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As an awkward, gawky, beyond-shy thirteen-year-old, a stutterer, a born–lesbian-who-wouldn’t-know-the-word-for-ten+-more-years, each day was filled with excruciating moments. Having to talk—in public, in private, I was breaking my family’s silent contract that nothing was wrong.
Every word I had to say was a threat to our collective denial.
Wanting to kiss girls? It was a secret, held in the depths of my being, so far away I could hardly know it myself.
Don’t look at me—don’t see me. Don’t love me. No, just kidding, love me. No, never mind.
I was a hider. It made sense. I hid well.
I’m not really here.
So, my Confirmation in 1961 which culminated my already challenging Jewish education was a dreaded event, a day I prayed fervently would never come. Thirteen of us Reform Jews would study all year with the Rabbi and then graduate, becoming members of the community upon Confirmation.
We would be seen, and we would be heard. I would be seen, and I would be heard.
The only brass ring in this terrifying experience was the blessing. Word had it, the Rabbi would call each student to him, after we gave our speech, a terrifying, death-defying affair. The rabbi would offer his blessing. Specific to that person, a personalized blessing.
OH, how I wanted and needed a blessing. I was so lonely, so scared.
Suffice to say, the trauma leading up to this June night, on that dread night, the intensity of walking down the aisle, the trauma of giving my speech, being both seen and heard, built over the months.
My speech! Its opening words were, The rabbi is our friend…, which I practiced 900000 times, although I couldn’t count on that damn TH sound, that bugger, snagged me every time; it was horrific.
I was certain he wasn’t my friend, anyway.
But I kept my eye on the prize—the blessing. At least I would get MY blessing, right? At least God would be there for me, right?
Here are my words I wrote in 2010, describing what happened next, after just surviving the speech-giving before a packed congregation:
…”The moment I had lived for now arrived. I would be offered my secret, perfect-for-me, blessing.
The rabbi put his hands on my head. They appeared extraordinarily white and small and dry, and strangely warm, denting the helmet of my sprayed plastic pageboy. OH, the blessing was coming. I was trembling with relief, with possibility, almost faint with it all. I could have fallen over from the dance in my body between exhausted terror and hopefulness.
His voice was a staged, hushed whisper, surrounding me—
“Nan,” he dramatically began. “Stay—as— beautiful—as—you—are—in—this moment.”
Stay as beautiful as what? I was fully and positively certain I was not beautiful: that my hair was cardboard, my face pimply, my stomach too big, those white spots on my nails too noticeable. I was both outraged and profoundly disappointed.
STAY AS BEAUTIFUL…It was bullshit. There was no blessing here. He didn’t know what else to say, he made it up.
I could have collapsed in a pile of disappointment at his feet. But I did not…
God didn’t come to me that night. God did not bless me, nor did he welcome me into his people. God was nowhere in sight, as much as I could tell. God wouldn’t lie to me like that.
He just didn’t show up.
I would have to continue along alone.”.
And so I did, for a long, long time.
I wrote about this in a story called, Heaven, Hell, and Hebrew School, for my book, Already Home. As I read the story today—omg. Why didn’t I call it? Why didn’t I say: THIS IS TOO HARD. I CAN’T DO THIS.
And where were my parents?
Surviving, getting through, we were all managing as best we were able, following the great cultural advice of the 50’s and 60’s: if you don’t pay attention to it, it doesn’t exist.
Now—here is a blessing, written and read by the beloved John O’Donohue, priest, poet, philosopher.
There is such good news. I am so blessed. My greatest struggle, my stuttering, brought me my super-power, the power of synonym-izing, talking around the words I couldn’t say, finding words that I could, resulting in a fabulous fluidity of language in speaking and writing. Who knew?
There is such good news. I am so blessed. Another massive struggle, my addiction, brought me into the world of Grace and Goodness, where I practice seeing the blessings. Who knew?
There is such good news. I am so blessed. My shy, heartbroken younger self found community and connection in the world of Kripalu, where I continue to become more and more myself. Who knew?
The blessings are—
- The cacophony of redwing blackbirds celebrating the morning sun
- Witnessing/feeling the leaves popping alive, fused with living green, out of nowhere filling the hillside
- Niki the Dog’s stares, looking into my soul with an extraordinary depth of connection
Dear friends, what are your blessings?
Although I offered this song before, I must offer it to you here. Now here is a blessing.
May the Longtime Sun by Snatam Kaur:
As the weather warms, how is your body feeling?
Do you need a tune-up, reminders to rebalance and realign your nutritional self-care?
Are those Covid pounds getting you down?
Do you want to feel healthier?
BEYOND RIGHT AND WRONG