Yes, this is a post about signposts (pun intended). I wrote one a while back about signs, the universe, and how if we take the space to learn its language, if our eyes are open, we can see them all around us. But here I am, delving into this topic again, because once more, things are happening that I can’t ignore.
I recently read Dani Shapiro’s memoir, “Devotion.” A friend recommended I read it because Dani’s story and voice reminded her of me (and what a compliment). In her thoughtful book, Dani charts her search for meaning (while leading a seemingly rich life) and how she finds it in her reinterpretation of religion - a hybrid of Judaism and Buddhism (Buddish? Jewdist? You get the point). Dani grew up in an observant household, like I did, and after taking a detour away from it, like me, she found her way back to it. Unlike me. Not yet anyway.
But there is a reason this book was written now, and a reason it resonated with me. There’s a reason that although I hardly ever watch TV, I recently found myself immersed in a cable program about the roots of Kabbalah. Every day for the last three years, since my divorce and subsequent life change, I’ve worn the same two Kabbalistic necklaces that I bought from a religious shopkeeper in the Israeli port town of Jaffa (One is shaped like a key, and fyi, “Is that the key to your heart?” is the worst pick up line ever). I feel naked without those necklaces, even though I don't know what every single etching on it means. They just feel warm around my neck – they feel right.
I started having dreams about running to the airport and missing my flight to Israel again. I mentioned this in a previous post. When my ex-cub and I were getting serious and discussing whether he would convert or at the very least learn more about my religion, these dreams were prevalent. The most symbolic of them being the one where I couldn’t get on the plane because I had lost my passport – signifying the loss of my Jewish identity, perhaps. Since my ex goyfriend and I broke up, the dreams ceased.
But the signs haven’t. And now that I find myself in the early stages of a relationship with someone new, who also happens to not be Jewish, the same questions are emerging. What does it mean for me to be Jewish? What customs and rituals matter enough to actually enforce? How much of it is meaningful to me personally, and how much is just inherited expectations (and agita) from my family? Obviously, I am entering into this new relationship willingly. At this stage and age in my life, I’ve decided that it is in no way a deal breaker. Finding love – an indisputable connection - is difficult enough that I’ve decided I cannot limit myself to only Jews (not to mention that my J-date experience has produced zero contact with J’s; only with goys. Goy - 2. Jew - 0).
My new guy and I are just getting to know each other, and it’s definitively too early for me to concern myself with this (if it is even a concern at all), so I’m not going to.
But the signs couldn’t care less.
Religion came up last night for the first time. Turns out my new guy loves religion, the Old Testament, and goes to church occasionally. We share the same values and intellectual curiosity. A good start.
But in typical neurotic Cougel fashion, I found myself reflecting on what that might translate into in the future – should we even have one together - and briefly discussed this with my sister. As I was walking through Union Square on the way to a meeting, I was BBMing with her thoughts regarding what it means to be Jewish, and mentioned the lost passport dream to her again. When I put my Blackberry into my purse, a young woman with long dark hair stopped me. I thought she was going to ask me for directions. She said something else.
“Excuse me, are you Jewish?”
Note: It’s freezing in NYC. I had a big furry hat on, sunglasses, and my typical rock and roll garb and borderline Lesbian boots. My curly Jewy hair was covered. There were no tells.
I don’t know why I didn’t just say, “Yes,” or “No thank you, I’m in a rush.” Maybe it was typical New Yorker suspicion and identity concealment in play, or maybe it was my own confusion that made me reply with, “Why?”
She handed me a box of candles, for the Sabbath (it was Friday), and said, “We had some extras and I wanted you to have one. Candle lighting is at 4:30.”
Coincidence? No way. If that wasn’t Universe code for, “Hey Cougel, get your Jewishit together,” I don’t know what is.
My brother-in-law who is a Rabbi told me that we all have a “malach,” an angel, that hovers in the universe around us to watch out for us. But the malach is also there to test us, to surface important conflicts out of our subconscious and into the light. A signpost, if you will, in the form of a stranger on a wintery New York street.
I don’t know what the answer is, or what I’m supposed to “do” with this information, if I’m to do anything at all. But while reading Dani’s book, I admired her tenacity and ability to do the painful digging in order to ground herself in something bigger than the minutiae of her day to day life. It sparked to life the swirling undercurrent I’ve been experiencing regarding finding deeper meaning in my own life. I don’t know if the key (yes, the key again) lies in Judaism, or Eastern philosophy (I don’t do Yoga), or something in between.
But if I don’t stop to see the signposts in my own search for meaning, then it’s likely I will never find the answer.
So, is this neurotic mumbo jumbo, or is there relevance to all of this? Is this even a question for the masses, or is it up to us as individuals to interpret the sign’s meaning for ourselves?