Monday, January 12, 2009

Devil in the White City

I find that there is a certain intimacy in shared favorite books that is unlike any other sort of closeness. It is a sort of delight and thrill in knowing that there is a part of yourself that you need not explain to the person beside you. Some of my dearest friendships have begun with the discovery these new acquaintances of mine spent their youth devouring "The Chronicles of Prydian", or "Johnny Tremain" just as I did. Now, we have graduated to trading P.D. James, Marilynne Robinson, and Richard Russo with one another, but it is still the same concept. No matter how our lives differ the knowledge that we share an inner world; that our emotional pitch resonates at the same frequency always bonds us.
I arrived home last Thursday night and stood for a few minutes in my front hallway,feeling the need to reacquaint myself with my own apartment. I was returning from Tel Aviv where I had had a decidedly odd experience.When I started out earlier that afternoon I had expected to wander about Bogroshof street for a while, perusing the shops, stopping by the sea and eventually meeting up with my cousin Jason and his friend Josh. What I found instead was Josh, Jason and 20 year old one night stand. Honestly, I had no idea what to do. How does one relate? Is there an accepted etiquette for this sort of situation? If there is, I have no clue what it is. Now I don't begrudge Jason his fun on his vacation and I did end up having a good time, but this situation certainly upped the ante for the "most awkward evening ever" award, especially considering the fact that at some point in the evening I found myself at said one night stand's apartment, sitting on the couch, watching Miss Congeniality.
However, at some point during our wanderings in some strange social dimension I found myself deep in conversation with Josh. We began talking about books, and, as we sat in a bar in Florentine, of languages and a love of knowledge. It occurred to me that it had been a while since I felt this engaged. The bar was crowded, noisy and hot. We were talking Syriac and the early gospels, with the firm knowledge that both of us like Empire Falls and Michael Chabon. What could be better? I left the white city feeling just a little bummed that Josh a) doesn't live in Israel, b) isn't religious and most crucially c) has a girlfriend; and more importantly, feeling more corporeal than I had when I arrived in the city- as if a part of me had found itself once again and taken form.
For the past while I have been feeling slightly dissatisfied with my life as a single woman in the Jerusalem religious community. I have long stopped going to synagogue on Shabbat partially because I need the quiet and partially because I always get the feeling standing amidst the throngs of people that to them I ought to be something that I'm not. I am entirely unsure of what I'm meant to be, but whatever it is, I'm not it. I am perpetually on the periphery- that girl at the who somehow ends up in the corner juggling her drink and plate and is always wearing the wrong thing. In some sense I take refuge in being that person- it's a safe person to be- but there is also a sense in which I feel that I am not engaged; that despite the very palpable common ground that I have with many of the people I interact with in a social religious context, there are not very many of them with whom to discuss books and knowledge.
This is not to say that I have lost my faith- not at all. It is simply that my religiosity is private. A while ago I was at a Friday night dinner where the conversation somehow turned to prayer and how one should react when their prayers are not answered. There was a sharpness to my realization that despite the fact that I, like all the guests at the meal was a young educated religious woman, I didn't feel like I belonged at that table at all; that there was not one person there who I felt I could really talk to. I pray every day, but I do not ask for anything. In fact, I don't think. The liturgy is in my blood, why would I need to think? But even if I did ask for things in my prayers, I would never talk about it. My dialog with with God is sacred and mine alone. As the girls around me talked I felt so completely apart and so completely out of my element- much like I did last Thursday night sitting on the couch in a strange apartment watching Miss Congeniality.
And yet, I don't belong in a bar in Florentine either. As comfortable as I felt talking with Josh, there was still so much I couldn't- and didn't -want to explain to him- my religious life being just one of them. And as cozy and welcoming as that neighborhood bar was, I know it's not my place. I'm not sure where my place is. Sometimes I feel that my life is increasingly being marked by all the things I cannot explain and all the places I don't precisely belong.
It's not so bad, I suppose. There's always the sea, the sky and the prayer of man.

Book Rec: Straight Man, Richard Russo

Thesis Watch: 50 pages and Islamic sources.

1 comment:

Joseph said...

This is exactly something I've tried unsuccessfully to describe for a long while (not belonging)!

Faith is also something I considered as a private matter which I can't explain to others. But if the opportunity arises, I'll give it a try.

Can I recommend a book if I've read only the first 5 pages? If so, that would be "Emotional Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman.

And for books I've really read, that would be Martin Winckler's "The Case of Doctor Sachs" and its complement "The Three Doctors" if and when the latter is made available in English.