Daily Prompt: My Name is Beautiful

Names are incredibly important in the great scheme of things. Giving something a name, or knowing their true name, is also incredibly powerful. So this Daily Prompt is, to me, a very deep one (http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/daily-prompt-name/).

My name is Shana. In Yiddish, a language created by Jews in the Diaspora merging Hebrew, English and German, it means “beautiful.” So I grew up with the name Beautiful, with older men and women calling me Shayna Maideleh (beautiful girl) or Shayna Punim (beautiful face). Note my name does not have a “y” in it, as most Shayna’s do, so I also grew up with Shawna, Shaana, one time even Shai-e-na. I’m named after my great-grandmother, Sarah, who died when I was very young. What I remember most about meeting her was being surprised at how she looked – she was the first person I had seen with a masectomy (no reconstruction).

I also grew up in a Jewish community in San Diego that was fairly large, but I was the only Shana. There were a ton of Rebecca’s (or Becky) or Lisa’s or Jennifer’s, but I was the only Shana around, even all through Jewish summer camp and temple up through confirmation. Very active in the community, but the community only had one Shana in it.

So I grew up feeling unique and special and like I had a “J” stamped on my forehead for Jewish because every time I met someone Jewish, they would hear my name and call me Shana Punim and tell me that their daughter had a pet dog named Shayna. Just me and the cute puppies, I guess.

And then I became involved in the Los Angeles Jewish community a few years back. And suddenly, I’m swimming in a sea of Shana’s (or Shayna’s, really). I’m not even remotely unusual, except for maybe that my parents forgot the “y.” There had to be more to me than just my name, now, to make me stand out. Because I’m an Aquarian and I can’t stand being one of the crowd.

But, at this point, I still have my ex-husband’s Guatemalan/Catholic last  name (I kept it after the divorce). There’s really no other Shana in the world quite like me.

A Good Start

I didn’t plan it this way when we booked the trip months ago, but it turned out, I traveled to Mexico under a full moon. Now, I love full moons. I’ve always loved the moon, and these past few years, as I’ve learned about metaphysical energy and become more and more mystical over time, the moon has just grown in importance to me. My favorite stone is even the moonstone. And when I decided to change my Hebrew name last year to mark this transition into a new year, I changed it to Levana, which means whiteness and purity and moon and all of those wonderful things. Since then I’ve changed it further, adding the name I was born under, to become Sarai Levana in my tribe.

But I digress (what else is new?)…the point is, I started this Journey under a full moon. And last night, as we dined on the beach, it was simply one the most magical moonrises I’ve ever seen.

A huge orange harvest moon rose up out of the ocean. Incredible on it’s own for about an hour. And then it transformed into white, and lit up the entire ocean below. A postcard picture of sparkling water under a perfect white full moon. Yes, I wrote a new poem about it (Moonlight, on www.cythereandreams.wordpress.com) Yes, I got a picture, which I can’t post just yet (technical difficulties), because you really need to see this. But the picture just won’t match the magic of the moment…it was truly stunning.

So that’s a good omen and good start if I ever saw one. Life is full of beauty and wonder…something to take with me for those stressful moments.

Journeys

I like to think that I’m not in transition anymore, that I’m stable. But that’s just not the case. This past week showed me that – I found myself revisiting a book that I’ve had to re-read many times now, that helped me through understanding my divorce process. It’s called “Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends” and they make the very good point that as people progress through other relationships after the “primary love relationship,” they go through these different stages, sometimes many times over. Or not. Because you can get stuck.

So many people get stuck in the Anger stage. I remember a man I briefly dated who still referred to his ex-wife of eight years past in the most angry, bitter terms possible…but he was the one who had decided the marriage wasn’t working and had left her. No affairs, no major unforgiveable offense – he was just stuck in being angry, had never resolved those issues.

Me, I’m still stuck in the “growth relationships” stage. But I guess that’s natural, considering my personality type (Idealist/INFJ for fellow Myers-Briggs afficianados) loves growth relationships and in fact, needs that in any long-term relationship I have. If we don’t grow, then what’s the point? But when you’re always growing and evolving and changing into someone new, you’re not the same person from one day to the next. You look back and who you were a year, a month, perhaps even a week ago, and realize that the choices you have made have fundamentally changed. Again.

It’s exhausting, all this growing. I’d rather have my choices made, to a large extent, my path and my companions on it set. It gives the people around me whiplash, sometimes. And I’m not immune from getting whiplash myself, from the people in transition around me. When they change and cut me out of their lives, for whatever reason, it hurts deeply. But they sometimes feel the need to evolve without me, so I have to respect that.

Back to my own journeys and transitions – I’m coming up on what can only be described as a Journey. Capital J. Starting tomorrow night, for one week, I’m taking a break from my real life, from my home, from my career, and recharging my batteries on a beach in Cabo San Lucas. At the end of that week, I’m sure I’ll be brimming with new energy and new possibilities.

And the next day, I’ll get a plane and fly to Israel. Jerusalem, in fact. This three year transition of mine, begun when I moved to Los Angeles and found myself immersed in the Jewish community here, will find some kind of ending, there.

It’s my first overseas trip, and it just feels…momentous. I imagined I would be taking this trip with a temple group, with my parents, with my children, perhaps even with a new husband on a honeymoon. I never thought I’d be single this long, or comfortable travelling on my own. Which I am – this trip is just me, going there to present at an academic conference, representing my research center. It’s me as my professional self, taking a step up the recognition ladder.

But it’s also me as a woman, as a priestess in the ancient sense, as a student of Torah, as a poet and prophet, as a believer in old souls and past lives and eternal truths. I’m not sure I’m ready for this Journey, and I’m not sure who I’ll be when I come back.

But it’s time to go, taking all the love I have with me now, on my way.

Why I’m Awesome

So, I was just invited to join my first havurah (a group of people affiliated with a Jewish congregation who meet and have fun outside of the temple). This one’s for people in their 20s and early 30s, with no kids, and they call themselves the “Awesome” havurah. I’m now officially Awesome! And I’m pretty happy about it. Because last year, my best friends at my temple had told me that they were forming the group. And they hoped I understood why I wasn’t invited to join, which  I did, because I’m 37 with two daughters, and I just didn’t fit even though we’re all good friends. Also, I was part of a group of religious school parents trying to create a havurah too, and that was fine, but that group just never gelled.

In the meantime, the Awesome havurah took off.  They held a bonfire on the beach, went ice skating, lots of fun stuff. And this past week, they officially issued the invitation to me to join them. Why? Because they missed me. Doing all these fun things, they kept wanting me to be there. So even though I’m older and have children and just don’t fit their official charter, they missed me. And now I’m Awesome, too.

It’s just another sign to me that I’ve found my place, deepening my ties here.   Ok, so I’m seven to thirteen years older than everyone, and have two kids – they still think I’m Awesome. And I think it’s pretty awesome being the exception to the rule.

First Date

Unexpectedly, out of the blue, a man I met a month ago at a poetry workshop called me. Right in the middle of this crazy week, on a crazy day. And I asked him to call back in a few hours, as I was slammed just then, and he did. Left a message about another poetry group that I have no time to go to until at least mid-June, so I didn’t call back. And then he called me again yesterday, just nicely following up, no pressure, just checking in. A sweet man, I knew already from how kind he had been while we wrote poetry and he gave me the comfy spot on the couch, taking my uncomfortable chair. An educated and interesting man, I knew already from the hours we had spent talking at the group dinner afterwards. So I told him I was free this weekend, and he asked me to dinner, and that’s all good – a nice surprise to end my week.

But now, I’m having an anxiety attack. Never had this reaction before. Not at all because of who he is, but because the last time I was in this position, I got very, very badly burned. Two and a half months ago, I had the perfect first date. That’s a whole long story, and if you feel like reading my 80 or so poems about it on Cytherean Dreams, go right ahead.

The point is, I went into that one so secure in knowing that no matter what, I would be fine. I kept saying, “I’ll just enjoy it while it lasts,” thinking it was temporary heaven and hoping like hell it wasn’t. And then it ended, this intense mini-relationship (lasted essentially one week)…and it hurt like nothing I’d experienced before.

Worse than my divorce. Worse than being left by the man I left my husband hoping to be with.Worse than the huge, universe-twisting fights I had with my twin flame (again, lots of poetry on these, too). Crying every day kind of hurt…it’s gone down to every few days, now, but it still hits me.

But I have to have the courage to move forward, because what else can I do? Sit by myself and drown in my sorrows? And I do believe I meet people for a reason, and there’s a reason I met this one, at this time.

So, dinner tonight. And try to breathe deeply and just see what happens next.

Being an Angel

So as we all know, I’ve had a tough week. A tough couple of weeks. But it’s getting better, and one of the reasons why is that I notice when I get the call to be someone’s angel for a time, and I just love those times. I heard a d’var torah once (which is, when someone (anyone, doesn’t have to be a rabbi) gets up and gives their take on a bit of Torah to the group) that had a beautiful message about angels, that there are times when God is imbued in each of us, and we help someone else and become their angel for that moment. Did you ever have the urge to just say something that ended up being exactly what the other person needed to hear? That’s when you’re someone’s angel.

So I walked out of my apartment this morning, for the second time. The first time was when I left nearly two hours earlier to go take my kids to school and then have a little breakfast at the local bagel shop. And then I went home again, to take a much-needed break from the world. I even considered calling in sick (mental health days are important, too!) but the fact is I just had too much work that had to be done today. So I did my meditation and tantric practice, left my apartment feeling much better and able to tackle the day, and walked down the stairs to the garage…at exactly the right time to see my neighbor in the laundry room.

My neighbor is an elderly woman, with no children, no family that I’ve ever seen come visit. She has friends who live in our building that come over and eat dinner with her on some nights. She has cats, and fosters kittens until they find homes. She’s very nice to my girls and invites them over to see the kittens, but she’s…well, she’s a bit…odd. I would, in my educated lay opinion, probably pin her as highly functioning autistic, or somewhere on the scale. She has difficulty relating to people in a natural way, and my landlords had warned me when we moved in that she was difficult to deal with and might not react well to young children. I just always treated her with a high level of respect (and made sure my kids did, too), and we all get along just fine.

So I said hello to her and she said hello back, and as I was heading to the garage she called after me, “My mother just died. That’s why I’m home today.”

Stopped me in my tracks. What a courageous statement to make. I can’t imagine a more clear sign telling me to help this woman. To listen to her and comfort her. So I immediately went over and gave her a hug, which as I did, I wondered, is this the right thing to do? It was, and she told me that her 86-year-old mother had just died suddenly from pneumonia. And told me about her siblings, which I had never heard about or seen even though they live locally, and how they were dealing with their loss . And I suggested to her that some kind of service might be very healing, and that adding a daily prayer specifically for her mother for this upcoming year (which is what we do with our Mourner’s Kaddish) might help her deal with this time of transition, as her universe has shifted and it’s important to mark the beginning of a new stage. She thanked me for my words and my perspective, and they seemed to help her be better equipped to deal with this…I hope they were. I hope I did some good.

And then I left to go to work, and thanked God for giving me the opportunity to be there for her. It’s not a coincidence that I was walking down the stairs at that moment, when she needed me. And I’m grateful that I’ve learned to recognize those moments, and get to be an angel for a time.

Evolution

My older daughter is in a special needs class for third grade, and yesterday, I had the annual meeting with her teacher and the vice-principal to discuss what her goals are for the upcoming year. It’s a meeting that’s required by LAUSD, and it went very well in terms of how my daughter is progressing in her class. But one thing came up – some of the other students in her class are having some emotional issues that make everything hard for everyone, including them, poor kids. They have autism or ADHD or (like mine) epilepsy, and just find the world to be a difficult place to navigate sometimes – and that’s when the kicking and screaming and flailing in frustration starts.

So I suggested meditation (my daily practice has helped me immensely, and my daughters sometimes do it, too), and then remembered a Facebook post I saw recently of a scripted 5-minute meditation designed for classroom use, and offered it to the teacher. When I posted that I was sending it to my child’s special needs class on my “friend” ‘s page, he offered to even come to the school and lead the session himself. Couldn’t be a nicer, more selfless guy.

Which just hits me in a funny place, a place that makes me smile a little and shake my head at the wonders of this world. Because I used to hate this guy. Really hate him. In seventh grade, he was one of the popular kids (the sidekick one, if you know what I mean) that actually helped make my life hell. I was a quirky nerd who didn’t care much what anyone thought of me, but I did care when three of my best friends stopped talking to me and joined that other group, the popular kids group. Those kids just seemed like people from another planet, shallow and mean. I remember this guy mostly as the “hairy” one, the kid who had to start shaving in eighth grade.

And that pretty much lasted all through high school. I never talked to them, but they were always there. They were always involved in school government, in the sports teams. I stuck to the theater class and the speech team, skipped pretty much every sports event (until I started dating a volleyball/basketball player, but that’s another story), and just concentrated on keeping my straight A average. Then in eleventh grade, scandal struck – turns out that all the popular kids had the brilliant idea of cheating their way through school. It was a huge, pervasive cheating ring, and I don’t think he was one of the ringleaders (hard to remember now), but I know that he was definitely part of that crowd. Definitely not my crowd.

But a few months ago, one of the many people I’m still in touch with on Facebook posted a TED talk – this guy leading a meditation session. And now he’s centered, and selfless, and bringing the joy and peace of meditation to any and all people (including prisoners, even) who need it. It just blew me away how twenty years have changed this man. That he’s now someone who I admire, and can see all the ways in which we’re alike. And I wonder, was that always there, and was I just was too shallow and mean myself back then to see it?

Still, whether it’s his evolution or mine, I think it’s progress.