Talking Forgiveness


On Sunday, I attended a brunch hosted by my friends Kristen Howerton and Laura Tremaine. We were privileged enough to have Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin of the Parents Circle- Families Forum (PCFF) come tell us their remarkable stories and speak about their efforts toward peace through radical forgiveness. The PCFF is a joint Palestinian Israeli grassroots organization of over 600 families, all of whom have lost a close family member as a result of the prolonged conflict. It promotes reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge.

Robi (her story here) is a bereaved Israeli mother whose son was killed by a Palestinian sniper, and Bassam (his story here) is a grieving Palestinian father whose ten-year-old daughter was killed by Israeli soldiers.

You may not think of me as a shrinking violet, but there are a couple of subjects that shut me right up. Top of the list: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though it affects me deeply and personally– I have family in Israel, including my brother and my nephew– I don’t engage about it publicly very often. I tell myself that when it comes to Palestine and Israel, I am overly emotional and under-qualified, and that whatever I say, I’ll be hurting someone I care about. Until now, I’ve dealt with that by avoiding the subject. I went to the brunch with the hope of changing that, of beginning to reach for my own voice. I challenged myself to learn, to get in the discussion, to be unafraid to make mistakes. I never could keep my big yap shut for very long.

Hearing about the losses of Robi’s son and Bassam’s daughter felt like being kicked in the chest. It was not an easy morning, but it was a hopeful one.

Robi was quick to point out that she doesn’t have an easy definition for forgiveness, or any definition at all, really. I relate to this. I’ve always thought forgiveness is a word that’s bandied about way too easily. I’ve wondered- can forgiveness be manufactured? Can you just decide to forgive someone because you think you should? Or is forgiveness an action? And if so, what action?

Robi fielded the question to us:

What is forgiveness?

“Forgiveness is owning your part,” one person answered. “Forgiveness is giving up your just right to revenge,” said another.

“Forgiving allows you to stop being a victim of that circumstance,” said Robi.

The PCFF uses art exhibitions, film, dialogue meetings, and various other creative and humanitarian projects to discuss the human side of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and why mutual understanding of the “other side” and a reconciliation framework is necessary for any sustainable peace agreement.

I was especially captivated by Bassam and Robi’s emphasis on the importance of storytelling– of narrative– in relationship-building.

“Once you understand how the other sees their story, they become human.” said Robie.

If I’m impassioned about anything, it’s the healing power of narrative, both on individual and larger cultural levels. I left feeling emotionally wrecked, but also mobilized and inspired.

You can sign up for the PCFF newsletter here, to learn more about their ongoing programs. Please do!

Waving Goodbye

helen and me

us n helen

My friend Helen died a few hours ago. Her daughter just called me sobbing as I was headed back into the house from my barre class.

Helen was our next door neighbor at the old house. She was there waving from her porch the day we moved into our beloved little home on tree-lined Mt Royal Drive. She had lived there for nearly sixty years.

Helen was quiet and always accommodating to a fault, but once you got to know her she was wisecracking and fiery. She remembered everyone on birthdays and holidays. The kids on the street called her Grandma Helen. She loved Tariku and never once looked askance at him, even at his most challenging moments.

Helen was ninety-one. For the past few years she’s been in an assisted living facility and I would sometimes go there to hang out and hear her stories. She once showed me a photograph of herself perched on the back of her husband’s motorcycle when they were first married. She raised four kids and then decided to go back to work as a cook in the cafeteria of one of of the local public schools. This was back when they actually cooked fresh, healthy food on the premises. She showed me pictures of huge pressure cookers filled with rice, stainless steel counters lined with trays of golden turkeys. She was so proud of that job.

On the weekends, she and her husband (now long-gone) used to go dancing. She loved to dance.

I often talked to Helen about my worries. She would laugh and say, “You sound just like I did.”

The hardest thing for me wasn’t coming to terms with the fact that Helen was going to die. She was eighty-two when I first met her, so it’s not like it was a surprise. But I was devastated when my witty friend began to fade mentally. It deeply saddened me that she seemed frightened and confused near the end. A few months ago, I went and visited her and we just held hands and cried.

I called the family into the living room this morning and told them the news. Tariku was so uncomfortable. He wouldn’t sit down. He rolled his eyes and fidgeted and said some really weird stuff (about graves and corpses). I suggested some appropriate things we can say to people who are grieving and then I kissed him and let him go out with his Auntie Jo for the day. I did my best not to shame him or correct him too harshly.

He is incredibly uncomfortable around loss, which makes sense, given the history of loss in his short life. He also tends to freak out when I express strong emotion. I think it makes him feel unsafe. This is the first major death in our lives that he’s really old enough to grasp. I’m going to try to give him a lot of space to have his own reaction to this, rather than the one I deem suitable.

My dear friend Claire Bidwell Smith is a writer and grief counselor and we talk often about death. We talk about how we might want to die, which is, of course, more a conversation about how we want to live. We talk about what might happen to us afterward. We talk about how to approach the topic of death with our children. I’m so glad I recently read an advance copy of Claire’s new memoir After This: When Life is Over Where Do We Go (you can pre-order). It gave me a vocabulary for approaching the topic of death with Tariku. It made me realize that I don’t have to have all the answers. Or even any of the answers. I just have to have a sense of what it means to lead a meaningful life.

In school, T learns that when people die, they go to be with Jesus in heaven. It’s not exactly my personal belief, but it doesn’t have to be. I tell him that it might be true, but no one really knows. That the Beatles may have said it best: And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make. Helen gave so much love and compassion– to her family, to her neighbors, to everyone around her. And that’s what remains. That and a really cool black and white photograph of her on a motorcycle wearing a thick ponytail and pedal pushers, her arms wrapped around her husband’s leather jacket, a wide, sweet smile on her face.

I will miss you, Helen. I will always miss that time in my life, when you stood waving hello from your porch and Scott and I first walked through our doorway, our life together still so hopeful and new.

Here is another door. You are walking through it. I am waving goodbye.


A Blow to the Head


I am packing my books, pulling the dusty tomes down from a high shelf, when my dead friend’s poetry chapbook falls and hits me on the head. It is hot pink and stapled at the fold.

How I felt about her art always changed with how I felt about her, and our complicated friendship. It was:

Raw, vulnerable, essential…


Indulgent, sentimental, over-exposed.

Shifting all the time.

She made me angry and delighted. She was the one I called every day, with whom I shared a secret band name even though neither of us had any musical talent whatsoever. The one who got a matching tattoo. The one who was always spilling over at the edges. The one whose laugh was not very ladylike- almost exactly like mine. She made me feel less alone.

Dammit, I think, when I pick up the book. There goes my night. Now I’m gonna cry and hit the chocolate. I don’t have time for this. I’m moving, after all. Deadlines, kid on spring break, busybusybusy.

And then I slide down the wall, sit cross-legged on the carpet, and begin to read. How marvelous. To pause and have a visit with her tonight. When all I could think of was a to-do list.

I will meet you anywhere anytime, Jennifer Grant. I miss you every day, my friend.

I am grateful that the universe saw fit to drop her poetry on my head tonight.

Shadow and Light

I’m at a friend’s cottage in Joshua Tree right now. I got here while it was already dark, so I’m looking forward to waking up tomorrow to the pink and grey swirled sunrise above the boulders, framing the spiky, exuberant silhouettes of the Joshua trees.

I am reminded of the last time I was here.

Last year, we came to the the desert to shoot this video for Scott’s song, “Watch the Shadows.” We were a rowdy crowd: DJ Mendel (director), Kaz Phillips Safer (DP), Anais Borck (actor/pure loveliness), SS711 (soulmate/star), Tariku Moon (dinosaur wrangler/hellraiser), and me (cooker of pancakes/holder of sunblock).

It was a crazy and memorable weekend. We all worked our asses off in the desert sun, and wound up with that satisfying exhaustion that comes from pouring yourself into something you believe in.For a few different reasons, Scott hadn’t released the video yet. But something tragic happened last week and it lit a fire under his ass.

I got a call from DJ telling me Anais had died. The causes are unclear, but basically she died in her sleep at 31 years old.

I spent time with Anais both in NY and LA. It’s almost impossible not to talk about how beautiful she was. It usually annoys me when physical beauty is the first thing remarked on when someone dies tragically young. But. She was. She was like Disney Princess Fairy Angel pretty. Tall, effortlessly fashionable, blonde hair falling around her sculpted face, saucer stormy ocean blue eyes. She was gorgeous at the breakfast table, in curlers and horn-rimmed glasses.

She was kind and sweet, with something fragile or lost hovering around her edges. She always seemed to me not quite gritty enough for this world. I am glad I knew her, even a little.

Anais was a joy to work with- uncomplaining and game for anything. Tariku and I hung around the shoot all day. I was sort of the all-purpose set mom, toting water and sunblock and trail mix and making sure everyone was all right. Tariku was my assistant and he thought Anais was swell. He couldn’t get enough of her.

When my best friend died, I spent many sleepless nights combing the internet for any hint of her. We thought that we’d release this video now, finally, so that Anais’s loved ones, who are out there in the dark, hungry to see images of her, may spend some time with her soulful, indeed, beautiful, face.

Also, it’s an amazing song that has lived too long in Scott’s studio. It’s time.


desert 6

Remembering Jen



My dear friend Jen Wilson passed away last night after a long and heroic battle with cancer. Her friends and family are all grieving today.

Jen’s husband and mine are in the same band and we traveled the world together. Many nights, we said goodnight across a bus aisle before drawing the curtains of our bunks. In the morning, we stumbled into each other on our way to find coffee. We sat around together for hours in both grand hotel suites and crappy European dressing rooms. She was my stage-side companion for the last ten years and in a way, we were family.

When I showed up in the Weezer picture, she had been at it for years already. She welcomed me into the camp with open arms and taught me the rockwife ropes. I can only hope that I’ve learned to weather this blessed and challenging life with half as much grace and humor as she did. Jen was real. She managed to be the salt of the earth, while always carrying the latest Louis Vuitton bag. Above all, she was devoted to her family and friends.

When Scott and I were desperately trying to have a baby, Jen was already pregnant with their second child. Many of our friends with new babies acted uncomfortable around us. Jen was a notable exception. She was able to truly listen to me, sometimes offering advice, sometimes just being a sympathetic ear. More than once she prescribed immediate retail therapy and dragged me out in pursuit of some much-needed distraction. She was able to be present for my pain and so she was fully able to be present for our joy when Tariku finally came home. She threw me an amazing baby shower. Jen threw a lot of showers. She was the girl who wanted to give you a party.


I love the story about Jen working as a barista at Starbucks when the “Undone” video first came out. People would come into her work and say, “I saw your husband on MTV!” She would just nod and smile but she hadn’t even seen the video yet, because they couldn’t afford cable.


I remember a flight to New York one time, during which Jen was holding Ian and I was holding Tariku. We were across the aisle from each other and both the boys were being fussy. I was far tenser than she about having screaming babies on a plane. I remember looking at how she was rocking her son and shaping my arms around my baby in the same way, learning from the wisdom of a more experienced mother. Soon they were both quiet.

There is so much she taught me. I will take it with me. I will remember her sunny smile always.