Zen and Jewish Women
Rest assured my love for all things suede and most things leather prohibit me becoming vegan. My even greater affinity for clean shaven arm pits (women only) keep me a safe distance from communal meditation. Nonetheless, because the whole point of this blog is to consider concepts, views and topics we might not come across and might make us uncomfortable, I want to share an idea I’ve recently read about Zen practices. Not venturing too far from my roots, all the authors I am reading are short, round, Jewish women who no doubt answer to the name “Bubbe” as much as they answer to the moniker “Nasturtium of the Glen” or whatever and probably turn out a great noodle kugle. Anyway, there are some parts of Zen practice that are useful when repositioning our lives. Sylvia Boorstein (told ya so) writes “mindfulness, to me, means seeing profoundly, seeing what is beyond my immediate impression of what’s happening to a level of discriminating awareness that leads to skillful response”. Sylvia Boorstein is clearly way more evolved than me. Here is my version of mindfulness that I call: Doing The Sandy Simon.
Old rotary dial telephone on plain background
MRS SIMON MAKES A CALL
Mrs. Simon was practically diaphanous: her translucent skin contrasted against her red hair and she flowed instead of walked. Even her house seemed to float, set as it was on a hillside, its front wall a sheet of glass exposing all to the street below. Her son Jon and my younger brother were buds and she would periodically call our house to speak with my mom to make plans for the boys. It is crucial, here, to remember – or to learn- that when I was eleven years old, there were no portable phones or answering machines and phones had two pieces to them, a bulky body with a dial embedded in it and a receiver connected by a curly, thick plastic cord. Back then, to not get to the phone on time meant that that call, that potential contact with another person, was gone forever. Thus, upon hearing the phone ring, it was imperative that I scamper through the house, careen around corners, trip down stairs, do whatever it took to corral the receiver to my ear and choke out “hello” before the ringing stopped and the dial tone returned. Since caller ID had yet to be invented, I never knew when I would grab the receiver who would be on the other end. Sometimes, in not quite a whisper and not quite breathless, the voice on the line would say “Sheryl, hello. This is Mrs Simon” and I would be stopped dead in my tracks, the sprint to the phone forgotten and any chaos swirling in my head dissipated. With an audible exhale of my own I would reply “Hello, Mrs. Simon. Let me call my mother to the phone”.
Sandy Simon died in 1983. I learned of her death from an article in the Los Angeles Times two years later in 1985. A film had been made of the last few years of her life as she died of leukemia. She had used those years to foster the nascent hospice movement in Los Angeles. In reflecting on her death in the LAT article her husband, Jack Simon, said “She set the example”.
Thirty years after her death and at least five decades since I have heard her voice Sandy Simon sets an example for me. Call it deliberateness, call it composure, call it Doing The Sandy Simon. Whatever. When I am careening through my days recklessly grabbing for something to steady me, I remember the feeling I had when I heard her voice on the phone, manifested by the briefest cessation, during which I examine my impulses before acting on them. It is inserting a beat -a pause- between a feeling and an action. It can be the difference between acting on a negative impulse and letting it go.
Acting on it makes me feel bad. Letting it go makes me feel good. That’s worth waiting a beat.
Had Sandy Simon called in 1971 or later I may not have made any effort to get to the phone knowing my new Casio answering machine would record her soothing voice on its tiny reel-to-reel tape. Had she called in 1986 I would not have had to make the mad dash to the phone since I would have had my nifty new portable phone with me wherever I moved in the house. Today, she probably would just text and I would have never known or reaped the benefit of the feathery voice of Sandy Simon.
You can read about Sandy Simon here: