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The Blessing of Accepting My Place in the Scheme of Things

I don’t have a favorite color or a favorite flower or a favorite sports team. So it may surprise you that I have a favorite blessing.

I have developed the practice of sitting at my kitchen table for a few minutes every morning repeating some of the traditional Jewish morning blessings. My favorite is “yotzer”-- the blessing for going to the bathroom. Judaism cherishes and celebrates the miracles of everyday life. “Blessed are you for creating our bodies with wisdom: tubes and more tubes, ducts and more ducts. It’s known before your glorious throne that if even one is blocked, or one is open (that should be closed), it would be impossible to stand before you. (And yet) you heal all flesh and perform miracles.”

When I take my pills in the morning with a gulp of water I visualize the pill traveling down the tubes of my digestive system (esophagus, stomach, intestines) and then by osmosis into the tubes of veins and arteries. I am grateful all the way down to my gut. But I have to reckon every day with the second half of the blessing: the gift of this miraculously complex body is for a limited time only. The blessing (as Rabbi Amy Eilberg has pointed out) is also a preparation for accepting that inevitability. It’s like going to a restaurant. You eat this good food and enjoy this good conversation. But eventually the table will be cleared and the next guest will come. From an evolutionary standpoint, death makes sense, allowing room for variety, change, growth.

There are two nuggets of comfort tucked into the blessing that help me shift from fear or resentment of death to focus on the miracle, the process of life. One is that little phrase “before your glorious throne.” I visualize myself sitting on my throne, my humble kitchen chair, and looming above is the Universe, the throne of the Creator. Yet I too am a world. I have a place where I dwell. I belong.

Then comes the last line: “Blessed are you, who heals all flesh and creates miracles.”

All those tubes and ducts are made of cells. From infancy or before until now, the cells of my body have been constantly dying and being replaced and renewed. Loss and hope, decay and healing, have been built into the system from Day 1.

On his most recent visit, my three-year-old grandson introduced me to a game called Puppy Pile-Up. This game consists of my sitting on the couch, with his three stuffed puppies beside me, and calling out, “Where’s Puppy # 4? We miss him.”

Then Puppy #4, my grandson, comes barreling in, leaps onto the couch, knocking me flat, and I pile the three puppies on top of him, and we call out “Puppy Pile Up!” – and in a few minutes, after a great hug, we do it all again == 12 times.


Oh the profound blessing of feeling my hug meter fill up to overflowing – and then having the rest of the week to rest up!.


This morning, I had no plans—one of the often unrecognized blessings of the pandemic – so I sat at the kitchen table and counted my blessings while eating breakfast. First of course was being alive, and quite healthy for a 76-year-old. Second was that healthy breakfast I was eating. Third was the six pills I take (count ‘em) to maintain that health. Of course my husband, for whom I am thankful multiple times in the day, and my son and daughter, who, despite any worries I might have had on the way, have grown up to be wonderful (and interesting) people. A blessing to have wonderful friends, who keep me walking and in touch every day. The remarkable changing spring weather we walk through (the knees that still bend, the hips that still swing and the blossoms bursting around us). The vaccine which has lifted the cloud of fear that marked too many days this past year. And of course the financial cushion that allows us to have breakfast, a roof over our head. And gives me a chance to write. And the ability to care about and do something about the problems of people short on blessings. To give to the food pantry, the environmental organizations, Common Cause and other defenders of democracy. Call it a blessing pile-up.

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ONE MARCH DAY

Early one March, as I jogged through the morning sunshine, I looked around and found myself making up a song: “The sky is blue, the grass is growing; sky full of feathers, again it’s snowing. Some things that happen naturally can be miracles too.”

The immediate cause of my exultation: having just met the man I’m still married to, 39 years later.

Today’s surprise was realizing that at that moment, the credo of my life changed. I stopped debating whether I believed in God and started seeing and being thankful for the miracles all around me. The special shapes of leaves. The beauty of bare branches. My legs and lungs propelling me up the hill.

That moment was the result of a years-long process. For many years I had a difficult relationship with my father. He was really a remarkable man. Despite having grown up in a desperately poor family (the kind that moved when the rent was due) ruled by an abusive, alcoholic and delusional father, he had managed to create his own successful business, loving family, and strong marriage. But he carried the scars of that childhood. He was highly critical, with a fierce temper that exploded without warning. I blamed him for my lack of confidence and for my own fierce temper. The few times I tried to repair the relationship, the blowback from my father’s anger was so intense I backed away.

After years of off and on therapy, I finally decided that I would have to build a life for myself, just as my father had built his. I pictured myself facing a weed-pocked paved-over back yard. I could plant a garden there but first I would have to take a jack-hammer to that concrete. As I jogged, I yelled out the anger I had stored up at all the crushing incidents. And in my imagination, I let him answer, something that never would have happened in real life. The anger dissipated.Then as I jogged, I started visualizing the cultivation and planting of my own little plot of land. I was part of a New Age Jewish group led by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. He advised me to find something to thank God for every day. As I jogged, I found dozens, hundreds of things to be thankful for every day. I realized that just as I had learned my fractiousness from my father, I had also learned from him my capacity for joy. He used to sing, “the sun is a-shining to welcome the day.” Now I sing it too.

It wasn’t an accident that I finally fell in love at age 38. I was finally ready.


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I'm Judy Petsonk. I’m the author of Taking Judaism Personally: Creating a Meaningful Spiritual Life, and the co-author, with Jim Remsen, of The Intermarriage Handbook: A Guide for Jews and Christians. In my new novel, JUSTICE: MACCABEES AND PHARISEES, I tell you how the fierce rivalry between Alexander Janneus, King of Judea, and Shimon ben Shetakh, the leader of the Pharisees, led to the transformation of Judaism from the animal sacrifice of the Second Temple to the rabbis of today. But I tell the story from the alternating points of view of Shimon's ex-wife and of Shimon's best friend.

In the sequel, QUEEN OF THE JEWS, I introduce you to a real queen — dead, unfortunately — who ruled the independent nation of Judea in the century before Jesus was born. She was a contemporary of three Cleopatras, though not the one you’re thinking of. Though you may never have heard of her, she has had an enormous influence on your life and Western civilization in general. Her chaotic, colorful times may remind you a lot of our own. Like Queen Salome Alexandra (Shalom-Zion), the heroine of the novel, I am the mother of two young adults, I’ve been married for over 30 years, and I’m ‘a woman of a certain age.’ But my husband and children are truly lovable and bear no resemblance to the family of Shalom-Zion.

judypetsonk@gmail.com

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