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Archive for the ‘Writing: A Window Into My Soul’ Category

Initial Reflection post last night’s Houston Vigil Against Detention Camps at SW Key:

Last night, I went to an action/vigil against detention centers or what I now choose to call concentration camps. Together I joined hundreds of people in front of the SW Key Juvenile Detention Center in Houston; ironically this center is on a street that was recently renamed Emancipation Ave.

As I stood strong against these centers, I found myself wondering why more of my friends didn’t join me; I do understand some were bound by Jewish law so a Friday night or Saturday vigil is not appropriate for them, but I have been at a bunch of actions and I haven’t been seeing enough of them. If we are supposed to take care of the stranger, the widows, the orphans, the poor, why aren’t more of our faith based leaders and their congregants joining this holy work?

As the evening progressed, I watched as the police officers initially charged at the peaceful activists with their aggressive energy and a bunch of horses too. Watching them, I found myself fully grasping that they were  following orders regardless of their beliefs. Is that what many Nazis did? Follow orders without wondering the full ramifications of what they were responding to. To be clear, the officers were not cruel, they were simply ‘doing their job’ and following orders. But I wonder if they even considered that all of the protesters were feeling deep pain for what brought us to stand for hours to protest how our country is treating refugees and undocumented people.

And finally, I stood in awe of the protesters. People of all ages, backgrounds, and spiritual traditions who stood together chanting, singing, drumming, and sharing their thoughts. The vigil was grounded in values and kindness. People were coming together for love of humanity and anger about how horrific our government is treating those they deem illegal. No human is illegal!

Salas Haider and I

7/12/2019 Houston Vigil Against Detention Camps at SW Key with my beloved tribe including Donna Olson-Salas, Chava Gal-Or, Sarah Haider, Federico Salas-Isnardi  

 

 

 

Deeper Reflections: 

As a young girl, I remember questioning, ‘where were all the Germans when their beloved neighbors were being taken away?’ I also used to question how all of those Nazi soldiers could have been OK with the dehumanization of people. I am still wondering those same questions.

Today, the questions are the similar. Why aren’t more people standing up for humanity?How can the border patrol, police officers, and other ‘professionals’ who work at the Deportation Centers live with themselves? How can we have so many leaders who essentially describe refugees as vermin?

As we watch parts of our government dehumanize those seeking asylum from their own hell, I am wondering why more moral people aren’t standing up against the atrocities we hear about daily in the news? Why aren’t more people actively engaged in loving humanity?

While the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum may demand that people don’t use “Holocaust” terms to describe the current treatment of refugees, I feel certain that many of the “Detention Centers” could be better described as Concentration Camps on a good day. Children have been ripped from their families; families have been separated from their loved ones; there is a shortage of water, beds, food, and all necessities for those that are being detained.

And meanwhile, there are many loving people that are choosing to do little or nothing to help humanity. What’s wrong with this picture? LOTS!!!

A long time ago, I came to understand that I can do many things and some will be done well, some less well. Regardless of the fact that I can’t do it all, humanity always needs me to do as much as I can. That means I can love and care for my family, work for a living, have a nonprofit that helps people, write, paint, and I can still do more than one thing. Babies are in jails instead of being loved and held by their mamas and papas!  And that is not the only issue I care about; I also care about the environment, education, health care, and so much more.

And what angers me more than anything right now is that I have good friends, community members, and neighbors that would probably watch their neighbors be taken to a concentration camp before choosing to show up and defend them. What is their excuse? Work. Family. Hobby. Too much to do to take on one more thing.  Or perhaps they think they can only do one thing at a time. . .  I call BULLSHIT! And I am not talking about my friends who have loved ones who are struggling with health challenges. They need to focus on navigating health challenges. When my sons were critically ill at different times, I also stopped doing what I could to make the world a better place, but as soon as I could, I returned to showing up in the world or at least I really tried.

Young families have their own challenges too. . .I get it. AND I also understand that my own sons learned that I cooked for those who were sick, went on actions for humanity, used to volunteer/sleep at a homeless shelter one night a week throughout the late fall and winter.  My sons understood that I showed up. They also watched their father leave the house to go on volunteer calls with the Red Cross whenever disasters hit our community. Our children can handle us showing up to make the world a better place. In fact, if they see us parents caring deeply, they may even choose to show up themselves. One of mine does; the other, not yet. 

My Past Is Guiding Me:

As a child, my neighbors stood by as I suffered. They did nothing! They heard the screams; they closed the ears. I want to be better than that.

Hineini, Hear I am. Where are you?

Onward with love, light, and blessings,
Chava

PS: Thanks for reading what will likely be part of my memoir which at this point is being called, Thriving: No Option. . . . If you like what you are reading, please take a moment and like it on WordPress or any social media site, And if you have feedback, I’d love to hear it.

 

 

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Life is really messy.

Around every corner there are ups and downs. Moments when you are soaring and moments when you are flopping around like a fish out of water. And if you are intense like me, it may feel like your life is bouncing around as quickly as some people can flip a coin.

Sometimes I wonder if I walk the world this way because my childhood didn’t teach me many tools for coping with life’s grit. And as a young adult and later a young mother, I learned to live as a chameleon. I buried many of my emotions and did what was expected of me. And for the most part I pulled it off fairly well. Or at least I think I did. Of course, what do I really know about how I was received by others.

To be transparent, my life has probably always been far from normal. As a young newly married woman, I faced nine miscarriages, several failed adoption attempts, an adoption, buried my parents, navigated serious illnesses for my children, employment struggles for the family breadwinner, and so much more.

Nonetheless, I engaged in living and doing whatever needed to be done to propel my family forward, support my community, and keep a smile on my face. I simply plugged away at living. I am not sure that I found it easy because interspersed with some really tough moments, but I had dinner on the table every night. We welcomed people into our home nearly every Shabbat. I cooked meals for those who were ill and organized our community to help families in the midst of health crisises. I even kept my home  clean, laundry done, and always held down a part time job.

I had an I can do ANYTHING spirit, only inside that is not how I felt. I used to wonder why everyone in the world could keep their houses clean, nurture their children, and have a full life.  Everyone seemed to do it with an ease that ALWAYS escaped me. It is only since I started following social media closely that I realized that I was never alone. All of us have our own personal struggles.

Fortunately social media, Oprah, and podcasts have helped me realize that I am so not alone in this very real struggle. Only over the last five or so years have I  been introduced to the wisdom of three people that rock my world as creatives because of how honestly they shared their struggles of living in the messy middle. They inspire people to:

  • Live in the “marvelous messy middle”. ~ SARK
  • “Embrace the glorious mess that you are.” ~Elizabeth Gilbert

And to understand:

  • “Life is brutal. But it’s also beautiful. Brutiful, I call it. Life’s brutal and beautiful are woven together so tightly that they can’t be separated. Reject the brutal, reject the beauty. So now I embrace both, and I live well and hard and real.” ~Glennon Doyle

Each of these amazing women choose to share their personal journeys of living in the midst of life’s sometimes very challenging realities while being aware that moving forward doesn’t always present us with easy solutions for living according to what society deems “normal”. They continually inspired me (and still do) to show up in my world as authentically as possible.

Hiking BootsI feel blessed to now walk with ease in my own messy middle and the outer banks too. While it took me over fifty years to emerge fully as myself. I ultimately found my voice through writing, chanting, drumming, and only in the last year through painting little cards.  I am the woman I am because how I have chosen to navigate my own rocky paths.  I am so grateful that I learned to live out loud by sharing my life experiences without apology, accepting that I don’t fit into any box, and loving myself for who I am.

I have also done some really hard stuff including leaving the traditional Jewish community, moving cross country with my sons, divorcing my husband, and publicly changing my name when I realized my parents lost their right to name me.  I wanted a name that honored who I am today, so I gave myself one.  I am Chava Gal-Or. Chava means life because I am a woman who thrives regardless of what sh*t crosses her path and I become empowered by whatever life tosses in my direction. Gal-Or means wave of light; this is my reminder not only to be light, but to find the light in whoever and whatever crosses my path. Perhaps the hardest thing I am doing right now is sharing my life stories via my writing; I am not holding back, I am diving deep and navigating some really harsh realities that have lead me to rise as the woman I am.

Yes, I live in the messy middle. I feel deeply. I struggle to breathe when life overwhelms me. I often believe I don’t do enough to make our world a better place. I wonder if I love enough and do enough for my family, my work, my beloved friends, etc. I struggle with believing that I am worthy and yet I understand that the Inner Demon speaks loudly to me and it is my job to show up and keep showing up. On a good day, I quiet that voice and stretch my arms wide open to life. On a bad day, the demon wins, but I push forward anyway. I am learning.

Living in the messy middle has become a norm for me and I am OK with that. I am “perfectly imperfect” as Anne Lamott would say.  Hineini, Here I am!

Onward with love, light, and blessings,
Chava

PS: Thanks for reading what will likely be part of my memoir which at this point is being called, Thriving: No Option. . . . If you like what you are reading, please take a moment and like it on WordPress or any social media site, And if you have feedback, I’d love to hear it.

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Years ago, I learned that there is no option for walking through life with a positive disposition. This lesson has been handed to me again and again on a silver platter. I’ve chosen to find the light in the darkness AND light when there was seemingly little or no hope. Early in my childhood, I learned to seek the lessons from whatever experiences I faced and if I was lucky I fortunate the good in each and every challenge.

As someone who has been battered as a child, struggled with tremendous loss as an adult, watched her children struggle with health/life challenges within their short lifetimes, and struggled with some hard challenges as an adult, I don’t believe in letting the tough times bring me too far down.  I believe in always finding the gifts within the challenges!  And I have received so many gifts over the years!!

Photo courtesy of Janie Grackin Did you notice the butterfly? :)

I didn’t realize that I had the ability to find the gifts within the challenges until one day when one of my sons was in critical condition.  He had been struggling with health for so long and I didn’t want him to suffer any longer.  As sedation was enabling him to rest in his hospital room, I quietly told him that Imma (mommy) and Abba (daddy) would be OK if he needed to stop fighting for his life.  With tears streaming down my face, I told my little one that we were the luckiest parents in the world to have him in our lives for as long as we did.  I didn’t want to let go, but I knew that I might not have a choice; I didn’t want him to worry.

Little did I know that I would have to say that again in my lifetime, but I truly believe that people are gifts for as long as they are in our lives.  Today, I am profoundly grateful that my children are both vibrant and healthy adults; I am grateful that both of them survived their childhood health challenges and one doesn’t even remember them.  I am also happy that I learned something positive about myself as I faced the years of darkness.  There are always gifts within the challenges; sometimes they are more difficult to see at first, but over time they can be found.

My hope for you is that you shouldn’t be faced with the challenges that were once part of my life.  In my case, I did make it through and you can too.

Many years have passed since I faced that kind of darkness, but the lessons have stayed with me.  There is truly no option for allowing darkness to control me.  Yes there are moments when I am angry or sad, lonely or unhappy; they are moments.  The key is that I have to trust that the moments will pass and all will be OK.

I always get to decide how I navigate the harshness that life sometimes brings.  Working within a large community, I face all sorts of people and all sorts of moods.  My job is to embrace those people where they are and to move us forward without allowing their sometimes bad mood to bring me down.  I have a choice; I always have a choice.  And the great news is that most of my interactions with the world around me are really quite beautiful; enjoying life as I do means finding the gifts at every turn.

For me, finding the blessings that surround me is really not an option.  Can you say the same thing? I hope so!

Onward with love, light, and blessings,
Chava

PS: Thanks for reading what will likely be part of my memoir which at this point is being called, Thriving: No Option. . . . If you like what you are reading, please take a moment and like it on WordPress or any social media site, And if you have feedback, I’d love to hear it.

 

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I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island
And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries

~From Paul Simon’s ‘I Am A Rock’ 
For most of my childhood and even my adult life, I grew to treasure Simon and Garfunkel’s “I Am A Rock” as a mantra in my life. As soon as the song played, I would feel like this song was written just for me. My heart would begin racing quickly, my spirit would feel at peace and I would sing out the words, “I AM A ROCK; I AM ISLAND” as if I were greeting my best friend.
Subconsciously, I always understood that I needed to protect myself from being hurt by others. And this song reminded me that I had my armor; I was actually doing just fine. Of course, I wasn’t. . . I was alone and even if I wasn’t alone, I felt like I was.
And then I met Louis at my senior prom. I am sorry Shai. I went with one of my closest friends and met the person who would become my first real boyfriend. Louis was and still is one of the most amazing people I had ever met. He loved me deeply and accepted the brokenness that must have been a pain to deal with. Or maybe he didn’t see how broke I was because it took me nearly twenty years after meeting him before I understood the ramifications of my traumatic childhood.
Either way, Louis showed up and held me. He helped me find my voice and allowed me to be who I was. Of course what does any 18 year old really understand about who they are? Louis loved who I was and who I believed I was at that time.
When I say that Louis helped me find my voice, that is true in every way. He listened to me and helped melt away the years of ice that had wrapped my spirit. He wrote me beautiful poems that let me know how loved I was. And he invited me to sing with him and to him. He welcomed me into his world and loved me for who I was.
And later when our relationship ended because Louis came out, he always held a space for me in his life. I was shattered when he told me could no longer be my beloved boyfriend because he realized that that wasn’t who he was. I couldn’t imagine my life without him. And in truth, since the day we met, my life has never been without him. Louis was the first person outside of my family who really loved me forever.
Fifteen years later, when I brought my father to the hospital for what would become his last six weeks of life, Louis was the first person I called and he was the one person who sat with me as one of the worst nightmares of my life unfolded. I was saying good-bye to my father who I had always deeply adored and somehow forgiven for not being able to keep me safe, for not being the father he should have been. I was beyond devastated; and my sons, nieces, and nephews were losing the best Zaydie Morry, grandfather, in the world.
As I sat crumbling in the depths of despair, Louis held me and told me that everything would be OK. Only I didn’t believe him, but he was right, eventually a new norm unfolded and everything became OK once again. Louis has always been there for me.
Chava and Louis - Passover 2016

Louis and Chava – Passover 2016

I jokingly refer to myself as the wandering Jew; I will probably always feel that way. Regardless of where my family moved, Louis has stayed part of my life. When my family moved back Washington DC, he started coming to our Passover Seder every year and then when we again moved away, he still kept coming back every other year. He has been with me through every life cycle event and major life change since I met him. He has showed up even when I didn’t expect him to.

Meeting Louis also meant that I was blessed to connect to his beautiful family. His parents were really sweet to me and I grew to love one of his sisters nearly as much as I loved Lou!  And when we were in college, he introduced me to the most amazing women who while I don’t see them enough, I treasure beyond words.
While I still struggle with feeling alone at times and “shielding myself with armor”, it was Louis’ commitment to loving me that opened the door to me becoming the person I am.  I may sometimes feel like “a rock” or “an island”, but it is also the lie I tell myself as way of protecting my spirit.
May we all have at least one person who embraces us for who we are.

Onward with love, light, and blessings,
Chava

PS: Thanks for reading what will likely be part of my memoir which at this point is being called, Thriving: No Option. . . . If you like what you are reading, please take a moment and like it on WordPress or any social media site, And if you have feedback, I’d love to hear it.

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I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
from Mary Oliver, “When Death Comes”

I had a profound response to my earlier life which had been plagued with harsh realities.  Somewhere along the way to growing up, I decided that my life had to amount to something. I had to find a way to impact the world for good. I don’t think this was a conscious decision on my part; I think I simply started tripping over opportunities to do my part and then showed up as best I could. As time progressed, I started not only seeking the opportunities, but creating the opportunities as much as possible.

Denver Lighthouse by Aryeh

Photo Courtesy of Aryeh Grossman

Being a light in a world that is so full of darkness was so important to me. So much so that when I changed my last in my late thirties, I changed it to Gal-Or, which means wave-of-light in Hebrew. The feeling that I wanted to bring sweetness and light to this world has been growing with each passing year. I simply can’t seem to do enough.

Of course, doing enough, being enough, and giving enough has always been my challenge. While I may understand that I do as much as I possibly can, I struggle because I believe I should be doing more. The more I do, the more I want to do. Our world needs me, our world actually needs all of us!

Onward with love, light, and blessings,
Chava

PS: Thanks for reading what will likely be part of my memoir which at this point is being called, Thriving: No Option. . . . If you like what you are reading, please take a moment and like it on WordPress or any social media site, And if you have feedback, I’d love to hear it.

 

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“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space
between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”
― Maya Angelou

Music was a huge blessing to me as I sought reprieve from the nightmares of my childhood. It gave sweet moments to get lost in my own cocoon and to momentarily hide from the explosions that threatened life as I knew it.

drumming with dogI nearly always had music playing; I could never get enough. And because my father was in the record business, he introduced me to all the popular music, hot musicians, and and all the records, cassettes, and eight tracks I could possibly want to hear.

 

Even as I left home in my late teens, my love of music never left me. Once I reached my middle to late 30s, I added drumming and chanting to my sweet repertoire of music. 

This new love affair came at the perfect time. It was during my late 30s that the pain of my childhood came roaring back to me when I was recovering  some long forgotten memories. The new wave of despair could only be quieted when I was chanting or drumming.

The good news is that now that I am just entering my mid-fifties, I have found a new rhythm to navigate my traumatic childhood and I still love music! Music will always be my refuge during the hard times and fuel for healthy living too.

What music inspires you on your darkest days? I am always looking for new musical inspiration.

Onward with love, light, and blessings,
Chava

PS: Thanks for reading what will likely be part of my memoir which at this point is being called, Thriving: No Option. . . . If you like what you are reading, please take a moment and like it on WordPress or any social media site, And if you have feedback, I’d love to hear it.

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Have you ever felt invisible?

  • You know the moment when you have a FABULOUS idea and no one will listen.
  • Or perhaps, when you were waiting for a call from someone who simply chooses to disappear without warning.

For me, I think I was invisible for nearly my entire childhood until I went to Israel for high school when I was 16 years old. And even then, I wonder if I was mostly invisible until I was in my forties. I may never really know.

As a child, I am not sure that I understood how to engage in normal ways. I had no idea how to interact as others did. My guess is that I learned to fake it because I was an actress. In truth though, I was invisible. No one really knew me or much less saw me. If they did, they would have had to look inside themselves in order to understand why they stood by and did little or in most cases nothing for a thoroughly battered young girl.

I grew up in what many refer to as idyllic neighborhood outside Baltimore. Yet I will never understand how the neighbors growing up on Pikeswood Drive, my extended family that lived within 3 miles, and my school community could have closed their eyes to the child that stood in front of them, next to them, or within their worlds. Perhaps I was a fabulous actress, I doubt it. More than likely, the adults simply did what felt easiest for them. They closed their eyes, their ears, and their hearts; more likely than not they choose to stay disengaged.

With that disengagement, I had to learn how to navigate a world that made no sense. As a young child, I never wondered why folks didn’t show up. I do now, but back then, it was simply my norm. And that norm was so lonely to navigate.

I have a distinct memory of believing that all my screams were silent when I was a little girl. They weren’t. I have one distinct memory of seeing my mother passed out from one of her many drunks and me screaming at the top of my lungs.  There were no words just what I would describe now as a guttural cry. At a ripe young age, I learned that no one could hear my cries and no one really cared. As I got older, I remember creating a silent scream, I would feel my mouth open, my heart race, and my tears roll down my face, but no sound came. My life experience had taught me to hold my pain inside.

To make matters complicated, I was seriously hearing impaired as a young child. If my memory is correct, I didn’t really hear until I was about 5 years old. I am not sure how I communicated or even if anyone understood me before that time. While I remember other sensations, I don’t remember real communication.

And even when I did start to hear, I knew without a doubt that I spoke funny, everyone struggled to understand me, and besides I could barely hear what people were saying anyways. Somehow along the way I was blessed to learn how to read lips. And over time, I learned how to “act” normal. I even learned how convince my schools that I understood what was going on in the classroom, but that was another one of my lies; I was simply acting.

Reading lips opened up the door to real communication. I am not sure when I figured out that I needed to see people’s lips in order to hear them, but wow did my life get a little easier. While I have never read lips fluently, what I do does help me connect with people.

Lock EyesAs I got older, I learned that I could really connect with people by looking at their lips, reading their expressions, and really locking deeply into their eyes.

Eyes speak volumes and when you look deeply into the eyes that you are facing, you remind yourself and the person in front of you how present you are. When you are locking deeply into the eyes of whoever you are facing you are actually saying “Hineini/I am here”! Our conversation is the most important conversation in the world.

While I don’t always lock eyes, it truly is one of the most holy ways to fully engage with another human being. After a childhood of believing I was invisible, being seen and heard and doing the same for others feels INCREDIBLE.

SARK, my spirit mentor and teacher ends many of her letters with:

You are seen, You are known, You are loved.

After years of being invisible, I believe that the only way that I can see people, know people, and love people is by listening to both their spoken and unspoken words.

To this day, I still have brief moments when I feel invisible, the only difference is that all I have to do is reach out to my beautiful tribe of beloveds that are there for me.

Make sure you take time to lock deeply into other’s eyes. I promise you that it will by one of the holiest connections you will experience.

Onward with love, light, and blessings,
Chava

PS: Thanks for reading what will likely be part of my memoir which at this point is being called, Thriving: No Option. . . . If you like what you are reading, please take a moment and like it on WordPress or any social media site, And if you have feedback, I’d love to hear it.

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