Saturday, September 8, 2012
Torrent of Consciousness
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Observations During Rabbi Kleinbaum's 20th Anniversary Shabbat Service
Erika, the wife of my college classmate Sari, and her pre-teen daughter Ruby walk toward us as we're all heading to the entrance. And instead of being with Pat, I'm accompanied by a friend Davina -- a heterosexual ally I met through our diversity and inclusion work -- but Erika doesn't know that and wonders where Pat is. I explain.
I can see that Erika's relieved and we go in...but not before passing through the gauntlet of Rick as he hands us each a siddur, "I'm watching you!" after I introduce Davina. "Rick, Davina is a great *ally* of our community." And she's also a good sport. A very attractive good sport, who more congregants are going to notice, I'm certain, especially the female ones. He's semi-satisfied with my explanation that Pat's in Green Bay with her brother, helping their mother move.
And I do feel guilty as we enter the sanctuary. Pat should be by my side. Which is worse? Not coming with Pat for this historic occasion in the life of our congregation, or not coming at all?
Pat's and my usual seats in the center, second row are taken, which seems right -- at least, another woman shouldn't sit in Pat's seat next to me. Our view is obstructed by a pillar. Pat might have left, rather than have such a crummy view. I'm Ok with our seats and again, Davina's a sport. And she has been to CBST a couple of times before -- once with Pat and me and one time on Purim with other friends.
A pretty, single (I think) congregant comes over and I feel bad that Davina is not eligible, but also further guilty somehow, like the woman is sort of winking at me without winking, at my sheer good fortune to have such an attractive friend, but is also perhaps a bit disoriented, since Pat and I ourselves are such an established pillar of our congregation, and who is this woman anyway...? Or it could all be major projection on my part. And then I explain Davina's ally status, and then the congregant might be personally disappointed as she moves on to her seat.
I'm missing Pat, especially at the start of the service, as we're singing "Shalom Aleichem" and swaying with interlocked arms, as is the congregation's custom. Why do the women on either side of me have to be so little? I can feel the imprint of my friend's tiny hand on my back and miss the solidity of standing with Pat, who is essentially my height, and miss that I have no one to kiss on the mouth when the tune ends and we pause to wish "Shabbat shalom" to those around us. I'm *so* spoiled. Later, before delivering her drash, the rabbi will allude to having been through a hard breakup with her "ex-partner" of many, many years, and will announce that she has a new partner. And during the kiddush, another friend will tell me that her partner broke up with her recently, and they were together for at least the 16 years we've been congregants. How were either of these breakups possible?
I can't imagine losing Pat, except to death, which I imagine morbidly all too frequently, since she's 15 years older than I. My dad was a year younger than my mom and he died at 56, so the younger ones can go first, of course, but -- and my mom never re-married. When Pat turned 56, she had a colon cancer scare and had a piece of her colon removed. We got off scot-free, so I relaxed...and then I remembered that I needed to get past 56, too, without Pat dying, since 56 was the terrible age that broke apart my parents. Nine more years of pins and needles and then I can relax, until I figure out another reason to worry, assuming I'm still healthy myself then!
The place is packed. I'm smiling at people I've known since we joined upon our move to metro-New York 16 years ago: Sari, Judy, Saul, Saul, Ruth, Jack, Marni, Ilene, Abbe, Diane, Joyce, Karen...how is it that 16 years later, I'm edging toward becoming among the elder congregants? Not quite yet, I guess, but when I look around me at the younger faces -- and bodies -- I feel wistful.
What a lovely trio of Orthodox women two rows ahead of us! They look like the just barely grown-up version of the prettiest girls in the Modern Orthodox Jewish day school I attended from Grades 1-8. They can't be older than their late-20s. Chestnut hair streams down one's back, another's fine, blondish-brown hair is swept up in a pony-tail that ends with a couple of sweet curls and the length of the third, dark-brunette one matches the chestnut hair's length almost exactly. Such simcha-inspiring symmetry!
When they stand for the Amidah, they supplicate themselves in all the right places. During the rabbi's drash, two of them emerge as a couple, leaning into each other's shoulders with one, tugging on the other's pony-tail at one point, twirling the curls -- ultimately, I recognize one as a far-flung Facebook friend who I'm seeing in 3D for the first time. What a chasm they've crossed to be here, as a couple, touching each other, even just a little, in *public*. How at home they must feel, to be able to do so. Again, perhaps another giant projection on my part...if only Pat were with me, so I could have my left arm around her as usual, draping my hand now visibly on her shoulder/back/neck, so that my wedding ring would flash in the sanctuary light as a literal symbol of our rock-solidness (k'ayn eyeen harah).
God, why can't Pat be here with Davina and me? It makes me so lonely to be without Pat, and it sets my imagination to catastrophizing. How sweet can this service be if we're not together to share it? How easily my mind moves like a magnet to noticing the especially lovely women in the crowd. If I do lose Pat in the future, will this one I see a few rows back from me still be single? Probably not. Nor that one. And she won't be Pat in any case. What if I'm alone by 56 and by then, no longer look at all attractive and can't find anyone to approximate Pat? Why *didn't* we adopt when it turned out that I couldn't bear a child organically? Who will pay attention to me when I'm old?
As I look over then at a baby who's cooing in her mother's lap, I see Judy, one of the long-time congregants, in the row behind them and recall my sobbing silently nearly a decade ago as Sari and Erika went to the bimah for their second daughter's baby-naming. Judy, herself a mother of grown kids at the time, knew enough to recognize why I was crying and simply paused to rub/pat my back gently as she walked by. It was the simplest kindness, and it convinced me that I was a bonafide member of this congregational community. We never spoke about it and I hadn't thought about her kindness in years, till I saw Erika, Sari, their three daughters, and Judy at the service.
It's our fate, instead, to have feline daughters, I guess, and suddenly, I want to be playing with them back at home, in our nice, suburban, split-level house, petting them and hearing them purr. Toonces, especially, has been missing her other mommy all week. If only I could train them to bentch licht....
I'm distracted from my day-dreaming by Rabbi Weiss, who is ready to recite two blessings for two families now up at the bimah -- one for the two women who just had twin boys and another for two men who've been together for 40 years and who are marrying on Sunday. Later, during remarks in honor of Rabbi Kleinbaum's tenure, Rabbi Weiss mentions that during Rabbi Kleinbaum's first month, she officiated at five AIDS-related funerals and this month, there have been five babies born to congregants.
During the kiddush, Davina says, "Every time I come here memorable things happen." And a bit later: "These things should be happening, of course, but they're in the realm of, 'Who ever thought we'd see -- What moved you about the service?'"
"Well, I'm kvelling a bit because we've come so far -- as a congregation and community, and personally. As a congregation, we now have our own building and our own prayerbook and personally, Rabbi Weiss married Pat and me two Julys ago [after 19 years together]."
As I said to Rabbi Kleinbaum after the service, "[Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha'olam]... shecheyanu v'kiy'manu v'higyanu lazman hazeh!"/"[Blessed are you our God, creator of the universe] ...who has supported us, protected us and brought us to this moment."