The Only Thing I Know How to Do
My words keep turning to dust on the page
I keep writing things I think may be shareable, and it's as if they dissolve in my hands. Words like powder, pulverizing when they touch the page. None of my questions or feelings matter, yet I feel such an ache and a pressure to try to place language around the un-languageable.
Last night we ate Chinese food and the kids and I watched Mamma Mia. It has been a long time since I saw it, and it's just so fabulously campy and over the top and Aviva knows every last song by heart and wrote Meryl Street the most sincere fan letter ever when she was eight.
Sitting with my arm around my kids, full of chicken & broccoli and dumb fortunes, left my mama heart so happy and full and indescribably grateful. My entire fortune, right here in the living room. How insanely lucky.
After the movie, we walked out to the driveway together – V was heading back to school and I was driving Pearl back to his dad's house. He mentioned the Christmas music he had put on in the car on our way over to my house earlier, and how I had been less than enthusiastic about it, though I couldn't resist telling him that Jews wrote much of the soundtrack.
"Always a Jew," Aviva intoned with her inimitable humor in an impeccably timed imitation of my maternal grandfather's famous deathbed words to my mother. (He had practiced Christian Science for much of his adult life, but at the end of the day, the end of his days, those three words said it all.) Always a Jew. Always a Jew.
I keep writing and writing and the words dissipate into the air like the spices we pass around during Havdalah, the ritual that separates Shabbat – the holy – from the rest of the week – the mundane. We draw lines around things so that we know what's what. This guides us. This is supposed to guide us.
We draw lines. Lines that uphold sacred spaces and traditions, lines that protect us, lines that draw upward towards some imagined heavenly place we don't live for but are charged with creating here on earth, that this might be a place without war and suffering, lines that trace backward and back and back in time through every story, every era, every expulsion, every triumph, every resurgence, every decimation and desecration and journeying around the world looking for a place to call home.
We take this with us; it's in the bones of my body, the bones of my people, and I keep finding myself facing a wall with nowhere else to go, tears streaming down my face knowing my daughter was right when she cried in the car that this is irreconcilable, and having no answers for her, nothing I could say to make any of it better, to make any of it easier, to make any of it make sense, only eilu v'eilu, both those and these, only lines and walls and the Kotel and the babies returned to their families and the babies still not returned home and the babies who watched their parents get murdered and the babies in the NICU and the babies in the rubble and the babies and the babies and the babies I can't stop writing about.
I want to delete, draw a line around this to make it all disappear, say stop, what is the point of writing when none of it eases the pain?
Is there solace in letters flying from fingers, some magical belief that if I find the right combination something will happen like the sea will part and the land will heal and the people will coexist in peace and the families will be reunited and the dead will rest and the living will walk through orchards of shared belonging?
If only this were true, if only there was a combination of words that could unlock a way forward beyond this harrowing deadlock and in the meantime I say the world has never been safe for Jews, only when we blend in and even then at some point the resentment and projection come through, the scapegoating and blame, the old stories so embedded in the world's psyche that they tell themselves.
I look at them with so much love, always a Jew my sweethearts, always a Jew, my babies, always a Jew my beloved, always a Jew, my aging face in the mirror, my parents at their kitchen table with the Sunday Times strewn all over, the assimilated Jews of every era, the ones who stayed apart and didn't try, didn't want to cross lines into the secular world, and I am proud and frightened and damn it there is also shame, there is let us be better, let us fix this, let us exist, let us seek justice and safety for ourselves and for the stranger, let us be the light we are supposed to be, oh please, please let us be.
So you can see why I keep writing and deleting, words pulverizing like bones or buildings, falling short of anything worth sharing, not out of self-effacement but the naked humility of having nothing of value but my own Jewish heart, my mama heart, my daughter heart, my wife heart, my sister heart, my Hebrew heart, my praying heart, my bleeding heart, my longing bursting wandering Jew heart, my always a Jew heart.
As I finished writing this latest round of words turned to dust, news of three Palestinian college students shot in Burlington, Vermont, where I lived for 12 years of my adult life, the place where I was a Hillel director in my late 20s, so long ago, the place where my babies received their Jewish names.
I weep. I pray. And because it’s the only thing I know how to do, I keep writing.