Did you ever forget the moon? So absorbed in my earthly noise I have been -- my unfinished projects and my issues-- I completely neglected to look 'up'. And there it was-- a little tired, but brave enough to follow me all the way up the East River Promenade tonight, reminding me to breathe-- and by the end of the path, venturing to glow on the stage of my admiration -- streaking across the water as it used to, working its magic and mischief. After all, it's been so faithful and steadfast, this moon-- through its moods and phases-- tolerant while we invent galaxies and downgrade planets-- weathering sun storms and eclipses, asteroids and even human invasion, name-calling and privacy violations-- patient while we blame it for all sorts of things from floods to madness….
Being the Jewish 'Day of Atonement', the city felt just a little subdued. The Pope will arrive tomorrow; I am obsessed with this. No matter how I steel myself, I cry watching the news coverage; we are all so moved by his message of mercy (except Donald Trump, so far-- one meeting I could never envision-- Pride and false power vs. Humility and true spiritual majesty). I thought about my old father-- the one that hates me, that will not forgive me-- the one who observes this day with ritualistic austerity, who asks for forgiveness for his sins, but does not seem to be able to forgive himself, or me. Maybe that is key: I remind him of himself? His shortcomings? His failures? We are so different-- he, the war hero, the emotional stoic-- and me, words and confessions freely flowing through my music and art. I danced, I sang, I asked questions and experimented and felt things out… I was punished and silenced-- as an adult, I was shunned.
My religion is one of forgiveness and compassion-- not many rituals or ceremonies, but a commitment to honesty and to listening-- to apologizing not to a deity but to those I may have hurt. On the run along the river, I passed the old site of my son's pre-school-- some warm memories, and one terrible one. I was trying to resurrect my musical career- went to Nashville for an overnight-- left him, with written explicit instructions, with his father. One night. In the morning I received a call from the pre-school; my son had arrived alone; he'd been unable to 'wake' his visiting Dad, got himself dressed and toddled off to school. He was 3. Anyone with a child knows how dangerous the city can be, and getting from home to school for a toddler is fraught with obstacles. He managed to latch our front door behind him, but had forgotten a coat. It was a rainy November day. He crossed streets and Avenues, walked underneath the 59th St bridge.. on his own, smart as he was, he knew every landmark on the way. He arrived a bit early-- (who tells time at 3?), determined but soaked and freezing. The school contacted me, informed me if I did not appear by the end of the day, they were calling Child Services. I managed to get on the next plane, left my career somewhere behind, and found my son happily playing, wearing the unfamiliar school spare overalls and sweatshirt… his Dad had been sleeping on the floor, he explained... he couldn't wake him… he didn't want to be late, was afraid he'd done something wrong…
How do you forgive a parent whose substance use over-rides his obligation to a child? I couldn't stop inventing scenarios of true horror and thanking our angels for watching over my boy. I'd left my suitcase in Tennessee-- my husband (ex) was gone when we got home. The fridge was filled with cans of Sam Adams; the house smelled of whiskey and puke. There was a stain on the floor. I'm not sure my son even remembers this incident… at a certain point he was unwilling to talk about anything personal; he drew his boundaries in. For me, I don't understand how his father, whom we have not seen for some 20 years, and my own, who is rather absent, do not apologize. I guess they cannot. Difficult for me to forgive my father. Somehow I prayed my husband would make things right, would exorcise his demons and be the man I loved, the father he had once longed to be. But I had gained clarity regarding my primary responsibility and priorities.
For years my son endured some of the hardships of single parenthood-- small deprivations and painful exclusions from things he wanted to do; in the short run it hurt and I apologized, but I knew this was not lasting. To a teenager, these material things are everything. I feel guilty. I used to feel guilty for everything in my house as a girl. If the dogs misbehaved, it was my fault-- I loved them, failed to lock a door or put away a stick of butter; when my Dad was awakened and cranky, it was my fault… my fault that he withdrew into periods of silence, my fault that he yelled at my Mom. My fault that he drank. My son doesn't feel guilty. At least there is that.
Further upriver in the moonlight I passed the hospital where my father once stayed and shunned my visits, and I feel angry. There will be no reconciliation, no prodigal daughter. I have seen too much and I understand now about shame and guilt, and about his failure to atone for these things. But underneath the Atonement Moon tonight, I began to forgive myself for not forgiving my father, and I began to feel lighter.
I thought tonight, as I often do, about the story of Jacob and Esau, about the birthright and how in my own family my mother is no longer able to protect me and offer my hand for the blessing to the emotionally blind father. It is amazing that just one touch, one blessing, was airtight in those days. Now we have lawyers and wills and greedy petty fights among children for their piece of the financial blessing. How did people have this kind of trust in those days-- this kind of faith and belief, the power of a word, even in the face of a swindle-- although it was a fated or maybe God-ordained 'switch'? We don't know too much about Esau's future… but the legacy of Jacob was imperative.
Friday I am going to stand in Central Park for hours to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis. I will listen to him talk about climate change and compassion, and about mercy. I pray that somehow he will make the specter of Donald Trump and these overblown non-apologizers a little smaller. I feel his love-- for children, for all people. Suffer the little children to come to me, and forbid them not. The Hispanic child who handed him the letter today, begging for her father's immigration status-- so brave. And her father-- so proud and so loving of this girl who climbed over the fence to greet this Holy Man in whom she believes. I pray that we will remember his message of love and his example of humility-- of compassion and forgiveness. Forbid them not.
On Saturday Beyonce will take the stage in Central Park and all bets will be off. I can't help thinking Jay-Z planned this juxtaposition, this ironic and slightly hideous synchronicity. We have short memories, some of us. We forget, we forbid. We have a bad night, we recover, we clean up and go on, but some of us fail to recognize what we leave in our wake-- even the one we created without consciousness, without clear brains. Someone will suffer for this twisted legacy, the flip side of a blessing, which all too many of us have had to endure until we learn not just to forgive but to ask forgiveness. To look-- up, down, back and underneath us. To see, to shine.
This wise Atonement Moon changed me tonight; even the light in my apartment seems different. I am trying to let go of impossible wishes and to tend to my own dreams. And when I 'see' that I have made a wrong turn, there is somewhere… even when our parents and lovers and friends fail us… some version of mercy-- within or without, a kind of embrace-- the brilliant broken moonlight streaking across the black river, like the heart of Pope Francis, shining.