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.

 

Artist Date 38: Creating Community…It’s Not About the Shoes

I don’t know if I filled my creative coffers this week.  By my spiritual and social ones are brimming over.  And that will have to do this week for Artist Date 38.

Overlooking Lake Michigan, at Dawes Park.
Overlooking Lake Michigan, at Dawes Park.

Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year. 5774.  I’m at Dawes Park in Evanston for the ritual of tashlich – where we empty bread from our pockets into a body of moving water.  Some think of it as casting away one’s sins.  I prefer a gentler interpretation.  That I am simply cleaning out the residue of the last year.  Whatever is stale.  Has been sitting around in the corners of my consciousness slowly growing a somewhat furry mold.

I’ve stuffed a package of naan bread in my bag.  It’s been in my freezer since November.  A friend brought it to a party I had, to go with the curried lentil soup I was making.  I’m not much of a bread eater, so I tucked it away for just such an occasion.

Another woman has matzo.  I could have brought that two.  I buy too much every year.

It is my third High Holiday season with the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, so I know where we meet.  But this year is different.  I not only know the place, but I know many of the people here too.

My friend Phil is here with his family.  He introduced me to this congregation – specifically the Rabbi — a number of years ago, when I was feeling particularly wayward and spiritually lost.

Since that time I have developed a close relationship with Rabbi Brant and Cantor Howard.   They are tuning up for this short, mostly musical, service that precedes the tossing of the bread.  Jeff is tuning up as well.  We met a couple of years ago at a Shabbat morning service I attended just once.

He seemed to sense I was new and somewhat hesitant, and warmly welcomed me in.  I have had several encounters with him since them.  Perhaps my favorite being when he sidled up to me during last year’s High Holiday services.

He said he read my blog postings from Rwanda and that he liked my writing.  I thanked him and told him I used to write professionally.  “It shows,” he said.  And was gone.

Moments before I had silently cried out to G-d, asking what the plan is, what it is I was meant to do.  I recall looking up toward the heavens, smiling and saying, “got it.”

Mary Jo is here.  Brant introduced us several years ago when I completed my conversion to Judaism.  She joined him and Howard as my witnesses, and was there in that same role when I received my get, my Jewish divorce.

I am now on her permanent invite list for Passover, and the breaking of the fast on Yom Kippur.

I feel a tap on my shoulder.  It is Rachel.  She is a Weight Watchers member I know.

Monica is here with her family.  We met at Shabbat services at the lakefront a couple of years ago.  Michael is here too.  He blows the shofar every year at High Holiday services.  He introduces me to his daughters who are following in the family tradition.

I see Hannah.  She used to wear her head shaved like mine but now she has a mass of ringlets.  She tells me that she’s bought a condo and that she broke up with her boyfriend.  She introduces me to her friend Kelly and we agree we must get together.

A woman I have never met before approaches me.  Her name is Sheila.  She likes my shoes and takes a photograph of them.

Yes, they are “the shoes.”  The shoes that have seemingly come to identify me.  My orange Fly London peep-toe wedges.

The shoes...
The shoes…

The first summer I owned them, people literally chased me down Michigan Avenue to find out what they were and where I got them.  It was fun, talking with all sorts of people I wouldn’t otherwise meet.  And today is no exception.

Walking to the water, a tall woman with a mess of dark curls puts her foot next to mine.  “Nice shoes,” she says.  She is wearing the same ones in pewter.

She tells me she is tossing out the year of rehabbing her broken wrist.  It is healed.  I do not tell her what I am tossing.  Instead, I tell her I like our shoes so much that I have two pairs.  That the second I bought before my divorce was final, when my then-husband kindly said, “Do what you need to before we separate our monies.”

I bought a new lightweight massage table, a Torah commentary, and the peep-toe wedges in mustard.  We laugh at my choices.

I wish her a sweet New Year and peel off to throw my bread, my karmic residue.  There are so many things I could get rid of.  The litany that I repeat every year – self-doubt, unkindness, judgment of myself and others.  I recall that last year I tossed away my identity as a wife.

It was a Monday.  I knew divorce papers were signed on Mondays in the county where we filed.  I had a sinking feeling at that moment that I was officially divorced.  A call to my mediator later in the day confirmed it.

Today I am casting away what my friend Lisa likes to call “an old idea.”  I am embarrassed to admit that I have continued to hold on to it.  Actually, I’m not sure I was consciously aware that I had it, but a series of recent events has cast a glaring light upon it and I can no longer turn away.

I point myself east, tear off a piece of naan and whisper to myself, “I let go of the idea that I am only desirable for sex.”

It is windy and the naan flies back at me.  I turn west off of the dock where the waters are still.  I repeat the words.

I’ve got a lot of naan so I say it a couple of more times, ripping and tossing.  Ripping and tossing.

When I am done, I am approached by a woman.  She asks me about the shoes.  She is radiant and I tell her so.  She tells me about her job search.  Her cancer.

I suddenly remember that people used to tell me things about themselves all of the time.  Friends and family, and random, almost strangers too.  Cab drivers especially.  I realize people are talking to me in this way again.

It’s not the shoes.  Because I wore the same ones last year…I am different.  My heart has healed just enough to let some of my light shine out.  I am open and there is room for others.  They sense it and come in.