Sunday, July 12, 2009

The tent comes down

The tent is in tatters. I'd been meaning to take it down for some long while now, but somehow could not bring myself to do it. By the way, everything it says in the tent user manual, about prolonged sunlight breaking down tent material, is true. The rain fly is completely shredded, and the tent itself is tearing:

I think part of my inability to take it down stemmed from not knowing what I would do with it once I did. I thought of burying it, like an old holy book. In Judaism, anything that contains G-d's name is not supposed to be destroyed. I just did not know what to do, so I ignored the tent day after day, week after week.

Finally today I went out on the roof with the intention of saying a brief prayer inside the tent and then taking it down. The moment I got into the tent, I felt that wonderful "inside the tent" vibe, and I was nostalgic for the time I spent up here in the first few weeks of my recovery. I didn't know what I wanted to daven, so I just opened my prayer book at random, and this is what I read: "Ivdu et adonai b'simcha, bo'u l'fanav b'rinanah" . . . serve G-d with joy, come into her presence with singing. Know that Adonai is G-d, it is he who made us and we are his. His people and the sheep of his pasture. Enter her gates with thanks, her courtyards with praise . . . . "
(psalm 100)

I disassembled the tent carefully, but the fabric was coming apart in my hands no matter how gently I handled it. Finally it was all taken down; I turned and sat down on the foam pad that had once been part of the tent's furnishings. I looked at the empty space where the tent had been for so long. It was a shocking sight and I began to cry. This had been hamakom, the place, the cleft in the rock. I said the kaddish for completion. Completing what? Commencing what?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Robin, my amazing physical therapist, asked me if I had a T-shaped object about 18" long, that I could use for certain arm stretches she is teaching me.I did have the perfect thing--my ice axe.
It might seem weird or dangerous to stretch with an ice axe, but it works quite well, and I get two side benefits from using it. One is that I always practice self-arrest* with it after I'm finished stretching. I've been careful and so far have not punctured my quilt or pillows ;-) Two, it lifts my spirits to be using my ice axe, even if it is July and I am here at 30 feet, max, above sea level.
*self-arrest: techniques for arresting a fall down a steep snow or ice slope, basically involving falling or flipping over onto your ice axe in such a way as to drive the spiky part into the snow.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Coming to Grips

(photo credit: Bruno)

This is what the well-dressed breast cancer-surviving gardener is wearing this year. The gloves are to protect me against an injury that might trigger the onset of lymphedema.

It is the week of tiferet--beauty, harmony, a balance of gevurah and chesed. Some commentators I read equate tiferet with the beautiful and intricate weaving of our lives. In any given moment, things could seem terrible or wonderful. We do not see the big picture. And the holy one of blessing is always there whether we get what's going on or not. Yesterday, netzach in tiferet, a time to look to the future, to hope that all will be in balance, harmony, and beauty. Today, hod in tiferet, a time to be grateful for the crazy-beautiful complexity of life.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Tent City of Two

. . . on a special field trip for my birthday. Havdalah is especially nice in the woods.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


(Winnipeg Fashion Statement)

I arrived in Winnipeg yesterday after two uneventful flights. No metal detector alarms went off as I passed through security, and it felt most excellent to be in motion again, striding across an airport terminal with a backpack slung over my shoulder.

Winnipeg is . . . cold, which is . . . wonderful. I felt it as soon as we landed. The plane had been a little too warm during the flight, but as we landed, the air system must have been shut off. Almost immediately, the cold penetrated the fuselage and started to cool the air in the cabin. It felt like some cool and beneficial aura touching my body.

Here are the charms of Winnipeg that I have sampled thus far: Temperatures of -25C in the daytime, Standard Lager, a Canadian health food called poutine, curling championships, Prairie Harvest bakery challah, skating on the Assiniboine River, and an amazing roots band called Oh My Darling (

Looking forward to Max's recital tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The tent stays up

Wow, it is so peaceful up here right now. It's hard to imagine that this lovely tent was pitching wildly all night, and hanging off the edge of the roof most of the time. I tried to rig another tie-down point for it, and I'm hoping the winds will be quieter. Meanwhile I'm up here taking in the rays of sunset through the trees and rooftops of my neighborhood. I came close to taking the tent down today, but I couldn't bear to do it.

It says in this week's Torah portion, "va'asu li mikdash veshachanti b'tochaam." Make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among you.

It's not as though I need to be in the tent to feel the presence of the holy one of blessing. I also don't think it is necessary to make a precisely constructed shrine (which is what the rest of this Torah portion, Terumah, is concerned with). I think of "va'asu li mikdash" as making space, first and foremost. Physical space and mental space. Pushing aside or taking away some of the stuff that makes us crowded, and creating an expanse. Feeling open and relaxed in our bodies.

For me, the charm of the tent is how it is so "outside"--outside the house, outside of the normal dwelling space, outside of the expected. It makes it easier to create the mental space.

I am leaving tomorrow to visit my brother in Winnipeg. He just called me. I gave him the tent weather report, and he gave me the Winnipeg weather report: highs ranging from -7 F to a balmy 5 degrees F. This filled me with glee. I will need to get out all my big fleecy stuff, my hand warmers and my mountaineering socks. And snow seal my boots. Yippeee!!

I went to yoga class today for the first time since my surgery. I've just finished the first phase of my reconstruction, and I'm a little asymmetrical, but I wore my skimpy yoga top anyway. This is my body and I'm going to be comfortable in it. "Va'asu li mikdash."

I have to go and complete my packing. The next post will be from Winnipeg!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


A post from inside the tent! Yes, it is nighttime and it is cold! Here is what I have in here with me: a head lamp, the laptop, a mug of coffee, some chocolate covered raisins, "Rabbi Nachman's Stories" translated by Aryeh Kaplan, and my secret weapon: two nalgene bottles filled with hot water. This was something I learned in a winter camping workshop I took a few years ago. You think, there is no heat in my tent . . . but you have a water bottle . . . and water . . . and a stove--voila! you fill your water bottle with boiling water and tuck it into the bottom of your sleeping bag.

I was going to go on about this winter camping workshop and tell the story of how I came to really understand hypothermia by getting hypothermia. As I get ready to return to work, I'm trying to integrate my breast cancer experience in the same way. This sort of reminds me of this week's Torah portion, Mishpatim.

This portion contains one of my absolutely favorite lines in the Torah. It is about Moses, Aaron, Nadav, Avihu, and seventy elders of Israel. They all go up on the mountain. They all see G-d. Now in last week's portion, the Israelites were instructed not to even touch the mountain, because getting too close to G-d might kill them. But in this case, all of these people saw G-d and remained alive. Thus my favorite line: "They saw God, and ate and drank."

I'm feeling a little like that now. Getting a little too close to the mystery for comfort . . . then putting on the coffeepot in the morning and having breakfast :-)