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Accompanying mourners, with gratitude

Tefillin and manicures

my hand, with painted nails and tefillin

Me, in microcosm.

My mother always has beautiful nails. I'm not sure I've ever seen her without nail polish on. In recent years there are certain colors she favors -- a kind of creamy ivory, a deep maroon -- and I've come to expect one of those rather than anything else in the rainbow of available options. But her nails are always manicured. It's just part of being put-together. I don't remember my first manicure (though I remember the first one I had after my summer of backcountry camping when I was fourteen -- it felt positively sybaritic.) But getting my nails done is an ordinary, and sweet, part of my life.

The manicure I'm wearing now wasn't done by a professional. I painted my nails last night while my son splashed in the bathtub. He had chosen to color his bath water a brilliant turquoise blue (with a dissolving bath tablet which, amazingly enough, doesn't leave our bathtub stained when the water drains away.) He stomped and splashed, rocking his little duckies and boats, while I sat on the floor and painted my fingertips. Then he helped me blow on them to get them dry before I lifted him out of the tub.

I don't think anyone else in my immediate family wears tefillin. Scratch that: I'm pretty certain no one does. If I had to guess, I'd imagine that some of my Dallas cousins do, and possibly some of their sons. But I'd be surprised to discover any other women in my family who put on tefillin in the morning to pray. I became interested in tefillin the first time I went on a Jewish Renewal retreat at Elat Chayyim. Knowing that I'd been yearning for some, my dear friend David gave me my set of tefillin when I turned thirty.

In fairness: I don't always manage to lay tefillin. Life gets in the way. And, for that matter, I don't always manage to have my nails painted. But when I pause to put color on my fingertips, I feel like I'm treating myself to something special, and I remember again some of the many cherished ways in which I am my mother's daughter. And when I pause to lay tefillin, even if I only say one prayer before taking them back off again, I remember again some of the many cherished ways in which I am connected with God and with my tradition, with something bigger than myself.

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