Searching For the Missing Me

I am sitting in the kitchen of my beloved friend R_, who was on the same flight with me when we made Aliyah (emigrated) to Israel in 2007.  We didn’t meet on the plane because he was in such ecstasy at moving to our real home country that he didn’t notice anything around him.  He was in a haze of love and joy.  I met him about four months after our arrival.  He was hanging out laundry on his mirpesset (balcony), and I recognized him from the flight.  His place turned out to be exactly one block from mine, and my seat-mate on that flight happened to live exactly one block from him!  The three of us became the best of friends.  R_ has become my support system and champion in my struggle to free myself from the toxic, strangulating tentacles that have torn me from my real home country and dragged me back to America, which otherwise holds no attraction to me.

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R_’s living room

I had to take a break from my parents and America, because I found myself consumed with rage, which is a very unhealthy emotion.  I developed high blood pressure and heart palpitations, and was having terrible heart pains that woke me out of sleep.  They were so intense that I could not even move to call an ambulance, even had I wanted to, which I didn’t.  I would have been just as happy if a heart attack carried me off, out of the misery of my life there.

So I suddenly announced that I was going to Israel for three weeks, for a break, causing immense consternation on the maternal side of things, and resignation from the Dad side.  I needed a breathing spell, and specifically to breathe the air of the Holy Land, just to be here, even if all I did was to hang out with my friend R_ and walk around the shuk, inhaling and imbibing the sights, sounds, smells, and spirit of the place.

Bride and groom playing in the shuk

Bride and groom playing in the shuk

Practically as soon as I got off the plane my Israeli cell phone started ringing:  “We’re so glad you’re back: now everything feels normal again.”  I have a place, and my place is here.    My family of choice lives here.  I feel surrounded by love here.

R_ and I went yesterday to visit the tomb of the Baba Sali, a holy man who was said to have brought about many miracles in his time.  Here it is customary to visit the tombs of great and wise people (like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Leah, Samuel, etc.) to bathe in their energy and pray for whatever needs prayed for.  We don’t pray to the person, for that is idol worship, but instead we pray for the spirit of that holy person to intercede for us in Heaven so that our prayers will be heard.  I had, and still have, a lot to pray for, so we went to the Baba Sali, because I have a special connection with him.

Baba Sali lived in our times, and came from Damascus to Morocco to Israel, where he settled in a tiny village called Netivot, which is located in the Negev desert right on the border with Gaza, just south of Sderot, which is a town that has been rained on with so many thousands of missiles from Gaza that every bus stop has its own bomb shelter.

Why do I feel safe here?  Right now, at this very moment, Russia is funneling terrible weapons into Syria, which in turn is passing them on to Hezbollah (the terrorist arm in Lebanon), Iran is arming Hamas in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon, and all of them are fighting among themselves.  It’s a virtual certainty that they will attack Israel at some point.  On Monday and Tuesday this week the air raid sirens went off in every town in the Land, and everyone was supposed to drill taking shelter.  Nobody did, because Israelis are used to being the objects of the aggression of our neighbors, and we realize that only G-d can save us, since we are a country the size of Delaware, so we go on with our lives and our prayers, and of course we hope that rockets won’t fall on our houses or our children, but we rely on G-d to be our shelter.  No Westerner can understand that.

But that’s not what this blog entry is about.

It’s about the terrible conflict that tears me apart, and keeps me from living the life I love, the life the holds out the possibility of real spiritual redemption.  It’s about the conflict between kibud av v’aim, respect for father and mother, which is one of the Ten Commandments.  The letter of  halacha, Jewish Law, interprets this to mean that one is obligated at minimum to provide shelter, food, and clothing sufficient for one’s parents’ needs, but I have a hard time with leaving it at that.

Although my mother severely abused me emotionally, psychologically, verbally, and at times physically, and my father was a codependent facilitator, I still have difficulty separating from them completely, because I continually hope that they will magically become the parents I have always desperately wanted and needed:  loving, caring, nurturing, and deserving of my love and respect.

In fact, in my adolescent confrontational phase, before I picked up and left home at age 16, my mother would scream at me, “You have to love and respect me because I am your parent.”  And I would scream back, “If you want me to love and respect you, you have to earn it,” to which the dear mother would generally reply with a stream of obscenities and a smack across the face, if she could reach me.

So why, after four years of blissful content in Israel, did I rush to their side when their time of need arrived in their old age?  And what has kept me there, in total isolation and spiritual desolation, for two and a half years?  Unconditional love,  blind even to ongoing abuse?  Kibud av v’aim?   Or that desperate primal hope that one day I would awaken to find them magically transformed into my real parents, the ones who dropped me off here on this alien planet 59 years ago?

I just don’t know.

alien woman head

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17 Comments

  1. Beautifully written blog. Your words carried such anguish and torment. I was in Israel in 2008 and could not believe how I responded to the country. Duty is a hard taskmaster, and whilst this may seem hypocritical – remember the many parents who sent their children to safety from the Germans…. they did not ask their children to honour “Kibud av v’aim”.
    I am not Jewish but feel a kinship I cannot explain. I look forward to reading more from you. Shalom. 🙂

    Reply
    • Thank you so much. Glad to know you’ve been here and felt the holiness of the Land. The parents that sent their children away rather than see them going up the smoke stacks were people who loved their children more than they loved having children to love them. It requires a consciousness and a “mesirut nefesh,” literally giving over one’s soul to G-d, that is very rare in the world now. Thank you for such a thoughtful reply.

      Reply
      • When heart speaks to heart the words simply flow. I couldn’t help but reply – and the words found themsselves on the ‘page’. I truly wish you G-d’s blessings and wish you “mesirut nefesh,” in this world or the next. Happiness always, Susan

        Reply
  2. Rose

     /  May 30, 2013

    I can really sense strong emotion in this post. It is lovely that you have found your true home, and devastating, I am sure, to be torn away from it. I hope for you that you are able to return for good in the near future. Spiritual wholeness is something I dream of, but can’t quite grasp. How lovely for you that you have found it!

    Reply
  3. D'Alta

     /  May 30, 2013

    Hope. Plain and simple hope. Because humans cannot live without hope. But misplaced hope knocks us down…over and over and over again…until we put our hope in the write place. G-d would not have you die for your mother and your father. Your death would not change their living, nor their dying… Nor would it change your mother’s illness… Nor your father’s… So perhaps following the letter of the law is what is called for, for you and for them. Your mother will never give you what you hope and long for–love, apology, acceptance. It is not within her being. Your dad never learned how to be your real guardian, advocate, parent. He was as helpless as you, his child. I can’t even imagine what you could hope to get in your relationship with them…perhaps only to see them as the frail, broken people that they are. When I was finally able to reach that place with my own parents, I became more peaceful and better able to daughter them. It was learning to live with my own anger for all their failings that freed me. L, I am placing my hand on the back of yours as I say this, you must stop giving and placing your best hope in things that will only knock it down. Follow the letter of the law, because G-d’s Law is about life and love. G-d commands that we choose life. Do not give yourself over to death. There are too many people who need those who choose life and the joy that life gives. Surely, the state of Israel could use one more smile in her midst. The mountain in North Carolina seems not to know what to do with smiles…

    Reply
    • D, you’ve sent me into torrents of tears. Your truth is impermeable. And yet…and yet, I remember how much time you spent up North taking care of your mother, and I wonder if, and if so, how, you’ve detached from that? You are still spending significant amounts of time with her, are you not? Away from your own home? Or have you been able to let go somewhat, and are there other people who have taken over some of the burden?

      Reply
      • D'Alta

         /  May 30, 2013

        I came home partway through August last year. I was trying to keep the promises my youngest sister made to my mother, and my mother grew more and more resentful with each day I was there. So, I made the decision to re-occupy my own life. I still travel up and back but not nearly as much as before–and not when I sick or when my back or gut bothers me. It is detachment we seek. And some days are easier than others–ask K! But what is really at the crux of the matter is working to be detached, whether up North or in my own home. I am the one who hurts me when I am not detached. Undetached–or attached in unhealthy ways, it doesn’t matter whether one is next to the my mom or on the other side of the world. Because I am the one who gets angry, feels guilty, is resentful. My mother isn’t harmed in the least. So before my dad died, I practiced seeing him as the frail, broken-bodied man that he was. Yes, he had harmed me and everyone in my family in the past. Yet, here he was, barely able to breathe, unsteady on his feet, the child whose hope had been knocked down each and every time hope and my dad lifted his head. He was that deeply wounded little boy and had no idea that he could heal. I, at least, knew I didn’t have to remain a wounded child. And I didn’t have to remain wounded to be in his presence. My therapist once said to me, “What you see is what you get.” Once I could accept that I could be a good, caring, bright person AND still be my parents’ daughter, I stopped looking in them for the things that were me. Somehow I came out ahead, in spite of what I had not gotten from them. Somehow I got what I needed to be whole, despite their brokenness. But it sure is hard and is never over, just easier each time I become undetached… Much love to you!!! I’m glad you are home for awhile.

        Reply
  4. Great that you have managed to separate from the tangled web and reclaim your own life. It’s a bit easier to handle the inevitable crises when you’re a day’s drive away than from the other side of the world, but I do indeed feel safer at a distance of 6,000 miles! Maybe it’s the wonderful cocoon of loving supportive friends and my own culture. Yesterday I spoke to my mother and she said she was glad I was having a good time “and maybe I will come back in a better frame of mind.” So I see that I am not doing anybody much good by putting off what must be done: to get them into an appropriate living situation so that I can live in MY appropriate living situation, whether they blame me for “uprooting” them or not. And if they won’t cooperate? I guess they’ll have to wait it out until some crisis happens that puts them into places they’d rather not be. I have to cop to the fact that they are adults who made adult choices, who have never consulted me about what I wanted, and who are not likely to change at this late date either. It’s ME who has to change, as you have said. Thanks for sharing your experiences. It’s very helpful!

    Reply
    • D'Alta

       /  May 31, 2013

      It IS easier when I am a day’s drive away, easier to get there when the inevitable happens. And this is the hard part. I have had to give up my hope for my mother to have a different kind of life for herself. She has this view of herself as young, has always prided herself on her trim, youthful appearance. Yet her body betrays her, slivers of jaws, wrists that break when she falls, light-headedness when she rises to quickly, lack of stability from the light-head and feet that are clumsy, and small cognitive declining moments that grow worse each day she chooses to stay alone. My youngest sister who lives with my mom has only begun to see how different both their lives could be…but she has a seasonal job she loves. So far her pain is not bad enough to tell my mother that their life has to change. Keeping my sister’s promise to my mom is no longer an option for me. My other two siblings are so caught up in their own lives that they refuse to see how my mother declines. Or refuse to see… If they refuse to see, then they don’t have to think about losing a mother.

      L, your mother’s words give me a chill. Yes, perhaps you need a different frame of mind…one that allows you to see them as frail and elderly…but. You knew there was going to be a but… Don’t let those words seduce you into hoping one more time to be loved by your parents the way you want to be loved. You have done everything you can to make that happen. Some parents are able to love themselves AND their children, and are able and willing to do things to make the lives of parent, children, and grandchildren better. I have seen colleagues of K’s bring parents to live in Rochester. And those parents have lived with gratitude, closer to their children and grandchildren, and have agreed to make everyone’s life better, bearable, even joyful. I try to tell my mother how much I, and K, enjoy having her around, but being here only represents loss to her. And my mom does little to see beyond what she doesn’t have–her youth. Who knows? Maybe she can’t bear having me around because she sees my grey hair, my wrinkles, my joints that are cranky. Or maybe she just wants to sit her days away, cat on her lap, Nook in hand. Maybe that’s the best she can imagine…

      Reply
  5. D'Alta

     /  May 31, 2013

    I hope what you are not hearing is me trying to outdo or out-better or one-up your own pain. I only know that sometimes it’s not worth getting back on the horse “that throwed” you, that it’s okay to forget to ride some bikes. I hope what you hear is genuine concern for you, L. I do know how hard it is to get all snarled up, tangled in chaos, not of your own making. I pray that your parents come to whatever senses they have left, get off that damn mountain, granting you and them some peace… And if they choose to reject a life that will be easier for all, I pray for your peace of mind in whatever decisions are or aren’t made. You have only one good life to live. You have a right to be happy in your own home, surrounded by those who love and appreciate you…maybe even indoor plumbing… 😉

    Reply
    • Thanks, D, for all of this. It has really touched me, your sharing. I don’t at all feel as if comparing our situations is one-upping. In fact I feel supported and nurtured. Maybe you should consider the clergy….;-)

      Reply
  6. You bare your soul in such an elegant way. There is much searching for the ‘right answer for you’ that still needs to be done, and I fear there will be even more time needed to make peace with whatever decision you arrive at.

    I’m glad you are back home for the time being. Enjoy every precious second! (And send pictures! 🙂 )

    Reply
    • Thank you, mm. Baring my soul elegantly in public….does that make me a soul-stripper?

      Pictures, yes. On the way xoxoxo

      Reply
  7. D'Alta

     /  June 8, 2013

    You have been in my thoughts. Life has been just a tad crazy. Gives me loads of opportunities to practice detachment… Ironic to receive this last comment about considering clergy-work. I officiated last Saturday at a wedding between a Jewish bride whose main belief was in karma and a groom who had been raised in the Roman Catholic Church in the Southern Tier. I had officiated at a wedding a few years ago between a somewhat non-practicing Jew and a non-practicing Methodist. The mother of the most recent bride liked how I handled the wedding a few years ago and asked if I would consider her daughter’s wedding. I agreed and had a wonderful time getting to know and officiating at the wedding last Saturday–hope you followed all of that. As you can imagine, there are far more interesting details in these latest nuptials. As I prepared for this wedding, I realized that I have become shepherd/pastor to an entire group of people who have turned away from organized religion yet still wish for the presence of something greater than themselves at their wedding. It is an interesting place to be–this combination of rabbi, priest, and spirit…

    Reply
    • Mazal Tov. At least the kalla’s children will be Jewish, even if they don’t know it yet. Jewishness is inherited through the mother, tribe (Kohen, Levi, Yisrael) through the father. So like my son, their children will be Jewish, but they will be Bnei Avraham, which means their “real” father is Avraham in Jewish lineage. Glad you are clergying away now. It’s good.

      Reply

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