Beliefnet
The Bliss Blog

As I am typing these words, the esteemed Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg is at home recuperating from lung cancer surgery. At 85, this resilient woman bears the affectionate moniker ‘Notorious RGB’ for her tenaciousness as a staunch advocate for gender equality. After watching the film, I can comprehend what forged her iron will and resilience. Given her history, as the daughter of a mother who died before Ruth graduated High School, who raised her to be a woman of valor, she learned how to stand firm in the face of adversity. Her mettle was tested as one of the few women admitted to Harvard Law School in 1956. As the movie begins, she is walking with determination in a sea of dark suits, wearing a vivid blue skirt and jacket as a contrast. Bader Ginsberg’s physical stature belied her larger than life presence over the past eight and a half decades. What was particularly remarkable was the ability to have strong work/home balance as she and her husband Martin, portrayed by Armie Hammer, with devotion saw her as a co-equal. They raised two children; one while they were both in law school and the other following graduation. They were true partners as the film shows them sharing household responsibility, which was an anomaly in those days and when he was diagnosed with cancer, she took on the role of caregiver, while sitting in on his classes and typing his papers in addition to her own studies and class time. At the dining room table where they worked, the manual typewriter was clicking away as she took dictation. She had two files with each of their names on them, so she could shift gears.

Bader Ginsberg, played by Felicity Jones faced discrimination from the onset of her time at Harvard. Male classmates look at her askance, professors deliberately avoided calling her in classrooms when she clearly had her hand raised. She proved her knowledge at every turn and was a passionate orator. When she graduated from Columbia Law, having transferred after Martin got a job in New York City as a tax attorney, she had already been the first woman to be on the Harvard Law Review and Columbia Law Review and she was tied for first in her class. That didn’t carry any weight with numerous firms with whom she interviewed. The reasons for not hiring her were patently based on her gender. One potential employer seemed empathetic and for a moment, looked like he would offer her a position with the firm until he glanced at her decolletage briefly and uttered words that indicated that they were all a tight-knit family there and the wives of the male attorneys (the entire staff at that point) would get jealous if he were to hire her. Frustrated and demoralized, but once again, resilient, she took a job as a professor at Rutgers Law School. It was there that she encountered student activists and protestors and saw that in order for the culture to change, the law had to change. Her then-teenaged daughter, Jane, was enamored of Gloria Steinem and the feminist movement, as well as the fictional character of Atticus Finch, from To Kill A Mockingbird. At certain points in the film, it was evident that much of what Bader Ginsburg was doing was for the benefit of her daughter and the next generations. Her son is now a musician and her daughter an attorney herself.

It was when Martin brought to her attention a case in Colorado,  Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue involving a man who didn’t receive a tax credit for monies he laid out to pay for a caregiver for his mother because he was not married. It was assumed that only women were caregivers and that if the law changed to indicate that it was unconstitutional to discriminate on the basis of sex, then it would topple the entire system. She had a reluctant ally in Mel Wulf of the ACLU played by Justin Theroux who seemed to feel that the case was unwinnable initially,  and came to be persuaded that Bader Ginsburg was a force to be reckoned with.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: We need to take this case.
Mel Wulf: This is not a case. This is a declaration of war.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: This could topple the whole damn system of discrimination.

This is public knowledge that she and Martin, who co-counseled the trial, won for the plaintiff, there is no need for a spoiler alert here. It set in motion numerous other cases that benefited both men and women and had her being appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993. She is one of a minority of Liberal justices. Her advancing age, combined with three bouts with cancer, the most recent injuring her ribs have people believing that her retirement should take place. She adamantly refuses, claiming her place on the bench with renewed motivation. Prior to that, she had regularly worked out with a personal trainer. She was back at work shortly after the rib injury and is now taking time for healing prior to returning to the courtroom. Martin died in 2010 after another bout with cancer and had risen to the challenge she offered that with the first diagnosis that he would live to raise their daughter and be by her side for a lifetime.

The movie came to a triumphant crescendo as she climbed the steps of the Supreme Court, the actress replaced by RBG herself. The applause in the theater was a ringing endorsement for this iconic figure.  The ripple effect of what she has accomplished will last for lifetimes.

 

twohearts

Sometimes when I am out and about in the world, objects call to me to take them home with me. This heart…the red one was just such a thing. The price tag was all of $2.00 but the message is priceless. The drawing was a gift from my longtime friends/family of choice Janet Berkowitz and Phillip Garber following the life-altering cardiac event (a.k.a heart attack) in 2014. Backstory:  Three years after my husband died in 1998, Phil became my son Adam’s ‘Unofficial Big Brother’ as a role model, go-to-guy and confidant. A few years later he became a father surrogate and evolved into a man Adam called his Pop. He jokingly referred to me as his ‘baby mama’. Phil died July 31, 2017, right before Adam and Lauren’s August 12th wedding. He and I were to walk Adam down the aisle together. Instead, his wife Janet accompanied us.

My initial thought was that “Of course, I love with all my heart.” Most who know me would likely nod in agreement.

The reality is, I don’t. When I withhold love from anyone because their values and behaviors are dramatically different from mine, whether it is on a relatively minor scale such as people who smoke and drop their cigarette butts on the ground, or a major scale, such as the current occupant of the Oval Office and those who are in alignment with his actions, I am not loving with all my heart. Love doesn’t mean approval. It does mean acknowledging the full humanity and worthiness to be loved for every person on the planet.

When I judge myself harshly for being fully human with foibles and frailties, I am not loving with all my heart. When I speak harshly to myself for falling short of my goals and expectations, I am not loving with all my heart. When I tell myself that I will never have certain experiences I desire, I am not loving with all my heart. When I second-guess others’ responses to me, I am not loving with all my heart. When I deprive myself of heart’s desires, because of regrets from the past. I am not loving with all my heart.

What does it cost to love, full out? Risking rejection. Willingness to fall and skin my symbolic knees and have boo-boos. Knowing that I will have to change the mind that has been trained over the decades to view the world and the people in it in different ways. Re-writing the narrative. Going the extra mile and not remaining complacent. Stretching comfort zones.

When I wear a lovely facade and pretend to be something/someone I’m not, I push love away. When I tell myself that somehow I just ‘can’t get it right,’ and others have the key to the locked door that evades me, I turn myself away from the opportunity to enter the chamber of wonder where riches await.

Grateful for the reminder that arrived courtesy of wood, red and white paint and words of wisdom.

ediekneebrace

A month or so ago, I began to notice a disturbing trend. My 60-year-old knees began to creak and groan, sometimes feeling as if they belonged to a marionette rather than a person; stiff and inflexible. Paradoxically, when I exercise on the various leg strengthening equipment at the gym, they fare just fine. No aches or pains, no moans or groans, not even the tiniest kvetches. It is when I stand up from my desk at work, climb out of bed, get out of the car, or the bathtub that they make their dissatisfaction known. Hard to imagine in my zoomier days that I would be called on to slow down dramatically.

Over the past few months, oh…who am I kidding…the past forever, I have had a difficult time asking to have my needs met, as I feared that I wouldn’t. If people offered and I was willing to be in receipt of their kindness I felt much more at ease than requesting. I don’t want to perceived as being needy. I know that having needs and being needy are two entirely different concepts. I teach this stuff, so it would be natural to imagine that it would come more easily. I am clear that I teach what I need to learn.

Back in April, I found myself in the hospital for a three-day stint, healing from pneumonia. I didn’t really want many visitors, preferring to sleep away the pain if I could. It was when I was discharged home with orders to rest and recuperate, have nebulizer treatments, take meds and not do a whole lot that I succumbed and allowed friends and family to come over with food, cheer-me-up gifts, offer healing energy treatments and even a recliner chair so I could sleep sitting up. It was a stretch to accept all that attention. Paradoxically, there were many times throughout my life that I craved center stage and spotlight. Not sure why I push attention away now.

More recently, I was in caregiving mode with a friend who passed from Cancer. I felt a pull to be ‘on’ and available to her as much as I could. There were times when I refrained from the rest I needed. My M.O. is often to do whatever it takes and then feel the delayed impact. I learned from a master. My mother was the rock of the family who, when I would ask how she was doing, would respond, “Hangin’ in there babe, hangin’ in there,” rather than being honest with her state of being. I used to tell her that rocks crumble, not heeding my own advice to allow others to pick up the slack.

On the day of Ondreah’s memorial service which I co-officiated with her family’s minister, I was rushing to get into the sanctuary and heard my right knee make a lovely crunching sound. The last time that happened was in 2013 and I ended up on crutches for several weeks. Not so this time, fortunately. I managed to remain vertical as best I could for the rest of the day. When I got home, the healing began. Ice, elevation. Reiki, rest (I stayed in bed for much of the next day.), homeopathic remedies and CBD ointment were my go-to’s. I used a hand-carved walking stick for balance. The next day, I got a knee brace to stabilize it. (pictured above) All of these were external responses to the injury. I recognize that there is also a psycho-spiritual component with the accompanying messages.

  • Slow down, you move too fast
  • Be flexible
  • Be willing to move forward without hesitation
  • Leaning on others doesn’t mean I am weak
  • The planet isn’t going to stop spinning just because you take time off
  • Listen to your body
  • Trust yourself
  • Ask to have your needs met without feeling needy
  • A little support goes a long way

 

ondreahnewyearseveva

Yesterday a group of family, friends, and strangers to each other gathered in the sanctuary of an Episcopal church in New Jersey to bid farewell to someone dear to us. By the time the service was complete and we meandered into the social hall to share food and stories, we had become family of chance. My friend Ondreah passed just before 1 a.m. on Sunday, December 9th, 2018. She had been engaged in a two-year encounter with a disease that is taking the lives of women at a distressing rate: Triple Negative Breast Cancer. I accompanied her on her journey, going to some appointments, talking daily, creating outings, activities, and projects to lift her spirits. In the last few months of her life, I stayed over as able and was blessed to be one of those who ushered her to the threshold in her final moments. Once she passed, I assisted her family in emptying her house of its objects, ‘adopting’ some of them so it feels like her energy is even more present. As a minister, I co-officiated her service with her family’s minister from her childhood church. It was a blend of Christian and Sufi prayers since the first was the early foundation of her spiritual practice and the second, her choice as she found great comfort in it.

People have been thanking me for being there for her. Truth is, I’m no hero. She would have done the same for me. I am still in surrealistic, numb mode with a few episodes of tears breaking through. Not sure where this journey will take me as I move forward without one of my dearest peeps in body.

I share here what came through to honor her.

Ondreah’s Eulogy

Tom Robbins, author of one of my favorite books, Jitterbug Perfume—which I have come to see as a tribute to life, death, and the Beyond—offers:

“At birth, we emerge from dream soup.
At death, we sink back into dream soup.
In between soups, there is a crossing of dry land.
Life is a portage.”

As I think about Ondreah, I imagine she is immersed in dream soup and love soup. Looking around this room, I know that those gathered have added ingredients to that concoction. We each have our memories of her, that I ask you to hold in your hearts and perhaps share them with each other after the service.

I’m going to paint a picture here of my friend.

We met somewhere around 2006, by what I call the Hansel and Gretel Breadcrumb trail that had a friend in my area introduce me to a friend in Texas who came here to teach. At the weekend were women who introduced me to friends in the MD/DC area (some are here today) and we became part of an online group. Both Ondreah and I bemoaned that everyone was so far away. Someone chimed in that she and I actually lived near each other. And so began a friendship that evolved into more of a sister relationship. She was a traveling companion as we drove southward often to visit our tribe. We used to bust on each other for our driving habits. She told me I drove like an old lady and I called her Mario Ondreah, pedal to the metal. We always got where we were going safely. We were each other’s kvetch and moan friends, unloading angst rather than holding on to it. She had the capacity to hold space while people talked about what was on their minds and in their hearts. She also didn’t hold back sharing her opinions, but always with love and humor as the guiding force.

Ondreah was always up for an adventure and exploring new horizons. Her spiritual path was meandering, rich and fulfilling. Her deep dive into Heart Rhythm Meditation sustained her as she faced her most daunting challenge, one which brings us all together today. When she was diagnosed with Breast CA after finding a lump on Christmas Day two years ago, she faced it with determination. Reframing the experience, she called it being on the C train where she moved from one car to the next. She called treatment IV meds and toted along with her various accouterment such as music (some of which you heard coming in), her prayer beads, books and pictures of the lineage of her spiritual teachers. They brought her comfort and educated the treatment team. She wanted them to know what it was like to be on the other end of the stethoscope. Someday every medical professional as she was will become a patient. When her hair began to shed, she decided to have a ritual in which her head was shaved by a dear friend hairdresser named Jac. A few weeks later, she had a henna design created on her bald head.

She reveled in dressing up even more colorfully. At that time, I don’t think she contemplated this outcome. None of us did.
As it became clear that the train ride would be ending, she healed relationships, asked for what she needed, since she was oh so good at giving, and was willing to receive. Friends and family stepped up and were the nourishment that sustained her as long as it could.

In conversation with her a few weeks before she died, she described the experience as internal, and the sense I got was that it felt like she was folding in on herself like a burrito. What if the inside is filled with experience and emotion and memory and when we are close to death, we get to explore it, since we are not so busy with the day to day stuff of life? At the moment when we cross over to whatever awaits us, does the burrito unroll to reveal what lies within?

On her last night, in hospice, a few friends, her brother and sister and I gathered around her bed, offering comfort, energy work, nurturing touch, music, and prayers for her easy transition. Toward the end, as we could see her drifting off, we asked her to surrender. That she did.

I am convinced that when we are close to the threshold, our Spirit, that vitalizing force gets so vast that the body can’t contain it and so it bursts free of its constraints. The body shrinks back. I saw that happen with Ondreah.

Whenever we would leave each other’s company, we would say to the other, call or text when you get home. Although I will miss hearing her voice or seeing the words, I know for certain that she arrived Home safely. Let’s take a moment to place our hands on our hearts and send out a blessing to Ondreah as she settles into her new life. We love you.

She, along with others in my life who have passed, have offered me a glimpse into the Beyond.

Photo credit Phyllis ‘Liz’ Wright