remarkable tale, I was reminded of a few occasions over the years when I witnessed near catastrophic roadway occurrences. Each time, I called on Spirit to intervene and each time it did. One took place on a roadway in Maryland in 1986  in which a driver fell asleep at the wheel, veered the car in a 360 and then it was safely guided to the side of the road.

Another was a Ryder truck that crashed through trees on a semi rural road and stopped before it could hit anyone.

And still another  took place on the 4th of July a few years ago. I was on my way home from visiting friends in New York and was about to get onto the George Washington Bridge. I saw a car sideswipe an armored truck, which caused it to skid to the ride and jump up onto a railing that hovered over a 50 foot or more drop to the street below. Horrified, I held out my hand and shouted with all  my  might “NO!” At that moment, I watched, astonished as the truck balanced on two wheels and then landed safely on the side of the road. The three men climbed out and one reached for the gun in its holster. “Whoa”, I called out and reminded him that they were safe and he need not draw his gun. My heart was already racing, without that to step it up. At that moment, I was certain that an unseen hand had brought them from the edge of the precipice.

What each of these incidents had in common was a knowing that all was well, despite appearances at the time. I felt blessed to be present when this affirmation of grace and safety occurred. May I always remember that miracles abound.

http://youtu.be/G-QkhWhRC5o  Truck Driving Mama

 

Love, Light And Latkes

 

On Tuesday night as the sun sets and darkness descends, Jews world-wide will call in the light in the form of kindling two candles on a nine limbed candelabrum called a menorah. On the first night, one candle, which is called the shamash (helper)will light the one other and then over the next 7 nights beyond that, consecutively each of the candles will flicker with flame. Chanukah (also spelled Hanukkah) commemorates the re-dedication of the second temple in Jerusalem after it was defiled by Greek invaders. A family of warriors known as the Maccabees successfully led a revolution and reclaimed the city. The holiday is not celebrated specifically as a victory over an enemy, but rather in honoring a miracle. When the light in the temple needed to be re-ignited, there was only enough oil to keep it illuminated for one day. A rider was sent forth to find more oil. In his absence, the menorah was kept aflame for 8 days.

On this holiday, which in the Jewish tradition is minor, but is given greater recognition since it is in proximity of Christmas, we light the menorah, sing songs, play with a top called a dreidel, exchange gifts and eat food fried in oil. Our menorah was filled with rainbow colored candles that was placed on a wooden frame my father made so it would go over the sink and be visible in our front window. The glow could be seen from the street warmly greeting passersby in our multi-cultural neighborhood in Willingboro, NJ , should they happen to venture past our house on a cold winter night.

In my childhood home, all of those were annual occurrences. Excitement would mount as for weeks beforehand, my sister and I would sneak peaks at the brightly wrapped packages that my parents hid under their bed. We would help them grate potatoes for the latkes, using a hand grater that, if memory serves, had belonged to my paternal Russian-born Bubbe. The smell would remain in the house for days after the mounds of yummy treats were long gone. One thing I loved about holidays at our house was that all were welcome at the table, regardless of religious persuasion. Many of our non-Jewish friends and theirs would delight in sharing in my parents’ hospitality. My mother, sister and I had such fun making cookies too. Rolling the dough and pressing dreidel and menorah cookie cutters into it and then sprinkling the already sugary delights with colorful ‘jimmies’ and silver and blue sparkles. We also filled a cookie press with a sweet mixture and create floral like treats that lined up on the silver cookie trays, waiting their turn to be baked to perfection….ahhh….I can smell their luscious aroma even as I am typing these words.

Another memory harkens back from second grade where, when the others made Christmas trees, as one of three Jewish kids in the class, I made a popsicle stick Star of David, painted blue with rainbow colored beads glued onto it. I was so proud to give it to my parents and that they hung it in the front window each Hanukkah. I am delighted to say that they kept this present for the rest of their lives and when my Mom died last November, the star was hanging in her bedroom window.

Last week, we continued the tradition by having our annual Latke Party. My son and I made (we’ve stepped up to a food processor to chop the onions and potatoes) what may have been at least 100 of the savory pancakes, served with applesauce or sour cream. Our friends and family indulged with gusto in between laughing, talking and hugging. A few days afterward, both the love and aroma remain as potent reminders that “A Great Miracle Happened There”.

Happy Hanukkah!

http://youtu.be/3yZ1zxtbOJE Light One Candle by Peter, Paul and Mary

The Birth of the Divine Child

 

The Muse often gifts me with word pictures that come through fully formed and downloaded into my miracle mind. This was one such offering that ‘wrote me’ 7 years ago. I pull it out this time of year and am honored to read it at an annual Solstice event held at my friends Deva and Stan’s home. The ritual involves a meditation, sitting connected to the 30-40 some others snuggled into their cozy living room, dining room and up the staircase. The fireplace holds smoldering wood, as part of the comfort from the winter chill, although the sense of tribe amongst those gathered adds an even greater protection. We then write on a card what it is that we want to release from this year, symbolically placing it into the Yule log that is passed around. Then I read the poem. I know it well and it has become a part of me and yet this year, something odd happened. A few minutes prior to the time, my voice nearly disappeared, as if it had gotten swept away and all I could manage was a squeak, in preparation. Uh oh….I thought I would have to ask someone else to read it instead. Since I speak for a living, anytime my voice goes on vacation, a little bit of panic ensues.  I have been doing more in that realm since my book came out, so I am even more aware of the need for vocal care. As I began, I apologized in advance. Deva handed me the microphone and the woman sitting next to me, placed a bracelet on my arm that had beautiful and apparently healing embued stones on it . At that moment, I was able to ‘turn squeak into sultry’ and even though my voice was a wee bit hushed, the words came through. Now I share them with you:

 

The Birth of   The Divine Child

As winter’s darkness descends, our hearts tremble. But is it of fear or celebration?  Dread of the shadow or anticipation of the Light?   Ask of the voice within that knows all things for what they are. And wait in silence for the answer to arise. Still your mind of the busy chatter that fills it to capacity with all that does not serve.  Within the comfort of the shadow realms, take a moment to look about. Put aside your trepidation, for in truth, there is no cause to hide. We are of that soft shadow just we are of the Light that will soon replace it. In order for new life to spring forth, the seeds of that anticipated growth require the blanket of rich, moist soil to embrace them. The intelligence within those seeds knows that they must lie dormant for a bit. Think that they worry? Not likely, for they are one with nature. They know no separation. So why must we?

 

On December 21st, we welcome the birth of the New Solar year and the onset of winter. God and Goddess dance as one in the forms of the Great Mother and Sun Child. Swirling and soaring, melting the chill from our bones and souls. Enticing us to join in the ballet of Being. Crimson like the blood that flows through our veins, moss green that carpets the earth, feather white that gently blankets the reaching branches, stretching to the heavens, asking for a blessing from All That Is.  The message from the One is of trust that all is well, despite appearances. It is of shifting our focus from darkness to light, from terror to safety, from condemnation to affirmation.

 

As the Light ascends, so too do we.  Rising from the depths of self-doubt into certainty. Expanding from our limited view of what we can do into All that we Are. Surrendering with arms cast wide in the knowing that we will be safely carried into the next moment. Recognizing the sacred in each act of love, each word of support, each thought of kindness. Seeing the Highest in each soul. Embracing what is so.  Cultivating wisdom. Creating from our hearts’ desires. Emboldening our passions. Singing a celestial song with words of Divine origin. Stretching our comfort zones.

And as we do this, we witness the Birth of the Divine Child within us.  Blessed Be.

Edie Weinstein
copyright   2004

 

http://youtu.be/8C4mfpIM7qM  The Winter Solstice Song by Lisa Thiel

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