Apples and honey for a healthy and sweet New Year! Today was Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year-eating and gathering seems customary for almost all religious celebrations, at least the ones I’m privy too.
I sheepishly congregated with all the other parents in the “family service” at the local reform synagogue (the more secular sect,) trying to give our children something to hold on to, or be apart of in this world. I had spent the morning rushing around the house trying to get this ones hair brushed and that ones face washed, giving orders about the clothes that needed changing, and the shoes that needed to be tied. I cringed at the wrinkled semi matching ensembles my children picked out that weren’t “appropriate for Temple.” (I hated even having that thought. I hated it because I was always the straggly dressed little girl, and here I was with two threadbare looking children.) At one point I caught myself and said “What the F?” “Why are you making your children suffer in the name of organized religion?” (But that’s a whole other story, one I’ll save for another day.)
In any event, we finally arrived and situated ourselves in a cozy, corner spot in the back of the room-easy exit. I sat between my two children, wrapping my arms around them, pulling them close to me. I felt the warmth of their little bodies pressing tightly against mine. They wiggled in their chairs but tried hard to please me. I leaned over smelling the strawberry shampoo in their hair, and whispered, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled this morning, let’s make this a sweet New Year.”
During the reading we were reciting passages that reflected the past year. One line grabbed me by the collar and jerked me upright, it read, ”God, over the past year, we have done the best we could.” It made me think of my morning, and how I had done the best I could at the time. While taking stock, I realized that I could’ve been better, kinder, calmer, more loving, etc.; and I held myself accountable. The moment I saw myself, I apologized to my little ones for my actions.
The Jewish New Year is a time for reflection, eight days of writing your own book of personal wrongs to be forgiven on Yom Kippur-the Day of Atonement. The idea of personal inventory made me think of how many other opportunities I needed in my life to really keep that “reflect, repent, forgive” quest coming and going. I thought about the Chinese New Year, the Christian New Year, My birthday New Year, as chances for re-birth. I took it a step further to think about the seasons and how things change, out with the old, in with the new. Finally, I aligned myself with my humanness, life and death. Everyday there is a chance to end and begin, as seconds go by, we can “refresh,” or chose to behave in other ways.
For me, the symbolic sweetness of the honey is bittersweet. Honey reminds me of my childhood and in particular how my Mother made choices and my willingness to forgive her. The memories are bitter but the sweetness arises out of my willingness to change the way I see her.
My Mother and Lynne rented a one-bedroom apartment in an adult apartment community. Angelina and I shared the living room as our bedroom. We slept together on a thin foam mattress covered in a plastic floral pattern. I still remember the big brown and yellow sunflowers with giant green stalks, the only bright spot in our home. The room was empty save for our narrow cot. It was adjacent to the kitchen, which was divided by the breakfast bar. I don’t ever recall any other food being passed down that counter except for the world’s share of peanut butter and honey sandwiches, on paper plates. The weeks we were there must have run all together like melted Neapolitan ice cream because my memory serves only one flavor-peanut butter and honey.
The ever-present cheap, dry wheat bread (at least they bought us wheat bread) bottle of raw, sticky honey and no-name peanut butter all smashed together uncomfortably, just how it went down our throats. We literally had nothing but peanut butter and honey sandwiches with water for weeks. I asked my childhood friend Angelina if she remembers eating anything else either, I wasn’t surprised when she said no.
I do however remember vividly, a bright and intensely hot day when our moms took us to Taco Bell. We knew better than to expect anything as our mothers ordered pintos and cheese, and tacos for themselves. I like to assume that they didn’t have enough money to buy us food to eat; even they couldn’t be that cruel. My mom let me try her beans; her spork was threaded with greasy cheese dripping in red sauce. The superb spice explosion in my mouth shocked my peanut butter dulled taste buds. I was thrilled with my bite but I choked it down because Angelina didn’t get one. Her mother didn’t share a morsel. We knew we would have to wait until we got home to fill our tummies.
We were both long and lanky, and our hair was always full of rats’ nests. Our clothes weren’t tidy and our hearts were always a little sad. We sat cross-armed at the push-up orange fast food table trying to hold back our tears. We were frustrated and defeated, fed up, yet helpless. But, I think more than anything we wanted to be seen, felt and heard. We both longed for lives we didn’t have, and we just wanted to feel our mothers love.
Fortunately, as adults we have the ability to see ourselves, to create our own realities, and we have the maturity to find love for ourselves from within. (This is what I keep telling myself, and it’s working…)
Feeling the bitterness fading away feels sweet. I am starting to forgive my mother and as a living, connected being she deserves that, but more importantly, I am worth it! I know that keeping a tight hold on resentment only hurts me in the end. And as for the peanut butter and honey, well they are both still dietary mainstays. (I still love peanut butter so much that I actually wrote a poem about it.)
So here’s to you and yours, have a sweet and healthy New Second!