Let's start with some music, okay? Here's Peter Mulvey's "Shirt," from which I lifted my title. Get it going before you settle in.
Technically the "cross or the bodhi tree" year would be thirty-three, but you know, converting to Judaism takes a year. Today is my birthday (mine and Henry Winkler's), and I am thirty-two (and he is...not), which is sort of shocking considering that I used to blog about things like turning twenty-seven. Sean gave me the best pairing of gifts I could ever hope for: an English/Hebrew Tanakh, and pork chops for dinner. It sums up certain dilemmas of conversion rather nicely. Though I feel compelled to point out that Mister Cooks-Pork-So-Dang-Well is the Real Actual Matrilineal Jew, here.
But why on earth am I converting? People ask. A lot. Sometimes with discernible shock and a tinge of horror -- not at the thought of Judaism itself (I presume) but at the idea of taking on any sort of organized religion, especially one of the Big Patriarchals. It's a reasonable question, tone aside. Why would somebody who summarily rejected the Christianity she grew up with on grounds both earthly (personal experiences with the church) and theological (I ain't buying the Messiah thing) pick a religion that, you know, goes around proscribing things, and seems fixated on a particular patch of desert?
A million years ago, back when I was blogging about turning twenty-seven, Getupgrrl (remember her? She's sort of the Sarah [as in Abraham] of the fertility blogosphere) recommended I check into Reconstructionist Judaism. Which was a damn good call on her part. I started reading, and was astonished that somebody had already invented exactly the religion I was looking for. What was I looking for?
Ritual, for one. Tradition, for another. A sense of awe at the beauty and wonder of the universe, and a set of ethics that meshed with what I believe. Ties to nature and earth. A focus on the world right here and how we can make it better. And most important, a community.
The more I learn, the more I love it: the attention to knowledge and learning combined with the necessity of practice. The ways Judaism is growing and changing (especially with respect to women, and especially within Reconstructionist Judaism). The huge volume of stuff to read! -- the complexities of centuries' worth of law and thought. The otherworldy feel of an entire prayer service in group song, and the earthiness of Sukkot. Rosh Chodesh -- a new moon celebration.
There's a lot that I was looking for, and even more I didn't realize I needed. I love lighting the Shabbat candles with Sophia, and man, did she go nuts for the sukkah! I have a framework for discussing the world with someone who asks, "Mama, who made the trees?" (the answer involves science and a non-supernatural God), and a year to mark with rituals that mean something to her now, but may mean a whole lot more as she grows. I also didn't want her to lose her connection to Judaism.
There's more, and the decision is constantly evolving, but there you have it. It's right; it fits. (We can talk about brit milah later. Sigh.)
So back to the song. If you didn't get the MP3 going, here's an excerpt:
years go rolling
you're thirty three
for the cross
or the bodhi tree
like to cry when you
skin your knee
man's it's hard
and it's the same old friends on new years eve
the same snow falls on the same old leaves
and there's the same old joy and the same old hurt
same old corduroy shirt
old storm windows,
the broke-tail squirrel
grocery lists and the
rusty brain cells give you a twirl
like a month just to lean up on
open road wants to
get you gone
off you go
and it's the same old jar of car keys by the door
the same old scuffed up floor
the same old thirst for more until they put you in the dirt
And I love the song, the lyrics and the music and how it makes me feel like I'm sitting in an old kitchen with worn-out linoleum on a featureless November day with a gray-white sky and the last of the leaves gumming up the weatherstripping. Except instead of feeling listless and melancholy I feel comforted, energized, by the discovery that even in my cozy frayed nest things are eternally new, rich and ornate, knotty and thorny and endlessly fascinating.
So how's it going for you, this getting older thing?