The rabbi’s wife kissed me twice and wished me well. My former mother-in-law and I embraced several times, wishing all good things for our shared relations. The women who had been my sisters for eight years smiled and said hello, and we hugged in the way that people you once loved remember how to do.
Perhaps I was more nervous because we are a divorced and blended family, than I would have been had it just been a normal bar mitzvah. But I’m happy to say, everything went without a hitch.
In fact, with more surprises than I ever could have hoped or prayed for. Like when I heard that my ex-husband had told his family that I married a really nice guy, and he’s so glad my children have a good stepfather who is kind and loves them. That’s the kind of gossip I like to receive.
My son worked hard, over the last two long years, for what came off today in a mere few hours. He studied and learned, practiced and chanted, and sweated the small stuff, worried about whether he’d do it all flawlessly or stumble and fall.
He didn’t fall. He excelled. He soared to the sky and beyond. My beautiful, compassionate, incredible son radiated these and other incredible values from the center of the synagogue, all eyes on him, all ears uplifted, all hearts united. His hard work paid off.
I can’t really take any credit for this wonderful performance – though perhaps what I can claim is guiding him with selfless love and as much compassion as I could muster from when he was helpless in my arms until he could stride away with confidence and a quick wave behind him. Neither can his father take credit for what Asher did – again, just the guidance and love that is really a parent’s main job description.
So many of us put onto our children our own hopes and dreams and issues – but in reality, they are their own unique people, following their path, independent of us. We give them gift-wrapped values and wishes, and perhaps they accept them, or perhaps they parcel them into their own interpretation of what makes a good life.
And so today, my family and my former family, my friends and former friends, my son’s school friends (who by the way, sat in perfect respect for three long hours, the exact picture of manners and grace that I hope for all of our children) and the congregation as a whole, we came together as a community, united by one person: Asher.
That’s how this world can work, you know. In unity, bound by maybe one small similar value – a wish for peace or a desire for wholeness, a goal of giving food to every hungry person or a prayer for unity among warring brethren – all it takes is a single reason to get along, to be happy, to connect.
Friends have been texting me for the last 24 hours wishing me good luck and congratulations and support. Knowing how nervous I was to step back into a world I used to inhabit but left long ago. I am grateful for their love and support; I truly feel like their belief in me has been holding me up like a foundation underneath a house.
There are times when my heart breaks for the events of our family life – when I look back and see the unhappiness and the division, the children pulled from one house to another, one family to another, one way of understanding the world to another. When I see my ex-husband alone, knowing how much he would like to share his life with someone, my heart weeps.
But it wept, too, when we were together, and I do wish him well on his path, that he finds the harmony, peace and love he deserves. Today, I wanted to give him a hug, to share in the moment of our son, the life we created together out of our own hope and desire for a better world, a world full of love and dreams-coming-true.
And there are times when my heart applauds for what we have built despite the hurdles we have jumped over and knocked down, the rough roads we’ve somehow traversed. We are still here, living two miles apart, sharing in our children’s lives and doing our best to do our best despite ourselves. That we are amicable enough to celebrate together today is wonderful in its own right.
I think the lesson I take away from my son’s bar mitzvah is that we must stop getting in our own way and focus instead on what matters: the big heart we see in Asher, who truly believes he can heal the world, and will not stop trying until he succeeds. That is someone I am proud to know, to be connected to, to love. He makes me a better person just for knowing him; I am so honored to be his mother.
And what he shared with us today, about how life can be meaningful because of the mundane, that’s the whole message. It is, surely, enough.