I’ll Be Your Mirror

Overlooking Lake Michigan, at Dawes Park...where, up until this year, my congregation has done tashlich.
Overlooking Lake Michigan, at Dawes Park…where, up until this year, we have done tashlich.

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from my rabbi. It was not directed to me individually, but to the entire congregation.  After 17 years with our synagogue, he was leaving.

I wasn’t entirely surprised.  But I didn’t know how I felt about it, or what to say, either.  So I did nothing.  No email.  No phone call.  Which, for this rather impulsive person, is growth.

Except that I continued to do nothing.

I skipped a part of Rosh Hashanah tradition, tashlich – joining the rabbi and cantor and other congregants at Lake Michigan to empty my pockets of the residue of the past year.  That which I no longer needed.  And considered skipping second day Rosh Hashanah services too.

This was highly unusual.

I’ve been blessed with a close, personal relationship with my rabbi. He led me through my conversion and through my get, my Jewish divorce.  I traveled to Africa with him and other congregants during the summer of my divorce, and I have met with him more or less monthly for the better part of the past five years.

And it hit me. I was avoiding.  Or at least I think I was avoiding.  Rather than facing the pain of change, of uncertainty, of not knowing what to say, I chose to ignore it, ignore him – telling myself I would say something eventually.  When I had the right words.

I wondered if these were the same thoughts that The Chef and Mr. 700 Miles had when they chose not to further pursue a romance but didn’t or couldn’t say anything about it.

I was doing what had (potentially – I’ll never know for certain as I do not live in their minds) been done to me.

I first had the realization I was not free from this behavior a couple of weeks ago. Just before returning to San Francisco, my home for 14 years.

I had a friend there I knew I owed an amends to – I just wasn’t sure what it was.

About four or five years ago I told her I needed space. Without warning.  Without lead up.  I did not return a couple of her phone calls in a timely manner, and when she called me on it – in a voicemail, simply asking if she had done something wrong and if, in fact, I was ok – I responded with an email, something along the lines of “I need space.  I’m sure you understand.”

She replied that she did not understand, but would honor my request. And, with the exception of a single message wishing me well I was moving to Seattle, and my thank you in response, we had not spoken since.

Until a couple of weeks ago.

When, preparing for my trip, I realized I had done to her what had been done to me — almost. I left without explanation – almost without a word.

I phoned before my visit and asked if we might meet. If I might right my wrongs.  She graciously said yes, and we did.

My amends was simple. That I had walked away when she needed me most, with barely a word or an explanation.  That I had been selfish.  That I had been wrong.

And then we talked.

About who she had been in my life and who I had been in hers. How she remembered things and how I remembered them.  About why I had not been able to be there for her – because of “my stuff” and how it and I got triggered.  Things I had never told her.

There were tears. And there was healing, for both of us.

I found myself thinking that perhaps The Chef and Mr. 700 Miles had come into my life, at least in part, to be my mirrors. To show me my behavior.

Mr. 700 Miles finally did make contact with me. His words were simple.  That he had “left” because he fell in love with someone else.  That he was sorry.  And with those words that last bit of wondering, that last bit of residue, was gone.  Like the residue I would normally rid myself of at tashlich.

I wanted to write back, “Thank you,” or “Was that so hard?” But I did nothing – other than thank him and wish him well in my heart.

However, I did make contact with my rabbi. I sent him an email that night after the tashlich that wasn’t.  I apologized for having been so silent.  I told him I had assumed he might be overwhelmed by the response of congregants and others to his news.

And I told him I didn’t know what to say.  But that I honored his decision.  The graceful way he was moving through this transition.  And that I hoped we would find our way to a new chapter in our friendship.

I did go to second day Rosh Hashanah services, where we talked briefly about what I had written. My tears drowning out my words.

I let them flow, rather than trying to talk through them.  No longer avoiding.  No longer doing what I thought had only been done to me.


Bye Bye Bindi

bio photo for u club 2I took off my bindi the other day.

Stopped at a red light on Michigan Avenue, I dragged my middle finger from between my eyes down the bridge of my nose, bringing the bindi with it.  Green and gold.  Sparkly.  I looked at it and deposited it in the cup holder.

I’ve been wearing a bindi faithfully since last spring – the result of self-sufficiency gone awry.

One of my first acts of independence, following my then-husband’s request for a divorce, was to pay someone to shave my head.  He had done it for me for years, making sure all the tiny hairs stood uniformly erect – especially in back.  It’s not as easy as it seems.

I went to Rudy’s – a chain of hip barber shops – in Seattle for a $10 shave.  I asked for a one guard on the clippers – what my ex always used.

Rudy’s one guard must have been different from mine, because I walked out far more sheared than I had anticipated.  Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, hair grows – quickly.  But I had my eyebrows tinted a little darker than usual, and the combination of the two was jarring, a little bit scary.

Afterwards, I stumbled into the boutique next door to Rudy’s.  I’d been curious about it for a while.  Inside, I eyed a basket of sticky bindis, next to an array of cuffs and bangles.  $3 a package.  I thought it might soften the look.  Or at very least, act as a distraction.  It did.  And I began wearing one, every day.

Pink.  Blue.  Purple.  Glittery.  It became “my thing,” or “one of my things,” like the shaved head and the iridescent shadow I wear in the corners of my eyes.  Another “accident” that stuck.

I wore a different one every day.  On hikes.  To dance class. Camping in North Dakota.  All over Rwanda.  I got a tip to use eyelash glue to hold it in place when the sticky wore out.  When I moved back to Chicago in the fall, I went to the Indian shops on Devon Avenue to buy more.

People asked me about it all the time.  Why?  What does it mean?  I’d explain that it brought attention to the third eye, the seat of hidden wisdom, and joke I needed all the help I could get to see clearly.

Sometimes I’d explain that in parts of India it designates that a woman is married and that ironically, I began wearing mine during my divorce.

But really, I just liked it.  It was jazzy and fun.  It spurred conversation with people I otherwise wouldn’t meet.

At least, that’s what I thought.

When I mentioned it to my friend Rachel in an email, she wrote, “I found your calling toward bindis to be a heartbreaking subconscious gesture by your soul to remain coupled, or at least connected with the sacred masculine.”

I questioned if I should continue wearing it after my Get, my Jewish divorce, as I was no longer married.  When the ritual was complete, I stood in the mirror contemplating.  I decided I wasn’t ready to let go of it yet, and told myself it was a symbol that I was “married to myself.”

Every once in a while, I would forget to put one on and I’d feel naked.  Sometimes I would put a Weight Watchers BRAVO sticker in its place.

And yet when I lost my bindi at my massage therapist’s office last week, I didn’t put another one on when I got home.  I forgot.

I considered “forgetting” it the following day.  But it seemed that NOT wearing one would be a statement, one I might feel compelled to explain if asked.  So I pasted one on.

I did the same the next day, but slid it off in the car in the afternoon sun.  I haven’t worn one since.  Just a few people have noticed and asked about it.

Why now?  I’m not sure.  I felt a shift, a change.

Perhaps I’m “getting ready.”  Getting ready to meet someone.  I’d like that.

And yet, in moments of quiet I’m not certain that I am ready.  Not because it has been suggested that I don’t date right now.  But because I continue to pick unavailable.

Mr. Thursday Night.  My Divorce Buddy.  The Southern Svengali.  Most recently, the guy from Trader Joes.

I thought we were flirting so I gave him my card and said to call me if he’d like to have coffee.  He never called.  When I ran into him a week later he said things were “complicated.”

More than one person has suggested that I might be giving off signals that I’m not available – unconsciously.  Like by wearing a bindi – the mark of a married woman.  While most Westerners don’t know its significance, I do.

Is the glittery third-eye gone for good?  I don’t know.  But for now, there is a space between my eyes – an opening.