In the recent Torah portion Tazria, we were given rules regarding mothers isolating from the community immediately after childbirth. I was asked, where did these moms go? What would a place look like where they could recharge, refresh, and renew? Where could they retreat to ready themselves to return to everyday life? Then I was asked, where would I go to do the same? What and who would I take with me?
(Thank you, Reb Mark, for starting me on this brilliant inquiry. And thank you Mark P. for that lyric.) I started contemplating such an environment and found the exercise itself restorative. I ask you to play along and start to picture a place for yourself. Make it awe inspiring. We are told that God has made us Betzelem Elohim, in God’s image. We have been given the power to create. God has outsourced human procreation to us. But we are also given imagination, and as I thought on these questions, I began the creation my retreat place.
What would my place look like? First, I thought no violence and no guns, no thunder cracking or hurricanes blowing, no loud automobiles, maybe no autos at all. But I then I realized that I don’t want to design my place in the negative. I want to create a world for myself that does not start as a reaction to what I do not like. I want to invent a place based in future possibility, not the past. So, I started over.
It would indeed be peaceful there. As I walk around, I hear sounds in the background, like a movie score. There is music, mostly broadway tunes, and some soft Beatles, summer breezes through the trees, and waves. It doesn’t have to be an island (although it might as well be), but I hear waves. There is an occasional soft rain, giving me the soothing sound of the rain hitting the roof, and an opportunity to be singin’ in the rain. My iPod (no phones allowed) would have every song I like, even if I haven’t heard it yet, for when I want to listen to more than background music. It will be mostly sunny for Debbie (my wife, who would of course be with me), but not too hot for me. The air would be springtime fresh, clear, and easy to inhale. Green grass and colorful flowers would be plentiful pollen nonexistent. Tangerine trees and marmalade skies would pop up occasionally.
I don’t have to bring anything. Everything I want is there. A huge movie screen on which I could watch classic old movies, especially westerns. I have become a John Wayne fan. His politics used to get in the way of watching his movies. Now I let my righteousness subside and just enjoy John Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. I would also be able to watch rom-coms and inspirational movies there. You know: “I’m also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her,” and “Hey dad, you wanna have a catch?” Because those movies let my heart take flight. And there will be no one at this place who finds it strange that westerns make me cheer, and romantic comedies make make cry and inspirational movies have me do both. Freely expressing my joy, in cheers and tears, will indeed refresh and recharge me.
I will have books. Lots of books. Mostly escapist fiction, but I also have a whole list of books I did not get to in my studies. My recovery would include some of that light reading. Maybe I will find my meaning with Viktor Frankl or learn more about Christianity from Amy-Jill Levine. During my mother’s last years, she was so surrounded by piles of books that it was hard to see her from across the room. I now know that she found it liberating to find so many places to go in her books, without leaving her chair.
You already know my wife would be with me, but who else? I think I would bring famous couples (because I can). Maybe Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, or Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka. They are couples that fascinate me, and although famous, they seem to be (and since this is my creation, they will have to be) real down to earth people. And since there are no limits to my creativity, Anthony and Cleopatra, Bogart and Bacall, or Wesley and Buttercup (not Cary Elwes and Robin Wright, the actors who play them, but really Wesley and Buttercup) would join us.
Creating this place, why have I written about it and asked you to join me? I think with age we stop creating magic and fantasy in our lives. We stop using that magic to refresh ourselves, to recreate ourselves, and to give ourselves the space to renew our commitments to the future. We stop elevating our hearts and lifting our souls. Many of us have a daily mindfulness practice, where we try to get present. Some of us have daily prayer practices. I suggest a daily retreat as well. It will get us present to our creativity, and restore a little magic in our lives. We can create a different place to go each time. If we really like our creation, we can revisit it. Either way, we can go there to restore ourselves. It’s a magical place, with no violence, no guns, no thunder cracking, or hurricanes blowing, no loud automobiles, maybe no autos at all. Maybe Iowa, although I could have sworn it was heaven.
CARL VINIAR has been a lawyer, mediator, teacher, professor, seminar leader, trainer, service leader, pastoral counselor, son, father, sibling and friend. Now he is now an author, having completed A Guide To Premarital Counseling For Clergy Working With People Remarrying or Marrying Later In Life, which has been posted here on Jewish Sacred Aging.
He can be reached for inquiries about this manual and other related topics at RebCarl2022@gmail.com.