I've been to Rehoboth only once before, coincidentally with this same group. Over the extended weekend we spend our time, reflecting on our lives, our choices, our inspirations, our sins, our redeeming qualities and more importantly our joys. As a single person, living a solitary life, I'd like to think I regularly take time to contemplate my choices bad and good. But I must admit until February I've never done quite this way, much less in a group. That first weekend felt foreign to me, who sits in circles pondering emotions, decisions, consequences? Not me? I don't have hemp sandals, a long flowy patchwork skit, and I sure as hell don't smell of patchouli (I know that was terribly judgey and cruel, and I'm offended my thoughts went that way, but they did and it's only honest that I acknowledge). This was not how my ISTJ mind worked, but I tried to participate even though my responses to deeply personal and probing questions seemed inauthentic and trivial. Sure, I think about my inner demons, but that weekend I realized I wasn't strong enough to legitimize them by placing pen to paper. I left that weekend, exhausted, exposed, and unsure of how I'd navigate our second weekend together.
Flash forward to March 21st and little task titled, "What's your personal Torah?" Now some of you may ask, what's Torah? You're not alone, I myself was clueless. Sure, I had a general idea of what Torah is but I knew enough to know when I don't know enough. So let's be honest, I didn't understand the premise nearly enough to design my own. So I Googled it. Torah is law in Jewish religion. It is a book, an idea, a quality of life, it is all reflection and tradition on dealing with God. Over and over I read there is no word in Jewish religion so indefinable and yet so indispensable as the word Torah. So here I was trying to use the principles of Torah as my guide. Can I even claim to have a personal Torah? Is there something that primes my spiritual compass to better align me with myself, my family, my friends, my God? There I sat, pencil in hand, cup of coffee at my wrist...then it came to me, clear as day, I knew it was right and I was overwhelmed. I couldn't write fast enough, skipping words, improperly conjugating verbs. My entry was a hot mess, but the sentiment was spot on. And I'm proud to say, I still struggle to stay true to my Torah and keep the times that I miss the mark to few and far between. Take a look at what I wrote (I cleaned it up a little) and let me know if I'm on track.
"I will live a life where I never stop seeking to do more."
Until now I've never written a "Torah" or shaped my motivations into words. I've shared with you before, my father died at 48, the year I turned 27. I am very much an introvert, and as a child I grew up alone but I was never lonely. Books were my refuge, books were my friends. When I became older and was told to go out and play and meet kids my own age. I did just that. I walked to the library and met, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Becky Thatcher, Pippi Longstoking, Mary Lennox, Charlie Bucket, and Michelle Knepper. I was excited to learn that Michelle was a book lover like me, we clicked, she too was kid with great drive and curiosity hidden behind a quiet exterior. When I was paralyzed by fear of being around others, Michelle stood there with me. So together we spent our time - alone. With stacks of books taller than our heads we marched to each other's houses, climbed the stairs, sat down in chairs, on the floor, and onto our beds...and read.
If you were to look in on us you'd think we were nuts. For hours we'd sit there reading, turning pages, until out butts went numb. And when our parents begged us to go outside and play, we'd tuck our books into our shorts, walk down the street, turn the corner, walk over to the playground and promptly begin to read. Because when we read, we were "more." I remember adventurous lands, defiant people, unthinkable struggles, courageous acts, and gut wrenching loves - it was all so real.
And when I did raise my gaze from my books and joined my family discussions in the living room - I listened. I listened to Terry White, my father. I listened as my father told the story of getting lost in Costa Rica, taunting the Queen's guards at Buckingham Palace, sipping tea in an authentic Japanese tea house, living a life in the bayous of Louisiana. To me my father was a main character in a novel and he was my hero, he was my best friend (sorry Michelle, but I think you understood), to me my Dad was everything in the books I read, and more.
As I grew older, my Dad and I spoke about his life, his travels, his loves - me, my sister, my mother, and "man." My father loved everyone and tried until his last day on earth to teach me to do the same. He would say, "you may not think you could love someone until you try to be "more" (it's been awhile so I'm paraphrasing here). What you see in a person is rarely who they are. When you learn their needs, loves, and dreams is when you're truly invited in their world. And for that to happen, you must do more. More than a simple hello, short note, passing smile, or change into a cup. You must give of yourself to receive from another." He said it was why he thought I loved reading so much. He imagined me surrounded by my books listening to the characters tell me their stories and me becoming part of their lives and quite honestly he was right.
I love to read - because I want to know more, but I realize to only read about life and people is one dimensional. To do, to touch, to help, will always bring me closer. It seems odd to be saying at 40+ that I didn't know whether or not I was following this path. But if I'm going to be honest with myself, I must admit that I didn't understand the value of my talks with my father until now. Yes, I was engaging people, exploring the world, learning about other cultures and doing charitable acts, or some analogous version of this. But I've done it without understanding the why. I speak about my bouts with insomnia and how I'm unable to turn-off my thoughts, always trying to figure out how to do something, or why this or that happened. This weekend has helped me understand why I wake up each day and go to bed each night, plotting and planning on how I can do more. It's because my father told me to, and yes, father knows best.
What about you, do you have a personal Torah?