Ram Dass warns against being a connoisseur of clay feet – someone who is more aware of and more focused on other people’s foibles than their strengths. And though I’ve heard him say it lots of times, I don’t think I’ve ever really understood it until recently. And even now, I have but a very beginning understanding, the most tenuous inkling of what he is talking about. Joita’s bat mitzvah was a few weeks ago. It was fantastically fabulous. And that is despite some serious hazards, pitfalls and landmines that were relatively deftly avoided. I had to share this day and all of its preparation, love and radiance with an ex-partner with whom (putting it very mildly) I do not always get along. I had long ago conceded to having the actual bat mitzvah service at the synagogue where she belongs. But as the date approached, I regretted that concession more and more. I don’t know how to write about this without doing the exact thing that I’m supposed to be beginning to understand not to do. But I’ll try.
Suffice it to say I have some real grievances with my ex, misgivings about people in her community and some serious criticisms of the leaders of the congregation (more about them as people than their service leadership per se). Most of my complaints are founded on the flaws, shortcomings and deficiencies of those in question and wrongdoings and hurts I feel I have sustained at their hands. I am neither faultless nor blameless. Nor am I perfect. The point is, because I have gripes with some of these people, focusing on their imperfections helps me maintain and sustain the image of them as shitheads. And let’s face it, we all feel just a little bit better if we can find ways of perceiving the people we don’t like as noxious assholes.
But that whole route wasn’t actually working for me with the bat mitzvah preparation and implementation. It’s hard to create and perpetuate sacredness and sanctity when you are simultaneously flipping people the bird, rolling your eyes in disgust and making faces behind their back. You can’t engage fully as your best self when you are finding fault and insults at every turn. You can’t model spiritually elevated ideals for your child while doing the aforementioned things either. As much fun as it was to paint these people as jerks, it wasn’t doing anything good for me, my kid, the process, the bat mitzvah or even the Universe.
I’m trying to embrace the fact that very few (if any) people wake up in the morning and say to themselves, “What a beautiful day. I think I will be a gaping asshole today.” Pretty much everyone, not unlike myself, is doing the best job they can to get through each day, being the best person they are capable of being. For a moment I stopped seeing my ex as someone put on this earth to antagonize me and make my life miserable. I promised myself that after the bat mitzvah I could go back to being irritated by her if I needed to. But just for this period of time I was going to see her simply as another human being trying to get by. Several times in the course of the planning I found myself feeling oppugned by her. Each of those times I had to breathe deeply, and try to figure out what was true for me, without being defensive and sarcastic and without assigning her purposeful negative intent.
During one of the rabbi’s talks – in which he was interpreting a passage in Torah on the ways to be a good person – I found myself thinking, “Yeah, right! He’s really one to give advice.” And again I had to call myself back and apply the same benefit to him. He is just another poor schmuck going about the business of being human and trying to get by. He was not expounding the ways of being holy by way of saying he was a model of perfection himself. He was not addressing me specifically to point out my un-holiness. He was simply elucidating points in scripture, and trying to learn from them, offering a teaching.
When members of the congregation approached me to say how wonderful they thought Joita was and how beloved she is in the community, I pushed back the negative sarcastic responses that popped quickly into my head and instead breathed in the reality that there is no such thing as too much love. My child is loved by many and that does not diminish my love for her. I had to say it over and over again. I had to choke down venomous possessive reactions and to make space for others. In other words, and once again, I had to get out of my own way.
I’m not sure how long this mini-enlightenment will last or if I can sustain this way of thinking, feeling, being. I’m glad having an open heart allowed for an amazing bat mitzvah weekend for my daughter. She totally deserves it. At the very least, for me, it is a step in the right direction.