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poetry
Selma
"Selma" – 11/14/20
 
There are some names that sound like heroines, inherently,
To a small child (even before she's had the history lessons):
Miriam, Esther, Joan of Arc, Harriet, Eleanor
Women whose archetypes a young girl learns are
What she should, in some way strive for
 
Osmosis is a real thing and from my youngest rememberings
"Selma, Selma, Selma..." - the sounds from my mother's lips
Every time that phone rang and her friend and mentor in all
Things that perceivably, mattered; the woman who, seeing a need
Filled it with laughter, hospitality, compassion
 
Somewhere along the way in our early years this woman of
Regal stature, class and confidence took it upon herself to "adopt"
2 girls as her granddaughters; it was a mitzvah as natural-seeming
As summer weather but looking back I can't imagine anyone
Better to set an example of balance, empathy, humor, tzedukah
 
My mom had a lot of friends, most of whom I met here or there
In passing or at synagogue but Selma was family seemingly
Instantly suddenly the most sophisticated thing to which I aspired
Was to be invited to Selma's for a play-date. She treated us like
Children, yes – in the sense that her warmth, curiosity and
 
Openness was unconditional as any ideal grandparent would be
But she also respected us as individuals: asking questions,
Listening thoughtfully, rarely advising versus assuring us we were
On the right path already whether or not you were her blood-relative
If you were adopted by Selma you were extended mishpuchah
 
Where the only boundary was the expectation to be happy
She wanted you to feel joyful and the moment you rang the doorbell
You anticipated her high-cheekboned smile coming to the door
Her voice warm with pleasure and approval and the spoiling began
Her blessings were abundant but not nearly as memorable

As her willingness to share them and share she did
Many hours of the week my impression of Grandma Selma
Crystallized overhearing my mother on the phone and their
Shared values that came to manifest in Selma always doing
Her best to lead by example, by generosity, via intelligence
 
And strength but her greatest strength as far as I could see
Whether on-site as her fortunate guest or from a closer distance
Was her heart with every word she spoke her beautiful, empathetic
Heart sang praises and rejected pettiness and chose to look for
The good in everyone even when others might rush to judge

What made her a heroine to a child was the same thing that made
Her one to adults and as far as I could see in our community
Selma was a word synonymous with soulful beauty. A curator
Of love I also would see her magnetism to all the children in temple
As I'd return, year after year, and our visits become more seldom


But even at a break-the-fast or the rare marking of a special
Birthday it occurred to me on more than one occasion that
Selma was my heroine of dao: to live in a way that treats others
Well is to live in a way that shows how to uplift is to pray
And so as I learn of your immediate family's loss today and turn
 
Inevitably to my youth's impression of your prowess - as a
Mother, a wife, a grandmother, a friend, a leader, a cheerleader -
I realize that you were the first mature woman I met from whom
I felt, viscerally, that I could do no wrong. You had that gift: of
Righteousness through acceptance, of seeing and relishing
 
Human kindness not as as something to which to aspire
But as a daily practice through which to acquire all the necessary
Skills to live in "rachmanus", a smile ear-to-ear unmatched
A table of beautiful rituals generously laid out for all those you loved
To come, to eat, to listen, to share, to borrow your clothes and
 
To never need to give them back because while you admired
Beautiful things you preferred beautiful thoughts and
They flowed effortlessly from you and will continue, always,
To hang like ivy around your family, suspended, beshert