Sunday, October 02, 2005

Preparing for the High Holidays

I organized a visit to the mikveh at Adas Israel for myself and three other women from Temple Micah today. Each of us had a half hour of private time to practice this ancient ritual of immersion in “living” water in whatever way we chose. I prayed for myself, my family, and the world in my first series of three dips. The second series focused on unloading issues from the past, worries about the future, and settling into the present moment, sort of like we do in meditation.

There is nothing like the power of water to make you feel clean. Preparation for the mikveh involves cutting your nails, removing any form of nail polish, cleaning out all the crevices where dirt can collect, and of course removing anything like jewelry and glasses that isn’t part of your body. We concluded that this preparation is intended to get you mentally prepared to immerse in the water. The water itself is warm and deep enough that you can feel suspended without touching any part of the walls of the pool. It feels so buoyant and delightful. It is very liberating.

I’m not sure how I chose the three women I invited. It was just some sort of connection I had felt with them. As it turns out, we all have serious health issues which were certainly part of the mikveh experience for each of us. I know Jan and Liz through the choir. I have only recently become friendly with Lynn.

Jan is quite petite. She is a fearless singer who holds down the alto section in the choir. When she is there, I know she will never miss an entrance and she will unfailingly sing on pitch and in rhythm. I learned today that she had her colon removed 13 years ago and suffers from the effects of scar tissue and other related problems. She may need to undergo further surgery. She practices a blend of Judaism and Buddhism. Does this make her a Bu-Jew, as my friend Ellen calls people with these beliefs?

Liz is absolutely beautiful, with long black curly hair. She is a lawyer, who has a passion for writing and therefore opted out of law to teach. She is a published author. She plays the flute amazingly well. She suffers from chronic lyme disease, which she has had for 4 years now. She is so discouraged with the fact that every day when she gets up in the morning, her body aches and she is tired. She wants her old body back, the spunk she always had. She wants to swim again. She actually tried the breast stroke in the mikveh today and it felt so natural.

Lynn is a renaissance woman. She has had about 5 different serious careers, including being a lawyer and now a psychotherapist, as well as running a hospice in southern Maryland. She wants to study acting. She reads incessantly by listening to books on tape during her 2 hours of commuting each day. Lynn lost both breasts and her ovaries due to a hereditary proclivity for cancer. She wants to figure out how to feel whole again. Chanting Torah this summer was her first step toward legitimizing her Jewishness. Visiting the mikveh was the second.

We went out for lunch after the last person finished up. There were tears and stories and revelations over wonderful Greek food. We felt a special closeness because of our vulnerability and our constant striving to make sense of adversity. We also felt close because of our joint experience, whereby words rose up from the depth of our being and we spoke to some force somewhere in an effort to cleanse ourselves from earthly burdens. The water accepted our bodies without question. If only we could do the same...

Shana tova.


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