Category Archives: spirituality

Reflections at Weissensee Cemetary – Berlin, Germany

Reflections at Weissensee Cemetery-Berlin, Germany

© hannah kozak

Stunning architecture at Weissensee Cemetary.

Weißensee Cemetery – I seek out Jewish cemeteries when I travel or cemeteries in general as I find them quieting, peaceful and meditative. Between my love of World War II history and because of my Jewish ancestry I knew I had to spend time at Weissensee Cemetary. I made my way to the Friedrichstraße main station and caught Train S7 in the direction of Ahrensfelde Bhf and got off on the first stop at S Hackescher Market in the direction of Falkenberg. From there, it was 10 stops to Albertinenstr. From that tram, I figured out which direction to walk on Herbert-Baum Strasse and came upon the largest Jewish cemetery in all of Europe.

© hannah kozak

The fact that this cemetery survived during the Third Reich is a miracle in itself. Approximately 115,000 graves are set in over one hundred acres. Crunching leaves rustled beneath my feet as I walked through the graveyard filled with a mix of Italian renaissance and Art Nouveau. I viewed sunken gravestones tucked under trees as the rain started and stopped, adding a quiet soundtrack to my much needed solitude. Towards the end of my walk, I sat in a tomb from the 11th century and saw tiny stones and notes, similar to those tucked into the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The entire experience was humbling and offered me time to think and reflect about how temporary our lives are.

© hannah kozak

My first stop was Herbert Baum’s grave. Baum was a Jewish member of the German resistance against National Socialism. He organized meetings, along with his wife, to deal with the threat of Nazism. Baum became the personification of Jewish resistance against the Nazis in Germany. Just like my father, Baum was forced into slave labor. He was at Siemens-Schuckertwerke, which today is Siemens AG. He was at the helm of a group of Jewish laborers at the plant who went into the Berlin underground, to escape being deported to the concentration camps. He organized an arson attack on May 18, 1942. This anticommunist and anti-Semitic propaganda exhibition was prepared by Joseph Goebbels at the Berliner Lustgarten. Because the attack was not a full success, meaning Baum only partially destroyed “The Soviet Paradise” exhibit, he was arrested, along with his wife and other members of his group. Baum was tortured to death as was his wife Marianne.

© hannah kozak

Herbert Baum’s grave

I continued wandering and paused at the outstanding beauty including stunning craftsmanship of wrought iron, mosaics and stone. The early tablets erected before World War I are Silesian Marble or Saxon Sandstone and younger ones were made of Scandinavian dark hard rock or even artificial stone in the 40’s. I was pleased simply to have found German-Jewish painter and printmaker Max Liebermann’s grave.

 © hannah kozak

The Department of History of Architecture and Urban Design of the Berlin Institute of Technology, the Berlin State Office for the Preservation of Historic Monuments and the Centrum Judaicum cooperated on a comprehensive project from 2010 to 2012 to document the entirety of the 134 burial fields. I’ve read that there are aims to make this cemetery a UNESCO World Heritage site. Because it suffered almost no damage during The Third Reich, it forms one of the most important and best-preserved Jewish monuments in Germany.

© hannah kozak

Perhaps because all of my father’s family (mother, father, three sisters, two brothers) were killed at Auschwitz and one brother died in Treblinka during the uprising, and because my family from Poland have no graves at all, I find these graves remarkably beautiful. I see tiny stones resting atop gravestones where people have visited someone from their past and I find beauty in that dignity.

© hannah kozak

Being at the Weissensee Cemetary offered me a quiet place to take a long walk, a journey into the past. Even if one doesn’t have family there it is a special sacred place to walk, wander, remember and wonder.

 © hannah kozak

The photos I’ve made remind me to enjoy the present while I still have my inhale and exhale and to breath in deeply and profoundly as we enter into the Age of Aquarius. We have such a short amount of time here. I hope that these images will remind every one of us to stay present to what’s in front of us, to embrace our changing consciousness in humanity, and remember that we are all going to the same place where death is the great equalizer.

© hannah kozak

© hannah kozak

Reflections at Weissensee Cemetary-Berlin, Germany


Gurmukh: The light comes from within

Gurmukh:The Light Comes from Within”

Given the spiritual name Gurmukh by Yogi Bhajan, master of Kundalini Yoga, her name means “one who helps thousands of people across the world ocean” and that she is exactly what she has done. Her name also translates to “face the guru” in Punjabi – which represents the practice of following the ways of the Guru instead of following your animal instincts and the basic desires of the mind. She understands what Yogi Bhajan used to teach us: that we have made deep promises between our soul and our self. Gurmukh is indeed carving her place into the memory of this planet earth and serve this promise. Her life’s teaching, is part of her destiny. She speaks from the voice of her soul, not the fractured, doubting personality that sabotages the intuitive mind.

From her daily sadhana, or spiritual practice, she radiates light as she is forgiving and compassionate. So many people live in the land of duality: making someone wrong so they can be right. Rather she lives in the present, in the now, not in the past. Gurmukh doesn’t have a long list of grievances rather she has friends around the globe and she travels to India at least three times a year. In 2015 she will travel to Kumarakim and Kerala, India as well as Rishikesh, India, California, Puerto Morelos, Mexico, New York, Switzerland, Berlin, Germany, UK, Koln, Moscow, Colorado, NY, Sweden, South Africa, Canada and Massachusetts; so she can spread the teachings of Kundalini Yoga.

She understands that the life force, the chi, comes from within. The more you inhale and exhale “I AM”, the more you understand the transparency of duality. Gurmukh has helped to teach students all over the world, including myself, that when you’re in doubt, stress and worry, to call on your breath, call on your soul, which is your best friend and inhale “I AM. The great strength of those born under the sign of Pisces is their compassionate and charitable nature. Gurmukh is a true Pisces: selfless, spiritual and very focused on her inner journey. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “spiritual force is greater than material force.”

She is the co-founder and director of Golden Bridge Yoga, the premiere center for the study and practice of Kundalini Yoga and meditation in Santa Monica, California and also in New York City.

http://www.goldenbridgeyoga.com

Here is a photo I made of Gurmukh at the first Golden Bridge Yoga in Los Angeles. 4 June 2004.

@ hannah kozak

Gurmukh @ Golden Bridge Yoga, June 2004

Here we are outside of Rishikesh, India, where I traveled with her on my first sojourn to India in March, 2006 where I discovered the true meaning of devotion. Four years later, I would begin a photo essay in Jerusalem, Israel inspired by the women in prayer at the Western Wall called Devotion.

http://hannahkozak.com/devotion/

@ hannah kozak

Hannah and Gurmukh – Outside Rishikesh, India

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Gurmukh & Gurushabd on her birthday in Amritsar, India March 2006

Ten years and six months later, on 2 November 2014, at Golden Bridge Yoga in Santa Monica.

@ hannah kozak

Gurmukh @ Golden Bridge Yoga – 4 November 2014

Gurmukh, Gurushabd 20 December 2014

Gurmukh, Gurushabd
20 December 2014

She seems ageless, as her beauty truly comes from within and not from external traits like hair, clothes or make-up. Gurmukh, like the lotus flower, is continually moving towards the light. Like the lotus flower, she has been to the muddy, yucky, dirty bottom of the pond but she has risen to beauty, to life. The lotus flower has become a symbol of awakening to the spiritual reality of life. Once it comes to the surface of the water, the lotus flower begins to blossom and turn into a beautiful flower. This is Gurmukh.

It’s hard not to love someone who has this printed on her business card:

Travel light.
Live light.
Spread the light.
Be the light.

Yogi Bhajan

Gurmukh:The Light Comes from Within”


Kraków, Poland for spiritual renewal

Kraków, Poland for spiritual renewal

Krakow has been called the second Rome for its vast amount of churches – places of worship, prayer and spiritual elevation. People in Poland would go to Krakow during hard times for spiritual renewal, consolation and strength. That is why I am here as well. First I saw where my father lived in Bedzin as a child and viewed the station where he would have boarded the train that took him to the first of eight Nazi forced labor camps where he “lived” and spent the next day viewing the grounds at Auschwitz. I am exhausted on many levels; emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically yet I feel the hidden, almost intangible but present spirituality in the air here.

© hannah kozak

Wandering through Krakow late one night

Transformative trips tend to be psychologically and physically challenging and push me way out of my comfort zone. I’m immersed in an authentic experience in a dramatically different environment with people of a different culture. This is life; allowing encounters. I find solitude healing and purifying. Every exposure I make is a discovery of my subjects and myself.

© hannah kozak

The Jewish Quarter

The town of Kazimierz near Krakow was founded in 1335 by Kazimierz the Great. It became a leading centre of Jewish culture. I love the narrow streets, the low buildings. I feel as if I’m bearing witness to centuries of peaceful co-existence of two nations, Jewish and Poles. I sense a sacredness simply viewing the coherent architecture all around. I also love the sound of the Polish language and accent.

© hannah kozak

Church of St. Francis of Assisi, Kraków, Poland

I choose to stay in Kazimierez because it was an active centre of Judaic culture and learning. Tens of thousands of Jewish people from the late middle ages until the Holocaust, called it home. There was a specific interest in welcoming Jews with an environment where they weren’t a minority but instead settlers. I think of it almost like Ellis Island. Visiting the synagogues, the Jewish cemetery and bookstore feels comfortable and familiar and Krakow is filled with cafes, bars, restaurants and dogs.

© hannah kozak

dog in Kraków – Who is your mom?

The Nazis annihilated this Jewish, unique world but many of the monuments are being restored. The Jewish renewal in Poland is everywhere with cutting edge projects being done at The Galicia Jewish Museum.

© hannah kozak

Paulina Lichwicka – 4th year Graphic Design student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków.

I can close my eyes and feel the magic of when poets and writers in Krakow were treated like movie stars. There was a great artistic freedom that prevailed in Krakow. I feel the landscape of Jewish history being revealed here.

© hannah kozak

Doorway in Kraków

© hannah kozak

Doorway in Kraków

The main square in Krakow is Rynek Glowny but what I resonated with was the stalls at Plac Nowy in Kazimierz where there is a daily market from 5:30 am to early afternoon. I found it to be the spiritual center of Krakow sub-culture. There is not a great splendor like the Old Town and in fact, you’ll see chipped green market stalls and pigeons flapping about. What I love is the history. Plac Nowy began as far back as 1808 and for 200 years served as a market place with its central landmark, the Okraglak (rotunda) which was added in 1900. The locals line up outside the dozens of hole-in-the-wall fast food hatches that operate from the rotunda. This is where you can find the best zapiekanka – a halved baguette topped with mushrooms and cheese, vegetables and meat, in all of Poland.

I visited the Old Synagogue built in the 15th century, the oldest in all of Poland where I saw a bimah, an elevated platform with an iron balustrade used for readings from the Torah. The Nazis destroyed the interior of the synagogue, turning into a storage room and executed thirty Polish hostages in 1943. Restoration began in the 1950’s and it is now a museum of Jewish history, culture and tradition. I’ve read that the synagogues in Kazimierez were all used as storehouses, and not burnt down like the rest in Poland.

© hannah kozak

Bimah in Old Synagogue, Kraków, Poland

 © hannah kozak

Old Synagogue, Kraków

© hannah kozak

Baroque Money Box @ Synagogue

The Remu’h Synagogue is dedicated to the rabbi and philosopher Remu’h, who was reputed to be a miracle worker and is buried just outside the walls of the synagogue. Pious Jews make the pilgrim to visit his grave. Again, under Nazi occupation, both the synagogue and cemetery were destroyed but restored in the 1950’s and 60’s.

© hannah kozak

Interior at Remu’h Synagogue, Kraków, Poland

© hannah kozak

Jewish cemetary at Remu’h.

© hannah kozak

Chassidim paying respects to Remu’h.

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Original Renaissance money box at Remu’h Synagogue, Kraków, Poland

I ate at Ariel, the restaurant Steven Spielberg favored while he filmed Schindler’s List here. The exterior looked like a house from a fairy tale.

© hannah kozak

Ariel Restaurant, Kraków, Poland in Jewish Quarter

© hannah kozak

Ariel Restaurant

© hannah kozak

Dinner At Ariel Restaurant.

To go from the Jewish quarter to Podgorze, which became the Jewish ghetto during the Holocaust, is the Father Bernatek Footbridge. The bridge has become a “love lock” bridge where couples place a padlock on the bridge to show their everlasting love. Maybe the ones that aren’t so sure use the combination locks.

©hannah kozak

Father Bernatek Footbridge in Kraków

© hannah kozak

Boys outside Remu’h Synagogue

© hannah kozak

Children in front of The Old Synagogue, Kraków

 © hannah kozak

The Jewish Quarter

“We can be redeemed only to the extent to which we see ourselves.” – Martin Buber
Martin Buber

Kraków, Poland for spiritual renewal


Old Jaffa and Eilat, Israel

Jaffa, the old city in Tel Aviv was as magical as when I visited thirty-three years ago. The small, narrow streets lead you to unique boutiques, restaurants and cafes but what I love most of all is walking along the ancient cobblestones as I spot cats wandering. Neve Tzedek and Tel Aviv have their own unique flavors but the history of Jaffa as the main entry point to the land of Israel until the late 19th century when Jews were returning to Israel, makes it astonishing for me.

©hannah kozak

Jaffa

©hannah kozak

Old Jaffa

The ability to meet people from around the world is at my fingertips with the power of social media, which although can have a loaded connotation, is actually meant to be friendly, useful and genuine. A photographer followed me on Twitter, and I followed him. I checked out his site and saw his sensitivity, ability to understand light and use shadows to evoke feeling and emotion. Check out his site on RedBubble; an incredibly diverse, creative community on the internet.

http://www.redbubble.com/people/stran9e

I wrote to him that I would be visiting Israel and asked if we could meet. Having only one evening in Tel Aviv before I left for Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city, Vicktor not only met me but helped make my experience filled with memories of Jaffa and a new, kind friend.

©hannah kozak

Old Jaffa

Vicktor drove us to Jaffa, where we walked around the ancient city, looking at the ocean and settling into a local restaurant where we enjoyed a glass of Syrah, ate appetizers of hummus and eggplant with olive oil, while discussing photography and life. I eschew groups even more so when I travel and adore one on ones so it was a perfect evening.

©hannah kozak

Old Jaffa

For my stay in Tel Aviv, I choose the ArtPlus; a brand new, sixty-two room hotel which supports the arts. The overall design mimics the ambience of art galleries and exhibition spaces.  Five famous local artists were commissioned to create the murals that distinguish the décor on each floor and my favorite; a mezuzah, reminding us of our connection to G-d, and protection, on each door.  In the morning, I left early for Eilat before having the delicious breakfast that is found all over Israel; fresh salads and hummus yumminess.

© hannah kozak

Artplus Hotel, Tel Aviv

© hannah kozak

Goikey breakfast at Artplus

I’ve read that the truest beauty can be found in the harshest land, that G-d can be found by keeping your eyes open. As I pulled my luggage along the cobblestone streets in Eilat, feeling the sun and shedding a layer of clothing, a taxi driver slowed down, called out to me in Hebrew, and stopped his cab, to hand me the lock that had fallen off my luggage in the bus station when I arrived. I offered my hand, a smile and todah rabah, thank you very much. I was so tired from schlepping, that I hadn’t noticed the lock missing.

©hannah kozak

Old Jaffa

© hannah kozak

Old Jaffa

© hannah kozak

Entrance to Synagogue

© hannah kozak

Street names in tile

© hannah kozak

Street art in Jaffa

© hannah kozak

Jaffa cat -Who’s your mom?

The warm, balmy air feels good and I hear seagulls calling out to their friends. The breeze of this oasis reminds me I am on the coast of the Red Sea and I am grateful for my breath. I spent the late part of the day on the beach, reading “The Dovekeepers” by Alice Hoffman, a novel a friend had given me two years ago that is set during and after the fall of Jerusalem.  I promised myself I would read this book when I was in Israel and that is precisely what I am doing. The Dovekeepers takes on an added layer when traveling through this holy land. I am free and not in bondage as my father was in Nazi labor camps.  As I look out to the sea, where the calming, transparent waters remind me the animals live by the rhythm of the sun and sea, of the desert, of G-d, of life itself. The earth, and sea and desert will live on forever. I will not. I am blissful from this quiet time in the desert.

Jrr Tolkien_Not All Those


The long & winding road to Masada with Hummus

The Judean desert overlooking the Dead Sea is home to an ancient site in Israel; Masada. Anything on the World Heritage List fascinates me. It’s true. Why am I in Israel? Being in Israel brings me to my family on my mother’s side, the home of the Jewish people, and a country that not only has the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea & The Dead Sea plus pretty mountains and a bonus of yummy falafel and hummus.

Sitting in a bus is relaxing as we drive in the desert since I don’t have to worry about directions. I feel my breath slow down. When we physically don’t move, our minds become still. I don’t need any mantra or teacher or technique. Our minds were given as tools to serve us not to be our master. I recognize my breath in broader terms than simply respiration. As I slow my breath down, I close my eyes remembering the story of Masada.

It’s a great, awesome yet tragic story. Not to be flippant but if nine hundred sixty Jews committed suicide so the Romans wouldn’t force them into slavery, the least I can do is climb the snake path. You can either take the snake path, which is eight hundred thirteen steps, ( I love minutiae) and was the original and only way the ancient inhabitants walked or you can take the cable car to the summit. The 1st century Roman-Jewish historian Joseph Flavius wrote of the snake path “And one of these ways is called the Serpent, as resembling that animal in its narrowness and perpetual windings and he that would walk along it must first go on one leg and then the other; there is also nothing but destruction in case your feet slip, for on each side there is a vastly deep chasm and precipice, sufficient to quell the courage of everybody by the terror it infuses into the mind.”

You’d never see something like this in America without rail guards. Frankly I think it’s completely safe and I doubt anyone is going to fall. I have the fear chromosome. I just refuse to let it run me & my life. Honestly the walk was challenging but it’s worth the pain. I had an injury that I’ve never been quite the same from and whenever I attempt to do things like this, I pay for it dearly. In my head I’m still able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

I go off into a fantasy where I see Jewish people climbing this path and I hear them singing my favorite songs from Hebrew school. Hevenu Shalom Aleichem which means we brought peace onto you. Don’t worry if you don’t get the first verse. Second verse is exactly the same. I always liked mantra because I was trying to quiet my thoughts. I just didn’t know that it had a name back then.

I wish I had shorts on instead of jeans. I start to remove my layers of clothing as I begin the steep climb. It’s just me and my favorite MJ Off The Wall t-shirt all the way to the crown.

I was nearing the top as a group of four was coming down the stairs. A woman, noticing my obvious discomfort says “take some water”  in a tone that is part stern teacher and part loving mother. “I don’t have any” I replied. “Honey, give her some water” she said to her husband in a tone that was not negotiable. For a split second I saw a “why do i want to give up my water to a complete stranger when I still have to climb this entire mountain down the hill” look in his eyes. Without missing a beat, he handed me his Arrowhead water bottle. “Keep the bottle” she said my discomfort so apparent anyone could see. They continued their descent down the mountain.  I leaned my right hand on the mountain as I was shaky, stopped and drank the entire bottle and was thankful for this person reaching out to me. I would have done the same. That is if I had any water.  I love when we see each other.

I reach the summit. I feel the light of god’s presence which swallows my loneliness whole. As the group around me chit chats with each other I am off with my camera recording what I see. The force of holiness is looming in every crevice in this all at once sacred and god forsaken spot.

I have a meeting with G-d. I ask if he can take away my mother’s pain and sorrow from living in a home for the aged for thirty one years. I further make a request to remove my sister’s hurt and anguish because she’s the only one who visited my mother most all those decades. Please G-d grant me acceptance of my mother’s life. I beg him. I have no choice but to feel everything I have been running from.”Sorry but it’s all yours” he says. Mine’s so big he can’t make any arrangements. It’s karma that belongs to me because I choose her to be my mother so I could learn forgiveness. Who was it that said no matter where you go there you are? I flew all the way to Israel and I still can’t get away from me.

Freud defined neurosis as the separation of self. If I’m a child of G-d then the love is inside of me. It has been all along. It’s so simple but we mess it up. Whenever love disappears we become fearful. Fear is to love just as darkness is to light. Anytime your mind goes south, it’s fear that the love is gone. G-d didn’t create fear. We did. If it’s not love, it’s an illusion. Speaking of illusion, next stop is the Dead Sea. It doesn’t seem like it could be real.

The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth. But the translation is not accurate. Yam Ha-Melah, means the Salt Sea. It’s the lowest place on the earth, 33.7 % salt and eighty six times saltier than the ocean. It’s so dense you can’t really swim rather you float. You can see my view from the Israeli side looking across to Jordan.

As I sit silently in the bus as we make our way back to the bus station in Tel Aviv I begin to think of my father and what it took for him to leave Poland after losing his entire family during the Holocaust, seven siblings, his mother, father and both sets of grandparents. No one. He was completely alone. He didn’t speak English, not a dollar in his pocket and he boarded a ship to make his way to America. He had nowhere to go simply because he was a Jew. Out of nowhere I feel the emotion well up inside of me like a wave. I have no family on my father’s side because he is Jewish. That seems insane. I’m in Israel because I feel connected to the people here. There’s an unspoken understanding we have. Even if I feel as if I don’t belong sometimes; which I struggle with less and less; in Israel I am part of a group.

I moved to Israel thirty years ago to deal with my feelings and emotions surrounding my mother. Now I am back in Israel and am thinking of my father and what a survivor he is. In the dictionary there is a photo of my father next to survivor. He worked a nine to five job for thirty years at Hughes Aircraft as an aircraft inspector. On his lunch hour some days he’d sell porn out of the trunk of his Chevy Nova and/or leather jackets he would buy wholesale. Once a week he’d tell his co-workers to cover for him as he would drive to downtown Los Angeles from Culver City, a half hour drive, to buy clothes second hand which we’d sell every weekend at the swap meet. “These pants are too small.”  someone would say trying on clothes. “They’ll stretch” he’d swiftly reply.  “These pants are too big.” from another.” They’ll shrink.” he’d come back just as quickly. He bought real estate on the side; renting out homes in the San Fernando Valley. My father was raising five children so he had to hustle. His motto of stay hungry kept him working non-stop seven days a week. I never saw my father kick back on a couch on Sunday with a Budweiser can in his hand. He makes most men look like bums my father. He taught me to sell just by watching him. My eyes are so filled with tears now that I can’t see the road anymore. I don’t need to see it. I’m not driving. I’m thinking about a friend that I miss so much that I flew to Israel for the holidays so I wouldn’t have to be at home. I have a tendency to run when I start to feel too much.

I’m noticing the beauty that is in front of me and all around me. G-d created the mountains on either side of the road and the sun is beginning to set as the sky turns a brilliant orange and pink. I have a bag filled with bath salts from The Dead Sea that I purchased to give to a friend along with olive oil to bring a friend because she practically lives on it.  Michael Jackson is singing to me from my iPod and in between the tears from thinking about how inspiring my father is; I am humbled with how blessed I am. I am in Israel, I’m thinking to myself. I have my mother’s family here that I love, friends like Hope and her beautiful family are nearby and I have time to be alone when I need to. When I return home I am going to visit my father. I will call him just to say how are you doing Dad. I have my breath. My life is a blessing and a gift. I’m off to search for the perfect hummus and falafel in Tel Aviv when I get off this bus. And a side of forgiveness.Now we’re talking.

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The feet of a Bodhisattva-my mother

I’m going to see my mother I decided as I was speaking to a friend on the phone. This may not seem like a big deal to anyone who visits a mother with regularity. For me, it’s mammoth. For decades, I wasn’t able to go at all. Then I could only go with my sister. Then, for a while, only with my intuitive healer as she held my hand. When I became able to go alone I could do it only with my camera in tow. My camera provided me with an extra wall of protection from my feelings.

“You’re too sensitive” my father would tell me when I was a little girl.  “Hannah, you have to control your feelings, don’t let your feelings control you.” he said later when my mother wound up in intensive care at UCLA hospital. My mother is the longest living resident in a home for the aged. Perhaps it would be easier to accept if she ‘d actually been aged when she entered the hospital-like setting thirty-one years ago. She was forty-one years old then and my family had been trying for five years, between rental homes and hired help, to take care of her after she suffered brain damage at age thirty-six. She had left my father for another man. That man abused her to the point of life in a wheelchair. That man, whose name I still can’t say, was no longer in her life.

When my mother entered the home, we had run out of options. I understood her anger. I’d be pissed too if I ended up crippled but the women taking care of her couldn’t handle her explosions. My mother was a passionate brunette from Guatemala who used to dance the Flamenco. My uncle told me men would throw their wallets at her. Today she is incapacitated to the point of not being able to walk, feed or clothe her self.

I pulled off the freeway and into the familiar lot. I just wanted to see her and tell her I loved her.  A wave of emotion came up inside of me and as I backed my car into a parking spot, I realized I couldn’t go in. My eyes were red, the tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt utterly exhausted from the emotion.  Sometimes my emotions overwhelm me and all I can do is crawl into bed, into the fetal position that I sleep in, my way of saying I want back in the womb.  “Mami, some days just bring the feelings back” my friend said to me on the phone that afternoon. Mami is a term of endearment we say in Guatemala. It seems to have stuck with certain friends.

“But why” I asked as if she could give me an answer. “I thought I was doing so much better.”

Her compassion and understanding were exactly what I needed. “Think of physics. Nothing can ever be at the same place at the same time. A spiral. If you start to go around the spiral, you can be right next to where you were but you will never be in the exact place. Does it ever end up at the same place.” Her words were so soothing as I was melting.

I gathered myself enough to walk into the metal doors. I took a deep inhale before I entered as always. Then I take a deep breath to exhale as I walk down the hallway of familiar linoleum floors that look as if they haven’t been changed in thirty one years. The smell hit me as I was buying a little time with my exhale. A combination of old, sick people, disease, disinfectant, dirty skin, age. I poked my head into my mother’s room. I notice the green curtains long ago faded by the sunlight. Three wheelchairs gathered in a corner of the room. A border of pink & blue flowered wallpaper along the top of the wall. A miniature lone Christmas tree on top of a cabinet from one of her room mates. Never mind that it’s April.  My mother was sleeping while a woman in the next bed kept crying and pleading to no one in particular; “Oh, I didn’t do nothing wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong. I did everything correct. Please G-d help me up. Please G-d ayudame por favor. Please help me up. I have no shoes on. Nurse, nurse” at which point her cry turned into a wail. To keep from crying myself, I had to pretend I couldn’t hear her.

How has my mother managed to sleep with all the voices, noise, lights, blaring TV? I guess after all these years she’s figured out a way to block it all out. I wish I could say the same for me.  I am sensitive to certain voices, the sound of television commercials bother me, my cell phone ringing sometimes startles me and I have to switch it to vibrate, jack hammers make me cover my ears and run for my front door. I know I sound dramatic. I have exaggerated emotional responses to just about anything.  I have a friend who used to say I was dramatic. She’s right. My brain behaves differently than the average bear’s. Part of the damage that remains for me after watching my mother being abused when I was nine until fourteen; when she landed in intensive care after one night when the beatings went too far. I had pestered my father to bring my mother one of the leather jackets he sold. She liked pretty clothes. That night, a fight ensued between my mother and her second husband. We all have secrets from childhood. My secret for decades was I thought it was my fault she wound up in the hospital.

As the nurse came to help the crying woman up, I turned to my mother in her single bed. Her eyes were closed. She was sleeping quietly. Seemingly careless to our world. She seemed serene. She wasn’t suffering. But I was. My mother taught me forgiveness. I have come down a long road to get to where I no longer judge her as a bad mother. She wasn’t a bad mother. She fell in love with someone else after my father. She listened to her heart, not her head. I’m not different from her. Perhaps that’s why I judged her. I was still judging myself.  I’m not anymore. I love whom I love and I don’t care who judges me.

I fire off some photos from my camera. Direct, straight, honest, without pretense pictures. I don’t have a modicum of regret about expressing my feelings through my photos. These photos are meant to take me out of my comfort zone.  When I return home to view the pictures I’ve taken, I experience my mother again and I feel my emotions without fear. I was in denial for so long. My photos force me to accept the reality of her right here and now. I wonder when she suffers. I know she remembers so much. That’s why she speaks in her mother tongue of Spanish; she remembers her past. I miss never truly having her in my life. I have the courage to feel all of the sorrow I ran from all those decades. She’s influenced my life in every way but she doesn’t know that which makes me feel an intensified anguish that seems unbearable at times.

My mother doesn’t need a fancy home or clothes or car to feel good. When I brought her a cheeseburger from Fat Burger and I asked her “le gusta?” “Do you like it? “She answered “me encanta.” “I love it.”  She’s so in the moment it hurts because she mirrors back to me that I’m frequently not. She suffered to teach me to forgive her. It took me forty-seven years to meet the intuitive healer who would help me heal my anger at my mother for leaving.  The healer that I love like the mother I never had, a long lost sister and a friend all wrapped up in one. That’s another story.

I looked at her feet. Her toes are permanently bent down in a way that says decades of not walking. Her feet have not been touched, or rubbed or massaged in probably 41 years. I mean really touched, stroked, cared for. You know the way you rub someone’s feet when you really love them. Part of my sadness is I was not able to visit her let alone rub her feet for too long to admit.

I didn’t need to travel around the world to deepen my spirituality. My greatest teacher was in front of me my entire life. I just couldn’t see it was my mother;a true Bodhisattva. She forgave me for not visiting her all those years and she did that without uttering a word. I forgave her for leaving. For me, forgiveness is when you care about the relationship more than your ego.

One of the nurses banged hard into my mother’s bed while trying to help the woman crying in the next bed. My thoughts were interrupted and my mother was awakened. I just shook my head in silence. She can’t even get in solid sleep, I thoughtI watched her open her eyes. I could see she was tired. She looked in front of her, couldn’t see it was me without her glasses, closed her eyes and fell back into sleep. After 31 years of living in that room, in that place that is her home, in that building, I suppose everything must make her tired.

This is my mother. No wonder sometimes I’m tired too.

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