I have been “away,” that is, I have been literally floored twice. First, I was sidelined for a period of two months with five herniated discs (albeit still able to write while prone) and then, a week after my doc pronounced that I was out of the acute phase of recovering from my back injury, played out by severe vertigo. Almost a month later, this second problem, an alleged vestibular infection, which makes both me and my environs spin, still plagues me. Note that we are in Nisan, in the count down to Pesach.
My husband is fond of saying and I am fond of agreeing with him that lessons not well learned get reinforced as often as is necessary. Thereafter, those personalized teachings “merely” get reviewed. It seems that Yours Truly was in need of an ego diet and that the only stimulus that would budge me toward shrinking my sense of self was the repeated experience of being kept from active participation in my life. More specifically, whereas I thought I was attaching my energy to mitzvot for the right reasons, I had to be physically stopped, twice, to learn otherwise.
My initial encounter brought me to the hospital, worked me through all sort of legal drug limits and caused me to get light headed from the hurt. My subsequent suffering “only” presented me with a broken inner gyroscope, which, in turn, made the floor and walls of any space I occupied dance out of sync with me, and which prevented me from being able to sit up, to think clearly, or to even keep water down. Over the course of these tutorials, I lacked the ability to cook for my family, to facilitate my writing class, or to otherwise provide any service. To date, I am still challenged when asked to walk a straight line. It seems that The Boss is helping me get rid of my chametz.
Sometimes, when we clean up during Nisan, we are surprised by what we find. When my children were small, the spaces between our sofa’s cushions and behind our largest pieces of furniture would yield, annually, a parade of missing socks, all sorts of partially eaten rice cakes, and a zoo’s worth of lost plastic or cloth animals. These days, my discoveries are a bit different. It’s not just that my sons and daughters can vacuum behind chairs and beds, are able to sort the entire household’s laundry, and can otherwise prove that they are indeed emerging into adulthood. It is also the case that the most awful messes in my life are not the ones I can see or smell, but the ones that lay hidden within me. Mostly, this season, I have been helped to find bits and pieces of inappropriate self-esteem.
In the beginning, when those shards and strips were starting to emerge, long tamped down by professional and personal business, I dared to mourn. I had the audacity to grieve that given my physical limits I could not perform hachnasat orchim, that money I would have liked to have given as tzedakah had to be rerouted to cover unexpected medical costs, and that I had to sit, rather than stand, when praying Shemoneh Esrei. I further had the gumption to complain that I couldn’t stop vomiting long enough to get to the bathroom, let alone to a Megillah reading, and that I was destined to miss hearing, in schul, the parshiot of these four important Shabbasim leading up to Pesach.
Musser from a learned friend, B”H, showed me that I was being spiritually coarse. Acts of loving kindness, that is, the fulfillment of mitzvot, ought to be done because Hashem says so, not because of self desire or because of consequential good feelings. If I am limited in my ability to function, then that level of service, not more, is the level expected of me and is the level to which I am supposed to rise. Unlike striving for grades, for career success, or for other quantifiable ends, striving to perform mitzvot is a qualitative pursuit.
Just as no Jew is the sum of any other Jew, no particular passage in life is the sum of any other life passage. In brief, while it’s nice to think of one’s self as a middle-aged mom, who served on shidduch committees, who helped with synagogue functions and who otherwise was active in her communities here and in Hutz La''aretz, it is not necessary, and is sometimes wrong, or impossible, or both, to conceptualize one’s self according to one’s deeds. A person too ill to make (or to receive) bikur cholim calls is not a person who ought to insist that Pesach cleaning in her home will necessarily include dust bunnies alongside of the removal of the remnants of the five grains and is not a person who has any right to measure her worth (or the worth of others, for that matter) according to some scale she invented or that she unwisely borrowed.
In short, for the moment, as that span is measured on a cosmic chart, rather than on my personal graph, my service consists of accepting my limitations and in not harming myself or the people around me by trying to push past those constraints. Getting rid of my internal chametz, escaping my personal Egypt, this year, means no more and no less than this emerging tolerance for myself. I am and always will remain creation, not Creator. My unity with HaKadosh Baruchu depends not on my forcing the actualization of my desires, but on my accepting His wishes.
B’ezrat Hashem, I’ll update after Pesach. Until then, I wish you and yours the ability to own your place in the universe and not to torment yourself by reaching for anything else. Our personal exiles are not really built by our enemies, but by our disregard for our individualized spiritual well-being.
Response to Readers:
To Jooane Hines, who replied to “Truly Alone,” thank-you for writing in and for your warm words.