Susan's Blog

Monday, October 2, 2006

About God and Good

I wrote this last night, then went to bed without posting it.

I look outside and the darkness of Erev Yom Kippur, 10th Tishrei, in the year 5767, has (appropriately) descended. This is supposed to be the holiest day of the year for Jews, and here I sit with my laptop feeling just a little bit melancholy that I’m not honoring it in the traditional way. Old habits die hard. By that I mean, I’m not going to services tonight and hearing the sharp, loud, breathy tones of the shofar (ram’s horn) or Kol Nidre, which is a tenth century prayer that you are supposed to hear three times during Yom Kippur. It means, literally, “All Vows.” Its origins are supposedly about releasing common folk from vows they made during the year which they did not fully understand. It then became a release of all vows made to God, but not to anyone else. It allegedly became popular throughout history because of the many times Jews were forced to convert to a different religion; Kol Nidre absolved them from these vows. My understanding is that Kol Nidre is a kind of erasing the slate, a way of beginning the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

On Yom Kippur we’re supposed to think about all the things over the past year that we did which we should not have done, things we regret, things that hurt people or ourselves, things that do nothing to make the world a better place. I love hearing the rabbi recite all the different sins we may have committed, and then putting them into real life context: “for the sin we sinned before you by acting callously…” becomes “I was nasty or competitive with someone in the PTO.”

Mostly I think about how many times I just let Nat lie around without making the effort to engage him “purposefully,” which is good for his development, his independent living skills. I think about how I should also try to find that special connecting point every day, share a laugh or smile with him. Nat is like a big orange poppy, so wonderful to look at, delicate to touch (petals fall right off), finicky to grow.

I think about how to be a better friend to Ned, to shut up and listen to him more. Ned, my bouquet of daisies, easy to grow, abundant, bright and light and hardy, beautiful in a backdrop or in a crystal vase, and which, if you pick the petals, always end on “he loves me.” How to take care of Ned, because he takes care of all of us.

I think about how to reconnect with Max, tall, masculine indigo delphinium, strong, stunning to all. A favorite in the garden. Yet can’t grow everywhere. If happy, returns and stays forever. How to make sure he’s happy.

I think about how to nurture Ben, my rose, smells wonderful, must be pruned and fed just right to grow properly, who has so much sweetness dripping out in between his thorns. How to respond right to Ben when Ben corrects Nat for something Nat has said incorrectly, but uses a mean, sharp tone.

I think about how to be better to me, (not in terms of pampering myself, which I excel at) about not beating myself up or engaging in destructive behavior with others. How to let go when I need to, and hold on when I need to. I think maybe I’m an oriental lilly, which appear delicate but are actually very tough, grow in many kinds of places, can overwhelm with their scent and exotic looks.

We don’t belong to a synagogue, but we used to. That is how Nat and Max became educated in Judaism. I and a few other parents started a Special Needs Task Force, because prior to our joining there was nothing available for the education of kids with disabilities. We shamed them into doing the right thing. I kept referring to Moses, who had a speech problem. By the time we left, there were trained tutors for kids with autism there.

So why did I leave? The cantor broke my heart. When Nat was 12, with bar mitzvahs just around the corner, I found out that all the other kids in his class had already picked their bar mitzvah dates. All that was left for Nat was a Monday bar mitzvah. I wanted the whole nine yards: a Saturday morning bar mitzvah, in front of the whole congregation. I was told he would have to wait until next year, then. I felt so betrayed, we withdrew from the temple and we made our own bar mitzvah for Nat. We did it not to be “good Jews,” but because we wanted to show our world, our little circle of family and friends, all that Nat could do and that he was no tragedy. What better way than to have have him lead a ceremony that goes way back, thousands of years, just like so many other 13-year-olds before him? Not to mention how much fun it was to have a party in the Copley Plaza!

We are Jews without a temple. It’s not so terrible. What matters is what we believe, how we act, and what we do with our lives. That’s what I tell my boys.

I told Nat that this is a holiday where you think about being good and calm. Where you think about God, who is all around but you can’t see Him.

He said, “Yes.”

I tell them all, be the best you can possibly be, make the world a better place, starting here in our home. We celebrate the holidays in our own way, at home, with family or friends. It’s just that on Yom Kippur, I feel bereft without hearing the Kol Nidre, or the shofar blown. (So I looked up Kol Nidre on iTunes and listened there!) These ancient, strange sounds bring me chills and shock my senses so that I feel connected with the wandering tribes in Israel, way back when. The shofar is like a call across the centuries, binding together all of us in our belief that God is still with us, though sometimes difficult to sense. If you tune into what is good inside you and others, you will find it, I think. What I tell my sons is, God doesn’t care if you speak Hebrew to Him in one particular building or another, in Arabic, English, Farsi, or in Latin; He doesn’t care what kind of meat you eat, or whether you know a prayer or even how to talk; God is way above caring about whether you eat food on this day or not; a Being like God is all about goodness, and goodness alone. You know what that is, I know what that is. God is everything good that happens, in the world, between people, in your heart.

God, as Nat says, is “Yes.” (No, not that ‘7o’s band!)

Happy New Year, L’Shanah Tovah!


a beautiful thought to start the day with!

— added by Sarai on Monday, October 2, 2006 at 9:17 am

That is a lovely post. L’Shanah Tovah!

— added by Em's Mom on Monday, October 2, 2006 at 9:29 am

Have you learned more about God because of Nat?

— added by enna id on Monday, October 2, 2006 at 10:48 am

Enna id —
I don’t know. I think I’ve learned more about life, and about what matters, though I still forget.

— added by Susan Senator on Monday, October 2, 2006 at 10:51 am

Dear Susan,
Thank you. I enjoy your blog. I think we, autism parents, have had our perspectives “widened or awakened” because of autism. You could probably blog about this subject. I am not a writer, but I do love your book and blog. Sincerely, enna id

— added by enna id on Monday, October 2, 2006 at 2:49 pm

wow i am kind of like in awe right now because of stumbling onto your blog and then seeing that you are the author of one of my favorite books! i have done childcare with a few wonderful boys with autism and ausbergers and found your book so real….due to my own health now i do not do childcare and as my own mental illness(s)at time are acute i can actually relate alot to those who have autism and ausbergers and am blessed to have known josh and also ian liz

— added by mosiacmind on Monday, October 2, 2006 at 7:07 pm

Great, Great Speech (for some reason I thought about this post as of a Speech)! Thank you Susan.

— added by Julia Mazepa on Tuesday, October 3, 2006 at 1:08 pm

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