We Have to Learn the Whole Script, Not Just Our Own Lines

Photo: Allef Vinicius

Saturday, 4:30pm

The indoor soccer stadium is teeming with movement and noise. Boys’ and girls’ teams of various ages on multiple fields — from fifth grade on up through high school. On my right, two girls climb on the underside of the stands, their dreads flying beneath them as they dangle from the crooked slats. My youngest, Pearl, has a game at 5:00. It’s the first time I’ve ever brought my computer here to write while her team — the Amherst Hurricanes — practices.

Today, she yielded to my suggestion of wearing long underwear beneath her soccer shorts; after all, the wind chill is well below zero. But the moment we got here, she bee-lined to go change. Since Pearl presents as male and prefers to use the men’s bathroom, I stood sentry near the door, far enough away not to crowd her but close enough to sate my inner mama bear.

I love watching these kids play; they’ve got the teamwork thing down — their pats on the back and fist bumps after near misses, successful blocks, and, of course, goals all make me melt a little.

She’d probably die that I wrote that, and full disclosure, hormones make me even mushier than usual, which is already on the high side. But I really am a sucker for the friendship thing.

This weekend, Aviva took the train with her cousin — they are three months apart and we’ve called them the Bobsy Twins for the entirety of their 14+ years on the planet together — to NYC to visit a posse of summer camp friends. They planned meticulously; in addition to saving money for the trip, part of the “yes” on behalf of all of the parental units was that they take charge of the logistics (rules for unaccompanied minors and a detailed plan for the weekend itself, from phone numbers to sleeping arrangements).

Needless to say, I got a little teary at the photo of them standing on the Amtrak platform, on their way not only to the City but clearly to the Rest of Their Lives, too.

Pearl and I attempted to brave the cold this morning with a new frisbee, but the wind forced us to toss it back and forth under some bleachers at the Amherst College lacrosse fields — not ideal. We threw in the towel after 10 minutes or so, opting instead of hot chocolate at home. The fact that she wants to spend time with me feels like this thing that could go *poof* at any minute. And since there’s no way for me to know when that will be, I’m inclined to say sure, let’s play frisbee even though it’s colder than a witch’s tit out there (OMG don’t you love that expression?).

I did glance ever so briefly at Facebook this morning. I saw headlines and stories that made my blood run cold: A rally in Maricopa County — Phoenix — where pro-Trump folks called for “liberal genocide” and the deportation of Jews. A move that can only be called a purge of the Justice Department. An interview with Nigerian feminist author and activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in which she states that experiences of trans women shouldn’t be conflated with those of [cis] “women.”

Then I closed the computer and said to Mani, “Who do we think is going to save us from this?”

This is why I take one day a week “off” — mostly, somewhat — from interacting online. This is why we do Shabbat.

Shabbat saves me.

Sunday, 7:30am

The birdsong conceals these temperatures; you’d think it was a balmy 60-degree morning by their exuberant greetings. Daylight Savings Time means moving slowly this morning. With Aviva still in New York and Pearl having had a sleepover, the house is otherwise quiet.

This weekend was Purim. It falls among the nine-word Jewish holidays and festivals: They tried to kill us; we won; let’s eat.

In this case, it was Haman, leader of Persia, who plotted to destroy the Jewish People. The hero in this story is in fact a heroine, Esther. And interestingly, Purim takes place during the month of Adar, a fortuitous month when joy is said to increase, ushering in a season of miracles that culminate with Passover, the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.

One Purim tradition is to dress up and wear masks, making all kinds of loud boo-ing noises every time Haman’s name is mentioned in the story (we read Esther’s scroll, aka “the whole megillah”). One thing I love about Hebrew is that words all have roots that reveal more layers of meaning: in this case, Adar has its origins in Adir, suggesting strength and power.

Just take a quick minute to let that sink in: Joy has its roots in strength and power.

OK. So we wear masks on Purim, and recall the story of this greedy king, Ahashverosh, who has one primary policy: Himself (read more). I tend to agree with this interpretation by Jay Michaelson, presciently written a year ago, before nominee Trump was so-called elected to be President Trump. Bannon is the real Haman here.

Will the women save us? Will we throw off our masks or don them in mockery of demagoguery and evil?

There is, of course, more to the story. But in the night, it was the masks I kept returning to the tradition of dressing up on Purim, trying on different aspects of ourselves even as we condemn evil and celebrate victory.

“It is our practice to cross-dress on Purim – find the other in yourself. Dress up and try on Esther’s role, be Haman the villain, the king and the assassin. The Scroll of Esther invites you onto the stage of history. For what cause would you risk giving up your privilege, position, and lifestyle? For what would you risk your life? For what principles or causes ought a person to risk life? Is the King of unawareness and apathy, Ahashverosh there inside too? Better to discover these qualities in play than to act them out and destroy what it means to be a Jew.” ~ Rabbi Goldie Milgram :: read more

I think often of blind spots: What don’t I know I don’t know? How do I remember what I’ve forgotten and further pull back the opaque curtains of my own ignorance? How do I save my people and where am I unknowingly contributing to my cousins’ peril?

We have to put ourselves in the shoes of all the players. We have to learn the whole script — not just our own lines — in order to fully grok the show. And a show it is — a comic-tragedy of epic, real-life proportions.

Against this backdrop, right on this stage, my kids are coming of age. They are learning how to play fair in a landscape that’s anything but. They come with many advantages — not the least of which are fair skin and good looks. This alone is so many kinds of wrong my head wants to explode, but rather than wringing my hands, I must keep helping them see what everyday experiences they undertake that would not be imaginable for an undocumented kid, for example.

Also in Jewish tradition, I seek out more questions rather than claiming to have answers:

What does my white privilege have to do with agreeing to allow my teenager to travel unaccompanied by train? What does class privilege have to do with allowing my biologically female child to use the men’s room in a public arena? What does being Jewish have to do with our role in this unraveling world, where in our tradition, we are commanded to ditch all of the commandments if it means saving one life — Jewish or not?

Time for another splash of coffee. Time to kiss my wife good morning (again). Time to shower, get dressed, and look in the mirror, directly into my own eyes, to make sure I’m all the way here. No masks. No deceit. May I move into the day awake. No one is coming to save us.

“That which is hateful to you, do not unto another: This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary — [and now] go study.” ~ Rabbi Hillel :: read more 

Magic Tricks

cardsWe were still awake as the clock struck midnight.

But there was no great striking. In modern times, this means we were the first to see whose birthdays had just begun on Facebook. I wrote a limerick, as I do for every member of The Inky Path and my own writing groups, deliberating over rhyme and rhythm and doing my damndest to fit as much about her personality as possible into five lilting lines.

We’d had the sweetest evening here. The kind of evening that left both of us feeling a deep satisfaction, fulfillment, and gratitude that, when taken without concern for the future, is nothing short of magnificent.

Aviva and I ate French Toast for dinner. Mani spent an hour and a half on the phone with her youngest, who turned 16 yesterday in Phoenix.

Pearl came bursting in around 7:00pm after being out with friends. She was eager to show us the magic trick she’d learned during that day’s session with Mr. K., her 3rd grade teacher, whom she still gets to spend lunchtimes with now and then practicing with her two decks of cards.

She showed me first in her room, to practice, and I was truly wowed. I still don’t know how she did it! Then she came to the living room to do it again (twice) with Mani, who was also wonderfully impressed.

Aviva wandered in and out from her room, which is attached to the living room. She could hear every word of our conversation, including my more adoring ones to Mani (“I can hear you, you know,” she called out, or something to that effect). I flipped through the Barnard Magazine and read about a documentary, Deep Run, by an alumna who graduated a year after me, Hillevi Loven, “a powerful verité portrait of trans life in rural North Carolina.” It sounds amazing and just reading about it made me all goosebumpy.

We felt like a family.

We are a family.

I read with Pearl, who was falling-over tired around 9:30, and then found V flopped across our bed talking to Mani about Everything Under the Sun. She’s getting really passionate about LGBTQ+ (I am told the plus symbol stands for something like 200 other things I’ve never heard of — we’ve come a long way, baby) issues; I have this feeling her new school is doing nothing short of miraculous for her, which is that there are no cliques. People are accepting. And the gender binary, by the way, is being shattered to smithereens by this generation.

I came into the kitchen to eat a snack and have a few minutes alone. Then we kicked V out of our room — no small feat when she actually wants to hang out with us — and snuggled up. I’m now reminded of something I read last week via  Jeanette LeBlanc: Now That Lesbians Can Marry, Can We Admit They Have Sex?  (Ironically, it was under Jeanette’s roof that Mani and first found each other, in January 2012, which is what I’ve been writing about in my latest round of leading Mini Memoirs.)

And oh, yes, they — we — do. We have sex, and we fuck, and we make sweet, sweet love. We cry afterwards and we burst out laughing sometimes and last night, we knew that some secrets belong to us alone and will never leave the walls of our bedroom.

Throw in some Downton Abbey, and like I said, we were still awake as the clock didn’t exactly strike midnight, but as a single, irreplaceable day in our lives together came to a close. Then I read to Mani what I’d written yesterday, part 9 in a 10-part remembrance of that weekend we first met.

Here are the last few paragraphs:

What did we think would happen? Happily ever after? That if only we could be in one place and not long-distance, everything would be ok?


And it was. It is. Everything is ok. It matters to remember because in that moment, throughout that weekend, on that night in Jeannette’s daughter’s room where we slept entangled for the first time, knowing on some cellular level it was where we both belonged, we knew. It was easy. We were both floored by this sensation, especially in contrast to the very challenging and ultimately toxic people we’d been in relationships with as bridges from marriage to freedom to this kind of love, a heretofore unknown kind of love.

Certain life circumstances have been harder than I ever dreamed, forcing me to stand up against my own expectations, stories, fears, needs, and desires. Up against the monolithic wall of ego. Of control. Of selfishness. But remembering our first weekend together and coming home over and over to this love, this palace of belonging, I soften and find center. Climbing over her, her body regaining the curves and contours she lost to illness, I am flooded with desire again.

We could spend all of our time fretting and freaking out that we don’t have enough time. We could. Sometimes, I do.

And we could sink so deeply into the time we’re in that it becomes infinite. During a coaching session last week, the word “telescopic” came up. Yes, like that. In, in, in. Things far away become very close, and if you hold it the other way around, the opposite happens: you can look at something close up and it becomes tiny.

One great big illusion?

I jokingly begged Pearl to tell me how she did it. How’d she get the blue card on the table to change without touching it? It was a two of spades, and then it was a five of hearts.

“A magician never reveals her tricks,” Mani reminded me, on Pearl’s behalf.

Sleight of hand. Something we stand in awe at, impressed, amazed. And here’s the thing: Behind the scenes, a magician spends hours with her former third-grade teacher. She makes time to learn, pays very close attention, and practices — a lot. She’s devoted to her art.

I like to imagine that God is, too.

And I know this, too, as I sit here on a Saturday morning with strong coffee and a brand-new day begun: I’m devoted to mine. To writing. To holding space for others to write and learn from their own practice. To being wowed without asking how it’s done, and to remembering that so much goes on that we don’t ever know or see or understand. And to family. My family.