I am having an existential crisis. Whereas midlife seems the typical span for questioning life’s direction, I’m currently having difficulty with certainty, i.e., I’m overwhelmed by guilt. Sure, as a Jewish grandmother, I’m expected to put the onus for my missteps and for the missteps of others on myself. Nonetheless, the contrition I’m feeling has everything to do with abundance and nothing to do with misconduct. It’s the profusion in my life that is confounding me as to how to progress.
During my first six decades, I had four professions; student, professor, mother, and book author. I furthermore engaged in subsidiary occupations; oboist, herbalist, and visual artist.
I spent a long time as a student. Although I didn’t pursue a postdoc, I did matriculate through high school and then through three college degrees. I liked learning. I was principally fond of instruction that was dialogical rather than rhetorical; I like asking and answering questions and I enjoyed arriving at synthesized verities.
I invested even more years in empowering students than in being a student. As Computer Cowboy, my husband, is fond of claiming, no matter the nature of the courses that I taught, essentially, I coached critical and creative thinking. It’s easy to grasp how teaching expository writing or public speaking might yield to that practice. In actuality, all topics, if depicted dialectically, viz., via student-centered discourse, can imbue learners with reason, logic, resourcefulness, imagination, and innovation’s rudiments and increase their cultural accountability.
Undergrads and graduate students were not the only youths my life touched. I was fortunate to birth and nurture sons and daughters. For nearly a decade and a half, I focused my energy on my scions. Like my co-eds, my children were exposed, albeit rather surreptitiously, to ideas concerning social answerability and to techniques reinforcing out-of-the-box contemplations. Life with those youngins was not just playgrounds and Lego towers. It was moreover the intentional exploration (of the spaces under our beds), invention (using old bananas, raw peanuts, and oatmeal), resourcefulness (in bypassing having to match basketfuls of socks), and lucidity (per which among them would empty the cats’ litter, fill the dishwasher, or go on slug walks with Daddy [slug walks were a treat; chores were not]).
By the time that the youngest of my boys and girls was in elementary school, my family was privileged to make aliyah. For our first few years in Israel, I served as an adjunct professor in English language programs and concentrated on the kids’ klita. Intermittently, I wrote. Providentially, my writing received awards and book contracts. Eventually, I spent more and more hours writing books. To date, BH, more than forty of my books have been published.
At the same time as I was busy with academics, parenting, or writing, I was busy with additional activities. As a girl and then continuing through the time when I played in my university’s orchestra, I was an oboist. I liked challenges (double reeds are nearly impossible to negotiate) and I wanted to emulate my favorite babysitter who was sufficiently talented to sit in the first chair of our city’s youth orchestra (unlike her, I was a poor oboe player.)
Besides instrumental music, I studied herbal medicine. To wit, I was able to provide limited health care for my family. My offspring’s many allergies, my lifelong love of plants and the research that I was carrying out for a novel’s protagonist, who was a green healer, led me to that discipline. Especially as I grow older, I’m grateful for that knowledge. My herbal guides showed me how to protect my rights even in the presence of “medical experts” (many conventional doctors loath patients who want to take responsibility for their own health, or, in the least, want to co-manage their care. On balance, most alternative providers and a percent of allopathic ones appreciate an invitation to sidestep protocol, to reject the role of automaton that the status quo assigns them and their patients.) I was likewise trained how to probe the relative worth /harm of all herbs and herbal compound whether those bits are wild or processed.
From childhood through to the present, I’ve also been a visual artist. Just as I gave up oboe to make more time for my undergraduate studies, I surrendered my visual arts habit to create more time for graduate school. Unlike oboe, though, visual art was something to which I returned. Some of my works, namely my basketry, my hand-built pottery, and my glass pieces are three dimensional. Others of my works, for instance, my acrylic pictures, my photos, and, most recently, my digital paintings are two-dimensional. My visual art has been placed in galleries, on covers and within various periodicals’ pages.
Overall, I’ve been blessed to actualize a variety of fascinating callings. Both my major and my minor interests have given my life depth and breadth. Nevertheless, at this time, I feel remorseful.
See, aging reinforces an awareness of the fleetingness of our presence in this world. Yours Truly has grown progressively mindful that life ought not to be defined by achievements, by external validation, by mundane quests. Preferably, life ought to center on service, on aligning with internal (Torah-guided) measures of integrity. As Shlomo HaMelech wisely wrote in Kohelet, life needs to emphasize fearing Hashem and on keeping His commandments.
Consequently, I am having an experiential emergency. Only the Aibishter knows how much longer I have to be a good servant to him. I hope it’s long enough.