13 October 2005

Solitude and Oneness (revised)

It's Yom Kippur. I'm pondering issues of sin and the nature of God talk as I work through some questions about the holiday, a time when the language of Leviticus, the language of Jonah, is at odds with our lived experience as a loving lesbian family with the previously-described views of the divine.

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 the winter flood-tides wrench the tower from the rock,
crumble the prophet's headland, and the farms slide
into the sea
when leviathan is endangered and Jonah becomes revenger
when center and edges are crushed together, the extremities
crushed together on which the world was founded
when our souls crash together, Arab and Jew, howling our
loneliness within the tribes
when the refugee child and the exile's child re-open the blasted and
forbidden city
when we who refuse to be women and men as women and men are
chartered, tell our stories of solitude spent in multitude
in that world as it may be, newborn and haunted, what will
solitude mean?

Readers, bloggers, commenters all, we tell a lot of stories in this little corner of the blogosphere. May they create a new world.


Yankee T said...

I am so anxious to read more from you on this...

Phantom Scribbler said...

Me, too. Yom Kippur is a troubling holiday no matter how you twist it.

Phantom Scribbler said...

I wish the solution was a simple one -- like you all move to Massachusetts and live happily ever after while the so-called marriage defenders huddle in their arks.

A really lovely meditation on solitude, oneness,and creating a family Susan. Are you reading Friday Mom? I think you'd enjoy what she has to say a lot.

susan said...

That would be a nice solution! Massachusetts is an interesting testing ground for so much of the marriage politics--one of the reasons the constitutional amendment failed recently is because the sky hasn't fallen on the great commonwealth since marriage opened up to all citizens! In some other states, quick amendment processes prevented that experience.

I'll have to hop on over to Friday Mom. Although not while I am being Friday Portfolio Grader.

sster said...

Beautiful post, once again...

I think that blogging is an experience of solitude and oneness simultaneously. On the one hand, we type in darkness, sometimes in our underroos, and while we type we are speaking to ourselves. But after hitting 'send,' our conversation with ourselves becomes part of the blogosphere, and people find us, and we become a community.