Holiday observances around here are always a mixed bag: Politica pays no mind to any religious significance to holidays Christian or Jewish, and she may or may not plunge into a celebration of the ethical themes relating to most religious holidays. I tend to ponder the spiritual elements of the holiday season in a rather agnostic-but-leaning-towards-something-more-than-human-in-the-universe way, and we may or may not have any rituals, public or private to go along with the holidays. With Yom Kippur, I've been trying to figure out what the holidays means to me. My forebears are largely Irish Catholic, so I don't have a claim to generations of tradition to uphold. Yet I am drawn to contemporary Judaism, so what I do have is a sense of community to nurture in the present, a community which (largely) values the celebration of such holidays.
So I've ended up thinking about solitude and oneness, which is a theme reverberating in so many dimensions in my life right now. Holidays pull me and Politica together, yet they also push us into solitude, since for most holidays we have such different reasons for acknowledging them. We’ve learned that solitude can be good for us—our solitary experiences give us the means to feed our relationship, help keep what happens between the two of us growing. Yet solitude can be lonely.
Solitude is also—as any parent of a todder knows—hard to come by. With Curious Girl, we crave solitude (what was it like to go to the bathroom alone?), we celebrate the independence she achieves, and we love the feeling of family oneness that she helps create when we’re all together. Yet solitude, the chance to be alone, with no one making demands….what a precious gift.
Yet solitude can be lonely. We went to an apple festival last weekend and there was a creationist booth there (?!? We said). It had a scale model of the ark, even (which looked something like a rectangular apartment building, not particularly seaworthy, around 5 stories tall). People were looking at it, taking literature. Who are you? we wondered. Our state legislature is in the midst of amending our constitution so that marriages like ours will never be possible in this state. The way opponents of same-sex marriage talk so demonizes gay and lesbian people. Solitude like that can be frightening.
So I’m drawn to community (in a way that Politica isn’t), in part to create an antidote to the bad kind of solitude, and in part to create a community for Curious Girl to help protect her from all the hate.
Somehow Yom Kippur is bringing up these thoughts, rather than thoughts about forgiveness and atonement. My students researched atonement earlier this semester: Atone and atonement are originally Middle English terms, a combination of at one, to be in agreement with (usually with God). Some of the most magical moments in my life with Politica are those when we have seemed at one—scattered moments, like being in the Norwegian Hjemmefront Museet learning about the wartime experiences that so shaped my father-in-law; sitting looking at Curious Girl asleep on the bed; singing in our living room; sitting on a plane bound for Russia, when we felt just so comfortably connected, in tune, at home. That oneness is threatened by so many things: external threats (like our ever-helpful state legislature) and internal threats (like our own tendencies to withdraw, overwhelmed, into our private spaces). How would it be different if we had the courage to speak from solitude to create more oneness? And to use our oneness to foster the helpful kind of solitude?
So much of Jewish history—history, period—is troubling. We have a violent history, a history built on divisions, on martial uprisings, on strict legalism that promises peace and prosperity but often seems to ignore differences in order to create a new future. One commentary I read this week said that on Yom Kippur we are to put aside our physicality, and live like the angels. But angels we are not. We need our solitude, we need our community.
I don’t know how to forgive the people who hate me and my family. I believe, somehow, that somewhere in them is some shred of humanity, but the closest I can come to forgiveness is to remember that those who campaign so hard “defending” marriage are people, too. But until their actions, and their words, make space for my family in the world, I will resent what they do to my world. And I will work to make a world in which they can do me—and most importantly, Curious Girl--no harm.
These lines from the end of Adrienne Rich's "Yom Kippur 1984" (from Your Native Land, Your Life) seem appropriate. They end a poem which struggles with solitude and community, margins and center.
What is a Jew in solitude?
What is a woman in solitude, a queer woman or man?
when center and edges are crushed together, the extremities
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