This has been a tumultuous year for me. I married my soulmate - clearly the best thing that has ever happened to me.
We went on an amazing honeymoon to Paris - easily my best vacation ever.
And then, 1.5 weeks after we returned from that honeymoon, I was laid off. That wasn't just an economic bump in the road. That single act began a process that spiraled out of control. First, I started freaking out about all the last minute wedding costs I had put on my credit card (did I really need $1,000 worth of flowers, most of which were in the synagogue on the Shabbat before our wedding and I never saw again?) Did I really need to get all those facials before the wedding, spending gobs of money to make sure I looked okay in photographs when I married an art director who could easily remove any blemish from the photo? (Okay, this last one's a no-brainer. Yes, I "needed" them. I'm glad I looked my best at my wedding and I'm glad I took some time for myself to relax before the big day.)
The cracks in my life were bigger than monetary regrets. I had spent the weeks before our wedding focused on my work, specifically on helping Occupy LA be the best experience it could be. Was it worth it? Was it worth the thousand little things I didn't plan for before the wedding? Was it worth the stress I put on my beloved by not being fully present in the preparations for our big day? Absolutely not. There is no political activity in the world nor any work responsibility that deserves to take you away from your beloved and from fully experiencing the process that leads to your wedding. There simply isn't. I've been able to forgive myself a bit, but the regret lingers and I don't know if I'll ever fully heal this wound.
For some reason, losing my job also led to me losing my faith. There were misteps along the way to the wedding - the location of our reception was changed the Thursday before and that was something that took me a long time to get over. I stopped going to shul. Fearful of losing our home, I stopped paying for our temple membership. And for six months, I dug myself into a deeper and deeper depression, closed myself off from my spiritual community and began having long conversations with the dog because she was the only one around most of the time.
And then, tragedy struck.
My wedding caterer, who was also my Bat Mitzvah caterer, died at 56. It was shocking in many ways. It forced me to re-evaluate my life and the narrative I was telling myself about the wedding and my unemployment. I realized how profoundly I missed my spiritual community. I realized my only anger was toward myself - all the things I should have done before and during the wedding to make it go off more smoothly. (Like make sure everyone got to hair and makeup on time so I could have some time to hang out with my bridesmaids before the ceremonies started.)
I could go on and on. But I won't. The important thing is that I woke up and turned around.
I had taken my yarmulke off and I had stopped my morning prayer routine. I put the yarmulke back on and tried to make it to morning prayers every day. (I pray alone in our condo, yet I still find it difficult to make it to the service....)
I returned to shul. I paid the debt we owed for last year's membership and began paying for this year's membership. My rhythm began to return. My connection to The Divine opened up again. My husband agreed to convert. And then, a miracle happened: I got a job. Not just any job, but one I can be proud of - instead of focusing on partisan rancor and "my side is always right," I'm working to expand the tools of democracy and help empower people to be great community organizers, whether they're a politician, a nonprofit leader, or a small business owner. Working for NationBuilder is one of the best paid experiences of my life.
There's a break in Shabbat services at my shul. It's a time when you can decide to shmooze with your friends or get a quick cup of coffee and return to services. When I went for that cup, I was stopped and asked about my attendance. I can't remember exactly how it was asked, but it was a short question that implied a wariness over my previous hiatus and an uncertainty about my commitment to the shul and to Judaism. My response was a simple Yes. This post is a fuller explanation of my absence and my return.
I am profoundly grateful to Rabbi Finley and Rebbetzin Meirav for creating a spiritual community that pierces my soul. I'm also grateful for all they did to make sure our wedding was a beautiful and spiritually uplifiting day. I'm so grateful to Jacob Kantor for providing his beautiful voice and guitar skillz to the day. To our family and friends for filling the room with their love. And of course, to Chung-Mau Cheng for completing me.
And now, a new year is upon us. Tomorrow night begins ten days devoted to recognizing the Sovereignty of The Divine: the pre-eminence of love, justice, truth and beauty. I'm not a rabbi, so for more on the spiritual meaning of Rosh Hashanah, read Rabbi Finley's article in the Jewish Journal, "5 Theories You Meet in Heaven."
L'shanah tovah tikatevi v'taihatemi, which means "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year." (I've used the feminine version of this expression.) Read more about Rosh Hashanah at Judaism 101.
Photographs by Desmond Hsu.