Shehechiyanu Again, Which Is the Point



The cows are back in the pasture, the pond is warm enough to swim, laundry goes out on the clothesline rather than in the dryer, I wake to birdsong and light already in the sky, the back deck is a private enclave enclosed by leafy trees, the woods are full of blossoms, there are pots of flowers on the porch and the screen door is up in the kitchen.  All the pleasures of the new season to be enjoyed again.

I’ve written about Shehechiyanu before, the Jewish blessing giving thanks for being alive to complete another year’s cycle, coming around again to a festival or holiday or favored event — the first outdoor swim of the season, the peonies first open blossom, the cows crowding the corner of the field across the street on their first day out.

I thought I’d posted the poem I wrote many years ago imagining the blessing for the cows. If I did post this before, the WordPress search function doesn’t think so.  Here it is.


The cows are back
in the pasture, random
black and white a foreign
light in the field of green

tipped with a sheen
of moisture from rain
that fell last night
steadying the grass

in its surge of growth
sufficient to allow
the cows’ return
to fresh fodder.

Does a cow bless,
once again, far fences
after winter’s pen,
silage and hay,

open air a tickle
in a fold of her teats
just past where her tail
could reach?


My Sister’s Chi

Me, Chris, Meg, Jeanne

Today Chris would have celebrated her 65th birthday. Instead, those of us who love her are remembering her and honoring her, as sad as we are.

But she’s also still here.  Chris was a committed practitioner of Qigong — postures, movement and breathing to bring life force in to your being for health and vitality. The name comes from two Chinese words: qi (or ch’i or chi) means the life force or energy that flows through all of us and everything, and gong means skill cultivated through practice.

Chris thought a lot about chi, about the life force, about how we’re all connected.  When she died, her chi didn’t disappear because her energy wasn’t bound by her body.  It flowed in to the life force that’s everywhere.  I used some of that chi today.

Sam did a 20k trail run two weekends ago — that’s over 18 miles, up and down mountains, on scrambly trails, not an easy run.  When he called, excited by how well he’d done, he told me how he uses chi when he runs — his own version of chi running.  When he’s in the flow and feeling good, he stores chi to use later if some part of him starts to hurt or if he’s lagging.  If someone passes him, moving smooth and fast and clearly in a good zone, Sam thinks, “Well that person has some chi to spare.  I’ll take a bit of that.”  Then he uses stored chi or borrowed chi to send to an aching knee or tired legs.

I loved the idea and thought of it today, just under 8 miles in to what I hoped would be at least a 10 mile run.  My knee hasn’t completely healed from whatever made it so cranky during the NYC half-marathon in March, and though I have another half-marathon to run in a little over a week, I haven’t been running much, wanting to give my knee time to rest.

The rest has been working.  Last week I was able to run over 7 miles without knee pain, the first time I’ve run more than 3 or 4 miles in many weeks.  I wanted to add 3 miles to that today, thinking that would mean only adding another 3 next weekend to do the half-marathon.

Heading into that 8th mile my legs were tired and my knee was cranking up.  And then I thought about it being Chris’s birthday and the energy she left behind, so much life force still to be used, and I concentrated on pulling her chi into me.  I felt a tingling rush of warmth through my body and Chris was right there, hovering over me as I ran another 2 miles — 10.2 miles, exactly what I’d hoped to do.

I’ve been texting with my sisters Meg and Jeanne today, touching base on this sad and happy day (the 6th birthday of one of Jeanne’s grandsons), and when I told them about my run my sister Meg reminded me it’s everyone’s chi.  Universal energy.  “We are all one,” as it says on Chris’s memorial bench.

The Editors of The New Yorker Don’t Get It


At this point, not having heard from the editors at The New Yorker, I assume they aren’t going to print the letter I sent in response to an article published in the April 11 issue. The Voyeur’s Motel by Gay Talese is a disturbing piece about Talese’s long association with Gerald Foos, a man who bought and retrofitted a motel decades ago so he could watch his customers having sex. Apparently the article is an excerpt from an entire book Talese has written on this subject.

Knowing how difficult it is to have a letter published in The Mail section of The New Yorker, I listed all my professional affiliations, hoping my credibility in the movement to end violence against women might help get my letter attention.  But I seem to have remained unplucked from the slush pile.

Very disappointing, not because it means I won’t appear in The New Yorker, but because it means the editors there don’t get it.  They published an article that reinforces rape culture at a time when there is finally starting to be some serious public attention paid to how male privilege and assumption of entitlement to sexual gratification leads to sexual assault, and what can be done to prevent that.  The piece highlights, without challenging, how Foos and Talese participated in sexual exploitation from positions of privilege.  Foos had the money to buy and modify a hotel to be able to satisfy his sexual needs.  Talese wielded privilege from his position as an established journalist to justify participating in Foos criminal behavior and not intervene.

So I’m going the self-publishing route.  Here is my letter — you actually don’t need to read the Talese piece.  It’s meritless.

Who Is the Voyeur?

While Gay Talese has no trouble finding fault with Gerald Foos for his lack of self-awareness and easy justifications for decades of voyeurism, he appears blind to the ways in which he is very like Mr. Foos (“The Voyeur’s Motel,” April 11). Talese does, at one point, ask, “Where was I in all this?” He goes on to give possible answers but never settles on one and continues, “Still, whenever an envelope from Foos arrived, I opened it.” It’s apparent he opened the letters because he’s a voyeur also. He has hidden his voyeurism behind a successful career as a journalist, but he still climbed the ladder with Foos and watched a couple engage in oral sex from the attic of the Manor House Motel.

Perhaps Talese feels he has a stronger moral compass than Foos because the murder Foos witnessed and helped initiate bothers him more than it does Foos. But what about the rapes and sexual exploitation, undoubtedly perpetrated against people with less privilege than financially secure white men? Foos also reported these to Talese over the years, yet Talese gives them only a passing glance.   Where is the concern about those crimes and Foos doing nothing to stop or prevent them? Where is his correspondence with Foos imploring him to act?

Mr. Talese must not know about the growing body of evidence that bystander intervention to stop or prevent sexual crimes can be an effective deterrent. Voyeurism was a crime in Colorado under the Unlawful Sexual Contact statute when Talese received the first letter from Foos. Talese had countless opportunities to intervene with Foss from the very beginning, without creating any conflict arising from confidentiality agreements or journalistic considerations, however self-serving they may have been. He had a critical responsibility to intervene that deepened with every new revelation from Foos.

Claiming a journalistic interest in Foos’ “research” does not change the criminality of both men’s behavior. Talese could more usefully employ his journalism skills reporting on ways to prevent sexual crimes, including those Foos perpetrated and witnessed. Talese may argue that his interest had nothing to do with his own titillation from Foos’ reports of sex and sex crimes. But Talese can’t deny his role as a bystander nor avoid the evidence that he finds satisfaction in observing and judging others, just like Foos.

Grace Mattern
32 West Street
Northwood, NH 03261
Advisory Council, National Sexual Violence Resource Center
Research to Practice Specialist, Prevention Innovations Research Center, University of New Hampshire
Former Executive Director, New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

The Fucking Firsts

Art by Adrienne
Art by Adrienne

My mother is still alive, a great blessing, though no easy thing for her.  Even healthy, being 91 takes a lot of courage — all the losses, the disobedient body that keeps getting older, the inevitable contraction of life as energy and mobility shrink.

But this is the first Mother’s Day without a mother for a number of people I love.  My kids and I called each approaching milestone in the year after losing Eric “another fucking first.”  Father’s Day, my birthday, our anniversary, the High Holidays, his birthday, Passover and then the first year was done, we were on to the sucky seconds.

The firsts are tough.  There’s all the navigation of the hole the missing person has left, “the space we leave behind” as my sister Chris said.  She asked us all to try not to miss her, to let life keep coming in to our hearts and not be worried about our love for her being pushed aside.  Because there’s room for all of it.

But there isn’t another mother for her sons, or for the baby who lost her mother just over a week ago, or for lots and lots of people I care about who’ve lost their mothers, many of them much younger than any of us think is fair.

Chris and Eric both believed fairness has nothing to do with it.  Shit happens, destructive cells get a foothold and go wild and bring down a healthy body, we lose people we love.

To all the people I love having a fucking first today, I’m sorry.  The first year can be so hard.  But you’ll get to the seconds and then the thirds and incredibly the tenth one day. And beyond, but today I’m thinking about the firsts and tenths. Ten still hurts but a whole lot less.