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.

 

Everything I Didn’t Write – September

A few days ago, noticing I had hardly written since arriving in Spain but acutely aware of my many Wandering Jewess experiences, I pulled together my Facebook posts from my first month in Madrid in a blog post. What follows is a Facebook accounting of how life unfolded in that second month – no longer a TEFL student living in Airbnb digs, but suddenly an English teacher with a permanent address.

September 2

Churros and chocolate with dear friends from the United States, Melinda and Craig. In these moments the world feels both vast and intimate.

September 4

So much to celebrate! New work! New home! A friendship that cuts across oceans. And yes, without question, the most fun meal I have ever eaten. Three Michelin Stars. Entiendo.

2015-09-03 22.40.03

 

September 8

Esta noche…first “official” Artist Date in Madrid.

September 12

When Seattle descends upon Madrid…Salpicon, Burrata and Churros, oh my! Were your ears burning Pamela and Molly?

September 13

A Rosh Hashanah Story or This Is What Happens When You Say Yes…

A couple of years ago, someone (you can’t remember who) invites to you to join an online group of women writers — thousands of them. A few of them live in Madrid. And one of them is Jewish and from Miami. She invites you to a Rosh Hashanah service and seder put on by a newly formed Reform chavurah.

You have never met her in person, and you feel uncomfortable as hell, but you go anyway. You are asked to light the candles during the service — which is all in Spanish and Hebrew, of which you speak only a little of each.

You have dinner with a professional flamenco dancer from New York, a makeup artist from New Zealand, and a Spanish window maker, his lovely wife and daughter. An engineer from Colombia and a woman from Buenos Aires (who might as well have “Friend” tatooed on her forehead…instead she has Shalom on her ankle) ask for your number — they want English classes.

You eat apples and honey, challah, pomegranates and dates. There is a fish head in the center of the table to represent moving forward…”away from the tail.” (This must be a Sephardic tradition.) All of it happens in a mish-mash of broken Spanish and English. Remarkably, you feel a part of…even the parts you don’t understand.

There are hugs and kisses and What’sApp exchanges. You walk home through Plaza Mayor. There is a chill in the air. Tomorrow you begin teaching. It is a New Year.

Thinking of you this Rosh Hashanah, Brant, Mary Jo, Matt and Pamela. Besos!

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September 15

It was suggested I try reading in Spanish. Suggestions from Jesus at La Buena Vida. Feeling excited and intimidated. I think it is going to be a slow read…

2015-09-15 20.46.47.jpg

September 17

I just received a refund from the Oficina de Correos. Seems they gave me the wrong post box in July and any and all mail sent to me now resides in the Bermuda Triangle of correspondence. While somewhat unbelievable… what is equally unbelievable is that I received this refund less than a week after the error was discovered. That and the fact that I don’t speak Spanish and no one at the office speaks English. (Thank goodness for my friend David who just happened to be there last Friday and served as translator.) Oh..and the refund came with a handwritten receipt. Ping me privately if you need my mailing address.

September 19

Read 5 pages of a Lorrie Moore short story today — in Spanish. Something about 6 months after a divorce not yet taking off one’s wedding ring. Cut off the finger? Cut off the hand? Slow going…but I’m amazed at my perseverance — looking up every fourth or fifth word — and how much I did understand.

And grateful that when my marriage was over, I could take off the ring.

September 21

Man on Metro with thick New York accent: Your hair looks fantastic. I love it.

Me: How did you know that I was American?
Man on Metro with thick New York accent: Are you kidding? No Spanish woman would ever wear her hair like that. Or British woman for that matter…

September 22

On this eve of Yom Kippur, as I head out the door to go to High Holiday services in Spanish and Hebrew, I am reminded of where I was at this time last year…on the precipice of something big, although I did not know it. Flu-ish and packing for three-weeks in Italy. Near the end of that trip, riding the light rail to a dinner party in Rome with a fist full of flowers, I thought, “It’s like I live here…I can do this.” Nearly one year later, I am doing “this.” This is grace.

September 23

Just completed my first private Spanish lesson. I walked in nervous … nowhere to hide. Sixty minutes later I feel inspired and, dare I say, empowered … like maybe, just maybe, I can learn to really speak this language. Up until now I have only shared my students’: experience of humility … now I know their joy!

Considering twice weekly classes …

September 26

Up late with Marissa and The Cabbage Ministry (at The Tempo Club).

September 27

Learning Spanish through food and song, at a former slaughterhouse. We didn’t plan it. It just turned out that way…

 

2015-09-27 14.17.16September 28

It’s hard to believe I left the United States just two months ago today. Feels like I have been here so much longer…

September 30

Seems a fitting Facebook memory for today (“My first memoir piece in print.”)… on the heels of Tim posting that my profile picture screams “book jacket” and a meeting with friend and fellow writer Nicola in an effort to get “writing accountable.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

Artist Date 39: Story of O (pen)

This Yom Kippur, this Day of Atonement (or At One Ment, depending on your school of thought), my Rabbi spoke about being open, and staying open – vulnerable.  To change.  To transformation.

story of oThis is a story about open.

I am anxious to write it.  It is so tender, so personal.  And yet…I have given voice to seemingly every other experience in this year following my divorce.  Specifically regarding the season of suggested “not dating,” and the process of creatively romancing myself on a weekly basis vis a vis, the Artist Date.

I am standing in front of a wall of condoms.  It is 11:30 a.m.  I need supplies.

I pulled into the Pleasure Chest on the way home from leading a Weight Watchers meeting – Artist Date 39.

I took a lover last week.

We are in wildly different places in our lives.  Not surprisingly, we want and need wildly different things.  And we are wildly attracted to one another.

He’s younger than I – which is brand new to me.  He captured my attention with a flirty quip in regards to my Artist Dates.  Something like “I’m not sure what these entail…but I qualify as an artist (I think), and I am free tomorrow.”  (Insert flush across my cheeks, across my chest, here.)

But I wasn’t.  Or the next day.  Or the next.

Until Rosh Hashanah night – the same date my divorce was final last year, on the Hebrew calendar – when the gods saw fit for me to tell a new story.

The days leading up were ripe with sexy texts and suggestive emails.  And our nights together made good on what had been promised in words.

Yummy.  Naughty.  Playful.  And then, Over.

“We can’t do this,” we agreed.  That while decidedly delicious, an ongoing entanglement couldn’t meet either of our more pressing needs.  And might even cause us harm.

Usually I would be devastated by such a fleeting romance.  But I’m not.  I see it all as a gorgeous transition.  A little poke (no pun intended) from the universe that I have opened myself up just a little bit more.  To sex.  To love.  To possibilities.

That’s not to say that I don’t miss the attention, being pursued, and getting to know someone new.  Yes, he is in fact, another artist.  Darling.  Smart and sweet.  But not “the one.”  At least not now.

This is new to me too.  Not trying to make him “the one.”

I used to insist, “this time is different.”  Until my friend Teresa gently pointed out, “It’s always different…and it never is.”  She was right.  It was the same story over and over.  Me believing that he, whomever he was at that moment, had the power to make me beautiful, desirable, whole.

My young artist didn’t make me those things.  He merely held up the mirror.

Being an addict, I (of course) want more.  But I am not acting on those desires.  I am respecting our decision.  Respecting him.  Respecting me.  Respecting us.  And trusting there will be more, with someone (s) else.

And so, I find myself standing in front of this wall of condoms, not for “us,” but for the future.

There are the usual suspects.  Trojans.  Kimono.  Durex.  Latex and non-latex.  Flavored.  Ribbed.  Knobbed.  And some I don’t know.  Plaid boxes.  Sir Richard’s.  Sounds fancy.

sir richardsI am certain any will do.  But for some reason, I decide to call in the experts.  I walk over to the glass counter.  On the other side is a woman with a mess of red curls, funky glasses and a great big smile.  Her name is Sara.

I tell her I need some help.  That I haven’t bought condoms in a while.  That I recently took my first lover since my divorce.  The first man I’ve been with, other than my ex, in 15 years.

“Congratulations,” she says.  “On the divorce.  And the lover.”

She comes around the glass and we walk over to the wall together, where she educates me on the finer points of my choices.  I am reminded of the years I spent at wine tastings, discussing the subtleties of nose and terroir.  Sara approaches our conversation with the same mix of knowledge, passion and joy.

This is what she tells me:

Latex isn’t what it used to be.  It no longer smells like Goodyear Tires when the foil is ripped open.

Stay away from the Trojans.  Too thick.

Pleasure dots are nice for both.  There’s a little pouch on the underside that creates friction.

One brand is nice.  Doesn’t taste bad.

“I’d stick with these,” she says, gesturing to Skyn, Kimono, One and Sir Richard’s.  “Or you might want to consider a sampler pack.  Includes a couple of dental dams and latex gloves.”

She leaves me to shop and reminds me she is available if I have any questions.

So many choices.  I remember coming home from Rwanda last summer, standing in front of the yogurt selections at Whole Foods and bursting into tears – overwhelmed by the abundance.  I feel a little bit the same way.

I pull down a couple of boxes and choose a variety pack from Sir Richard’s – purple and grey plaid.  Made in Boulder.  For each condom purchased, one is donated in a developing country.  A little altruism with my orgasm.  Nice.  I also grab a small box of non-latex Skyn.  I don’t have a latex allergy but, someone else might.

I take a quick spin through the aisles before I leave.  DVDs.  Vibrators.  Strap Ons.  Lube.  I grab a bottle of Sliquid and meet Sarah at the register.

She excuses herself from the couple she is assisting with harnesses.

She nods approvingly at my choices, runs my credit card through, and slips a flyer listing free workshops in the bag.  All of them have passed.

Before I leave, she tells me that she divorced more than 15 years ago, and more than made it through.  “I learned how to advocate for myself sexually,” she adds.  “It’s been great.”

I believe her.  Both on the advocating and on the great.  I’ve already opened myself to it.

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.