Saturday, September 26, 2009

May you be signed and sealed in the Book of Life

Tomorrow night we embark on another holy day, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. We fast (not me, of course, as Groundhog provides a lovely exemption) and abstain from most comforts, trying to be like angels, God-like, as close to holiness as mortals can achieve. We pray and reflect and, ideally, repent and begin the new year with a clean slate.

It's a lot to think about, making yourself unblemished enough to merit another year of life.

Yesterday morning one of the girls' daycare teachers excitedly told me she was leaving early, before the kids went down for nap. Ms. H is a devout Muslim, a head-covering, long-sleeves-in-August-wearing woman with a heart of gold. She cried when I told her my grandmother died; prayed when my husband had a lung tumor removed; volunteered to leave her own kids for a night and babysit so we could go out to celebrate our anniversary; gifted me with a large jar of Somali spice she didn't know how to name in English but told me to mix with honey and lemon juice to ease my cough; and dreamed that my third baby would be a boy, just as she has two girls and a boy.

She is a good person, a better person than I. Her faith is not the same as mine, and I don't see that as a reason for judging her. Yesterday she was leaving work early to take her kids downtown to the Islamic rally being held on Capitol Hill, and she was very excited. Today I read in the newspaper that some extremist Christians disrupted their rally, calling for them to repent.

Tonight I read online about a synagogue in Brooklyn that was targeted this morning by protesters with signs saying "God Hates Jews." Tonight I baked an apple cake, a cake I always bake for our fall holidays. Before we fast beginning tomorrow evening, first we'll share a filling meal with friends. I baked this cake to share with friends and reflected that I baked it, as I always do, in my grandmother's cake pan. My grandmother left Poland as a child fleeing religious persecution. It's something I have the luxury of rarely thinking about. But if she had not fled I could not bake an apple cake to feed our last bites before observing Yom Kippur, because I couldn't observe Yom Kippur. I wouldn't be here. A Jewish family fled Europe in the 1930s to seek religious freedom in America. A Somali Muslim woman fled Mogadishu in the 1980s to seek a safer life in America and is proud to defend her religious freedom. An old Jewish woman died and a Somali Muslim woman who never met her cried. These are the things I thought about as I mixed my apple batter.

This all started yesterday, the nonstop thinking about beliefs, about tolerance, about intolerance, about repentance. Yesterday I made a quick trip to Target on my lunch hour and passed a nondescript white building I've passed hundreds of times and never really noticed. It's a business of some sort, one of those that can be frequently found on busy streets that once were quieter streets decades earlier. It's some kind of office that clearly once was somebody's house. And that's all I ever noticed.

Until yesterday, when I passed that building and noticed it with great clarity. Standing outside it was a pair of priests in full clerical garb, with a pair of small girls before them praying the rosary, and maybe a dozen other supporters behind them. The supporters waved signs saying "Babies Die Here" and "Pray to End Abortion." For the first time ever I looked up at the nondescript sign on the nondescript house and saw that it says: "Dr. G__. Family Planning Clinic."

I drove the last block to Target, shaken, but I focused on my list because a working woman's lunch hour Target run must be a highly-organized event. I picked up what I needed and stopped for a quick sandwich at the sandwich shop back towards work for whose tuna pesto panini I have a certain fondness. Inside I felt re-shaken. The priests from across the street were inside, finishing up their own sandwiches. And laughing, enjoying themselves and their quick break, just like all the other businesspeople inside on their lunch hour. By the time I finished my own meal, they were back hard at work, yelling in car windows: "Did you know babies die here? Will you pray with us?"

In the realm of abortion talk, I've always been pro-choice, or perhaps more specifically, anti- telling another woman what to do with her body. In a general sense I've never understood those who must bully others with their own opinions, whether the topic is Islamic prayer in public or abortion or who's better, the Bills or the Dolphins. (Let's go, Buffalo!) This summer I had to consider abortion in a new light when we learned my pregnancy might not deliver a healthy child. Thank goodness the Groundhog has proven himself genetically viable and robust, but were that not the case, would we have made that choice? Would I have had to face the worst day of my life and a pushy loudmouth protester, too?

We're all, all of us, just going about our lives the best we can, making choices good and bad, sometimes stumbling, sometimes failing, but none of us is perfect, none of us is superior. My faith is my faith and I will never push it upon you. Your faith is your faith and I will always respect that. Don't we all have reasons to repent? Don't we all have opportunities to lessen our intolerance?

I won't be at work on Monday because of Yom Kippur but on Tuesday I have to remember to give Ms. H a hug and ask her about her perspective on the rally. I have to shake the images of the past two days out of my mind and focus on the upcoming holiday and worry only about cultivating my own clean slate. The oven timer is beeping, and I have to pull my cake out of my grandmother's cake pan and look in on each of the girls before my healthy lovely husband and I fall into bed and I fall asleep to the internal metronome of my healthy unborn son's kicks.

For everyone celebrating tomorrow, I ask you to forgive any transgressions I've committed against you and I wish you an easy fast. For all of you, celebrating and not, I hope you are inscribed for another year in the Book of Life. We are all just trying, every day by day by day.

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Angela J Reeves said...

Beautiful musings on faith, and in a a way, on the nature of being a participant in a country with freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Although many poor choices are made with that freedom, many beautiful ones are made as well. My prayers are with you and yours for a cleansing time of atonement.

JYAA said...

Guess your post hit home - I broke out my great-grandmother's recipe for Rugalach...similarly came from russia during a horrible time...had an abortion during a time when it was not legal even here...had she not...doubt I would be here to read your post...or share Rugalach. I'm so glad sir groundhog is growing healthy, and a choice you didn't have to make...can't wait to meet him!

cndymkr / jean said...

This post was beautifully written. It made me stop and think about my own life and the choices I've made. Thank you.

Never That Easy said...

This is a wonderful post. It's something that bothers me, too, the fact that there is so much preaching, pushing, bullying - I'm with you on the whole "these are my choices, and those are your choices, and we just need to let them be" philosophy.