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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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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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2/24/21 This morning, biting into a sweet prune, I had a vision of the plum blossoms that bloomed and then withered so this fruit could form. And within this fruit there was a seed that, if planted, could produce a tree exploding with blossoms. And from each blossom, though it would surely wither, could come a fruit and from each fruit a seed….

If this is possible for the plum blossom I think it could be true for me.

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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.

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