“The farthest distance in the world is between how it is and how you thought it was going to be.”
I could have easily missed this line. The movie was boring me. I started to drift off, when I woke up to this scene as one character said these words to the other character – it was what I needed to hear.
It snapped me back into reality and I dressed it from head-to-toe with life experiences. It’s an accurate statement – it is the farthest distance in the world, and it could be the slogan for this week’s Torah portion, Vayera, which means: “and He appeared.” He being G-d, and the reality that surrounds us at all times if we choose to see reality as it is, with a source of support at every vantage point.
There are a few “coming to” moments in this portion, but one sticks out in my mind – right before Abraham is about to sacrifice his son, he sees a ram in the bushes in front of him. He spares his son and uses the ram instead. G-d didn’t expect Abraham to kill his own son, so was the ram in the bushes the entire time to keep him from doing so? Was it Abraham’s desperation and complete immersion in the moment that allowed him to see it? I think so. Help is there at all times when we’re willing to devote to the Source that is responsible for offering it…
We come into the world with a choice: to see life as it is or deny reality and see it how we want it to be, or ache over how we thought it was going to be.
Some people are born realists, but for the rest of us, accepting reality is a painful and tragic “coming to life” experience.
The other day, I read about Teshuvah Gemorah, “total repentance,” when one ends up in the exact place he or she went missing, returning to that same place to get it right, once and for all.
I was also introduced to the term Kavanat Halev, “devotion of the heart.” I interpret this as a conscious compassion for one’s self and the world around them, an acceptance of what is and what is not. Kavanat Halev is an intentional practice that, in my experience, happens after countless errors and misguidances of the heart.
It begins with the urge to run away from reality, in hopes of discovering what is meant to be – an illusion that who I really am is not who I have always been, that there’s this other person out there, who I will become and I will be the greatest! So, I leave where I am and everyone I love, to seek everywhere outside of that space. After an excruciating search, I end up right back in the same place, the same person with a different perspective. Although, now, my eyes are open to the blessings that have been here the entire time, just like Abraham.
I’m one of those runners/seekers. Lately, I’ve been trying to pinpoint when it was exactly that I went astray:
Was it the first bite of un-kosher meat I took in my late twenties? Or, when I stopped fasting on Yom Kippur around the same time? Or, when I was seduced by the exotic, yogic rituals and the cool, bendy people with art-adorned skin, who I practiced next to — conflicting ideologies inked beside each other, contorted beliefs to match their contorted limbs. I thought they knew something I didn’t — maybe I’m meant to be a practitioner of all faiths, too? Did I go astray then? Or, was it when I had my first rumination about leaving my marriage? Or was it when I actually did?
I don’t know.
I think it was incremental decisions that led me to a place where I imagined I was supposed to be, only to find when I got there, that I was even more lost than when I’d first gone astray. For five years, I was swept into a tornado of my own making, and fought to compartmentalize the unwholesome, charlatan charade with the only part of my life that remained grounded and sane — motherhood and my children. I had some near misses where they brushed up against one another, but somehow, the girls were spared, their wholesomeness remains intact.
And then year and a half ago, I found myself back where I’d started to go off track. My old friends began reappearing, erasing the misdirected landscape of the life I’d lived on my quest to find myself. As insidiously as I went astray, I regained direction and reclaimed my heart: I decided to stop eating meat and a few months later I stopped drinking alcohol, and then one Friday night of lighting candles turned into every Friday night. I started blessing the girls and making gluten-free challah and teaching them things my father had taught me and reading the Torah and sifting through my grandfather’s prayer books. I stopped grasping for attention from people who had no interest in giving me their hearts and their time and soon, I found myself alone without loneliness; I felt safe, like the type of safety I thought romantic love was supposed to offer, but never did.
I recognized I could create this feeling of safety in each moment. I began craving stillness more and more — a time to pause, so I stopped planning things on Saturdays and then I stopped driving during the days on Saturdays and decided not to spend money or work.
Now, I find myself looking forward, with gentle anticipation to Saturdays — sitting outside, listening to the distance and togetherness between movement and stillness — cars passing on the roads out there and the buzzer from the football game at the nearby school. Life continues even when I pause, but I don’t feel like I’m missing out. Rather, I’m a part of it all instead of a piece of it, and every noise becomes sacred and familiar. Maybe this is a preview of death, I’ve thought, that taking time to be in the moment is a gift G-d is always offering, if we choose to see the reality of things. Maybe there is nothing to fear, that this is what we have to look forward to — life continues to go on without our participation and awareness becomes our participation; we become a part of it all. I find myself in trances, not blinking, so I can see what else he’s placed there, in front of me. I am able to see with clarity, the parts of life, the experiences and the people I must ignore and the ones I must accept.
And, the more I’ve committed to the moment, the moment has committed to me — the right synagogue with the right Rabbi appeared and we started going to synagogue each week. How did I not see this from the start? This is the same synagogue where my youngest daughter was named and my eldest daughter first went to preschool. And here I am, right back where I started.
This couldn’t have happened, I trust, had I not gone astray, first. I had to reach that level of exhaustion, the depletion of a heart mistaken and misdirected before it was prepared to know what it was to be real, to be alive, to be devoted to the moment, to who I’ve always been and who I will continue to be.
I’m back in the same place, but this time, I feel a part of life instead of apart from it. I ran away from what was standing inside of me, pulsing through my veins the whole time, a reality that’s been patiently waiting in the bushes to appear, when I was ready to see it. ~Rebecca