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Losing Everything

So many people have asked about my spiritual journey since my last book was published that about five months ago, I signed a year's lease on a remote cabin on a mountain and began working on my third book. The lease allows me to use the cabin three days per week with an overnight's stay, plus eight full weeks per year. Thank you, Jill Allington!

At the beginning of my second full week in the cabin, I settled in beside the picture window overlooking the snow-peaked Rockies and inserted my memory stick.

Nothing appeared.

I released it and reinserted it.


With five months worth of work on that stick, I panicked. Maneuvering the switchbacks as I drove down the mountain, I tried to emotionally steady myself. Surely the problems lay in my laptop and not in the memory stick.

At home, I tried the memory stick on both my computer and my husband's, but neither computer recognized it. Immediately I called about a dozen IT experts, finally locating one who could see me right away. I drove into Boulder and left the stick with them. Two hours later they called. One of the prongs had broken off and the data was irretrievable. Nearly a half year's work was gone. And no, I hadn't backed up my work. And yes, I had a meltdown, replete with screaming, expletives, and curses. Then I went to bed.

How odd that I had been writing about the excruciating amount of loss I had endured over the past ten years, and now I had lost that. Within a few months, ten years ago, I had lost everything that meant anything to me - my husband of nearly 30 years, two careers, the closest and most loving community I had ever known, and my home. I had faced complete financial disaster, made horrible decisions, gone through a rebound marriage in which I hurt a sweet person, been called a heretic in front of 30,000 people, and became deeply in debt. I had then relived - an agonizing process - those episodes of my life, feeling them again so that I could write with depth and transparency.

The next morning, however, I awoke strangely calm and refreshed, thinking about various pieces of writing I'd worked on through the years but had never completed. My thoughts drifted to an exciting new opportunity I'd learned about the very day I had lost my writing. Stories I wanted to write surfaced and I felt like it was Monday, a day I love because it always feels like a fresh start to the work week.

I don't know what kind of divine purpose I believe in, if any, but I do believe in meaning and resilience and moving on. As I drove back to the cabin my mind raced with fresh ideas. And I knew that if I wanted to rewrite the book I'd lost, all the memories were still implanted in my mind and emotions. I knew the past five months hadn't been a waste, not only because of the belief of the writing community that all writing exercises our imagination, but also because I'd done a lot of healing throughout my writing. I had entered into the book feeling like a victim, angry at many people, and I had emerged within a few months acknowledging my part in every loss I had endured.

When I lived in Dallas, I attended a ceremony at the Crow Museum nearly every year. There, Tibetan monks created a stunning, sacred mandala made of dozens of colors of sand, working in shifts 24 hours a day. Then, after completing the mandala, they conducted a ceremony in which they dismantled the mandala, showing the impermanence of physical beauty (of physicality in general), and after distributing half the sand to us, they would complete the ceremony by allowing a nearby stream to carry away the remaining grains of sand, taking its healing powers to all parts of the world.

Driving deeper through the gorgeous, looping mountain roads, I basked in the amazing ability humans possess to simply let go. I began singing the morning blessings, and as always, one leapt out and washed over me. This particular morning it was...

Baruch ata Yah Eloheinu Chai haOlam she'asani bat chorin... Blessed are you, Yah, Life of the Cosmos/Eternity who has made me free.

Only the day before I had screamed in grief, but now I screamed out the words of this blessing of freedom, full of joy and awe over God's gift of resilience and healing. I pulled to the side of the road and rolled down the window. Just as the monks released the sands, allowing their healing powers to be carried by the waters, I let the music of my blessing reverberate through the mountains, releasing it in hopes that someone else might capture its magical hope.

Feeling untethered,



Light in Your Eyes


Light in Your Eyes

When a cousin became ill with a serious disease, I spent some time with him, and was surprised when he suggested going out to eat, then a movie, then a hike through the mountains! We talked for hours, reminiscing about the huge family get-togethers (our mothers had been siblings in a family of 19) and how we children, dozens and dozens of us, picked wild blackberries, discovered an old family graveyard, and dared one another to walk alone into the woods.

Towards the end of the day as I prepared to leave, my cousin and I embraced and I noticed that his eyes seemed to emanate light. I touched his face and said, "I think your illness has to be gone. I wish you could see the brightness in your eyes."

The next day we learned the illness wasn't only gone, it was worse.

I was truly baffled and struggled with this seeming paradox for months. And then it hit me. The light I saw bubbled up from his soul, not from his body. He had been pulling every imaginable good thing from his life on a daily basis, immersed himself in his family and friends, and - on the days he could manage - relished his favorite foods, a short walk, or moments sitting by a mountain stream. Every day had become a tremendous gift for him.

In a pastoral counseling class I took while in rabbinic school, we talked endlessly about healing. I came to understand that while we hope for a cure when someone we love is suffering from physical illness, we pray for and offer something that is always available: healing.

Healing takes place during the illness. Healing comes when we're flat on our backs, and yet we use those moments to feel the love surrounding us, to forgive those who have hurt us, and to embrace majestic moments that life offers all of us. Healing occurs when we savor a peaceful moment by a brook, laugh with a child, or get wrapped up in some sweet memory.

Each day, even as we wrestle with emotional or physical illness, we can embrace healing.

Loving what I see in your eyes,