I Will Always Be … A Tashlich Tale

tashlich creek
The “almost” stream in Carpenter’s Woods.

2012. I am standing at the shore of Lake Michigan – the Chicago side. I am wearing my signature orange peep-toe wedges, a tweed dress that hangs on my 12-pounds-thinner-than-usual body, and throwing torn up pieces of bread into the water.

It is Rosh Hashanah, the birthday of the world, and the bread is part of a Jewish New Year custom called tashlich — the emptying of one’s pockets into moving water, a symbolic casting away of one’s sins. Rabbis of generations past frowned upon the practice, fearing people would not do the hard work of the Days of Awe – of self-examination and making of amends – if they engaged in this ritual, that they would forget that the practice was mere metaphor and would count on the casting to absolve them of their misdeeds.

But I am not casting away sins. (I don’t really believe in them.) Instead, I am casting off an identity, a role I’ve played … as partner and wife. For in this moment I intuitively know that I am now divorced. I can feel it in my bones.

My husband and I have filed dissolution of marriage paperwork in a county that does not require a court appearance, sending off an envelope containing a divorce agreement, our signatures and a notary stamp four weeks earlier. I know that the clerk in this small county signs divorce papers on Mondays. It is Monday.

I move towards my rabbi. “I think I’m divorced,” I say.

“Well, you are pretty intuitive,” he replies.

“I’m going to cast away my Mrs.”

He nods and smiles at me sadly; and I return to the lake, flinging stale bits of challah into the still waters and mumbling something about Dr.’s wife and Mrs. Robertson – a name I never took.

When I return home that afternoon, I call our mediator who checks a database and affirms, “Yes, you are divorced.”

2019. I am still talking about this, writing about this.

Sunday night, erev Rosh Hashanah. A different rabbi asks us to turn to the person nearest us and share what we would like to let go of and what we would like to make room for in the Jewish Year 5780. I turn to my left and tell another rabbinical student that I would like to let go of my ex-husband, my marriage and my divorce as part of my narrative, and that I would like to make room for love.

I am still talking about it.

Tuesday afternoon, I am co-leading a tashlich ritual at a creek just off of campus at the University of Delaware. I tell the story of 2012 — sans peep-toe wedges and dress hanging from my frame — and invite the small group gathered to consider if there is a piece of their identity that no longer fits. Perhaps a role in a romantic relationship or in their family of origin or at work. Maybe a character attribute or behavior they are known for and no longer wish to be.

I ask them to share this with someone near them, either before or after emptying the contents of their pockets – the contents of their hearts – and to consider that in casting off, they might create space for something new … as in my case, when I traded in the role of wife for ex-pat in 2015 and rabbinical student in 2019. I am still talking about it.

I step away to do my own casting off … except I can’t. There is too much chatter around me and there is nowhere to go to let go. So I hold on, until today, when I duck into Carpenter’s Woods, just a few blocks from my house.

I scramble down a dirt and stone path to a clearing where a small, wooden footbridge hovers over an “almost” stream. I don’t have any bread. My pockets are empty. I bend down and pick up a couple of fallen leaves, fold them — once and then again — and rip them into pieces.

As I drop the bits of leaves into the pooled water, I whisper something about letting go of my insistence that my 15-year relationship have no place in my current narrative, my expectation that I should no longer have anything to say about it or him or us. Nothing about letting go of this “former identity.” Nothing about creating space for the universe to rush in.

My words surprise me.

I will always be Lee’s ex-wife. Just as I will always be a massage therapist and a writer — whether or not I get paid for it. Just as I will always have lived in Spain and San Francisco, Oakland, Chicago, Seattle and Detroit – even if I don’t now. And even with all of those pieces of my identity firmly intact, there has always been room for “something new” — for a year of teaching in Madrid, for rabbinical school, and for a few juicy romances.

I have no shame in telling those other parts of my life, no expectations that I should be “done” with them, nor any desire to be. I wonder if the same could be true of my marriage and divorce.

Just then, the wooden footbridge begins to bounce. A man and his brown and white-speckled dog cross my path, signaling my ritual is nearly complete.

I pull my pockets inside out, say a prayer and begin my climb out.

 

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Artist Date 1.2: Life, Animated

 

 

life animated
Copyright. Life, Animated.

My commitment to the Artist Date began as a response to pain. To a man I affectionately referred to as the Southern Svengali and the short, sweet romance after my divorce that I couldn’t let go of. I sometimes forget that.

I forget because the weekly, solo play date as prescribed in the book The Artist’s Way, healed me from obsession I only hesitantly admitted.

I forget because two years of creative commitment, coupled with other work, allowed me to release him. Us. And my ideas about the way we should be in one another’s lives. (Which looks dramatically different than I had imagined. And while our contact can now best be described as sporadic, the connection remains strong … sweet and satisfying to both of us.)

I forget because it gently nudged me into becoming the kind of woman I dreamed of being. A woman engaged in life in interesting ways. Who does interesting things. Who has interesting conversations about more than relationships.

But today, I remember.

I remember as I find a hole in my schedule and watch my mind like a rubber band – snapping back to thoughts of the man I dated before I left for Madrid.

While I know there is no slipping back into one’s life as it once was, I had hoped we might explore dating again when I returned. But it hasn’t turned out that way. And in these quiet, alone moments, I find myself once again struggling with letting go. Of him. Us. And my ideas about the way we should be in one another’s lives.

And so it is grace when I hear the whisper that perhaps now is a good time to re-commit to my creative self again. That an infusion of new stimuli might once again quiet my mind and lead me back to the woman who has interesting conversations about more than relationships.

(While a year in Madrid seemed to have the makings of one grand, extended Artist Date, my days were filled with the stuff of life. All occurring in a language not my own. And Artist Dates became, unfortunately, sporadic.)

I peruse the movie guide — more concerned with time, location and the act of going than what will be projected on the screen – and choose a film.

I cut short a phone call. Say no to a text from a friend asking if I would like company. Both occurring after I’ve made the decision to go. The universe seeming to ask, “Are you sure?’

And I am.

I hop on my vintage 3-speed cruiser and pedal to the Music Box Theatre. Artist Date 1.2. (Officially, number 117 … renamed for congruence with my rededication to the practice and my return to Chicago.)

Grinning ear to ear, I purchase my ticket. Giddy to be with me.

This has always been the magic of the Artist’s Date. A turning inward. A return to myself.

Ironic, as the movie I have chosen – Life, Animated – is a documentary about Owen Suskind, a young man with autism and the tools he and his family use to pull him out from his personal world.

How Walt Disney movies become the lens and the lexicon for connection. The language for articulating what we all want. Friends. Romantic love. Work. A sense of purpose. And what we all feel from time to time, what Owen calls “the glop.” The inevitable pain when the things we want elude us.

We join him in watching scenes from Bambi on his first night alone in his independent living apartment – after his mother and father have left. And later, The Hunchback of Notre Dame when his girlfriend of three years ends their relationship.

Heartbreaking moments punctuated with joy and hope, most evident when Owen connects with his own passion and a sense of purpose. His “Disney Club” – where he and other adults with developmental disabilities view and discuss their favorite films. And experience an unscripted visit from Gilbert Godfrey, the voice of Iago from the movie Aladdin.

I sob witnessing their squeals of laughter, excitement and disbelief … as I am reminded that the universe is full of surprises. That it is always willing to conspire with us. And that our greatest joys often come packaged in a way dramatically different than we might imagine them.

That gorgeous moments of serendipity occur when we turn first turn inward – connecting with our tenderest truths – and then out – vulnerably sharing them. We allow the world to join our party. And sometimes even Gilbert Godfrey shows up.

Nose-ing What Is Right For Me

2015-04-27 09.30.23
The last page of the wedding ceremony…

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine posed a question on Facebook, asking what she should do with her many years of journals in the course of a move.

I’d been wondering the same thing as I am moving to Madrid later this summer. My plan is to board the plane on July 28 with a one-way ticket, a one-year visa and two suitcases — but no journals.

“Burn them,” my friend Scotty wrote in response to the original question, the answer not intended for me. And yet, it was, as I intuitively knew he was right.

I had been an avid journal-er in my 20s — tucking into bed each night with a notebook and pen and chronicling the events of the day. Sometimes in prose. Occasionally poetry.  Lush, detailed descriptions of the sex I was having. Barely decipherable drunken scrawls, desperate and self-pitying.

I carried them with me for nearly 20 years — from Detroit to San Francisco to Oakland. To Chicago to Seattle and back to Chicago — about a dozen of them, most of them with hard covers.

I stopped journaling not long after my then boyfriend (now ex-husband) moved into my apartment — choosing to tuck in with him rather than a stack of pages and my most intimate thoughts.

I returned to the practice 15 years later, switching the time to first thing out of bed — Morning Pages, as suggested in the book, “The Artist’s Way.”

When I moved back to Chicago in 2012, following my divorce, I began reading my old words  — the ones I had carried with me for so long.  Juicy bits about the photographer who kept a studio above the restaurant where I worked. The aspiring rabbinical student. The actor.

The much, much older man from Detroit who suggested I meet him in Vail — “just as friends.” The lawyer and part-time musician. The doctor I met on a press trip in Germany.

I had forgotten.

It was fun at first, feeling like a voyeur, remembering who I had once been — until I considered contacting one of those men, at which time a friend suggested I take a break from my reading. And I did.

Meanwhile, I continued filling soft-covered notebooks with Morning Pages, stacking them one on top of the other on a shelf in my bedroom closet — until a few weeks ago, when I placed them in a box along with my marriage license and a copy of our wedding ceremony and drove them to Michigan, to the home of my friend Paul, the sometimes reluctant shaman.

That evening, at Paul’s suggestion,  I tore off the covers from my notebooks and ripped pages from their metal spirals. I threw a glossy journal into the wood-burning stove that heats the entire house and watched the resin-covered cardboard catch, shrivel and glow. I tossed in several more, until the oven was filled with ash. Then Paul played John Lennon’s “Starting Over” and we danced, laughing.

In the morning I brought the remaining notebooks, wedding ceremony and marriage license outside to a fire pit Paul had dug. He said a few words, inviting in the spirits, and I again began the process of burning my words — stopping occasionally to read a random page out loud before throwing the notebook into the flames — until the pit was overcome with ashes like the stove the night before.

Nearly two hours later, I wasn’t done. Paul suggested I leave the remaining notebooks with him, promising to burn them at his next sweat lodge. I agreed, and asked that we end the day’by burning my marriage license.

Several people had suggested I might need it one day, but I couldn’t imagine any reason to hold on to it. So I offered a few words of thanks to my ex and once again set him free — something I had done following the completion of our civil divorce, and again following our Jewish divorce.

The legal document crackled and hissed, engulfed in yellow and blue flames.

Since then, my ex and I have had precious little contact. And the relationship that had begun just prior to my trip to Michigan has blossomed.

Paul closed the ceremony by bringing me inside, where we sat in meditation. Then he sang and he drummed, smudged me with sage and handed me a rubber nose in a small plastic container — the kind from a bubble-gum machine that contains a prize, a ring or tattoos — and assured me if I continue to listen to my heart and to my spirit, I will always “nose” what is right for me.

Like knowing when to let go of my stories and how to do it. With fire, with friendship, and with God.

Surprise! You’re Divorced!

From Tim Burton's 2010 Alice In Wonderland.
Considering the other side of the rabbit hole. From Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland.

I haven’t heard from my ex in more than a week.  This isn’t unusual, except I have reached out to him twice during this time — once to ask for medical advice (I forget he is not my doctor), a second time to ask if he might talk with a friend of mine about the later-in-life path to medical school — and that is unusual.

Except for when it isn’t.

We recently saw one other for the first time since I moved out of the house we shared in Seattle and returned to Chicago, more than two and a half years.

I cried when I saw his blue polar fleece stocking cap — the one that makes him look like a tall Smurf– bobbing above the crowd as he got off the train, across from our favorite Lebanese restaurant.  Again when we embraced.  And again when, looking up for the menu, I inquired “The usual?” to which he replied, laughing, “That is what I was going to say.”

And so it was over chicken schwarma, hummus and fattoush that he admitted that the times he hadn’t called me back — there weren’t many — he simply, emotionally, could not.

This may be one of those times.

At first, I didn’t think too much of it when I didn’t hear back from him.  It was Valentine’s Day weekend.  I thought, perhaps, he might be out of town with his girlfriend.  A thought followed by strong intuition — “He’s moving in with her.”  I said the words out loud, as usual, to no one in particular.  “He doesn’t want to tell me.”

Later that day, I saw an MLS listing for a bungalow on his Facebook page, forwarded by his girlfriend.

When I reached out to him a second time, a week later, and again did not hear back, I was fairly certain of my inner knowing.  And much to my surprise, I felt rattled and sad.

Not so much because he may or may not be buying a house with his girlfriend. (I still do not know for certain, nor is it really any of my business.)  But because, in that moment, I realized I had been holding on to an unspoken agreement we never made.  Something like, “We may be divorced but you and I are in this together.  Forever.”

I was shocked.  I had no idea.

I have often referred to mine as the “lucky divorce.”  (Which sounds like it should come with soup, egg roll and an almond cookie.)

For a long time we were one another’s “In Case of Emergency” person.  We left passwords unchanged, and nursed each other’s broken hearts in post-divorce attempts at romance.

I never had to hunt down my spousal support.  I knew the money would be in my account on the 15th of the month, the same way I knew he would always be there.  Until he wasn’t.

Perhaps my divorce wasn’t so “lucky” after all, as it seems more than possible that this underlying, unspoken (not even to myself) agreement may have kept me from truly seeking out another partnership, or at the very least, being open to one.

I shared all of this with my friend Robin.  She replied, “He’s not your husband anymore.”

Not exactly news.  And yet, on some deep, gut, primal level — it was.  And I finally “got it.”  So perhaps I can finally let go of it.

It reminds me of when I returned to an old boyfriend, many years after we had broken up, to make amends for where I had been wrong in that relationship.

“You wanted a partner, I wanted a parent,” I said.  (Not surprisingly, he was 17 years my senior.)  Tears streamed down his face as the words slipped past my lips.  He hugged me hard, harder than he ever had in the time we were together.

“Why are you crying,” I asked.

“Because I am.”

I nodded.

I understood.  I saw the truth.  I saw what he knew all along.  Finally.  It was as if I had slipped back through the rabbit hole and we were living in the same reality, more than 15 years after the end of our brief relationship.

At least this time it only took three years.

Artist Date 89: Fifteen, Sixteen, Seventeen…Twenty-Two

Walking west on the new Bay Bridge, while the old one is torn apart, cast away...
Walking west on the new Bay Bridge, while the old one is torn apart, cast away…

I am a marker of time.  I look for patterns in numbers, hoping to find or make meaning of them.

Like last week.

I had been aware of the numerical arrangement in front of me for awhile.

September 15.  My spousal support would be cut almost in half.  September 16.  Two years since the dissolution of my marriage was made final.  September 17.  My Divorce Buddy’s birthday.  The man who walked lock step with me on this path.  Also the day I would board a plane bound for San Francisco, for a friend’s wedding.

The same friend whose home I stayed in the last time I was in the Bay Area.  When every morning I would write “I am alone because I am getting ready to be alone.”  The words gliding off my pen, seemingly without thought or effort on my part.  When my then-husband asked for a divorce.

It all seemed “full circle.”  As it should be. Recognizing the pattern, the blog began writing itself.  The same way those prophetic words did each morning.  Of themselves.

And yet, September 15 came without fan fare.  I did not check my bank account to confirm the new, lesser amount had been deposited.  The 16th was much the same.  I felt, remarkably, “nothing.”

On the 17th, I forgot to call my Divorce Buddy to wish him a happy birthday.  (Unlike me, he’s not a marker of time.  I imagine he may have been grateful for the oversight.)  I was too busy packing.

Which left me wondering about 18, 19, 20 and beyond.

Eighteen had me meditating in Golden Gate Park — returning to the “twice” in my twice-daily practice — and  then running into my first massage instructor.  (Ironic, as I was staying just a few blocks from the massage school I attended and later, where I taught — although I didn’t realize it until I arrived and looked out the window.)

Nineteen, 20 and 21 had me walking on the Bay Bridge and dancing under redwood trees, all the while fielding the persistent question, “When are you moving back?”

My answer, a surprising and consistent, “I don’t know.”  Followed by the insistence that “I’m just waiting for the earth to stop shifting beneath me.”  And “The universe will tell me.”

It always does.  Oblivious to any date on the calendar.

Like it did on 22, my last full day in San Francisco.  The only day of my seven with alone time specifically set aside.  I returned to Golden Gate Park — to the Japanese Tea Gardens, a place I had never been before.  And then to Ocean Beach.  A place I went often…especially when life felt crazy.  I’d stand in the sand, squint my eyes and wonder if I could see across to the other side if I tried hard enough…knowing I never could.

The place I took my ex-husband on our first date.  Where I kissed him for the first time.  The ocean wind whipping my once long hair around my face, showering it with a fine mist of salt water.

I sat on the white-washed wall separating the beach from the parking lot, wishing I had something to throw into the ocean.  Something to “give away,” to further separate me from him.  To further cut the ties that had kept me tethered — unknowingly, until this trip — to him.  I had nothing.  Nothing but words.  A prayer.

“Let the love that began here, let it end here.  Let it wash out with the tides.  And let something new wash in.”

Twenty-three I arrived home.  The eve of 24, on the Jewish calendar, a new year began.

Twenty-five.  Today.  I worshipped in synagogue this morning but skipped taslich — the ritual casting away of sins, that which no longer serves us.  I had already done it…a few days early.

And I prayed, “…let something new wash in.”

Your Honest, Open, Dirty, Loving Ways

My ex-boyfriend J is getting married.

I’ve often said nothing good comes from a sentence that begins, “So I was on Facebook…”

I actually spoke to J twice this summer.  Once from home, the second time from the road -- from the guest room at my aunt and uncle's house.
I actually spoke to J twice this summer. Once from home, the second time from the road — from the guest room at my aunt and uncle’s house. With them here.

That’s how I found out.  His engagement was at the top of my news feed.

My stomach sank to my feet.  Hope dashed.  Fantasy abruptly ended.

I felt sad.  Silly.  Stupid.  Ashamed.

I love J.  I always have.  I knew him the second I saw him.  I’m pretty sure it was the same for him.

We dated in our 20s.  Ours was a sweet, sexy romance – albeit brief.  Our breakup caught me off guard.  Perhaps because he more than one time said, “I know I’m going to marry you.  And we’ll have daughters.  I know we will have daughters.”

I’ve written about this – about him, about us – before.

The last time we saw one another was in California – about 17 or 18 years ago – on Venice Beach.  I was returning my roller skates.  Until I found him on Facebook.  His profile picture was a photograph from childhood.  I wasn’t entirely certain it was him, so I wrote, “Is that you?”

“It is indeed me,” he replied.  “And it is indeed you.”

In the years that followed, we wished one another happy birthdays, occasionally commented on each other’s status, and traded inside jokes – mostly about Philip Roth and liver.  We occasionally had lengthier exchanges.  Like on his birthday in 2012.  I was delayed in Brussels.  He was on his way out for a crab dinner.  I told him I was getting divorced.

This past summer we spoke for the first time since Venice.  After hearing his voice, I remarked, “Oh…that’s what you sound like.”  I had forgotten.

That night he told me why he ended our relationship.  I had asked many times over the years but he had never responded to that particular piece of the conversation.  This time he did.

He said I woke something up in him.  A piece of him that desperately needed healing – healing I couldn’t give him.  That he had to do for himself.

He had been attracted to me.  To our sexual energy.   And that something about my  “honest, open, dirty, loving way” got under his skin.  “In a good way.”  And he ran.

He affirmed that I had been important in his life.  Just not in the way I had hoped to be.

I knew J was in a relationship and had been for many years.  That he always exercised terrific boundaries.

And yet, there was always a little piece of me that held out hope … that maybe one day J and I would find our way back to one another – in that way.  I didn’t live my life maneuvering around it.  Obsessing about it.  But it was there.

And now it isn’t anymore.  It can’t be.

A couple of weeks ago J showed up in my clairvoyant reading and healing.  He had in the previous one too.

The first time he showed up, the clairvoyant saw us holding hands, smiling, and taking a big leap together.  She said we may never connect again romantically, but that we are inextricably bound for life.

I didn’t like that so much – the first part.

The second time he showed up, she simply said, “You just let go of him.”  And that 10 percent of my energy returned to me immediately.

I had no idea.  I hadn’t even tried.  And I didn’t like that so much either.

But perhaps she was right, because this afternoon I did something that surprised me.  I was drafting a personal note to send, but chose to post a comment to his wall instead – just like hundreds of his other friends had done.  Just another Bozo on the bus.  Not claiming any special status.

“Mazel Tov! Wishing you much joy.”

Not even an “XO” – our usual sign off.

It is not untrue.  This is what I wish for him.  In the most honest, open, dirty, loving way.