Last month I had the pleasure of speaking at the Catholic Information Center in Grand Rapids. Nu? What’s a girl like me doing speaking at the CIC?
A lovely man by the name of Dan Pierson found me through the wonders of the internet. We got to talking. I visited his website ecatechist.com and learned some things I never knew and should have.
He read and reviewed my book This Jewish Life, Stories of Discovery, Connection and Joy on ecatechist. We kicked around ideas for a presentation and decided that my talk Eight Teachings for Pursuing Your Dream, in which I share the lessons I learned when publishing my first book, would be a good topic for a program he knew of at the Catholic Information Center.
Dan calls himself a catalyst. As he told me in Grand Rapids when we met last month, “I get great ideas for programs, put the right people together and find the finance folks who make it happen.”
Dan catalysted (totally made up word) with Irene Strom, the CIC’s Director of Programming. Irene invited me to speak at the Center’s Great Women, Great Wisdom program.
It was a great night. Irene had arranged for there to be sweets and treats before my talk. The room where we gathered was lovely: blooming pots of pale blue forget-me-nots were set off by pretty tableware in similar shades of blues and greens. Right before I went up to speak, Dan whispered with a smile, “You better make me look good, girl, OK?”
“I’ll make us both look good,” I replied.
The audience at the CIC was a great mix of men and women, some young folks and some older ones. There was a sister—Sr. Sue Tracy—who, every time I looked her way was nodding and smiling. The audience was utterly rapt. They got my humor, and commiserated with me over the trials and tribulations of getting my book to print. Their questions were wonderful.
“Where did you find your interviewees?” someone asked. I explained that I began with friends. I also sought out interesting stories in the Jewish periodicals I subscribe to often cold-calling those I read about to see if they would be interested in sharing their story.
Another person in the audience asked why I used the Hebrew word “Shoah” when referring to the Holocaust. I explained that the latter word was drawn from the Greek meaning to offer a burnt sacrifice. Shoah means great calamity or catastrophe. Six million Jews and four million others — disabled, homosexual, others deemed undesirable — were murdered, not sacrificed in any sense of the word. Thus, my use of the word Shoah.
Irene had asked me to share an activity, and so we created little booklets that participants could keep on hand to write down their own dreams and thoughts. I brought decorative papers for the booklet covers; Irene had the instructions and supplies all ready.
I make it a point to read a story from the book before questions. This time, Irene asked if I would read an extra story as folks were finishing up their booklets. She wanted me to read the last story in the book which is titled “She is Pure.” This story recounts the Jewish ritual of tahara, the process of washing and preparing the deceased for burial.
I’m always happy to share the stories in This Jewish Life; each is like an old friend with whom I enjoy visiting. As I began reading the story this time, however, I did so having just lost my mother in March.
Each sentence I read about how the deceased’s body was treated lovingly, softly, how it was washed and wrapped in pure white linen, brought home that this ritual had been done for my mother as well, and so recently. There was a moment during my reading when my voice broke and I had regroup. I didn’t mind; all in the room had welcomed me so warmly.
Tahara is a beautiful and meaningful ritual. I was happy to share this story. Had Irene not asked me to read She is Pure that night, I might never have considered, in just this way, my mother’s last moments as a Jewish woman here on earth.
I’m grateful to Irene and her staff and to catalyst extraordinaire Dan Pierson for making the evening possible. May you pursue your dreams and may they all come to be.