There are days in our life that can be remembered with one word. For me, say “69 Mets” (OK, two words) and I’m transported to Linden Street in my home town, literally dancing down the street after hearing the last out recorded in the 1969 World Series, clutching my little transistor radio in my hand knowing that my beloved “Miracle Mets” had just pulled off the biggest reversal of fortunes in the history of baseball. More tragically, say “Lennon” and I’m transported back to that terrible morning when we all awoke to learn that the “smart Beatle” had been shot down senselessly. The best of times and the worst of times are often punctuated with a singular memory, a lone word that brings back all the images and thoughts and feelings.
For me, “Hamantaschen” has become one of those words. In October of 2010 we lost a beloved man, my father in law, Tom. I met him for the first time when I picked up my wife-to-be for our first date. I knew I was getting into something special; he treated me like another son (he already had two) from the beginning. He worked hard, helped anyone who needed a hand, took his faith and his family to his heart and never let go. He lived with us for several years when his health began to decline, and when he died we all grieved deeply.
Hamantaschen are the sweet, triangular cookies traditionally eaten during the Jewish holiday of Purim. I’m not Jewish, but when I learned about Purim I wished I was! What a joyous holiday and what a story. Esther and Mordecai, King Ahasuerus, Haman, who ends up on the gallows, and the Jewish people are delivered from annihilation. Purim sounds like a blast, and I hope someday I’m able to partake in the festivities.
When my father in law died we were overcome by the outpouring of love from the community. The viewing was held in the church of his home parish on the morning of his funeral Mass. Hundreds of people came out to honor this man who died in his early ‘90s. Middle aged men cried remembering their old Little League baseball coach. Elderly parishioners recalled how many times Tom had shown up to help them, never claiming any special credit for his charitable nature. Tears and celebration flowed all morning.
And then my good friend and fellow meditator, Judy, walked up the center aisle of the church with a box in her hands and a smile of comfort on her face. “Here,” she said, “these are for you and your family.” Hugs all around, and I opened the box and found Hamantaschen! “You need something sweet in a time like this” she said. And as quickly as she came up the aisle she was gone.
My wife and our family savored those cookies. To this day all I have to say to her is “Hamantaschen” and we both break into a smile that says it all: dad has died and we miss him and we mourn him; but life is good and is filled with loving and comforting. When I think of Judy and of Hamantaschen I am transported back to a sad time of celebration, indelibly recorded in my heart and soul.
You probably have words like these too. Savor them; learn from them; allow yourself to be transported back to another time and place. Some words will bring up great pain, unrelieved by any joy or love or satisfaction. Sit with those feelings, learn from them, make sense of them, and allow that word to be just a word once again. Some words will bring up great joy; savor the feeling, sit with it and allow that joy to become a deeper part of who you are. And some words will bring up a mixture of joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness. Words like Hamantaschen will do that to you, allowing you to own and embrace your memories, no matter how they make you feel.
This is our practice. In mindfulness we are aware, awake, accepting. All feelings can be learned, lived with, and let go if need be. Sometimes all it takes is a word, mindfully recalled, to begin the practice once again. For me, Hamantaschen is a great start to a period of meditation.