Every Friday morning-- at least every Friday morning that we're both in town, which, during the summer can be a challenge-- every Friday morning, before the workday begins, for the last two years, I get to start the day in study with my Rabbi. I treasure those sessions. We sit at a wobbly table at a local Subway, eating our salads for breakfast, then take out the Sefer Aggadah, and dive in. We read and talk. Discuss. Wander far afield. Disagree occasionally. Discover always.
We're doing it in Hebrew, That is, I'm reading and translating the Hebrew.Needless to say, my Hebrew is-- how shall I say it-- not so much good. After two years, we're only up to Chava. He claims I'm improving. He is very kind, my rabbi is. One of these days, I want to write a book about our study sessions. I have a title already: Conversations of the Chasid and the Musar. I'll leave it to you to figure out which one of us is the Chasid, which the Musar (not that either of us is actually one or the other-- but we tend to approach our discussion from pretty consistently, he from one perspective, me from another. I like to call it twin sides of the same coin-- one is all outward exhilaration, dancing a joyous and celebratory path, the other is a more inward dive, a path of quieter contemplation. Both of our paths lead us to God.)
I can't imagine having a better way to start my day (that it is also just before Shabbat is an added bonus). I would be a professional student if I could. I don't know that there are many (any?) subjects I wouldn't want to jump into, splash around in the ideas and equations and arguments they have to offer. I want to learn the intricate beauty of fractals and string theory, understand the tragedy of ancient Rome and modern Egypt, Picasso's use of blue and Alinsky's use of direct action. I want to learn everything.
Sigh. I'm going to guess that that's one wish that will remain unfulfilled.
What I have managed to learn is astounding. Yes, yes-- I'm a school wonk, a study geek. I got me some book learning. The amount of minutiae and esoteric scholarly stuff that I've forgotten -- let alone learned -- would keep me awake at night if I ever thought about it. It may or may not have helped me in my actual life. Trust me: I'm not so sure that my PhD work in Early Modern English history was a relevant factor in landing me my job (Not directly, at least. Let's not get into the debate on how learning to think and write critically makes me who I am. I get that in spades) (And it has been helpful-- all of my training in history-- as a Jewish educator, so there's that).
The trick is, especially now, as I make my way through Elul to the promised land of the new year, the trick is recognizing the important learning that I've done. There's been a truckload of that, too. Let me break it down some.
I have learned
- There's nothing so bad that a drink won't make worse
- Sometimes the people you love will fail you. Remember that they are human, and sometimes, humans fail.
- Sometimes the people you love offer a hand to hold in the darkness and shine a light so that you can find your way.
- Sometimes this is done by complete strangers
- Sometimes life is pretty crappy
- Even in the crappy stuff, there are moments of sudden brilliance and wonder
- It's ok to yell at God. Dometimes it's the only prayer we have to offer. God appreciates the conversation and loves a good argument
- I have wounded people I love dearly
- There's a difference between humility and humiliation; I get to choose where I stand in that
- I have two families-- the one into which I was born, and the one I have chosen along the way. Today I am grateful for both
- Pray to God, but row towards shore
- Practice kindness. It matters
- So does compassion
- The dictum "If you don't open it, you don't owe it" and its corollary "If you ignore it long enough, it goes away" are not true. No matter how much I'd like for them to be.
- Read some, study some, laugh some, learn some-- every day. It makes your heart full and keeps your soul dancing
- It's all Torah. Really
- I'm ok with contradictions.
- Life will not always turn out the way I want it to.
- My best intentions will not always produce the outcomes I plan on
- Some learning is hard.
- My son has taught me everything I know about love, patience and God. Not necessarily in that order.
There's more. There's always more. That's another thing I've learned: there's always something next, something after. It's the Scheherazade syndrome (I just made that up): life happens, a whirling, swirling mess o' life, filled with adventure and boredom and love and betrayal-- and at the end of every day, I sit, like the King in 1001 Nights and say "Not bad. I guess we'll do it one more time, see what happens next."
I am blessed beyond belief. That was a hard lesson to learn. I am grateful for all the lessons, even the hard one (maybe especially the hard one). I am grateful to all my teachers. I can't wait to see where my learning takes me next...