In Gratitude

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Dear Readers,

Wishing you Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and blessed times in the New Year!

In January, I will have a very exciting announcement to share with you. . . .

And yet, times are bittersweet. Loved ones have passed, and within our memories and mourning, we appreciate life. I was blessed with the sweetest gift to California to visit with family, and we were four generations together. And yet, for many of us, the world seems to be going backwards, forwards, and staying still, all at the same time and with more intensity. It’s always a balancing act, isn’t it?

I received this via email a week ago, and it fit for me this year. It speaks to uniting our inner and outer work as individuals and what we can create together from our sacred inner embers. (A hanukkiah is a menorah, the candleholder for eight nights of Chanukah and a shamus, the candle used to light them all.)

“When we light the Hanukkiah, we call up the miracle. In life, we call on our might. In yesterday’s world, we witnessed God’s outstretched hand. In today’s world, we extend our own. We’ve been trained to strategize, criticize, hyper-intellectualize. We understand how to do, work toward, achieve. And when we’re challenged, we damn well know how to get boots on the ground and fight for what we know to be true and just. We’re good at being Maccabees. But in these dark times, when we see our reality unraveling before us, a part of us yearns for something more to believe in.

This year may we tap into the two sides of Hanukkah: our ability to act and our capacity to believe. May we grasp our power to shape the world, and be in touch with our longing for the Creator of the world. May we continue to pray with our feet, and learn how to pray with our heart. Amidst our communal effort to combat the impending darkness, may we embrace the equally hard work of cultivating a felt-sense-deep in our kishkes-of the sacred fire within each of us, the burning blaze we become when we band together, and the Source of light, life, and love that suffuses all.” —Rabbi Jonathan Bubis

May you be and feel love, loved, healthy, and safe!

In gratitude,
Jan

What’s Your AQ — Appreciation Quotient?

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When I first moved to Manhattan from Berkeley, I was enthralled with the energy of people on the streets, the architectural mix of old and new buildings, cultures, languages, the parks, museums, outdoor concerts, the concentration of people and cars flowing with and around each other. Then there was the light, island light, that illuminated dingy structures into glistening art, making window-pane patterns on neighboring facades.

It was all so different and new, and there was so much to discover in this dense urban jungle. But it hit me early on that I could easily lose the glow, just like anywhere else, through living life. To keep it going, I decided I’d have to pretend I was a tourist–well, my kind of low-key one.

What is it about being a tourist that makes us feel free? We’re unburdened by daily routines, obligations, deadlines, knowing what will happen. Ideally, we take the time to enjoy whatever it is we’re doing, unburdened. Even with plans our surroundings are different, so we notice them. We’re more open, we explore and delight in colors, textures, landscapes, people, nuances. We rediscover the world through our wonderment.

After this year’s brutal winter, all the plants and trees were still dormant grey and brown in March, then April. It seemed as if they’d just given up and decided it wasn’t going to be safe to come out this year. But then across the street, peeking up through a pipe and plywood scaffolding, I spied the pale yellow lacy blossoms on a single tree. It was so exciting to see a new color that I took a pic and posted it. Wasn’t it beautiful!

When I revisited the whole picture, I was surprised that the scene actually looked pretty dingy and the flowers weren’t all that yellow. I’d been so appreciative of that small bit of difference, that its significance was magnified. As the next blossoms emerged, that first bit of color seemed embarrassingly small to have meant so much. What was I thinking? It was nothing to me now! Each successive wave of colors, blossoms, and scents, all so special and amazing, would wither and recede, finally making way for the lush green umbrella of trees. But then even those, ever-present, would soon go unnoticed.

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At summer’s end when those first maples become weary of the heat and their leaves get tinged with gold, sensing their rest is near while we’re still sweltering, I notice. Each year, we ooh and ah over the reds, yellows, and oranges that were just our beloved, but now usual, greens.

I see my Appreciation Quotient in so many areas of my life. I’ll be trucking along, in the flow, getting it done, and then, boom, wipe out. I’ll take a fall, get a cut, a burn, a flu, a migraine, throw out my back. I’m unable to do a thing or am strictly limited in what I can do, forced into downtime. But then, thankfully, there’s the re-inhabiting of my rhythms.

Sometimes I bounce back quickly, but others I have to start on the ground floor and rebuild myself, inch by inch. That’s how my body, my being, seems to do it. During that time, I’m so appreciative for each little step, movement, victory, bite of food, sip of water, bit of energy, lack of pain. At zero, with little capacity to see the bigger picture, I appreciate each moment and what I am able to do.

What determines our AQ? We experience that fresh, bright yellow-green of spring, a new love, the precious people in our lives, the sun’s warmth drawing us into the street to mingle like ants after the storm, and we’re filled with wonder. But then we get jaded with the familiar and lulled into complacency.

How do we stay open in the moment and notice what is alive inside and around us? I’m not prescribing, I’m exploring—and perhaps that is the way—and sharing it. Have I told you lately? I appreciate you very much!

Love and blessings,

Jan Mundo

Version 2

A Brief for the Defense by Jack Gilbert

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Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies

are not starving someplace, they are starving

somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.

But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.

Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not

be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not

be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women

at the fountain are laughing together between

the suffering they have known and the awfulness

in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody

in the village is very sick. There is laughter

every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,

and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.

If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,

we lessen the importance of their deprivation.

We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,

but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have

the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless

furnace of this world. To make injustice the only

measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.

If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,

we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.

We must admit there will be music despite everything.

We stand at the prow again of a small ship

anchored late at night in the tiny port 
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront

is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.

To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat

comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth

all the years of sorrow that are to come.

From REFUSING HEAVEN (Knopf, 2005)