“Why are you still reading that book, Mommy?”
My son’s question was a good one. All I had done was critique and exclaim over this memoir I’m reading. (Remember the blog I wrote about it? It’s really sticking in my craw!)
His question came after I read aloud several paragraphs, the gist of which said this:
* America is “the vast stretch of emptiness” between both coasts which “nurtured nothing but a feeling of being so isolated as to be cut off from the world and its events.”
* Memoir is, I now see, often an amalgamation of true details into one hybrid memory. Case in point, from p. 146: “Inside the cavernous space, beers were being sloshed onto the bar en masse. Chili dogs were sold for a dollar apiece straight from the kitchen window. Cowboys lingered over pool tables in dark corners, and smack in the middle of the room was a polished wooden dance floor, packed with women in tube tops and Daisy Dukes doing something I could only interpret as the hora, while country music played on the loud speaker. As the women dipped and clapped, their glittering crosses jangled distractingly over their tanned chests. I wondered how Christian culture had evolved to allow one to worship Jesus and dress like a stripper at the same time.”
* From the above passage, and throughout this book which I somehow can’t put down, it is abundantly clear that judgment is one universal truth that transcends community or belief. When we are afraid of the unfamiliar, we point a finger at it rather than strive to understand.
* And finally, not all best-selling writers are talented. I mean, really, were all the women in short-shorts? Did all have crosses on necklaces? How did she know they were cowboys – do better at details, please! Belt buckles, boots, hats? A cavernous space – is that the best way to describe a bar? I could go on but I won’t.
Why can’t I put the book down, then? The writing is mediocre at best and the writer is a yearning, displaced, searching young woman who has no clue who she is except that she doesn’t fit anywhere and she is Jewish-Jewish-Jewish and can’t let that go. (Oh, and I am so sick of her identifying her big nose as so very Jewish.)
There is a concept in Hebrew called hillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name. That when God-fearing, God-believing people act in disappointing ways, it’s a desecration of God’s name. And it embarrasses the community they claim as their own.
This woman is flailing in front of the world in the form of her books in what ultimately embarrasses all Jews. She doesn’t think someone with fair hair and blue eyes “looks Jewish.” She sees a mass of rednecks in a mid-American bar as emblematic of Christianity. She tries to transcend the limited, isolated world in which she was raised and become a “wandering Jew,” a “global Jew,” eyes open and heart wide to what she discovers – except she isn’t really.
The thing about our stories is that we don’t have to carry them around with us. Once a story has been spun, it’s ok to set it down and walk on to the next experience, the next setting, the next revelation.
We do not have to cling to our pasts and our assumptions and our limited views all the live long day. We can, and I believe we should, let it all go. Let. Go.
The true connection is one deep within us all, with what is holy and right and beautiful and peace-promoting. We don’t have to travel the world in search of who we are, and we don’t have to link up with others to define ourselves.
The thing about traveling is that if we truly are open, we begin to see the commonalities between us and everyone else, the fact that everyday life is universal, that all hearts beat, regardless of skin color and worship rituals and family beliefs.
Two books down and this young author still hasn’t learned a thing. Sure, she’s escaped from the confines of the Satmar Hassidim. But she hasn’t escaped the prison that is her perspective.
Because she doesn’t see herself as limited. She’s still pointing the finger, and any time you do that, any time you believe happiness or sadness live outside of you, you’re bound to cycle out of control in
negative emotions on and on and on.
I don’t know why I am still reading this book. It’s one of those car-wreck, can’t-look-away times – I’m curious, as to where she ends up. I guess I do care, in my own way. I want to help. I want to elevate. I feel so badly that she thinks she’s fled but she’s still stuck.
I read these passages to my husband last night and he said, “She hasn’t left.” He’s right. You can physically exit a community and think they’re the problem, but if you keep them and their values within you, then no matter where you go, you never leave.
“Happiness, true happiness, is an inner quality. It is a state of mind. If your mind is at peace, you are happy. If your mind is at peace, but you have nothing else, you can be happy. If you have everything the world can give – pleasure, possessions, power – but lack peace of mind, you can never be happy.” ~ Dada Vaswani