Singing the Qur’an in Different Voices

heavily ornate lattice covering. I sat through the meeting distracted, nervous.

I should have been at ease. After all, I was with friends—members of a Christian-Muslim interfaith group, people I’d worked with for many years, people I trusted.

But I was coming down with an acute case of performance anxiety. I had asked Ismet Akcin, the Islamic Center of Rochester, New York’s newly installed Imam, if I might recite for him after the meeting, privately, the Qur’an’s “Throne Verse,” sura (or chapter) al-Baqara, verse 255.

And to do this in Arabic.

Hence…anxiety. [Read more…]

Love Nailed to the Doorpost

black and white image of a mezuzah on the door post of a house. The commandment to love is nailed to my doorpost. Ritualistically written on a little piece of parchment, rolled up, tucked inside a beautifully painted ceramic case, and nailed aslant to the doorpost.

I almost never notice it. Not when I’m rushing out of the house in the morning, book bag and gym bag slung over my shoulder, head down, rushing to the car, desperate to get to campus before the last available parking spot is taken in the lot at my building. It’s not love, I’m thinking about at that moment. It’s convenience.

Not when I’ve been working at home—on a weekday or Saturday (I know, Saturday, Shabbat, I shouldn’t be working!)—and want to walk up the driveway to the mailbox to retrieve the mail. It’s not love I’m thinking about then. It’s hope. Hope for some surprise, though few surprises arrive in the mail anymore. Mostly junk mail and pleas to contribute to a cause, many of them causes that, in my heart.

Not when, with Laurie, I’m heading out for a Saturday night movie. I like love stories. Romantic comedies. Not that we limit ourselves to them. Most recent film: Paterson. Loved it. Definitely a love story: a love of poetry, a tender love story of a bus driver poet and his partner, a cupcake artist, a whimsical designer. Love stirs when I’m watching a good love story on the screen. Are movies my mezuzah? [Read more…]

Lashing Out at Myself

human-blur-by-craig-cloutier-on-flickrI was born with a certain level of anxiety in my blood—an electric edge that keeps me vigilant, wise, creative, and, arguably, a little humorous at times. As a child, I funneled much of my worst-case-scenario thinking into colorful stories that helped me face pain and fear head-on while developing an imagination that would shape the rest of my life. My propensity toward uptight, Type-A thinking has helped me keep a relatively organized house and healthy to-do list, and I like it that way. In short, my dysfunction often serves me well.

But the dark side has its dark side. [Read more…]

Poison Ivy and the Path of Grief

Though its fruit should’ve been in season, too many harsh Midwest winters left the leaves of the apple tree to wither. At the time of harvest, very little fruit hung from its branches.

But my daughter climbed anyway, her arms wrapped around the low-hanging branches, her feet bouncing against the trunk so she could swing herself up. She climbed all over it, picking the seconds, tossing them into the buckets circling the tree.

I was travelling to Texas while she climbed, so it was later that my friend told me that poison ivy crept along the trunk of the apple tree and into the branches.

All the while, I was at lunch in Texas with my ill father, laughing at the dark jokes of grief with my mother and sisters, and making lists of the things people should not say to someone with cancer, things like “my aunt had the same kind of cancer and it was awful. She died very painfully,” or “don’t you know how many poisonous chemicals they put in chemo?” [Read more…]

Unfriending, Impractical Jokes, and Other Foibles

facebook unsplach CC Zero pic by William Iven_editIf I were to graph my mental health over the past five years, the line might resemble a stegosaurus spine with several points and plunges, that, thanks be to God, climb overall to a place of greater acceptance and peace.

But damn, do those jagged edges hurt.

Over the past couple of months, hormones, summer sleeplessness, and the stress of starting a new business have joined forces to throw a deranged dance party in my brain. I’ve felt more vulnerable than usual, especially surrounding the perceptions of others—my go-to place of desolation.

In sum: Does this person like me? If not, why not? And what can I do to fix it?

Suppose someone unfriends me on Facebook. The adrenaline of anxiety kicks in as I quickly review my statuses and develop theories. In one case, I convinced myself that someone deleted me for posting pictures of a local parade. Although I reveled in my town’s annual event, a highlight of the summer, I wondered if my friend thought I was mocking it. [Read more…]