THE NOT SO EASY FAST

Through Yom Kippur, so many things ran through my head….like the years my ex and I spent in a falling-off-the-right-side-of-the-cliff-Pentecostal church and doing three-day fasts for frivolous reasons, and how easy those fasts were compared to the one-day fasts Jews have as commemorations throughout the year. But that’s just one of the things that ran through themindofann from Tuesday at dusk until last night. 

The 25-hour Yom Kippur fast is about getting ourselves back in tune with our Source, our Creator, He/She who loved us before we was born and wants us to thrive, be prosperous and healthy. It’s to set aside all vanity and concentrate of nothing else.

It’s a time for asking forgiveness, for sins known and unknown…for offenses whether intentional or unintentional, and for all those things we do every day that we don’t even think about — gossiping, gluttony, lust (not just for a person, but for possessions), envy…..all the things that get in the way of the one relationship that keeps us centered. And from finding our purpose on this planet.

But that’s true of all of us, regardless of religion. We get so wrapped up in seeing how much money we can make, or the flip side, trying to survive. If we’re pleasing our boss. Or how much we can shove down at a buffet — or just wanting to eat a normal meal at a buffet and feeling robbed for paying for everyone else’s gluttony. Growing up in the Hyman family, the things that could send us to hell far outnumbered the things that could keep us out of that dreaded fate: roller skating,  playing cards, reading the newspaper before church on Sunday, smoking, drinking…..and that was just the beginning. As you probably already know, that was the Phyllis side of the family. The Bill side of the family took me roller skating, didn’t go to church because he got more out of watching TV preachers than walking up the steps to be greeted with “Good to see you, Brother Hyman” by a man who refused to speak to him if he saw dad walking down the street in his postal uniform. Oh, he also smoked — Camel unfiltered, played cards with me and drank Mogen David when mom and I went to Baptist Camp. Yes, she was usually my cabin counselor. When the “roll is called up yonder,” it will be interesting to see who made the cut. I think there may be some surprises. I’ve often laughed at my thought of Mom being offered a glass of wine at the Pearly Gates.

(I know. My religious path is confusing. Try to keep up.)

This year, more than any other, my ears perked up when we got to the point where we are admonished  in both the Torah and New Testament to, as a civilization, be mindful of those with less than we have. We are directed to clothe the homeless. Bring the hungry into our homes and feed them. We are to care for the infirm (unhealthy).

Then, my mind wandered to the people I’ve known through the years who were true givers: When I was working on the Child Protection Team at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, there was a beautiful lady named Nancy Gary. Her husband owned Gary Oil. She didn’t need to work, but her heart went out to abused and mistreated children and she dedicated her life to helping them. There was a day when she was making calls to friends about an award she was about to receive, who would be at the dinner (making donations), and whether to wear the sapphires or emeralds. But it wasn’t the jewelry or names of people that mattered — it was how much she could raise for her charity.

I look at Lori (Adams) and Kenneth Wohl, who graduated from University of Central Oklahoma with Abbi. Kenneth sits on the Edmond Chamber of Commerce. Lori is involved in a charity that gives clothes to kids before they start school, and so many other philanthropic endeavors. These two, and their baby boy, Tripp, will change their world. For the better.  If they’re not already 1%’ers, they will be.  And they’ll deserve it. But that won’t ever stop them from giving back to their community. It’s who they are in their hearts.

But it seems to me that it’s people in the middle or upper-middle class that usually do the giving. Abbi and I used to adopt families for Christmas. Without help from her dad, there were a lot of times things were pretty rough, but it never stopped her from loading up toys to give to Salvation Army kids. In thinking about it, you don’t see Christmas trees at Nieman Marcus with little ornaments attached for someone to make another’s wishes come true — they’re at Walmart, Target or maybe Macy’s.

I look at Other Options in Oklahoma City — it’s a non-profit to help the families of Aids/HIV victims. The people I know who support their cause are average people with average jobs — restaurant managers, office workers, a screen printer. They’re always having fundraisers that net between $2500 – $5000 — and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Mary put up a post thanking someone for a $10,000+ contribution. Those who work hard for a living understand what it’s like to not always have what you want/need, and seem to find a way to help regardless of where they are.

This year’s political picture has been sad.

 Cut back on teachers. Tell them to take 20% pay cuts if they want a job. Cut Firemen. Policemen. Who cares if there are homeless or unemployed? Or that in many places, a child can’t go to school without an address? Tell them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get themselves a job. So what if a person with cancer or an adult who hurt himself as a gymnast when he was ten can’t get insurance? So what if 95-year olds are getting thrown out of their homes. They should have planned better when they were young. Company closed down and their pensions left with their jobs? Someone else’s problem.

When did we, as a country, lose our humanity? Become a nation of Scrooges? I miss the old US. That’s us and US.

Granted, I’m older than dirt, but that shouldn’t matter.  When I was growing up, if someone needed a barn or home built, the whole town showed up. The men did the building and the women kept them fed. If a husband died, the community or  company the man worked for took care of the widow and children. Jews kept Christian friends’ businesses open over their holidays and the Christians reciprocated. If parents died, there was no question that a family member would take in the children. Teachers were respected. We had the best educational system in the world, and were proud of it. We looked up to those who are there for us when we are beyond helping ourselves — the firemen and policemen. Our military was the strongest presence on the globe. Until Vietnam, our servicemen came home and were not only welcomed back into their communities, their previous jobs were waiting for them. They didn’t have to live under bridges. Neighbor helped neighbor. Family helped family. Churches helped congregants. Communities helped communities. Now, it takes a hurricane to get anyone’s attention.

Somehow, we got lost. Teachers should give up their pay so we can give money to Exon and BP (that’s BRITISH Petroleum — the same one that almost wiped out the Gulf with their oil spills. Why are we giving stipends and tax cuts to a company that’s paying us penalties?) Corporations are people. People are moochers.

I was talking to a man and woman from Australia who had one of those rent-a-traveling-trailer things and asked them about costs and how they were enjoying their stay. The conversation took way too long. They talked about how surprised they were at the disrepair of our roads and bridges. At the sludge they saw in rivers. at the number of homeless people they saw. The people were friendly enough, and they liked the attractions, but…..It kept going.

In my mind, I was thinking, “And Congress is more worried about  tax cuts for the wealthy and women’s health issues than they are about jobs creation, fixing our infrastructure, keeping our streets safe………..” When did our Legislative branch stop caring about Every American and start representing the few? What about Peggy, the teacher? Abbi, the small business owner? Ann, the retired person? Mike, the veteran? Am I using examples that are close to home? Sure. Because we all know these people. Who are your teacher, small business owner, retired person, veteran? I’ve worked since I was 14. Have had social security, Medicare, unemployment and payroll taxes withheld from my checks from the very beginning. Now, I’m told the money that the government set aside out of my check is an “entitlement.”

But Yom Kippur ended last night. As a nation, I hope we find our humanity again. Our empathy. Our pride. Our respect for others. I hope people become people and corporations become corporations again. This would be a good year to start the return to what America was.

As far as my fast, it wasn’t so easy. When I tried to stand up yesterday afternoon, I almost passed out. It looks like my days of complete fasting are over. And that’s sad. I broke down and had a protein bar and some water. But what I really, really was thinking about the last three hours of my fast was how much I wanted to brush my teeth, take a shower and wash my hair. And I was watching the clock. At exactly 7:46pm, I would be turning on the water for my shower and letting it get steaming hot as I brushed my gunky teeth. And at exactly 7:46 pm, the sky was filled with thunder and lightening.

After a time set aside for my name to be written in the Book of Life for next year and have it sealed with my name inside — and after consuming a protein bar and drinking water 1.5 hours before the end of my fast, I decided not to press my luck.

So, with Sophie snuggled up on my lap and with freshly brushed teeth, a scrubbed body and squeaky clean hair, it’s now time for me to do laundry, try to figure out what my new Medicare supplement carrier really offers, and make some other phone calls.

Until tomorrow, take some time to think about how you can help someone else…..or at least make their day better. Hand a buck to the guy on the street (unless they’re smoking or have a brown bottle — I believe in helping those in need, but not those on self-destruct – but that’s up to you), speak to someone you don’t know, complement someone just for the heck of it. Not only will you be making your world a better place, it will make you feel good, too.

Stay safe out there.