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  • Writer's pictureMarilyn Saltzman

Learning to Surf

“You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” ― Jon Kabat-Zinn

 

I have never tried surfing. My feeble attempt at paddle boarding in Mexico resulted in rescue by my daughter. Yet I am working hard, through my Mussar practice, to stay afloat as the turbulent waves of life come my way.

 

The most recent test came in the form of a bone infection in Irv’s right foot, leading to an amputation of his second toe. As many of you know, Irv lost his left foot to blood clotting 38 years ago. At that time, the right foot was severely compromised, and yet saved.

 

Now comes the long process of Irv's recovering and relearning to walk with one four-toed foot and a prosthetic. As I write this, he is in a rehabilitation facility with daily occupational and physical therapy.

 

One part of my test during this challenging time is to practice the middah (soul trait) of equanimity by living in the present and not getting caught up in the what ifs of the unknowable future. Alan Morinis, in Everyday Holiness, notes that the Mussar teachers stress the importance of fostering a “calm soul.” He defines it as “an inner balance that coexists with a world and an experience that accepts turbulence and even turmoil, because that’s just the way life is.”

 

That’s just the way life is – ups and downs, good times and difficult ones. While Irv and I have had many challenges, the ups overshadow the downs. Even at this hard time, we find ways to celebrate together through love and laughter. Over the weekend, Heidi and the grandkids visited Irv in rehab for several hours. We played Uno and I Doubt It, and shared potato chips and cherry turnovers. It helped me pass the equanimity test, at least for those few hours.

 

Another part of my test involves the middah of faith, which we are studying at Beth Evergreen this month. Faith is one of the more difficult traits for me as I struggle with what/whom I believe in. Is there a higher power? Can I put trust in something bigger than myself? What is faith anyway?

 

I found this quote by Anne LaMott that resonated: “I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me – that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, emptiness and discomfort and letting it be there until some light returns.”

 

I certainly notice the discomfort and emptiness. My house and bed feel vacant. I woke up from a dream thinking I was clutching Irv’s shoulder and found I had a death grip on the edge of the bed. I struggle with the discomfort of the unknowns in our current situation as I ponder when and how Irv will arrive back home. What temporary and permanent adjustments will we have to make? How will he manage the steps? So many questions and unknowns. I am working on sitting with the mess, waiting for the light to return, seeking the faith that it will.

 

These tests of equanimity and faith while navigating the turbulent waters are some of the most difficult I’ve ever taken. I am not passing all of the exams on the first try, and that’s OK. I trust that I’ll get many more opportunities to ace it.


 

“Live life, one wave at a time.” ― Andrew Pacholyk, Barefoot ~ A Surfer's View of the Universe

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