Last week President Trump visited Milwaukee. In class that morning, one student said, “He’s not my president.” The timing wasn’t right to go into the nuances of that statement, to correct the fallacy that blindly believes saying “He’s not my president” excuses us of his wrongdoings (when we, the collective voting citizenry, put him there) but merely excuses his ignoring us, so my response to her was subtler.
“Whether we like him or not, he’s our president, and we should respect that.”
I refused to get religious. In fact, “refuse” is the wrong word: I keep my faith wrapped around my neck but not gurgling through my vocal cords, so I never genuinely talk about religion with my students. Perhaps, this time, I should have.
Let me tell you a secret: After my bar-mitzvah (the ceremonial step from childhood into adulthood for young Jewish men), I was convinced that I had learned everything Judaism had to offer. I could read Hebrew, lead the prayers; I knew Torah stories, could even offer some midrash (commentary). So, I said, my journey in Judaism is complete.
I pursued spiritual fulfillment from other traditions, and I ultimately settled into Paganism, and Wicca in particular, for about three or four years.
Then, well, then I was Jewish again. Let me explain.
Funny story: So Yom Kippur is perhaps the most somber and important day of the Jewish year; it’s the Sabbath of Sabbaths, the Day of Atonement, the day our names our sealed in the Book of Life for one more year.
And Yom Kippur is tomorrow.
But my calendar (don’t trust calendars) implied it began last night, so I began fasting, trying to think of Yom Kippur things, and then I realized, today isn’t even Yom Kippur.
I have a confession: I am bound in chains and sometimes I like it. My flesh is tethered by bands of leather and holy boxes inscribed with the word of God. The numbness under the straps speaks to me of security, reminds me of an invisible, all powerful touch.
The truth is metaphor’s a nasty animal that rears its head and paws at the dirt and runs off chasing wild game the moment you think it’s majesty might actually be your own.
But the bigger truth is this: Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom, about what it means to be free, about liberation, and all the chains we carry.
In my last post, I spoke about the uncomfortable reality of being a non-Christian in a country that mistakenly believes its religious identity (which doesn’t exist) is synonymous with its civic identity. I also alluded to a conversation with a friend who assumed Chanukah is a much bigger deal than it is–but instead of making my misconception corrections then, I decided to make them their own post.
Some may say I’m blowing this out of proportion, but probably I’m not: I feel like the material world has stolen Chanukah. Picked it up in a big red bag, slung it over its shoulder, and made off on a sleigh drawn by a dog with one antler. It makes me lax to light candles, eat latkes, even spin the dreidle.
On Monday I indirectly witnessed a motorcycle accident, and it left me feeling entrenched in shock. I wrote about my experience and my loss of words, my loss of feeling, when I learned the man had not survived. Yet still I felt numb when I woke up yesterday morning, and then I wondered if I should’ve posted about it at all–here I was, turning tragedy into an opportunity to increase page views and site traffic.
But it wasn’t like that: I was relating an experience that had a profound impact on me, that had left me in a state of apprehensive uncertainty, and sharing it helped me process it. On Monday night, as I typed out the last words of my post, it came to an end only because I’d written up to the point when I sat at my computer and started writing–but the story itself was still incomplete. It ended too soon. Too abruptly.
I want to write a profound and moving post about Yom Kippur. About atonement, about forgiveness, about redemption and revival. I want to write a poem about the pounding of my fist against my heart as I echo, in harmony with the congregation around me, the confessions of our sins. I want to paint a picture of the closing gates with such vividness my readers will forget they’re reading and think they are seeing into heaven itself.
But Yom Kippur is not about grandeur, and what else are these desires?
More than six months ago I wrote about a new perspective on love and fear–but I didn’t really know what I was trying to say, so I waited some time to post it, and when school started and I forgot about it, I left it alone: the thoughts, the adventure, the discovery. It sat there in wait, biding its time in a cocoon of mystery, longing for my return when the answers–like the fossilized remains of humanity’s missing link–could finally be uncovered.
Since then I’ve been blessed with challenges that I’ve overcome–and with either success or failure defined at the end, I’ve overcome them nonetheless–and I was blessed with the opportunities to learn, to serve, to experience, and more so I’ve been blessed with love, falling deeply in love with a man who is everything I could ever wish for.
So when it comes to love, I feel like I’ve finally learned a few things.