Still, nothing brings the topic to the forefront of discussion like spending time outside during the first warm days of spring. The ladies all look so lovely and lively in the bright colors of modern spring fashion. Some of them wear jeans, some wear shorts, some wear sandals and others sport a playful pair of flats. There are sundresses, tank tops, t-shirts galore. I, as usual, am in a skirt that flows past my knees and a top with sleeves that reach below my elbows. And then the comments begin:
"I'm hot just looking at you. How can you stand it? Don't you ever miss blue jeans? Don't you feel uncomfortable?"
Initially, I feel awkward and even apologetic. Gosh, I'm so sorry that my longer sleeves and full length skirt make others feel hot in this weather. I jump to respond with something like "No, I'm not uncomfortable at all. I got used to it after a while..." and then I ask myself who I am really feeling apologetic toward? Actually it's me. I am sorry for myself because you know what? Yes, I am uncomfortable. And so, I opt for the first time to respond completely honestly:
"Actually yes, I am uncomfortable. Choosing to wear a skirt and longer sleeves in accordance with my beliefs on modest dress did not make me Superwoman; I feel hot, sweaty and uncomfortable in warm weather just like any other person. And you know what? I love that! Because as many times as I stop to think how uncomfortable I am, that's how many times I feel connected. Connected to my Creator, connected to my roots, and connected to my soul as a spiritual being. In fact, because I am uncomfortable so often due to the choices I make regarding dress, or food, or social relationships, or weekly routines--I never feel disconnected the way I did prior to becoming religious."
And there you have it. But this isn't a post about tzniut or even about religious observance. It is a post about feeling uncomfortable. It's about finding perfect beauty while existing in an imperfect world. Some of life's greatest rewards are received as a result of our greatest sacrifices. Some of the most intense sensations of connection evolve out of our willingness to let go a little. Some of the deepest feelings of closeness emerge from our ability to tolerate temporary states of distance. And nothing brings this topic to the forefront of discussion like the blessing of finding one's basherte (soulmate) and preparing for marriage!
I hear all of the time that nothing challenges a person's sense of self like learning to coexist as an individual within a couple. Thank G-d, I am so blessed to have a sensitive, thoughtful and patient fiance who is learning these ropes with me. In spite of my propensity to become Bridezilla, our mutual respect and love as well as our commitment and humor carry us through any and all bumps in the road to the chuppah. There are endless decisions to make from the details of a wedding invitation to the details of a place to live and the only constant factor is change itself. Well, wait a minute, I don't like change. Remember? Or maybe that's just what we tell ourselves to make it ok that for too long at times in our lives, we remain idle in our discomfort.
The fact is, there are many times I've chosen change. Just less than a year ago, I changed locations from Spokane, Washington to Albany, New York. It wasn't all easy or instantaneous, but Home remained an internal state of being and wherever I went, I was Here. I landed my dream job. I maintained and grew in friendships that are now thousands of miles away and I developed friendships here. I gained contentment and confidence in my Yiddishkeit and certainly gained my mazal in finding a shidduch! I thought about what drew me to move back to this area where I grew up. It wasn't an act of "going back." I really didn't do that at all. I didn't rekindle old relationships here or even spend much time revisiting old stomping grounds. It ended up being the sweet smell of spring lilacs that brought me clarity on the matter. As I was walking around this neighborhood I've called home for the last several months, the overwhelming aroma of spring here brought equally overwhelming memories and nostalgia. I wouldn't say I recalled anything specific or vividly in that sense, but rather that I revisited a feeling. This smell, this place, and this feeling represented the greatest joys and hopes of my childhood. In a very real sense, I came back here to try and find that. And, with G-d's help, I did. But I didn't find it in the place itself or even in the sweet scent of lilacs. The truth is, I've found it within the person I am becoming now together with my chosson (groom). Being with him is where I have returned to the greatest joys and hopes of my childhood as well as the joys and hopes I feel right now and for our future, G-d be willing.
Additionally, marriage is not a foreign language at all. Sure it is new to us and we are in so many ways new to each other. But it is also sublimely familiar. Why? Because prior to meeting my chosson, the greatest most significant and long term relationship I'd had in my life is my relationship to G-d. The Jewish people are often compared to a bride in a marriage to our Creator, our groom. The Torah is our ketuba (marrital contract), Mount Sinai was our chuppah (wedding canopy). G-d created us with free will; we are not like angels or machines who carry out G-d's will automatically. We think, we feel, we exist as individuals. We have our own desires and our own expectations. G-d created us that way. He sees it all, He knows it all, and He loves us anyway. He may walk out of the room at times, but He will never walk out of our marriage. So, too, in my relationship to G-d have I walked out of the room on occasion. Yet, leaving that marriage was never a viable option.
Connecting to G-d was always for me about finding ways to feel close despite an inconceivable disconnect. Reaching and maintaining that intention occurred through a willingness to tolerate and sometimes even appreciate discomfort. Sometimes that manifests in the form of peeling away layers of ego to let in a little vulnerability and then a lot of love. Other times, it just looks like wearing a long skirt and sleeves that reach past my elbows even in 80 degree weather. Marriage between a man and a woman is also an act of peeling away layers of ego. There is a sense of cautiousness and callousness we develop to survive as single halves of a yet-to-be-united whole. That can now be carefully and lovingly peeled away to let in the sense of connection and closeness that kept us searching until, with G-d's help, we merited to reach this moment. And sure, it can be uncomfortable. Do either of us really know what we're getting into? We're both making sacrifices and we're both letting go. We're both tolerating the time we're physically apart in favor of the reward that will be, G-d willing, the ample time we spend together after we're married.
Despite all of its discomforts, my relationship to G-d is the greatest comfort I've known. So, too, is a marriage the home for all of life's greatest joys and hopes. Appreciating those requires research, thought, prayer, trust, education, and, of course, trial and error. Is it a bed of roses? Absolutely! Thorns and all! We can only appreciate the beauty of perfection in this imperfect world through finding meaning or at least tolerance in moments of discomfort. Wishing my readers a beautiful and blessed week. Wherever it takes you, may you make yourself comfortable or at the very least, make yourself at Home.