Prayed to and for Mama last night. That’s nothing new. I’ve been doing that for over 15 years now. But last night the yahrzeit joined us. It made me think of the traditions Mama taught me. She was not religious but always considered herself a Jewish woman. Other members of the tribe understand this notion easily.
It was decided that when I was born because I was a mix of so many different cultures (among other reasons), I wouldn’t be raised in any particular religion. I would be exposed to both Catholicism and Judaism and my ultimate spiritual path would be yet another thing i was left to figure out for myself.
When I bought my yahrzeit candle for Mama from the supermarket, the cashier in his chit chat said, “You know, someone came in here before and bought 36 of these!” My knee jerk response was to say, “Wow…that’s a lot of dead people.” He looked back at me, puzzled, and said, “I guess you light these on a particular day?” I forget sometimes that I’m not in Queens anymore. I explained briefly that it is for Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. Candles are lit for loved ones who have passed. I felt Mama’s spirit strong in me as I spoke to this young man. It reminded me of how she explained the holidays to me years ago. He smiled and said, “Enjoy your holiday!” I didn’t correct him by telling him that Yom Kippur isn’t seen as a joyous holiday but rather a somber day of attonement. Instead I smiled back and said, “Thank you.” Not simply because my supermarket theology lesson had come to its natural end but because I have always enjoyed having a day set aside for reflection.
Yom Kippur is a day for our human self to be as close to our spiritual self as a mortal can be by letting go of what our earthbound bodies require like food and water. Sin is also what makes us human. It is a day to recognize the sins we’ve committed, reconcile them with our souls and ask God for forgiveness.
In years past, it is the reconciliation of my sins to my own soul that gave me the most trouble because unlike God, I lacked a clear definition of what true forgiveness is. It rendered me unable to forgive myself for the wrongs I have done and because of this, I couldn’t imagine anyone, including God Himself, being able to forgive me either. Age, experience and hard work have helped me greatly in this regard.
Being able to do anything for 40 years is significant. At 47, it is only now that I am grasping a true understanding of what Time does to us during our human experience and why we mark milestones.
Today is the 40th anniversary of my father’s death. I am grateful to the strangers who posted the photo online of his tombstone in Arizona. When they posted this picture, the only one I have of “him,” I found out the exact date he died. I remember clearly being told the news by his mother. I remember clearly being 7 years old. I remember clearly being in Mrs. Rosenberg’s 2nd grade class, sharing the news with her and seeing the pity in her eyes. But without the kindness of these strangers, I wouldn’t have been able to mark his exit on this date for the last few years. It is as important for me to honor this date as I continue my earthly existence, hopefully for many more years, as it is for my father’s soul, wherever it may be.
In the last 40 years while my father’s body lay under his tombstone, I lived a life he helped to create. And when I say that, I do not simply mean in the biological sense. Even though I don’t have memories of looking into his eyes, hearing his voice or holding his hand, there are few things as significant in how I viewed myself and the importance of my life than his abandoning me as a baby then dying when I was a child. His deliberate absence to kiss the boo boos he inflicted upon me taught me a lot. Much of those things were wrong but he wasn’t there to correct me. I was a child who learned to fend for myself emotionally at an all-too-young age.
As I got older, my pain hardened into anger then fermented into rage. Directed at my father. Directed at myself. Rage and self-hatred do not make a solid foundation for a life. They are fodder for bad choices. And despite my pragmatic nature, I did make bad choices. Some on an epic scale the consequences of which I am still dealing with.
Thankfully rage can’t fuel an everlasting flame. As decades passed, I worked on making the corrections that my father wasn’t around to guide me through. No words of wisdom. Only his ghost that I made certain still haunted me and some degree of mental illness.
It was when I became a mother that things really changed. I mean, as a parent your entire life shifts. Here I mean my relationship with myself in turn my “relationship” with my father really changed. As my baby girl and I went thru life together, achieving milestones, making mistakes, maintaining mundane everyday lives, I thought about all the things my father missed out on. As I accumulated tools in my mental health toolbox to combat my chronic depression first motivated by motherhood then carrying on for me, my heart started to break for my father. As adept he was as building and creating, his mental health toolbox was empty…and that lead to his early demise after a short life of rage, violence and self-hate.
The scars are still here 40 years later. They’ll still be here in 10 more years for the next milestone of my father’s passing. They make me who I am…and 40 years later, I kinda like who I am. But to a huge extent the rage, hate and resentment that I had so long, so strong, have been replaced with love and compassion for the man who made me but never really knew.
Last year, the REALTOR organization that I have the honor of being president of, hosted its annual charity fundraiser in support of a grassroots organization helping Veterans transition into civilian life and combat PTSD through comedy and the arts. I talked about my father during my introduction of the group’s founder. I think it fitting to share here too as I commemorate the milestone of 40 years without-now-with my father…
“…Tonight I want to share a little bit about…why Project 9 Line’s mission struck such a deep chord with me.
My father, Peter Frank Dajnowski, Jr.,enlisted in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War. He dreamed of one day being a pilot. While he never realized that dream, he was proud to don the uniform and serve our Nation, especially during a time of conflict.
His life ended with a bullet in 1977 at age 31. It has been a long-standing controversy as to who put it there…but it has always been clear that HOW it got there was through a series of bad choices and sick thinking. That day, the war was finally over for my father.
My father had mental issues and was gone from my life from the time I was an infant. All I have ever had were stories to bring him to life for me. I was told that from the time he was little, he loved to create things with his hands. He was funny. He made everyone laugh — often without trying — with his quick wit and biting sarcasm. Makes me wish I had a chance to laugh at his jokes.
Fast forward to about a year ago when I met Patrick Donohue at an Islip Chamber of Commerce meeting when he told me about an organization he started. He told me that Project 9 Line works with Veterans, many of whom are combatting PTSD, helping them transition into civilian life through the arts, comedy and a variety of other ways that he will tell you more about in a moment.
I couldn’t help but think of my father. Maybe if there was an organization like this back then, maybe his internal war might have ended differently. Maybe. But it’s too late to rewind that tape.
It is my current hope that we can do through programs like the ones that Project 9 Line offers, that instead of a soldier’s daughter living off secondhand memories, she gets the opportunity to create her own firsthand…filled with laughter. That would be priceless.
So Daddy…I am grateful for the life you gave me and I hope that I am making you proud with how I am choosing to live it. I hope that wherever you are, you finally found peace. And thank you for your service. It might not have showed much at the time but IT MATTERED. Your life mattered.”
I fancy myself a writer and therefore an observer of the human condition. It’s my nature to wonder why and explore the options, often painstakingly, in my head then let those thoughts spill from my mind to written word. One of the most puzzling parts of the human experience is how we can speak so freely when expressing discontent yet remain silent on the flip side.
It is said that we are all driven by one of two forces: Love and Fear. Is the comfort of Fear — lashing out wildly to strike the first blow or to encase one’s heart in cement so it won’t get hurt — that much more appealing than the vulnerability of Love?
It must be. And that is life’s tragedy. So often we wait until the end is near, or even passed us by, to allow light to escape thru a crack in the wall around our truest selves. How often have I seen a friend kneel before a coffin and offer forgiveness for the long lost person who lay inside of it? How often have I seen a friend clutch the hand of another and say with a lump in their throat…I wish I told you…or I thought you knew…. How often have I been that person on my knees or the one with tears cascading down my cheeks?
It is on days like this that the reminder that time runs out faster than you realize sucker punches us in the gut. So many stories of lovingly desperate last words said before their lives were stolen.
Then as I was watching the relentless Hurricane Irma coverage yesterday and Hurricane Harvey the weeks before, I noticed something. The mighty and study oaks fell hard when tested by the stress of the storms that blew in and created their own destruction in addition to the storms as they came down. The tireless work of clearing their destruction will carry on long after the storm is gone. While in silent contrast, the delicate and graceful palm trees swayed and bent when they were tested by a historically fierce storm. They came out not quite the same way they went in…but they survived and they did not make the damage from the uncontrollable tempest worse. They will continue to live and grow during the recovery. And the irony of life’s full circle, the palm trees of the World Financial Center were almost all that stood 16 years ago today in their graceful defiance of the chaotic horror surrounding them.
Getting older and (hopefully) wiser as I continue my keen writerly observations, I work toward operating from a place of Love more and a place of Fear less and less. It’s hard being human so I think I will try to be more like a palm tree. Being vulnerable makes you strong.
Like an old gold-panning prospector, you must resign yourself to digging up a lot of sand from which you will later patiently wash out a few minute particles of gold ore. ~~ dorothy bryant
We’ve all seen the images of the Gold Rush prospectors heading into the uncharted territory of the American West based upon the rumors that “There’s GOLD in them thar hills!” It was hard, back-breaking labor but the prospectors thought it would be life-changing if they could discover these valuable, shiny bits.
As I am now a middle-aged woman –goodness that’s painful to say — I find the plunders of the Gold Rush prospectors to be a lot like life. Mine anyway.
Since striking out in my own at 19 into the unknown territory of adulthood based on the rumors of a better life, I’ve spent a great deal of time on and off of therapists’ couches. Each time I dipped my hile-punched tin pan into the muddy waters of my mind in the hopes of finding golden nuggets. I always did. At times there was so much muck that they were nearly impossible to see. If only relying on my eyes, I would have stopped searching. There was no shiny objects to see there. But like the Gold Rush prospectors, in my gut told me it was worth it to keep digging. It was.
Now the mud is still there. In abundance. The gold is too. In less quantity for sure…but isn’t that what makes it infinitely more valuable?
Dig deep in your soul. Don’t give up. You are sure to create your own personal Gold Rush.
I believe that true identity is found…in creative activity springing from within. It is found, paradoxically, when one loses oneself.
~~ anne morrow lindbergh
When I immerse myself in words, there are times I feel as if I am drowning. As I put pen to the page, the flood gates are opened. All the thoughts I’ve kept inside all day so I can wear the face and walk the walk my roles in the civilized world dictate wash over me.
But when I am alone in my quiet place and allow myself to float downstream on the waves of recollection of events, I feel the swell of the waves of emotion. At times it’s overwhelming…but it is always a thrill.
My words become a surfboard. Sometimes I keep my balance and ride the waves. Sometimes I wipe out. Sometimes I dig the wipeout more than riding in the barrel. It makes me feel alive. It makes me feel closer to me. It makes me better equiped to deal with real life’s dry land.
Find your creative outlet. Build your surfboard. Get lost in the tidal wave so you can find yourself.
Mama used to love to go to the movies. She used to take me on the Q13 bus to the Quartet 4 on Northern Boulevard when I was very young to see all the Disney pictures. I thought they were first run. Little did I know a lot of them like Snow White were new when Mama was my age. When I got older we walked to the RKO Keith. That’s where we saw all the orignal Star Wars films. We kept our movie-going tradition into my adulthood. We saw epic films like Schinder’s List and Good Fellas together. So many wonderful memories of Mama and the movies. But my fondest ones were from decades before I was born.
My best Mama movie memories were those when she told me of the all-day experience it used to be when she was a child. Her eyes lit up when she would explain that you’d get the cartoons, B-pictures, serials, news reels then the main feature. Mama used to collect bottles and newspapers to turn them in to recycle to get the nickel to buy a ticket to the movies. It was her escape from the Great Depression bleak tenament life. In the dark of the theater, it was a completely different world.
One weekend when Mama escaped to the movies, the world found her. An announcement was made that our Naval base in Pearl Harbor was attacked. American sailors were dead. It was further announced that all servicemen who were present on leave needed to report back immediately. The movies went on as usual but it didn’t provide the same escape. It was darker in the theater that day.
The radio is what gave Mama hope in the days the followed. I had such a hard time as a kid wrapping my head around the notion that the radio was the main source of daily news and entertainment instead of TV. Decades later, as Mama told me about how FDR’s fireside chats used to give her ease and confidence that everything will be all right, her voice softened and her body became more relaxed.
Her weekly adventures to the movies once again became means of escape but they also took on a higher purpose. The news reels became the windows to the war. With every clip, Mama’s pride in America grew and wanted to do all she could to help the Allied Forces in the war effort. The news reels showed her what to do. And whole on the streets of Brooklyn after emerging from the theater, no matter where anyone came from before, they were all Americans united to claim victory and behaved as such.
Today, Mama is gone. Only five Pearl Harbor survivors will assemble at the Pearl Harbor Memorial 75 years to the day later. They were truly The Greatest Generation. Children of The Great Depression who had nothing but their pride in being American and gave more than all they had, domestically like my Mama and in battle in tje form of valiant soldier who were often no more than teenagers barely out of high school. They sacrificed not to protect materials things but for the intangible idea of FREEDOM. God…I hope that in reflection of the Day of Infamy, we don’t let that passion die out once the last survivor passes away.
While time is infinite, each of is mortal. During our finite time on earth, we each want to make our mark.
Mercifully, humans are built to push the thought of our impending mortality to the back of our minds in order to allow us to experience the joy of the present. However, we humans also tend to swaddle ourselves in the blanket of complacency. When the alarm sounds to take the actions needed to achieve goals, we all too often hit the snooze bar and roll over for just a little more time in the comfort zone.
But just like when we hit that button once too many times in the morning we are left scrambling, sacrificing and putting off until tomorrow what we couldn’t accomplish today.
Inevitably, though, someday tomorrow will not arrive.
And then the question becomes…What are you comfortable leaving undone when you depart this place for the next?
Today…rip off that blanket, pick up that guitar and learn to make your music with it…reconnect with that old friend and tell her how much you miss talking to her…take one of those ideas bouncing around your brain and write that f*ckin novel already!
Here for a limted time only…YOU! Make it a big deal.
WOW…what a week it’s been so far! We made history in multiple ways. We will continue to do so in the days to come.
As Americans, we have the freedom to express our opinions and engage in discussion when we have a different point of view.
Where else but in America could I, a woman of Hispanic and Jewish discent, pour my thoughts out onto this blog then broadcast them to any number of the millions of others out there in cyberspace? My greatgrandmother Lily was denied the opportunity to read or write when she grew up in Europe. It was useless to educate a female…let alone a Jewish girl. Oh my…how far our bloodline has flowed with her arduous journey to America!
With all the current passionate disagreement, the one thing we can agree upon is that it is our US Armed Forces that protect that and all other freedoms for all Americans.
Today, please exercise your freedom of speech and thank a Veteran for his or her service.
God bless every soldier, sailor, marine and airman. GOD BLESS AMERICA!