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cancer

cancer, Guest Posts

Humane Treatment

December 11, 2017
humane

By Kimberly Maier

It’s either a cruel or humane twist of fate that I would end up with a sexy oncologist, I can’t decide which. He’s a fancy big-shot internist from the Mayo Clinic who moved to Oregon because he likes the outdoors or something. He has this absurdly charming strip of silver in the part of his hair. His voice is square, clinical. His mind seems to wander off while he’s talking, probably because he repeats the same boring death script to his patients every day. “The Oxaliplatin does tend to cause nausea, but I’ll prescribe something to alleviate that.” There’s a slight accent that I can’t place. He employs a strange downward intonation at the end of his questions.

He half-sits behind me, causing the sheet on the exam table to crinkle before tearing a v-shape in the paper between us. When I feel his breath on my neck my thoughts instantly liquify, spinning around the way soapy water in a coffee pot does when you rinse it. I clear my throat then open my bathrobe. At 26 years of age I am by far the youngest patient in the clinic and the only one who wears a robe, slippers and pajamas to each treatment. I can’t tell if everyone stares at me because of what I’m wearing or because I’m younger than the other patients by about 40 years.

The sexy oncologist puts his fingers in my armpits to see if my lymph nodes are swollen. They’re not. Continue Reading…

cancer, depression, Guest Posts

Where Are All The Silver Linings?

June 30, 2017

CW: This essay discusses depression and suicide. If you or someone you know needs helps now, you should immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911.

By Melissa McAllister

Even before cancer, I was intimately acquainted with depression and anxiety.  We shared more than one dance together.  We fight.  We makeup.  We fight.  We breakup.  That’s just the way it’s always been.  On and Off.  I managed this relationship with an assortment of tricks.  There are the therapists I would purge all my thoughts and feelings onto weekly.  There is the pharmacy where I routinely picked up the latest antidepressant and anti anxiety pills I was prescribed.  Sometimes they even tossed  in a mood stabilizer or an antipsychotic for good measure.  And then there was the doctor who I checked in with on a regular basis to make certain all was going as planned.

As a person so prone to depression and anxiety, believe me when I tell you – keeping that many appointments and having that many interactions in order to procure those tiny little things that are going to hopefully help you feel better is fucking hard to do.  If you suffer from depression and/or anxiety, you know exactly what I mean.  But I managed, mostly. Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts

Marked

February 24, 2017
tattoo

By Jude Walsh

I was nine when I saw my first tattoo. It was July in northeastern Pennsylvania and the first week of Saint Aloysius’ annual two-week church summer bazar. I was with my dad in the beer garden, a lattice work section decorated with swags of plastic greenery and potted plastic plants, located just a few steps away from the food tent. It was sheltered by a large tarp and had long counters set much higher than normal booths because their sole purpose was a place to rest your elbows while you stood while having a beer or two or three or ten.  This section was for drinkers but in the early 1960’s there was no problem with a little girl being there with her dad.

The art I spied was on a man who in my memory had big arms, what I now might call bulging biceps but then just thought of as big arms. It was deep blue and in the shape of an anchor. I could not stop looking at it.  Dad noticed me staring and said, “That’s a navy anchor.” I knew it was an anchor and now I knew it was a navy anchor. What I did not know was how it got on his skin.

“Who drew it there?”

My dad laughed out loud, “It’s not drawn on his arm, that’s a tattoo.” Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts

Uterus Of My Discontent

July 10, 2016
cancer

By Lillian McTernan

The first night in a new apartment is almost always weird for me: leftover adrenaline, my fanatical desire to get unpacked, and the disorientation of being in an unfamiliar environment usually join forces to give me serious insomnia. Given this long-standing trend, my first night in the apartment I moved into in 2010 with my then-boyfriend — the man who quickly became my fiancé and is now my husband — stands out as a huge anomaly.

That night, I quickly fell into a deep sleep. I dreamed that I was walking into the kitchen of our new apartment to get some water, only to run into a little boy. Startled, I asked who he was. “I’m your son!” He said happily.

“Oh,” I replied in bewilderment. “What’s your name?” (I felt like a jerk for not recognizing my own kid, but I also wondered where, exactly, he came from.) Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts

The Shape of Legs and Love

March 30, 2016
cancer

By Isabel Abbott

This is what we do now. It is late, and I am in bed, and the lights have long been flicked off along with the day’s clothes which pile in the chair or a trail from front door to white sheets. I am in bed, and I am listening to the sounds outside, locating each one and giving it a name.  (Feral cat, two cars passing, a back screen door banging, a low hum of talking while a cigarette is smoked.)

I am listening and I am naming.
I am wanting to sleep.
I am hurting.

There is the slight adjustment, the shift from one side to the next, my left hip a glaring road sign pointing toward the placement of origin for pain. And so this is what we, me and my legs, do now. We lay here, in bed, and at night, unable to sleep, I begin to envision the bones inside, the lock and socket, the strong and soft, the words I imagine are engraved on them, transcribed from all the years I’ve spent walking through the world and street and unmarked alley. All the skin and muscle and bone, the extension and the wrapping around her, the running and running through the woods and the cuts into skin that bled out poison and suffering, the tethering to this earth and the curve of calf when feet slip inside shoes that take me home. Continue Reading…

cancer, Compassion, courage, Guest Posts, Surviving

Sailing the Waves of Cancer: Living with a Disease That Won’t Let Go

December 4, 2015

By Betsy Hnath

It’s been four years since my diagnosis with stage II breast cancer: One and a half of them I spent in treatment, the other two and a half I spent dealing with the aftermath.

As time passes, and my emotional ship sails in relative equilibrium for longer stretches, I try to spend more time on the deck, taking in my surroundings, living in the moment. Then cancer sends up a flare in the distance and my attention is shifted: A random pain, tightness in my chest, or some extra fatigue. These bright, red burning lights remind me it is always there, hovering, perhaps waiting to attack again.

Sometimes cancer is a cannon, launching its missile close enough to graze my bow, as it has recently. When I hear that close friends, young friends, healthy friends have been diagnosed, I begin to sway. I know they will soon begin building their own ship and join the growing fleet that surrounds me of loving, faithful, undeserving patients. I mourn for their loss of the “old normal.” I know what it does to you.

I have to sit back and powerlessly watch during the excruciating 2-3 weeks it takes to learn everything they can about their enemy through scans and tests, and formulate their plan of attack. Nothing can be done to slow down or speed up that time.

I can tell them what I know from experience: that this is the worst of it, this first part. Shifting uncomfortably in scratchy, paper gowns as you wait in sterile, silent exam rooms; the inability to get the smell of hand sanitizer out of your nose; shaking hands with one doctor after another as he or she flips through your life, which has been neatly assembled onto a clipboard. How you can go from feeling normal to completely despondent, sometimes within the same ten-minute span. That ache, burning in your chest, as you inhale yesterday’s Suave when you bend down and kiss your children’s heads as they sleep, wondering how many more nights you’ll get to do it. I can prepare them and reassure them, but in the end they will sail through it on their own just as we all do. Continue Reading…

cancer, courage, Fear, Guest Posts, Surviving

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU WEREN’T EXPECTING BREAST CANCER: THE STAGES OF MOURNING A DIAGNOSIS

November 19, 2015

By Judith Basya

DENIAL

Though Denial may present gradually depending on how and when you discover your lump, it begins in earnest when the radiologist reading your mammogram looks at you funny. Nah, it’s nothing, I’m fine, you think while waiting three-to-five business days for the biopsy results. Your aunt, two great-aunts and three cousins have all had breast cancer, but they’re not immediate family. The lump must be Cheerios that went down your bra the wrong way or something—the kids really need to start pouring their own cereal.

SHOCK

Denial is aided by distraction: Your phone dies—I mean breaks, sorry—a bird poops on your arm (when you can’t shower for forty more hours after the biopsy), your daughter gets bitten by a dog, and you get a ticket for that illegal left turn you’ve been making daily. You’ve practically forgotten about the lump when you scramble to your follow-up and the word malignant hits your eardrum, followed by other scary words such as invasive, surgery and chemotherapy—honestly, though, why are you surprised? Because tomorrow’s your birthday?

BEWILDERMENT

While the news tries to sink in, you’re busy making appointments for tests and with specialists, which isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. The surgeon won’t see you until you’ve had an MRI, but you can’t schedule an MRI until your insurance company OK’s it. Though nobody doubts they will OK it, that’s how these places work and offering to pay upfront won’t help. It’s byzantine. It’s insulting. Welcome to cancer.

RAGE

Seriously? Four hours and thirteen phone calls to schedule one goddamn MRI? And the earliest available slot is in three weeks? You want to know if the cancer has spread beyond your breast, and it’s like they’re waiting for it to spread so they can be certain. If in the midst of all this your partner isn’t responding pitch-perfectly to your ranting texts, remember s/he isn’t to blame for our abysmal medical system.

FREAKOUT

If you’re lucky—statistics are on your side, at least—when you know more about your particular cancer this low point will pass. But for now you have to live with it—live with the idea of death, ha, ha, the human condition. This isn’t the everyday version. Think Thelma and Louise going over the cliff, except it’s dark, raining and the cliff is indeterminate.

WHY ME?

Why you? Because you should have eaten better. Because you should have taken more vitamin D. Because you enjoy a glass of wine. Because you smoked in college. Because you were one of those Moms who pulled her shirt down from the top when breastfeeding in public, shame on you. Because you don’t always buy organic. Because after a religious upbringing you became an atheist. Because you are riddled with guilt. Continue Reading…

cancer, Fear, Gratitude, Guest Posts, Heroes

Masks

October 31, 2015

By Joules Evans

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. This is a tale of two masks, this mane and this zebra pencil. It’s a comedy about a tragedy. One of my own doing.

But first, a tale of two sons.

Act 1: Matt. Matt has always liked (and still likes) to dress up as his heroes and supmatt3erheroes. Davy Crockett. Indiana Jones. Andy (from Toy Story). Mario. Siracha hot sauce. Spidermat, I mean, Spiderman. The thing about masks is they hide our true identity. When Matt puts on his Spidey mask HE IS SPIDERMAN. Matt is underneath, but hidden. It’s a pretty epic mystery. Like how nobody spies Superman underneath Clark Kent’s glasses. But the other thing about masks is they can also reveal. When Matt puts on his Spidey mask he is revealing something about himself.  Inside, he is a superhero. In his own way, he is and has always been out to save the day, save the girl, save the world. In a sense, in essence, HE IS SPIDERMAN. Even without a mask. And he has been all his life. Once when he was 5 or 6, we were at his little brother’s baseball game and it started raining. My little superhero took off his mask, in this case the shirt off his back (but to me it was a superhero’s cape) and put it on the bleachers for me to sit on so I could stay dry.

Act 2: Mikeyy. Not surprisingly Mikeyy followed in his big brother’s steps as far as dressing up as mikey1superheroes. Superman. Michael Jordan. Michaelangelo. Daniel Boone to Matt’s Davy Crockett. Buzz Lightyear to Matt’s Andy. Luigi to Matt’s Mario. Batman to Matt’s Spiderman. One thing that was revealed early about Mikeyy was that he is and always has been a peacemaker. And later, when he sometimes ended up dressing up as the bad guys because all the good guys were all, already taken by everybody else, it revealed something else about him. Like when he dressed up as Voldemort for the midnight premiere of the final Harry Potter movie. Mikeyy shaved his head AND HIS EYEBROWS. What it revealed about Mikeyy is commitment to the nines. He was Voldemort that night. Not only did he win best costume, but everybody in the theatre wanted their picture with him. What it hid was this mama’s utter shock at seeing my baby boy bald all the way down to his eyebrows, since I’d just grown mine back from fighting cancer. It was like looking in a mirror. Like I was seeing my own reflection, back in time.

Act 3: It’s just hair. That’s what I tried to tell myself when I found out I had breast cancer and that the chemo was going to be an ultimate wardrobe malfunction and make my hair fall out. #tbt to August 20, 2008. THE superpowerinciting incident of all inciting incidents in my life, in which this mask was lifted. My cancer… (yes, mine. I own it; it does NOT own me. Or define me. But it is part of my story. My story. Continue Reading…

cancer, courage, Guest Posts, healing, Yoga

My Love Letter To My Yoga Teachers

October 30, 2015

By Alexa Shore

At 44 years old, I never thought I would get cancer. I never ever thought I would get it twice.  I never thought my yoga practice would save my life.

I knew something was wrong. I felt nauseous, had food cravings, felt as if my hair was falling out— was I pregnant? I went to the doctor to get a blood test and physical examination. I was handed a slip for a mammogram the following week.  That weekend, I went for a hike. I felt a lump. I went back to the doctor.

My oncologist said I was “lucky” after being diagnosed with “early detection” aggressive HER2+ breast cancer. Lucky?  That I have cancer? The second time I got breast cancer, I heard the words again. I finally got it. Both times, yoga had taught me to be so aware of my body, that I knew something was wrong. The second time around, I had the voice to speak up and say something was wrong – again. I caught my own breast cancer, twice, before it could metastasize to my brain, bones, liver and lungs.

I was healthy and I practiced yoga. I was not immune to cancer. People asked me questions about diet, environment, and personal habits to try to understand why I got cancer, and then, why it came back. I wanted to understand too.  I was told by one doctor “cancer creates change” I began to think …

I am a single mom, love my children, my family, my friends, my work, yoga, sunsets, and dancing. Change what? My body was strong; my mind positive and optimistic. So I sat and thought. How is Alexa? Did I truly have balance? Did I make time for me while juggling everything I did for everyone else?  Was I stressed? Did I feel resentment that I did not have time for myself? I bought gifts for myself and traveled to amazing places, but what about me? My spirit? Is this why I got sick? Could I have actually enabled cancer to grow? Continue Reading…

cancer, courage, Grief, Guest Posts, healing, writing

Half A World Away (fugue: unfinished)

October 11, 2015

By Jennifer McGuiggan

I’ve been away: Out of town. Out of state. Out of this time zone.

I’ve been away: Out of words. Out of tears. Out of time.

Out of time: To have no time left.

Out of time: To be outside of time.

* * *

Some people believe that God is outside of time, seeing the whole story from start to finish before it plays out for us mortals. This theory allows for predestination, the idea that God not only sees the whole story but also has ordained it, including who receives eternal life and who, well, doesn’t. This kind of predestination thinking seeps into the highs and lows of human existences. Horrible things happen and some mortals leach comfort from platitudes: This is all part of God’s plan. Everything happens for a reason.

I believe that everything happens for a reason insofar as I believe in the commonsense law of cause and effect.

Yes, things happen for a reason. One thing causes another. We can reason it out:

My friend got breast cancer.
She had treatment.
The treatment worked.
She got well.

My same friend got another kind of breast cancer.
She had treatment.
It didn’t work.
She died.

* * *

Life is a series of If/Then statements.

The day after my friend died, I flew across the country for a trip I’d had planned for months. The older I get, the more nervous I feel on planes. With each takeoff, landing, and turbulent bump of this trip, I thought to myself: If Christy can die, so can I.

This wasn’t a recognition of my own mortality. I’ve been well-aware of that for years, like a stone in my shoe mostly obscured on a daily basis by the padding of a well-placed callous. Rather, this thought was a comfort, almost a feeling of empowerment: If my friend who loved life so much could die, well, then by golly, so can I!

* * *

The week after I returned home, my mother had a scheduled surgery at a hospital an hour from my house. During her five days in recovery there, I drove to the hospital. I sat. I drove home. Repeat.

None of us knows how much time we have. Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

On Fighting Cancer The Second Time Around

June 9, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Shauna Zamarripa

In 2007, things were going really well for me. I had just gotten my residential real estate license and was killing it despite the fact that the market was in the crapper. Back then, I had learned quickly that foreclosures and short sales was where the money was at, so I speedily obtained my CDPE (Certified Distressed Property Expert) designation and was off to the races. And man, oh man, was I winning. I was the preferred listing agent for several banks and acquisition companies. And business?

Well….business was GOOD.

It was also right around this time that I had begun blogging for major websites like Yahoo, CNN Money, MSN Money and even found myself smack dab on the front page of Realtor.com.

And that made business even better.

I had begun developing my own model on how to use blogging for lead generation and business building. And it was going GREAT….until the other shoe dropped.

I got sick. Really sick. I had gone in for my annual OBGYN exam. A few days later they called to tell me the results were abnormal. When I went back in for more tests…that was when I found out I had cervical cancer. Stage 3.

I was 29 years old.

I was devastated.

Upon hearing the news, I went home and didn’t get out of bed for two days. I didn’t say anything to anyone, and many people even close to me didn’t know what I was dealing with. I refused to ask for help. I refused to let anyone know how hard it hit me.

I went to my next appointment alone (which I was fine with), as they begun freezing the cells. It hurt like HELL. But I powered through. Then? That’s when they started the chemo. And while I didn’t think anything could have been worse than what I had already endured, that was. Far worse.

There were days I couldn’t feel my hands or my feet. I never told anyone. I totaled three cars in a year, thanks to my stubbornness, but didn’t lose my life. There were days I couldn’t get out of bed. Some….because I didn’t want to, others because I just couldn’t. I was too tired. I was nauseated and exhausted. I could barely function. I was fuzzy and lost.

It was at this point that I had to give up my real estate career and focused on blogging full time. I was too sick to do much of anything else at the time.

But, as I got better, the more I wanted to blog and the less I wanted to do real estate. By 2010, I was healthy again. I felt like myself again. The steroids and the depression medication, however, caused me to gain a LOT of weight over the past couple of years. But I fought that back off as well. I worked out, ate right and lost it all. By 2011, I was looking a LOT better.

Then, 2012….tore my world apart. Secrets, lies and devastation took me down a rabbit hole that I would wish upon no one. Ever. And, even though I was cancer free, I wasn’t sure I wanted to live anymore. Yet, as I looked into my all three of my daughters eyes, I realized that wasn’t an option. They still needed me. So? I stayed. All the while never telling the people I should have told about much of my struggle. Because it just wasn’t their business. But, moreso because, when you go through hell, you just don’t want to talk about it anymore. Because you’ve felt it, you’ve dealt with it, and it became this part of you that you would rather forget than remember.

And that’s okay. You’re allowed to do that.

2012 saw a final separation of myself and my husband of 17 years. 2013 had me falling in love again. It also saw me through a house fire that nearly claimed my life….and something that created a lot of change. I remodeled my house and moved the (now 19-year-old) twins out and moved myself and the 13 year old in with the man, the love of my life, a man who, in 2014 I married – despite my saying repeatedly I would never get married again. And 2015 brought back an old friend…my cancer.

Except this time, things were different.

When they told me I needed more tests, something in me knew that this time was going to be worse than the last one. And even though everyone said “I would be FINE,” I knew (somehow) that this time wasn’t going to be as easy.

Fuck.

I hate when I’m right. Continue Reading…

Binders, cancer, Guest Posts

Twisted Sheets and Gaping Holes

June 7, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Rebecca Chamaa

I am in the middle of my second breast cancer scare.  Last year at this time, I was going through numerous tests, mammograms, ultrasounds, and visits to specialists.  There were the phone calls, “Well we didn’t find anything, but we want you to get another test.”  There was the waiting.  There was my heart that races the speed of a marathon runner whenever I enter a doctor’s office.  Again, there was the waiting.

In the midst of all of that, and again today, I think about dying.  Mostly I think about my husband.  What will our bed look like if I no longer take the right half?  He jokingly asks me often, “What do you do while you sleep to get the bedcovers to look like that?  It’s a mess.  They are all twisted.”  If I die, will he wake to a bed that only needs a little adjusting to be perfectly made?

The hole that either of our absences would leave in this house is like a crater – it couldn’t be walked around, it couldn’t be ignored, it would be unavoidable, and all consuming.  The edges would be where the rest of our life was hanging, hanging over an opening that would threaten to swallow the one left behind.  Swallow?  How would either of us eat again after sharing all our dinners at the little table built for two?

I told my husband yesterday, that if I have cancer, and I am dying, that it isn’t all bad.  “I want to die before you,” I said.  “What?”  He asked.  “That is so selfish.  Okay, you can die before me, but not now.  Not this young.  I want to retire.  I want to go places.  I have plans.  No, you can’t die this young.  Not now.” Continue Reading…

cancer, Grief, Guest Posts

Scared

May 25, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Trish Cook

“Scared,” my dad croaks, pointing painstakingly at me, then my brother, then my mom.

It’s an understatement.

We’ve summoned his personal physician to our home today to hopefully deny, but probably confirm, our suspicions: The cancer has gone to his brain.

We hold our collective breath as the doctor asks my father, “Who is the President of the United States?”

An underwater, foggy pause. Finally, Dad replies, “Reagan.”

The three healthy people in the room exhale a sigh of relief. He got it right! This must count for something, we think. A small shred of hope still inhabits the homey little den we’re all crowded into. Our prayers, crossed fingers, and wishes on stars and eyelashes might yet magically release him from cancer’s insidious clutches.

My dad is only fifty-two on this day. I am twenty-four, though, so both he and the non-descript middle-aged male doctor seem something close to old to me. Not old old, sitting in a rocking chair waiting to die old, but old enough to have really lived, to have really made it count. I hold on to this thought, stroke it for comfort inside my head like a beloved baby blanket. Even if Dad doesn’t beat this thing in the end, at least he made it far enough to look back and know he lived a long and satisfying life.

Today, at fifty, this notion seems ridiculous. My father was not old then, just as I am not old now. Not nearly old enough to die willingly, anyway, or to feel as though everything that needed accomplishing had been accomplished. Continue Reading…

cancer, death, Guest Posts

Foxholy

April 9, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Janet Reich Elsbach.

“Smile, would you please?” said my sister as I came through the door to see if she needed any help. “Jesus loves you.”

There were a number of surprising elements to this interaction, beyond the fact that the room we now both occupied was the bathroom. For one, she might more reasonably have requested that I do a tap dance. My sister was dying of cancer, her beautiful athlete’s body wrecked and wracked, and we were just home from another two days in the hospital, where as usual she had questioned and refused 98% of what was on offer, where as usual the doctors and nurses had glared at me reproachfully behind her back, and where as usual I had done a non-stop theater-in-the-round cabaret of advocacy and placation for 48 hours. Maybe I had slept for two of those hours, and not in a row. So of all facial expressions, a smile seemed farthest from my reach.

For another thing, we’re Jews.

“He does, you know,” D. continued as I attended to her. “Don’t you know that?”

Once I became old enough to really put some muscle into talking back to her, some time in my teens or twenties, I pointed out that a large percentage of what she said to me (and to others, to be fair) ended with an audible or implied, “you don’t, do you?” As in, “do you know you’re supposed to put X on Y in that order, rotate your whatsits seasonally, never accept domestic yah-yah and ONLY buy organic hmm?” Here she would pause for a second to see if there was a flicker of agreement, then sigh or even snort a little when it failed to appear. “You don’t, do you?” Eventually the sniff or sigh could stand in for the four-word codicil. Sometimes I would say it for her.

Cancer had intensified her dissatisfaction with rubes and imbeciles in ways I mostly understood, as well as raised the stakes. As her prospects grew darker and her misery increased, so did the percentage of the population around her who could get nothing right. Since I frequently numbered among them, staying present and supportive was not easy, and with this new Jesus angle, she had managed, yet again, to sling a curve ball that could completely undo me. Having a front-row seat at an epic struggle with mortality, even if it is not your own, can inspire a person to feel around in their toolbox for some connection to a higher power. Over the 18 months of her illness, I hadn’t come up with much.

We aren’t especially Jewish, even though we are Jews. I majored in anthropology, so it’s easy for me to put it that I am culturally Jewish, just not spiritually. Meaning the cuisine, the mannerisms, the sensibility: yes. I like the food well enough and the rest I couldn’t shake if I tried. Bred in the bone. But whatever spirituality I possess, I don’t tune into it on that channel.

When I was little, we were high-holy-day Jews. We had a seder at Passover, and some excellent little hamentaschen from William Greenberg’s on Third Avenue at Purim. A menorah was lit at Chanukah, but the house saw a little Christmas action, too. Barring a funeral, wedding or someone else’s mitzvah (bar or bat), the only time we went to temple was on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur; on all these occasions everyone around me knew the prayers in Hebrew and I did not.

Our house was generally a mood tinder-box at the holidays, our parents reverential one moment and irritated the next, apparently with us for not taking it seriously enough. I liked to please them, but I didn’t have much to invest since my sisters and I had never gone to religious school. So I would feel guilty and anxious, as well as excluded and confused, and all in all it was not a pleasant base from which to grow a faith. For a long time I connected my not feeling Jewish to this history, and I bet my parents did, too.

Finally I asked my mother why they never sent us to Hebrew school, if their faith was strong enough to twist and bind them with what had seemed like anger when I was smaller than they were, but I now recognized as guilt. By then I was in college, and they had become more obviously and contentedly Jewish: studying, actively identifying as Jewish philanthropists, lighting Sabbath candles, and I had become more confused about where the faith I felt was rooted. I could tell I had some but I also knew it wasn’t found, or fueled, in a building or book that I had yet encountered.

“We didn’t want to force it on you,” she said. “We had taken a big leap getting a place in the country, and at the time I felt more sure that getting out of the city would be good for you three than I did about Hebrew school. And we couldn’t do both.” I scoffed a little when she told me this, but now that I am a parent I can see completely how a person could arrive at that kind of inconclusive conclusion as the rush of life came at them. Punt! I can’t say that I’ve done much better myself, for my own three.

Around this time I was in the habit of spending a weekend in New Orleans every spring, at Jazz Fest, with D. One of the notable features of that densely packed weekend is the stream of little parades, the congregation of here or there decked out in team colors, waving flags and belting out gospel songs at the top of their impressive and collective lungs. “You kind of need Jesus for that,” I remember saying to her. Judaism, Buddhism, anything else I could think of—none of these other belief systems really loaned themselves to this kind of ecstatic, toe-tapping spectacle of testament. It was enviable, to me—that pure devotion and utter certainty and frank enjoyment that characterized their faith. Jesus had a plan, and come what may, that was the raft they set sail on and clung to in a tempest. It seemed as comforting and appealing as it was out of reach.

I was amazed that my sister had found that raft. Both my sisters had certainly gravitated more resolutely towards Judaism over the years than I had, and I’d had many occasions to wonder how it had all skipped me as they both spoke knowledgeably and comfortably about things that felt utterly foreign, even alienating to me. D.’s son even had his bar mitzvah, a first (and only) in our family for generations. And I also knew that D. was pretty open, as a seeker. Around her house you could find a little altar to Ganesh and a portrait of Lakshmi as well as a mezuzah, some Buddhist prayer beads, giant crystals from Arizona and an Islamic knot. But Jesus, now. That was new. Continue Reading…