I went to say goodnight to Izzy before I left for temple tonight–she was standing at the bathroom sink mixing water and toothpaste and lotion and soap and dental floss to make “soda.”
“Where are you going?” she asked. To temple, I told her.
“To talk to God?” she asked, looking at me through the mirror.
“I guess so, yeah.”
“You should ask for superpowers,” she directed me.
I don’t know if “talking to God” is why I have started going to temple, although it’s part of it, I suppose. I pray a lot during the day, which has been a constant for me since getting sober. Even at times when I haven’t believed in God, I’ve still issued these flyers into the ether: usually something along the lines of “Please, help me out here.” And there are some set prayers from AA that I say when I find myself derailed by self-loathing–the rhythm of them carries me up and out of the specific fixation, if only for a moment.
But temple is funny–the text is entirely in Hebrew, which I can’t read, and pretty much all we do is sing. A lifelong WASP, I don’t know any of the songs, but I sing along anyway, trying to find the tune with the community, knowing that my stumbling and searching through the first verses and my butchering of the pronunciation will get lost in the throng. I sing these prayers, but since I don’t know the language, I can’t get hung up on the specific vagaries of meaning–the point is to find my place among this community of voices, to let myself be imperfect there, knowing I’ll be welcomed anyway.
I’ve been going off and on since the election. Up until recently, AA had always been the place I found some semblance of a spiritual community, if not an organized religion, but that’s gone a bit off the rails of late. The day after the election, I went to a meeting–I didn’t know what else to do, and it was the place I’d always returned to when the world felt out of control. But when I walked into my home group that Wednesday morning, I didn’t feel safe anymore, not like I had. One of the central rules of AA is that you leave your politics at the door, so I had no idea where people were coming from on the political spectrum.
But more than that was the sense I had of my own potential endangerment in the space. For all I knew, every guy there could be a perpetrator. And who was I kidding? It was an AA meeting–it’s not a stretch of the imagination to say that one in three of the men in that room had committed some form of assault against a woman. And I could feel it, in a new way–this place, which had previously been sacrosanct to me, was infected by sexual violence, just like every other fucking place is these days.
When Ariel and I went to temple the following Friday, the feeling was really different–here was a group of people united by their understanding of the world as a place that was fundamentally pretty hostile. Our job in the world (at least the way that our temple seems to frame it) is to stand with those people against whom the world keeps committing this violence. To protect the powerless.
So the point of going to temple has been the experience of community more than the act of prayer itself. I let myself be embraced by this group and I do my best to embrace them back in my heart, in all their earnest, nerdy glory.
But there is a moment of silent prayer, and when I am “talking to God,” I find myself asking the same things I do throughout the day: help me be present, help me feel safe, help me to find the resources to be of service in the world, thanks for my life just as it is.
But maybe asking to be simultaneously present and grateful is asking for superpowers? Today was really hard–I adopted Teddy this morning, and unlike when we adopted Izzy, there was no pomp or ceremony from the judge. We were in the trial courthouse, which is a bleak administrative building filled with people who looked like they wished they were anywhere else. Everyone who we talked to about the adoption seemed almost embarrassed by the fact that we had to do this–which I should appreciate, I suppose. Maybe a more emotionally generous person would have appreciated it. To me, today, it just felt like they were trying to prove how “woke” they were. Which–sure, thanks, whatever. On top of that, my family of origin is waiting for test results for my dad which could be really scary. Between these two things, I spent the day longing to be pretty much anywhere than my own head, my own skin. Bad ideas kept coming up like crocuses in spring: I should send this ill-advised text. I should smoke. Why bother with my bike helmet? Tell this inappropriate joke to a student. I should definitely smoke. And so on.
It felt good to be at the service, but not quite magical, the way I’d hoped it would. During the silent prayer, I felt my mind wander. The people seemed great, but I felt certain, looking at them, that they didn’t harbor the same self-destructive, depraved impulses that plague me. They all just seemed so good–what was I even doing here?
But during the Oneg, the cantor buttonholed me. She was so glad that I was there–just seeing my pink hair lifted her spirits, she told me. And then this transwoman came over with her family–I’d noticed her during the service, and seeing her had been a brief balm to my alienation. After a brief pause to check in, the cantor told me that this woman had just told her parents, just that day, that she was trans, that she wanted them to call her by a female name. So we chatted–I told her my coming out story, she told me hers. Her parents had been great, she assured me, but the tremor in her hand as she poured the Keshet grape juice suggested that even though they were great, this didn’t mean her life was easy.
We didn’t talk long, but it felt real–I told her that I’d adopted my son that morning, we bonded about the time it can take for loved ones to come around to queerness. “They’re still figuring it out,” she told me. “Aren’t we all?” I responded.
And maybe this is the superpower–to let myself really be part of this community, to give whatever I have, even when I’m feeling like garbage. It’s so hard to have faith these days–and I’m still trying to figure out a vision of faith that doesn’t depend on the world getting better. But in this conversation, it was just about being present–being another queer person in that space, welcoming someone in even when I didn’t really believe I was welcome. Just showing up can be a superpower, and being present is my petition to be something more than the meager limits of my imagination.