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The Interfaith Bible Seminar

 

Leading up to our yearly ecumenical Thanksgiving service, the local clergy decided to try out an interfaith bible seminar, including two liberal synagogues (one being mine) and a Methodist church. It’s a trial run, to see how we all do, and then maybe more churches and synagogues will be willing to join the group for next year.

I had a lot of questions. Are we all reading the same translations? No, but they are surprisingly similar. Do we read the books in the same order? Nope. The Methodists read from the Old Testament, but also from other books, and on a three year cycle that excerpts pieces out of order. Jews, in general, read the first five books of the Bible, chapter by chapter, in order, throughout each year (though we may excerpt different parts of those chapters, for speed, and then there’s the prophets and the writings, but I won’t overwhelm you with that here.). Do we get the same messages from these stories? No, but no one does. We all see the words through our own kaleidoscope of different life experiences, as it should be.

I was excited to see how the whole trial run would go, because my rabbi has an unorthodox style of Bible study to begin with, pulling in references from Ancient Near Eastern mythology, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, and Reform Bible commentators, and Christian Bible scholars as well. But there’s plenty he doesn’t know about Christian philosophy and how different denominations respond to the Bible (clearly five years of rabbinical school was not enough).

I don’t know if Methodists in general are as laid back as this particular Methodist pastor, but ours was very friendly, and interested in all of our similarities and differences, especially because our congregations are, in terms of American politics in particular, very similar in our beliefs. He liked to connect the bible stories we were reading with current events, though we were all careful to keep the word “Trump” unspoken in our sacred spaces.

The books chosen for study were: Daniel, Esther, Ruth, and Ezra, though I’m not sure why. They do offer a lot of meaty discussion topics, though, including a lot of strangers-in-a-strange-land references, and conversion, and monotheism versus polytheism. In Daniel, there was a lot of My-God-is-Stronger-than-Your-God stuff, but luckily that’s not a bone of contention between Jews and Christians, since we’re talking about the same God, for the most part.

I tend not to read the Bible as a how-to book on life, more like a learn-from-our-mistakes sort of book. But, the books are written in a very understated style, which leaves plenty of room for interpretation, so that what I see as a mistake never to be repeated, someone else may see as a model for how to live a righteous life.

I feel like I could read through these books another hundred times and still find new things, which, as a reader, I love. And I like the feeling of being taken back in time, as if I am living in the desert with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. It’s a form of time travel, and visiting my ancestors, that allows me to take a few deep breaths outside of my daily life.

We didn’t read through each book line by line in this seminar, the way we usually do, because we only had an hour and a half per book, so we just touched down in the text every once in a while, ready to hop away from any topic that seemed too heated, if necessary. I’m sure we would have been getting into a lot more tricky conversations if we’d been trying to read from the New Testament, though a lot of my fellow congregants would have enjoyed that, especially because they could bring up the Jesus-was-a-nice-Jewish-boy line of argument. We did hear a little bit about which readings from the Gospels were paired with the readings from the Old Testament, which was interesting, but not especially controversial.

I’m not sure what I’ve learned from this interfaith adventure so far, except that I want it to continue. Whether we study in Hebrew, or Latin, or English, and read the New Testament or the Koran, or the Bhagavad Gita, we are all searching for the same things – each other, and how to be the best versions of ourselves.

The fourth and final session of the Bible seminar was snowed out this past Thursday, so instead of reading Ezra, I was outside in the snow with Cricket and Ellie. And it was perfect, because I realized that snow is, just like the Bible, one more thing we see differently depending on who we are and how we feel at that moment. Cricket was in heaven, catching snowballs and digging tunnels and racing around, and Ellie was more circumspect, especially when she realized that her paws were cold, and getting colder. She ended up waiting on the porch for us, where it was dry and warm(er). Some people hear the word snow and feel oppressed by the amount of snow they will have to shovel, or the slippery commute home, and the layers of clothing they will have to pile on. Others think of hot cocoa and cozy family time indoors, and snowsuits and sleds. And everyone is right.

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Cricket, wondering where Ellie went.

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Ellie, hiding from the snow.

Except, Cricket is more right, because I agree with her. Snowball fight!

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Snow Day!

 

I really needed a longer winter vacation, so when the snowstorm hit the East Coast this past week and “forced” me to stay home, I was thrilled, though I still think I should be allowed to hibernate until March. The roaring sound of the wind scared Cricket when Mom took her out for her first pee of the morning, but when I woke up I took her out again, pulling her through the deep snowdrift at the front door, and then she got into the spirit of the day.

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“That leaf is mine!”

There’s something about a snowstorm that brings out the kid in me. Or the Cricket in me. Even with the snow swirling, and thirty mile per hour winds, Cricket and I went outside over and over again. I stepped into a three foot snowdrift, thinking there would be stairs somewhere under there, and just laughed when I fell into the snow. I tried to make snowballs for Cricket, but the snow was so powdery that it split apart as soon as I threw it, making little snow explosions over her head, which she desperately tried to catch with her mouth.

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This time she caught the snowball with her whole face.

I need a snow suit like Cricket’s though, because my loafers and yoga pants did not stand up well to the snowdrifts and, after a few short play periods in the snow, I needed a long defrosting break indoors. Cricket and I took a long afternoon nap to recover from our snow traipsing, and Mom made bone soup with lentils and carrots to keep us fortified, and then we went back out into the snow again.

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When I woke up the day after the snowstorm, the sun was shining and the roads were clear, and I realized how much I missed the drama of the wind and snow and everyone trapped indoors, marveling at the spectacle. In my next life, I would like to come back as a dog, with a furry coat like Cricket’s and a very understanding family. And I’d like to live somewhere far north, where it snows for half of the year, and I can go romping and playing and burying myself in the snow drifts until I’m so exhausted that all I want to do is eat treats and sleep in front of the fireplace, until the next adventure.

Fingers crossed that it will snow again on Monday!

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“Is it Monday yet?”

 

 

 

Chasing the Light

 

Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights, started on Tuesday night, and it feels like it’s coming along at just the right time. Chanukah is a holiday for celebrating miracles and light (and a few other things that I choose to ignore, because violence and gore are not my thing). The miracles are about the survival of the Jewish people, and a light that shines longer than it ever should have. Of course, in celebrating that light we have to take it too far: if one candle is nice, eight or nine are nicer, if one Menorah is nice, twenty or thirty, or one twenty-foot tall Menorah, is nicer.

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In Brooklyn (not my picture)

I have been impatiently waiting for some light, especially since Miss Butterfly died, because she radiated light. I’ve tried so hard to generate enough light to fill the void she left behind, but what she did effortlessly I struggle to match.

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Butterfly, radiating internal light

In a strange coincidence, or not, on Tuesday afternoon we received an envelope in the mail form Butterfly’s clinic, with her collar and tags. They’d lost track of them for five months, but on the first day of Chanukah, they were found (or at least received). Mom took it as a sign that Butterfly wants us to find a new sibling for Cricket. I want to see it that way too, but looking at her little pink Butterfly charm just made me sob.

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I want to believe that bringing a new dog home will add light back into our lives. There is a new puppy across the hall, a little black ball of fluff who hops and cries and looks into your eyes until you melt. He makes me think that maybe I could manage a puppy again (I can’t); then there’s his sort-of-sister, Hazel, the mini-Goldendoodle, with her evanescent joy and uncontrollable peeing; and Teddy, our sometime boarder, who went home to find a new sister in his house, a Shih-Poo named Rosie who is doing her best to catch his eye. The light is everywhere, but I can’t quite catch it and hold onto it; I just keep seeing it run past me.

This past weekend, the first snow of the season brought out Cricket’s joy and light. She loves to run through the snow and catch snow balls with her mouth, and dig for hidden snow balls in the snow. I gladly reached down (with my gloves on) for handfuls of snow to keep her entertained. Her capacity for joy is extraordinary, and extraordinary to watch, even in the freezing cold.

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“Look at the snowy light dropping from the sky!”

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“Throw the ball, Mommy!”

I’ve been trying to look at Petfinder.com, but the pages and pages of dogs in nearby rescues and shelters overwhelm me. How do you choose? I want a puppy, but I don’t have the energy. I want a senior dog, like Butterfly, but I can’t go through the trauma of loss again so soon. I want a Great Dane, but I don’t have the room, or the strength. Whenever I see a cute dog who is the right size (no bigger than Cricket), and age (three or four), and doesn’t look too much like Butterfly, I get excited, and then terrified, and then I start crying.

I’m going to need all of the light I can get in order to help me see clearly in the next leg of this journey, and I’m hoping that Chanukah will start me off well, bringing light, and some joy, and maybe even a little bit of hope.

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Butterfly leads the way.

 

 

Butterfly’s Ice Rink

 

This past Tuesday, New York was hit by a massive east coast storm that was supposed to bury us in snow, but halfway through, the snow turned to sleet and the world froze. I slid across the walkways in the dark, when the dogs had to go out to pee. The next morning, the maintenance guys came back and salted the sidewalks and broke up the ice in the parking lot, but they left the backyard as it was and we have had an ice rink ever since. Butterfly is in love. Cricket may be a snow bunny, but Butterfly, it turns out, is an ice skater. Her ice rink is bumpy and often runs uphill, and she has to skate around various impediments, but that only seems to make it more of an adventure.

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Surveying the territory

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Testing the ice

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Going on an adventure

Back from adventure

and returning

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Happy.

Cricket has been more circumspect about the whole thing. She has found it impossible to dig into this strange version of snow, and has had no luck removing leaves from their icy casings. She sniffs huge clumps of snow for signs of pee and birdseed, but she spends most of her time on the edges of the ice, ready to return to solid ground at any moment. But every once in a while, she lets loose, jumping and spinning and leaping across the ice, while her sister placidly skates along nearby. They meet up to check in, sniffing each other’s noses and ears, before going their own ways again.

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“What is this stuff?”

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“Wheee!”

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“Whoohooo!”

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“And a two-footed landing!”

But it’s Butterfly who is loving this new ice world. No matter how far out she goes, and no matter how high she climbs, she leaves no foot prints, and I’m realizing that, for years, she must have felt unsteady walking on the grass, and now, with ice under her feet, she finally feels secure.

 

Butterfly on ice

Butterfly, in her own world.

My Snow Day

 

Up until the middle of this week, I was working on a post about how little snow we’ve gotten on Long Island this winter. It is therefore possible that Thursday’s massive Thunder-snow-bomb-aggedon was my fault.

The thing is, I like snow. Even more than that, I like snow days, when the whole world seems to be at home watching the same news shows, and not a word of politics is spoken. Theoretically. I love zipping up my tall boots and taking the dogs out for picture time. I love watching Cricket hop through the snow searching for treasures (a leaf!!!!!). And I even like trying to console Butterfly about the weird texture of the ground under her paws.

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“I see something!!!!!!!”

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“Now I see it over there!”

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“Mommy, why can’t I feel my toes?”

We were having all of the negatives of winter: the severe cold, the biting wind, the gloomy lighting, and every kind of cold and flu imaginable, without the benefit of snowball fights and hot cocoa to lighten the load. Even Cricket and Butterfly had to suffer through the short daylight hours, and even shorter walks, and the plinking rain on their heads, with no reward.

We had one day, recently, when the air was full of snowflakes that blurred the world, but added up to almost nothing on the ground. I had to drive carefully, and wear a warm jacket, scarf, and gloves, but I still had to go to work. I felt cheated.

Summer will come along too soon, and it will be relentlessly hot and humid and full of smog and sweat and swarms of bugs. I just wanted a few snow days in my memory bank, to shore me up for those long months of heat, when I would barely be able to go outside and would have to sit with my head right up against the air conditioner just to be able to think.

It’s not that I’m thrilled with having to shovel my car out of the deep snow. I would actually like to have a magical shovel that removes the snow without any help from me. And I could do without the black ice on the roads, and the slippery walkways, and the bad headache that inevitably comes with extreme changes in air pressure. But the snowstorm was a relief just the same. I could turn on the TV and watch weather for as long as I wanted to, with only short breaks to hear about the national political dramas. Every local newsperson was out in the snow, wearing silly hats, and asking random snow-covered strangers some very silly questions. My local government officials were all too busy keeping people safe, and making sure the snow was getting removed from the roads, to cause trouble. One mayor was even driving the snow plow himself, with a reporter along for the ride to make sure the event was recorded for posterity.

I need days like that. I need a few days each year when all of the pain and disorder are muted under Mother Nature’s snowy blanket. Now if only we could convince her to lift up the blanket of snow again once we’ve rested, and not leave it to me to remove pounds of wet snow with my non-magical shovel, then I wouldn’t need three days in bed to recover from my beautiful snow day.

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“We’re going back inside now, Cricket.”

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“I can’t go inside yet, Butterfly. There’s still a leaf under here. I’m sure of it!”

The Rains Came

 

The rains came this week and washed away most of the snow, leaving ice bergs every five to ten feet across the backyard. Cricket took it as her duty to explore each little island of snow. She climbed up to the highest point of each one and seemed to be contemplating names for the new nations, given the amount of time she spent inspecting each crevice, deep in thought. This one I shall name Mathilda, for my Australian friends who have never seen snow. This other one I shall name Pluto, because it is so much smaller than all the others that it may not even be a real ice berg.

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The new nations.

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“What shall I name this new nation?”

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“Shall I poop here?”

Cricket took her job very seriously, but then she was distracted when she reached the one remaining snow bank up against the retaining wall, because there, over yonder, was a pile of cat poop that had not yet been claimed. Ahoy!

The endless variations in landscape that come across Cricket’s yard keep her enthralled – from the autumn leaf piles, to the desiccated brown grass over the summer, to the variations on the theme of snow. She could write a treatise on the magical world of her backyard, if she could only figure out how to type on the computer, one key at a time. Weqjhrgweop.

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“Mine!!!!”

For Butterfly, the rain meant that she could get closer to the bird seed that our neighbor spreads on the lawn each day. Our downstairs neighbor likes to feed the birds every day, so that they will congregate on the snow in front of her apartment and she can see some life in the midst of the cold and icy winter. When I look out the window there is always a line of birdseed on top of the snow and a huge squirrel stealing the food brazenly from the tiny birds. Butterfly would like to line up with the cardinal, and the mourning doves, and the squirrel, and at least sniff communally, but they seem to think she looks too much like Cricket and do not yet trust her intentions.

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The leftover smell of little bird feet still fascinates her, though.

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Bird feet smell so good!

As the snow melts, both dogs help me find the rocks of cat poop that solidified over the winter and now dot the landscape. This is not my favorite task, but the girls enjoy it immensely.

If the groundhog was right, and winter has only a few more weeks left, then the backyard will soon transform again, into its green-shoots phase, and then its over-come-with-weeds phase, which is Cricket’s favorite. She loves to help Grandma pull up weeds, and drag them around like trophies, and then lovingly chew them down to nothing.

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“Yum!.”

It is truly a wonderful world.

My Senior Snow Dog

 

Winter finally kicked in a few weeks ago with more than two feet of snow in one day. I think the Great Snow Planner in the Sky was trying to make all subsequent snowstorms seem puny, so we’d feel shamed into going out, even in eight inches of snow.

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The big snow!

For some reason, this year, Butterfly loves the snow. In the past she’s been uncomfortable with the snow swirling in her face, and the ice crunching and sliding under her feet, and she could never understand Cricket’s fascination with climbing to the top of Snow Mountain to poop. But this year, with the snow piled up over her head, she changed her mind.

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“What is this fluffy stuff?”

This is a dog who does not try to climb up on the couch, and hesitates each time she sees a stairway looming, but she saw a two foot wall of snow and decided not only to try to climb it, but to pull herself up and over, and walk along the iced over top. She went out onto the tundra of the backyard, like a lone explorer, sniffing for squirrels and birds and cat poop. (It didn’t hurt that one of our neighbors had tossed huge chunks of French bread out into the snow for the birds to choke on, again.)

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“I think I can, I think I can…”

Butterfly came home three and a half years ago as an eight year old dog, with a long puppy mill history and a heart problem. She had to learn how to poop outside, and climb stairs, and bark at strangers, and generally be a dog, and we figured, at a certain point, that she was finished catching up. She was running and barking and begging for food, just like Cricket, and really, who expects an eleven year old senior citizen to learn new tricks? But here she is, learning to love the snow. She loves when the snow hardens and she can walk on top of it, she loves sticking her toes into the rain-softened snow and trying to keep her balance as her legs fall out from under her. She loves the way the snow keeps smells fresh for days and days, and she can revisit an old message twenty more times. She even managed to pass the scary corner of the building, because the snow made her forget her fear of the outside world, for a little while.

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“Whoo hoo!”

Cricket has always loved the snow. In the snow, even Cricket can go leash-less, for a moment, and run and play like a puppy. I throw snowballs for her to catch and she buries her head in the snow to find them. She would stay outside for hours, except that snowballs accumulate on her fur and she starts to look like a Yeti who can’t move very well. She tried to chew off the snowballs herself one day, but, since she needed a bath anyway, I tossed her into the tub and melted off the snowballs with the shower attachment. She was not a fan of this experience.

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Cricket, headless.

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Grandma’s magic camera captured Cricket in action.

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“Grrrrrrrr!”

Butterfly didn’t get quite as covered as Cricket, because she’s still a newbie with this snow business. She likes how the snow feels on her toes, and maybe up to her ankles, but once it reaches her chest she starts to shiver. Her favorite thing is to run in the light powdery snow and leave a trail of paw prints in her wake.

cricket & Butterfly