One day, when I was about 13, my mother brought me home an odd shaped little silver symbol. As she lay it in my hands, she said “I really don’t know why I am giving this to you other than I saw a man wearing one of these around his neck and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I asked him what it was and he said it was the Jewish symbol for life, called a ‘chai. I knew I had to find one for you, so I looked and looked till I found one, and here it is.”
I don’t think I had ever heard the word Jewish in our Christian household before this day.
I took this symbol into my hand. It was already special in its unfamiliarity, the fact that it looked like a horseshoe, and that my mom felt a spiritual connection with it. Though I never wore jewelry, I strung it onto a leather string and wore it around my neck, proudly, to life and a new phase of connection with my mother.
That fall, I was visiting a friend who lived on nearby Whidbey Island, in Washington State. She lived with her husband on a cabin built on tall stilts, because when the rains came a lake formed around their home. That weekend was filled with some of my first mystical experiences, brought on by witnessing the chanting and drumming of traditional Native American songs from local Northwest tribes.
Sometime during that weekend the chai came undone. Since I had been all over acres and acres of wild land over the past few days, I had no idea where it could be and felt it lost forever. I went back during the rains and witnessed the waters rising. The image of the stilts getting shorter as the lake deepened really stuck with me. What happens to the berries, the bushes, the footpaths, when the water rises? How can gifts be given with such love and caring vanish? The truth of impermanence was just beginning to show itself.
Later, in the spring, the water slowly drained out of the lake. Salal, salmonberries and huckleberries appeared and became woven into the rich underbrush that the Northwest is famous for. As the mud dried up, familiar outlines of lost or forgotten footpaths and deer trails reappeared.
Suddenly, as I was retracing the steps of a deer on its own small path, I saw a strange shape caught in the dry earth-that of a leather thong. My heart raced as I bent to examine it, knowing it couldn’t be so, but as I pulled the dry leather out of the hard ground, sure enough, there was the silver chai, dark with the fertile patina of my mother earth and of the deep love and vision behind my mother’s gift.
In my wild excitement and utter amazement, I held the small silver piece and for the first time in my young life felt a visceral understanding of the cycles of life, growth, change, decay, death, and renewal. I felt and believed that the power of my mothers love and the intention with which she gave me this gift had allowed it fall off me like a leaf, to be pushed underground by the force of the water and the upheaval of mud, and then, be pushed back towards the light.
Now, 21 years after her death, thanks to this module, I can feel her love again, feel the meaning behind her gifts and hopes to and for me, and see how that love has lasted through many cycles of darkness and of light. Once again, I can say, with joy, with thanks and with love brightened by you all, TO LIFE!!!,
Written for the Jewish Mysticism Module