Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Story Isn't Finished

There is a concept I heard from Rabbi David Fohrman that I often have to reiterate to myself. Because we have heard the stories from the Tanach over and over again, we forget that the people in the stories, when they were in it, did not know the ending. 

We are all characters in our own stories. We can get frustrated at times because we forget that we are still in middle of the tale. 
I'm still in middle of my story. The day after I had this epiphany, and was thinking how to write it up, Lily Brooks-Dalton beat me to the punch.
Instead of parking my Bonneville around the corner, where I wouldn’t have to see it every time I went for a walk, I parked in front of my building — where I will see it every day and feel sad.
It will remind me of how good it felt to share myself with another person, to feel like I finally knew where home was, and then how it felt to cut that safe haven away and be adrift once more. It will remind me that when I started riding, I wanted to grow into myself and I did; I sought a shape and I found it. . .
This isn’t the part of the story when the woman overcomes her challenges and is rewarded with new love. It’s not the part when the rain washes away her fear or rinses off her grief.
This is the part when the clouds part so briefly she might have imagined it, when the promise of light is made and then brutally withheld, when restoration begins to seem possible but is not yet realized.
This isn’t the happy part of the story, but that’s O.K. This story isn’t finished.
Sarah was sad because she thought she wouldn't ever have a child. Rivka davened fervently for one as well. Leah wept, thinking she would get stuck with Eisav as her husband. Rochel had handed over her man to her sister, and on top of that was barren as well. We know how it ended, now. They didn't, then.

Did my grandparents know the end of the story while they were in the camps?

We get impatient.  We think there is a rulebook of how things "should be." In Meghan Daum's review:
In “The Prime of Life,” Steven Mintz, a professor of history at the University of Texas and the author of two previous volumes tracing the roots of American life passages, offers some comforting news. Going back centuries in this country, “adults” never particularly had their acts together. In the 17th-century colonies, Mintz tells us, age was an “imprecise category,” and life decisions were dictated more by circumstance than by any sense of a culturally imposed timeline. Men were often not able to marry until their fathers had died and passed down an inheritance. . .
In what might come as a surprise to religious conservatives and other proponents of early marriage, Mintz reports that apart from the period following World War II, most Americans did not wed until their mid- or even late 20s or early 30s. Citing one couple, Theodore Dwight Weld and Angelina Grimké, whose courtship in the late 1830s was marked by neurotic self-disclosures and a rather tortured dissection of the whole institution of marriage, Mintz shows that foot dragging and overanalysis are hardly the province of today’s affluent, educated classes. “Only after Theodore and Angelina were convinced that they were emotionally ready for ‘the most important step of Life,’ did they finally marry,” Mintz recounts. Theodore, incidentally, was 39 at the time.
“The essential point,” Mintz writes, “is that the decade stretching from the late teens to the late 20s has long been a period of uncertainty, hesitation and ­indecision.”
It was no different in Europe, I assure you.

B'H, we are living longer than ever before. Yet, oddly, our community believes we should be marrying younger than we did before. If we aren't, there's a "crisis."

The crisis is all in our minds. For the story isn't finished.      


Daniel Saunders said...

Yes, this is very true. I used to get annoyed with Yosef's story when it came around every year. Everything works out for him! Even when he gets sent to jail, he ends up running it! Then I realized just how long the timescale is for his story (twenty-two years from being sold to being reunited with his father). Now I have more admiration for him.

Thanks for posting this, because I really needed to hear it today. My mental health has been bad again lately (well, for months really) and it sometimes seems scarily like it will never get better, I'll never get the life I want for myself. Lately I've also had what I call the ba'al teshuva blues, where I feel I'm never going to get to where I want to be religiously (obviously that's partly related to my mental health). So it is good to remember that I'm only thirty-two, hopefully there's still time for things to turn around.

Princess Lea said...

One of the most amazing songs ever (in my opinion) is Donny Osmond singing "Close Every Door to Me" from "Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat." It always gives me a boost.

Yosef was 17 when he was torn away from his father and tossed into slavery. There were many low moments for him among the high.

So many shiurim I'm listening to now are addressing the same point: Sadness at not being where one wants to be spiritually. But true, lasting change requires time. I look back and I wince at my past behavior, but that also means I'm not the same person now as I was then. It has to be the right time as well.

Daniel Saunders said...

Are there any shiurim you can recommend? I'm really struggling with this area right now.

True change does indeed take time. I've come across a number of former ba'alei teshuva who eventually gave up on the frum life. I don't want to judge them and I don't know their full stories, but it does often seem to be the case that they took on a lot very quickly and then found it all too much (sometimes this was complicated by mental health issues). On the whole, I'm glad that my own teshuva took place over many years - I think it's helped me to consolidate my gains, especially when mental illness threatens to push me backwards. But the gap between who I am and who I want to be still frustrates me, and probably always will.

Princess Lea said...

From what I've heard from Rabbi Yisroel Reisman lately, that's also a madreiga, wishing one could be better. That also counts for something.

I've been listening to Rabbi Daniel Glatstein shiurim on a loop. I'm not sure which one had the exact message:


But the whole message of Purim is about redemption coming in the darkest hour.

In one of the shiurim (I'm sorry, I don't remember which one" he quotes the Chasam Sofer in that the miracle of Purim was that Vashti's execution, which eventually brings about the salvation, takes place at the very seudah that caused the Jews to be decreed against. Hashem does not bring any makah unless the refuah is already in place. I found that to be very comforting.