Invited to share my thoughts today, I sat down last week surrounded by my journal, special books, and poems. They’re like my old friends. The provocative question before me: What did I learn about “home” during this past pandemic year? Finding words that capture the frustrations, feelings and special fruits of the period found me combing through pithy points others shared eloquently: an anonymous quote “A house is made of wood and stone, but only LOVE can make a Home“ And Mother Teresa’s words “Do small things with great love.” In 1973, my partner and I moved to JP and built a strong foundation from sweat equity to renovate the shelter that we call our home – a safe launching pad and landing retreat, rebooting and generating energy to create a meaningful life in time and space.
I’ve always lived by Virginia Wolf’s words “Everyone needs a room of one’s Own”. So, creating my own space wherever I live is critical to my well-being. Now 48 years later, I’ve resettled into my humble space. Downsizing to the first floor when we condo-ed our two-family 14 years ago, my room became multi-purpose: study, office, yoga studio, music practice space, resource library and guest room. My room breathes new life into me daily.
Home straddles that fragile balance of being overwhelmed and fantastic feelings like the comfort of clean sheets, a seasonal comforter, the warmth of freshly brewed mint tea and curling up alongside my partner, familiar photos, and artwork all around me.
Home from a month in Israel and lockdown began. Five days later, I came down with COVID symptoms. No tests available. With lots of steam to the head, Chinese herbs, and bedrest I got through it and endeavored to make home even more sacred. Less is more. Decluttering, making face masks, and composting food scraps to make soil for our garden beds -these all grounded me. Hours on zoom gave my spirit time to connect, support others and myself.
Like many families, we started out on Zoom doing Erev Shabbat celebrations and then did Passover together. Relationships were certainly challenged with the topsy turvyness of the pandemic. We made mistakes in communication, had a falling out with one son and his family while getting closer to the other son and his family. Everything in our world appeared to be cascading into the uncertainty all around us.
Today I will share with you three unexpected commitments that unfolded during the months of HOME lockdown. Rather than a contraction of my life, I found new expansive opportunities! First, the amazing gift to care for my growing grandson Emet Kol Natan; second, finding a new home for my brother; and finally, enrolling in a Yoga Teacher Training Program online for a new level of self-care.
First: Our grandson needed care three days/week and no young toddler slot could be found. As his Safta I felt blessed to help. For more than a year I dedicated myself to support Emet through challenges of his developmental delays. This meant showing up in the Berkshires early Monday morning and driving home Wednesday night. Together we established daily routines for playing, eating, and napping. Nestling his little body close into mine rocking and then lying down with him until he relaxed into sleep. Naptimes found me reading toddler and preschool stories including Good Night Moon, The Snowy Day and the favorite entitled “Guess How Much I Love You?” Little Nutbrown emphasizes just how much he loves Big Nutbrown Hare in this story with the refrain: “I love you so much” as he stretches out his arms wide or high over his head like this! Intent on communicating several months ago, Emet also started using this sign for “I love you so much” whenever we saw each other, making my eyes grow wet with wonder and LOVE. I promised his parents that I would keep coming until there was an appropriate toddler opening nearby! After Rosh Hashanah, the plan is for Emet Kol to begin attending the local synagogue’s preschool and I ‘ll be honored to simply be Safta.
Second: I am guardian and recently co-guardian with my loving life partner, Allen Spivack, for my brother Scott, who for most of his adult life struggled and continues to live with the complications of schizo-affective disorder. Allen and I have grown much closer, while trusting our instincts as allies to one who is extremely vulnerable. Last winter Scott’s living situation, reached a point of collapse. He contracted pneumonia for the third time in less than two years. Each time the local hospital enabled him to return to his group ‘home’ from rehab his health continued to deteriorate. With COVID lurking, the rehab-nursing home welcomed him back and arranged for him to be vaccinated. We realized that he could no longer live in his community ‘group home’ and needed a healthy setting with adequate medical care. Walking through the door of his new home, we were stunned and delighted to notice a mezuzah. This was the place for my brother. We will be spending Yom Kippur with him.
Finally, embarking on the journey to become a Yoga Teacher fulfilled a dream I’ve had to learn more about human anatomy and understand what connects Jewish and Yogic practices. Two weeks ago, I taught my first lesson on Malasana – a squat prayer pose, while participating in an annual Yoga Retreat with my teacher, Annie Hoffman. Following her lead, I strive to use fresh metaphors, offer clear cues, and illuminate a path forward. My deep commitment to ensure safe, secure, and stable home environments for Emet, my brother, my partner and me require the courage to carry this concept of HOME with me wherever I go by practicing whole body praying filled with love.
We read Moshe’s take on Teshuva in Parshat Nitzavim Deuteronomy 30:1-10 last week portraying the personal and community responsibility required for our special partnership with God to find the wisdom of our hearts. In weekly Torah study with Rabbi Victor and friends we reveal our innermost thoughts. Such wisdom emanates from Hopi Indian Chief White Eagle, who recently gave this powerful message that resonates with me deeply in this moment “Take care of your home, take care of your body. Connect with your spiritual home. When you take care of yourself, you take care of everyone at the same time.
This year I learned to spend more time listening to the wisdom of my heart and to open my home with love.