Sunday, August 28, 2016

Adult Aloneness

Yup, I know. I've been away for a while...readjusting. "Coming down" from being in Israel is always an interesting process and it seems appropriate that it took me pretty much the entire month of Av to work through it. It might have taken longer, but...Starbucks Cold Brew. Secret weapon of champions.

There have been a lot of feelings. One incident in particular really rattled me; it happened on my first Shabbat back at home.

When services were over, the usual controlled chaos ensued: kids made a beeline for the Kiddush tables and adults began socializing. (I want to go on record RIGHT NOW and say that Kiddush is my absolute least favorite part of Shabbat services. Introvert nightmare.) But on this particular day I spotted someone I wanted to talk to, a friend who had also been in Israel at the same time I was. I was excited to trade stories with this person and tell about my experience. So I walked straight over to this friend and was rewarded with a big, warm hug. All good. Until this person asked The Question:

"So...did you meet anyone?"

That was it. No, "How was your learning?" or even a simple, "How was it?" Instead, we got right to what was apparently the critical issue: did I meet anyone. As in, Meet Anyone. Bold and italics.

I was completely brought up short. I had not, in fact, Met Anyone while in Israel. To be 100% truthful, that hadn't been anywhere on my list of goals for the summer. And when I told my friend as much, this friend actually gave me an eye roll and said, "Okaaayyy," as if to imply, "What a missed opportunity!"

At first, I felt a flicker of anger. Wait a HOT SECOND, I wanted to say. I had an AMAZING time in Israel. I learned so much, I grew so much, and all you want to know is if I MET SOMEONE?!

And then shame rushed onto the scene. I felt like I had just failed a test I hadn't even known I was taking. Was I supposed to have met someone in Israel? Would other people be similarly horrified to know that I had not even made an effort to do so? Why hadn't I tried? And then, my all-time favorite, go-to Line of Shame:

There is something really wrong with me.

Because here's the thing: I never think about meeting anyone. Well, not never, but pretty much never. I can't remember ever "playing wedding" as a kid or fantasizing about a wedding dress as a teenager. At the time, I figured I was just too busy with other things. But even once I got to college, I still resisted the pull toward partnering off. A large contributor to my eating disorder was the primal fear I felt at having to enter the dating-for-marriage world; I simply let anorexia take me out of commission. In recovery, I've worked hard to change, "There is something really wrong with me because I'm still single," to, "Maybe being partnered just isn't important to me right now." To me, this feels fine. I am not big on romantic intimacy and I relish my independence. I plan on being a foster or adoptive parent and I do not tie that to the condition of being partnered. In my own head, being coupled feels like a "should," not like a "want," so I've been content to leave it alone.

And yet.

Social pressure is a real thing. I cannot deny that everyone around me is partnering off and having babies. And pretty much nowhere is this more apparent than at shul. I am not exaggerating when I say that, to my knowledge, out of an entire congregation, I am the only single-by-choice person there. As much as my friend's question caught me off guard, it really shouldn't have--the mission of most observant Jews under age 35 is to get married, and the mission of the community is to help make this happen. There's no protocol for how to handle a person who chooses to remain single. And so, I do often feel like something is truly "wrong" with me, because I don't want what everyone else wants. I want to want it, but it's not my truth. My truth is, I'm 34 and single, and that's how I want it to be for now. Even if I am the only person in the world who feels that way, I can't deny that it feels right at this time.

But maybe I'm not the only one.

I am not the biggest consumer of social media, but I LOVE Instagram. I use it mainly to follow people I admire and organizations I support, both for the work they do and the positive messages they put out into the world. One of my favorite Instagramers is Laura McKowen, a writer and "recovery warrior" who writes bravely and honestly about sobriety, motherhood, love, fear, and hope. I am routinely inspired by her work, but about a week ago she posted an image that went straight to my heart:

The temple of my adult aloneness. 


I hadn't even KNOWN there was such a thing, or that other people chose to live in that house, too. It had never occurred to me that is is okay to be single by choice, that it's not merely a condition to be endured until one eventually finds a partner. I mean, maybe most single people do end up getting married, and maybe I will, too. But in the meantime, I can be single without shame. I can live--and thrive--in my adult aloneness. Because that's the house where my soul belongs. Instead of wishing to be different, I just have to honor the way that I am, the way that G-d made me.

I think I could make that house into something beautiful.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Fall and the Comfort

And so, here we are. My last full day in Israel; I leave for the airport motza'ei Shabbat. To be honest, the primary emotion right now is exhaustion...there have been so many feelings during this time of transition that I don't really have the energy to endure any more. The grief and loneliness that come with leaving, the comfort of anticipating being back in an environment that I know like the back of my hand, the anxiety about travel and the pressure to reconnect with people back home...I'm feeling all of it. All the time. And it is so, so tiring.

Today is also Rosh Chodesh Av, the first day of the saddest month in the Jewish calendar and the beginning of the Nine Days, a period of mourning leading up to the 9th of Av. On 9 Av (Tisha B'Av in Hebrew), both the First and Second Temples were destroyed (there are also other calamities in Jewish history that are attributed to that date). It is a day of fasting and personal affliction, a day on which we are even prohibited to learn Torah. Unlike Yom Kippur, which is also a major fast day but brings with it the promise of teshuva and a fresh start, there is nothing uplifting about Tisha B'Av. It's all sad, all the time.

But then, there's a turning. The name of the month, Av, means "father." The custom is to add to it the word, menachem, which means, "comforter." So the full name of the month is often given as "Menachem Av," or, "Father the Comforter." In other words, in this month where there is so much sadness leading up to Tisha B'Av, Hashem (our Father, if you don't mind the gendered language) is there to console us.

I really like this idea, especially because I'm about to leave Israel and go back into the Diaspora, where holiness and connectedness sometimes feel very far away. But G-d is never far from me, no matter where I am. When I feel lonely and can't get in touch with anyone, I can remember that G-d is there to keep me company and comfort me. To some people, that idea might seem a little silly...I mean, G-d is not a person, so how can G-d really keep you company? I don't really have a good answer other than faith...and I'm glad I have that, because G-d is the One I can call on at any hour, on any day and in any place, whenever I feel lost and alone.

So, as I prepare to leave this place, I feel comforted by the knowledge that G-d is coming with me. And I also feel profoundly grateful for the past month that I have had here in Israel. I'm grateful to the staff and faculty at the Pardes Institute, who always make me feel like I've come home the minute I step into the building.  I'm grateful to my fellow students for challenging me and drawing me out of my shell in order to get to know me and connect. I'm grateful to my Israeli friends who went out of their way to see me while I was here. And I'm profoundly grateful to my teachers past and present, who continue to nurture me and serve as my surrogate family while I'm here. They take me into their homes, offer life advice and emotional support, and make sure I am safe and cared for in all ways. None of that can be replicated, but the warmth and security it generates can come with me. And believe me, I'm taking it all the way across the Atlantic.

So, I'm just about ready to go, or at least as ready as one can ever be to leave one's Favorite Place On Earth. But I think I'm leaving a little stronger and braver than I was when I got here. There's the fall, and then there's the comfort. Menachem Av.